It’s an unfortunate fact that the world is full of critics who feel that it’s their place to put others down left and right, based on their ideas, actions, and even personal beliefs. It seems that negativity is the order of the day, based on its prevalence among TV pundits, editorials, and anonymous internet comments. Politicians criticize their opponents instead of working together to find solutions, bloggers and so-called experts criticize the way we raise our children in often contradictory ways, bosses criticize your work performance and ideas, the list goes on and on.
Unsurprisingly, all this negativity can rub off on us, even if we have the best intentions. I know that even I sometimes find myself unthinkingly criticizing something before I even know all the details.
It’s important to step back and try to stop this cycle, because it’s simply not productive. Instead of joining everyone else by being automatically critical of everyone who has an idea that differs from yours,become an anti-critic. An anti-critic is someone who collaborates instead of always coming up with a reason why the other person is wrong, and works with others to constantly improve ideas and practices rather than simply tearing them down.
The first step is changing how you think about the word “criticism” itself.
The word “criticism” generally has a negative connotation and is equated with an attack. For instance, when a co-worker criticizes your ideas on a project, it’s easy to get defensive instead of trying to develop better ideas to solve the problem, because it’s easy to perceive criticism as a rebuke.
But the truth is, criticism is not inherently negative. To criticize, in its most basic form, simply means to examine closely. So an important step towards becoming an anti-critic is changing the connotation of the term “criticism” within your own mind.
When you think of “criticism,” try aligning it with words like “analysis” and “evaluation.” Changing your own definition can make you more open to receiving criticism in a constructive way, which is an important step toward becoming a good collaborator. The next time someone on your team criticizes something you came up with or are working on, try to look past the negativity to see any useful advice at the core of the critique. If you can do that, and answer with constructive ideas, you’ve taken a meaningful step toward breaking the cycle of unconstructive criticism within your organization.
How to Criticize Keeping with the same work example above, we’re going to flip the script and look at criticism from the perspective of the criticizer. If you’re the one criticizing a co-worker’s ideas, then it’s time for you to consider how you are offering your criticism and whether or not it’s constructive. For this step, you also need to change your definition of criticism and start thinking of yourself not as a critic but as an evaluator.
To that end, always start with the positive. Look at the core of the idea the person is presenting and figure out what works about it — and say that. Then go onto what could be improved. It’s okay to mention flaws or potential issues you see, as long as you also offer ideas for fixing them. Criticism without a fix isn’t helpful, and only perpetuates nonconstructive negativity and resentment. Always focus on improvement — building on ideas rather than tearing them down.
None of this means you should be dishonest about your evaluation of an idea. It means your honesty should, for the sake of the project, be offered with the aim of collaborating, not criticizing.
An anti-critic is, above all else, a contributor. Instead of someone who sits on the side throwing rocks, an anti-critic gets in the middle of the situation by figuring out how all parties can work together to come up with a better solution than the one that currently exists.
Criticism (or evaluation, or analysis) is important, but it needs to be constructive and followed by joining in and collaborating. To do this effectively, it’s a good practice to first ask to offer your opinion. If you usually just automatically jump in by offering your opinion, try to cut that habit. To truly collaborate, you must be open to others’ feelings and ideas. They may not want or need your expertise at the moment, or they may feel that you are taking charge when you automatically offer your take. The key to collaboration is that nobody is necessarily “in charge.” Instead, you are multiple people with multiple areas of expertise and experience that need to be shared, discussed, and analyzed in order to come up with a solution that will solve the problem and move the project forward.
The world has plenty of critics, and you don’t need to add to that negativity. Every team member has the ability, and the responsibility, to make the working environment one that constantly moves forward rather than getting mired in what’s not working. Modeling what it means to be an anti-critic on your team will lead to more collaboration and less resentment and conflict. Take the time to really listen to others when collaborating, and always follow up a critique with ideas for how to move forward.
Have some examples of good and bad criticism?
#criticism #politics #ideas #innovation #critics #collaboration
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The late Steve Jobs was the visionary who took Apple from the office desktop to the user’s back pocket. His reputation on stage was as a hard-charging, success-driven leader, and his audience responded with cheers and fist pumps as customers flocked to buy his latest brainchild.
Unfortunately, Jobs also had a reputation for rudeness and harsh treatment of his employees according to a New York Times piece. Apparently, he could be downright nasty to people when it simply wasn’t necessary.
There are two sides to every story, of course. Steve Jobs may have been an abrasive boss, but he was also a devoted family man. Our sons competed against each other in fencing, and he was at every competition. That really impressed me. We would chat and while I was aware of his reputation, I never saw it and I got the sense of an interesting, creative guy – who was, obviously, juggling more goals and obligations than most other parents at those competitions.
Jobs’s self-confidence arose from his belief that he was actually making a difference. He eschewed focus groups and market research and stood steadfastly against opposition. He could have retired as a multi-millionaire in 1985 after he was fired from Apple, but instead he went on to create Pixar and NeXT. Back at Apple, he went on to transform the computer, music, and mobile phone industry. Clearly, Steve Jobs was one of those “can’t not do” innovators. If he wasn’t working toward his next big idea, he wasn’t happy.
Are Kindness and Balance Incompatible with Visionary Leadership?
Steve Jobs had a great ability to inspire through personal example, even if he often lacked interpersonal skills and compassion for his employees’ emotional needs – though, to be fair, his successors claim he matured quite a bit as a leader in his later years. But how much better a leader would Jobs have been if he could have been more sensitive from the beginning to the people who made him great? Again, it is all a matter of balance, and Jobs had much more to balance than the average leader.
What causes some successful leaders to become insensitivity? Does being relentlessly rough on employees elicit good performance? Are visionary leadership and life balance incompatible concepts?
