Ty, the Rambling Artist
The art of making drawing smiles and making connections, anywhere in the world.
We talked earlier in the book about the importance of trusting your own creativity. You may be thinking of exploring that creativity by taking up a new hobby, such as painting or writing music. In these cases, trusting yourself may be enough. But you may be thinking about investing in your innate creativity as an entrepreneur and starting something new and exciting! I truly believe that it is important that we are all confident in our ability to be creative. Without that confidence, we are hesitant to take chances and chances are absolutely necessary if we want to move forward and follow our dreams. But entrepreneurship is rarely risk free and for those endeavors I believe wholeheartedly in the power of having a community who can give you feedback, encouragement and help along the way.
The idea of feedback is nothing new or innovative. Feedback has been an essential component of the business world for years. In most cases, however, this kind of feedback is not what I’m talking about. For several years, I was a creative director at RadioShack. It was a good job in a great location, right in the heart of Downtown Fort Worth. We had a shiny new campus and it seemed as if RadioShack might finally be moving out of the early 1980’s where it had seemed stuck for so long. The advertising department was in a nice open space, there were bicycles we could use to ride up and down the banks of the Trinity river. There was great art that hung throughout the building. Things were looking up for this little early innovator in the computer industry. It may not have been Silicon Valley with their tennis courts and Ultimate Frisbee fields but it was a pretty nice place to be. I hadn’t been there for very long before I realized that, building aside, not much had changed at RadioShack and that they were probably destined for more of the same stagnant growth - except now it was going happen with the expense of that incredible new campus hanging over their heads. The first thing that clued me in was not my department itself - the art department was a good one that was being run by people who seemed to ‘get it’. The problem was in the feedback process. Behind that facade of a new and shiny RadioShack was the same old, stagnant, uncreative management structure. When you looked past the cool building, bicycles and art it was still a hierarchal structure with each person in that structure looking for a way to make his or her mark - and none of it benefitted the creative process.
The process of getting an ad to print looked something like this: Our department would be tasked to create some sort of promotional piece. We’d brainstorm, we’d collaborate and eventually we’d develop an idea. We’d then develop the art, write the copy, spend a day or two at a photoshoot, put everything together, get it on paper and then print out the ad and place it in an interoffice mail envelope where it would then make the rounds through RadioShack management - not creative or ad managers, but all of them. Each manager, regardless of level, would make his or her necessary notations on the ad, return it to the envelope and send it on. Eventually the ad would come back to us, full of changes, contradictions and frankly, some ridiculous suggestions but there was no discussion or collaboration or genuine constructive feedback that had occurred - just managers wanting to put their mark on a piece of paper. This is how I knew that RadioShack had not evolved. They were still the stuffy brown suit and tie company they had become known to be. They were too set in their ways to change.
What I learned from this experience is not that feedback is bad. Feedback can be extremely valuable and is absolutely necessary when you’re creating something new or starting a new enterprise. I want you to trust yourself but I also want you to surround yourself with people you trust who can see things in a different way and provide constructive feedback that will help you to succeed.
When putting together a group of people who will serve as your sounding board for an idea or endeavor, there are characteristics that each of these people need to have - and not to have to truly make your feedback sessions productive.
I think the first and most important thing that you need to consider when assembling your feedback group is trust. You need to trust that their opinions are valid and appropriate. You may not take all of them and they will certainly not always agree on everything but you need to know that their views are of value. They also need to trust themselves enough to speak out and offer feedback. That is a difficult thing for some people and not everyone is able to critique another’s work but everyone in your feedback group should be comfortable with the process.
It is also important that each person you select for your group has the ability to be tactful. “That’s a terrible idea” is not useful feedback. Each person should be able to not only offer critique, but throw out potential solutions for whatever you are addressing. Not every idea brainstormed will be good but they should be presented and tossed around before dismissing. This also leads me to a third point, which is that every person in your feedback group needs to feel equal. It’s not a strong, useful feedback session if people are concerned with their own position or feel less-important compared to other voices in the room.
Keeping a hierarchy from sneaking into a room is a difficult thing, even if you don’t intend for it to happen. When I was at RadioShack, there were times that we might attend a brainstorming session where ideas would be tossed around. These sessions, however, were conducted in board rooms that had one long table. The person in charge of the session would sit at the head of the table and those that came in with him would get the seats closest to him. Everyone else would fill in the seats at the far end of the table. It didn’t take long for it to become apparent that the session was really for the leader and those seated immediately around him. The farther away from that end of the room you got, the less significant people felt. This is a mistake made far too often in companies and it seriously limits the value of a feedback session. Keep the group equal - you will get far better results if people feel free to offer their opinions and suggestions.
You also want to limit the number of people in your feedback group. Once you have identified those people in your life or business who will be most helpful to you, be careful to keep exposure of ideas to them. As we said earlier, not everyone is good at feedback and not all ideas are valid. One of the pet peeves of most designers I know it the idea of “Design by Committee”.
Design by committee works something like this: I work with a client to create something. We work together and get it to a point where it looks good to me, it looks good to them but it’s not quite 100% done. This is the point at which you may look to your feedback group - a small group of people you trust to offer insight and opinion, which may or may not be acted on. Design by committee comes in when the client says, “Let’s email this out to everyone in the organization and let them tell us what they think” Surely, they think, 500 opinions will be better than 10, right? Wrong. The truth is that I can draw a small circle on a page and if I send it out to enough people, some are going to say, “That circle looks sad” Design by Committee does nothing more than invite unuseful input from people feel the need to speak up and make their mark - even if they really don’t have anything to say. Keep your feedback group small but mighty and your ideas will truly reap the rewards.
While we’ve addressed the things that you want to look for in a small group of superheroes to help you advance you’re own creative dreams, we have yet to consider the things that you need do to ensure that you are getting the most from this group.
Trust your ideas - but also really listen to others. Making good use of feedback involves a bit of humility. Don’t be so committed to your idea that you’re not willing to change it or even abandon it if that becomes the best thing to do. It is also important to develop a thick skin. It’s very easy for us to take offense when someone criticizes our ugly baby. Instead, view that criticism as someone who is wanting to see that baby florish into a beautiful adult.
Give proper consideration and respect to everything that comes out of your feedback group. Will you take every piece of advice offered? Of course not, some of it will be terrible advice but you want to make sure that you’re always considering everything so that you don’t miss the great advice when it comes through.
Do not ignore pitfalls or problems that are sussed out by your feedback group. Groups are usually good at identifying real problems - even if the solutions they offer are not the right ones. If a group of people you trust identifies an issue with your idea or work, trust that this issue exists and needs to be addressed. Don’t fail to address the problem just because you don’t come up with an immediate fix.
Feedback groups are essential development. They are like a magic mirror that allows us to magically see things we may have otherwise missed. And if put together well, they can make the difference between an idea thats developed into a dream and one that just withers on the vine.
From Ty Walls:
After four decades drawing smiles I often encounter remarkable people. I've learned to create little special moments for people from all around the world with my simple smile-drawing skills. But sometimes, life creates little magical moments for me. This blog is my attempt to share them with you.