16 ways to damage creativity
I’ve created 16 cards for an imaginary game where you try to attack each other’s creativity. It’s meant to provide a language to think about how the feedback process can fail. This then forms the foundation of new Idea Gowr features that aim to mitigate those failures.
Cards to break innovation
I’ve made four sets:
- Asking feedback
- Providing feedback
- Receiving feedback
For creativity and innovation, you need a culture with breathing room for spontaneity, where you are allowed to fail and there is time to learn. Don’t reward the ego, but reward dedicated contributions to the process.
No time to learn
You can gather feedback and take the time to learn, or skip it and deal with the problems at a later stage when you go live. By then, you have invested more, more is at stake and making changes is harder. If you do take the step to ask for feedback, you need to deal with it.
Pit of perfection
For anything resembling perfection, you need to try new thing and learn. That’s why, at Pixar failure is an option:
..failure is a manifestation of learning and exploration. If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being drive[n] by the desire to avoid it.”
I’ve worked with my share of self-proclaimed divas, all male by the way. Eccentricity or bombastic humor is not the problem. Harm comes when the diva claims every success and sidesteps responsibilities. Simply firing the diva will probably not be enough. A new one will emerge. The incentives for divas to grow must be taken away.
I used to be a co-founder of a games company and at the time we had a big client that had a little book that included all the (fixed!) steps for how innovation should take place.
This leads to absurdities like a focus group session abroad that was captured on video, but nobody took the effort of really analyzing. It was just a step the project needed to take in order to be able to move forward. What a waste.
Presenting and asking for feedback on your idea
I’ve had my share of negative feedback on how I explained my thoughts; Too fast, too little context, too many details too early. Well, that sucked. My main lesson was that I need to take time to prepare and take into account the level of understanding of the other. I now suck less at it, I hope.
The great nothing
Asking for feedback is scary. Because you know your idea isn’t good yet. It’s easy to convince yourself it would be ‘too early’.
The aimless archer
Your resources are limited, so you can’t just go around asking everyone for feedback all the time. It’s better to think about who your target audience might be. The tricky part is at the beginning of your idea is, that you never really know before you ask.
Perhaps this card amounts to more of a random effect card. You might be lucky and get great feedback. It’s much better than playing The Great Nothing card.
The idea shifter
There is a distinction between brainstorming and asking for feedback. When asking for feedback you need to clearly present a single idea. When you are brainstorming you are trying to come up with new ideas.
Make sure all parties involved know what kind of conversation you are having.
The questionless pitch
You want to think about what you want to learn and what specific questions to ask. You can ask question that zoom in or out on specific aspects. Question their feelings, the practicality, or what could be added that would make them fall in love with this idea.
But most importantly, actually ask questions and listen. If you are asking for feedback, you shouldn’t be the one talking the most.
I love providing feedback. It makes me feel like I’m an expert, truly helping someone.
Some people who are asked for feedback see it as an opportunity to feel strong by making the other feel weak. It’s hard to distinguish dream crushing feedback from real negative feedback.
Regardless, you might as well put your chin up and try to figure out what parts of it you can use.
Stream of nonsense
Being asked to provide feedback can feel like a job interview. It requires a high level of confidence to say ‘I have no idea how that works’. It’s much easier to say things that you feel may sound correct.
As someone asking for feedback it’s up to you to make the other feel comfortable enough, to be honest, and you need to recognize and intervene when nonsense is being hurled towards you.
The big misunderstanding
It takes two parties to create a misunderstanding of any significance. So perhaps this topic should be illustrated by two cards in combination; the card ‘Ambiguous Presentation’ and ‘Providing feedback without asking questions’.
As the presenter of the idea, you can use visuals if you notice your words don’t come across. When providing feedback, you can literally ask ‘Am I understanding this correctly’ and then restate the idea presented to you in your own words.
The self centered
Enough about you, let’s talk about me!
I don’t like getting feedback. When someone tells me they don’t like what I created, I have thoughts of verbal retaliation. At 37, I have become wise enough to bottle all that up.
Regularly, I can prevent myself from talking over this person and listen to the reasons why. There is a decent chance that before the day ends, I’ll actually value the feedback.
It takes so much effort to come up with something and then asking for feedback, that some type of‘sunk cost fallacy’ comes into place. You may not want to change anything, afraid the whole house of cards falls down. You may start to feel that negative feedback is an attack on you as a person.
You can overcome this by disassociating yourself from your ideas. Pretend someone else came up with it. If you wait for reality to provide the same negative feedback, you’re wasting a lot of your own time.
On deaf ears
Creating something out of thin air requires a bit of a stubborn mindset. You may need to march on when things look unlikely to come together. You somehow also have to find a way to keep listening and consciously dismiss criticism that is holding you back, but not dismissing negative feedback out of hand.
Changer of everything
This is the flip side to the ‘On deaf ears’ card. A single point of feedback doesn’t mean everything you think you know is meaningless.
Fail to follow up
There is a great case study on the failure of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. One of challenges they had, was that they received feedback by governments about hardware fabrication. Governments where requesting to build the laptop within their own country, but the OLPC team didn’t really grasp the significance.
“Every conversation we ever had with any head of state — every time — they said, ‘Can we build the laptop in our country?’” he says. “We knew that by making the laptop in Shanghai, we could build the laptop [to be] much less expensive. And what we didn’t realize was that the price wasn’t what they were asking us about. They were asking us about pride, not price. They were asking us about control and ownership of the project.” OLPC had created a computer that could withstand dust and drops, but it hadn’t accounted for political messiness.
The feedback they received was about politics, but they didn’t grasp that, something they might have picked up if they asked more questions about why those governments wanted to develop the laptop in their own country.
Apart from the culture cards, I’m guilty of the mistakes of all the other cards in the past and probably will be guilty of some of them in the future. It’s still hard. Can you imagine what would happen to the world if dealing with feedback was easy?
I’d love to learn in the comments how you found ways to work around or embrace the bad parts.
As I wrote earlier, I’ve partnered with Immer to do a major update on my Idea Growr app. Next month we’ll do a week-long sprint rebuilding the code. I’ll share the progress in the next article. Will be fun!