The answer to the first question could be related to just how hard overachievers can be on themselves. Their negative self-talk and chastising can be relentless and unforgiving as they constantly demand more from themselves. No achievement or accolade is ever enough. And when things are not progressing, their subordinates might bear the brunt of this hurtful inner critique.
This is unfortunate, because people are the soul of an organization. They can work for a harsh boss and endure rebuke and disapproval, and may simply be inspired by a visionary like Steve Jobs and get their personal satisfaction elsewhere. On the other hand, what if Jobs had been a bit easier on himself and treated everyone accordingly?
Could it be that a talented employee with endless potential left because of the lack of a simple thanks for a job well done? It’s been demonstrated over and over that fear and anger don’t make for the most productive employees – workers who feel safe to experiment and sometimes fail generally produce more interesting, important innovations in the long run.
This is all well and good, but it is the rare leader who can effect the kind of revolutionary change that Steve Jobs did while maintaining balance in other aspects of their lives. Your average corporate manager has a tough time with balance – so it’s not surprising that the head of one of the largest, most historically innovative companies on the planet struggled with it too.
Why Obsession Isn’t Always a Good Thing
What differentiates an abrasive person of vision from the rest of us? The characteristic of obsession provides one answer. Someone who is obsessed has typically abandoned balance and a sense of proportion in favor of an unrelenting quest for achievement. That obsession often manifests itself in long hours on the job, a harsh and unrelenting management style and neglect of the personal details of their lives, which recharge the batteries and are the reason they go to work in the first place. Our culture tends to idolize people who are obsessed with their work – but that kind of obsession usually isn’t sustainable.
Time runs out on all of us, and we must achieve the balance that not only promotes personal success, but also enriches the lives of both our colleagues and our families. If time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once, it follows that allocating a balance between our work and our personal lives is the most efficient path to complete success.
The path to success is measured only partially by the amount of wealth and accomplishments we amass. Andrew Carnegie, for example, is remembered more for his humanitarian work than his noisy, unsafe steel mills. Then there was Alfred Nobel, whose promotion of peace and the arts and sciences lent his name to the coveted Nobel prizes. Nobel was an armaments manufacturer, a fact not so well known.
How to Achieve a Healthier Work-Life Balance
We don’t all have the wealth and responsibilities of a Steve Jobs or an Andrew Carnegie, but we can achieve a healthier work-life balance that will make us easier on ourselves, our colleagues, and our loved ones.
We can start, as mentioned above, by being kinder to ourselves and transferring that feeling to others. After all, bumps along the road and even outright failure are essential for developing the best possible product. If you haven’t failed, you’re not learning. Internalizing that truth can lead to a better attitude that not only improves the quality of one’s work, but also the quality of one’s life and relationships.
Learning to relax and let go sometimes is not weakness or laziness – it’s an essential quality in the best leaders, Steve Jobs and the others mentioned in that Times piece notwithstanding. Schedule in time to recharge if you can’t seem to find it any other way. Surround yourself with people you trust to do as good a job as you and delegate certain responsibilities. This allows you to focus on your core competencies while leaving time for family, rest, exercise, and other pursuits – all of which contribute to quality work.
Leaders like Steve Jobs, who died far too soon from pancreatic cancer at age 56, are under immense pressure to continually innovate and succeed, while also, like all of us, needing to maintain our family lives and relationships. It is important to create actual balance in our lives even as we devote so much passion and energy to our work. Both can benefit in the end.
“Passion is a rather frightening thing because if you have passion you don’t know where it will take you.” ― Jiddu Krishnamurti, Freedom from the Known
A very brilliant professor was invited to see Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912) to inquire about zen. The professor bubbled with enthusiasm sharing his research and knowledge, the doctrines he had extensively studied, the sutras he knew by heart.
Nan-in poured tea while the professor spoke. The master kept pouring, pouring until the glass overflowed.
“Can’t you see it’s already full!? It’s spilling all over the floor!”
“Like this cup” said Nan-in, “you are full of ideas and opinions. How can you learn the way if your cup is not empty?”
Crippled by knowledge and information, we too often live in a tomb of disenchantment. Too serious to dance in the rain, too cautious to build sandcastles by the sea, we are frozen by our own experience, expertise and fear.
The art of innovation and of staying beginners is to empty our cups again and again, to remain childlike and playful with eyes always open and fresh.
The Beginner’s Mind
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki
When we learn something new, we give our whole attention to it. It is an adventure where the mind listens completely and the senses are alive. But as it gradually becomes familiar, we lose that sense of wonder. The more knowledge and memories we store about a subject, the more our awareness dims; our thoughts conform to a pattern and we think in trenches, unable to see something in an entirely new light.
As we collect the dust of experience, we cover life’s opportunities. A child sees a rose as a rose without saying what it is. An adult sees an ornament of romance and hangups and is wary of its thorns. The latter’s experience blocks their ability to see beauty as beauty, whereas the former sees without the need to name, label, or impart meaning.
What happens when our eyes can no longer see our work with the same excitement, the same freshness and joy? The security of our careers, our titles and degrees requires us to trade our freedom for the convenience of labels and the comforts of routine. But when we physically and mentally roam in only the space we know, we stunt our growth, dwarf our opportunities, and clip our roots like bonsai trees.
The Fear of Not Knowing
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” – H. P. Lovecraft
Fear is a life-protective measure and a form of intelligence. If a snake crosses your path, you move out of the way; if a building is on fire, you get out. But fear can become pathological, making you afraid of things which have no cause for fear: the fear of losing your job, the fear of public speaking, the fear of failing or making mistakes. This kind of fear is abnormal. It creates indecisiveness and stagnation. Rather than take action, we fear failure and lose opportunities for innovation and joy.
Courage, on the other hand, is not the absence of fear, but rather the acceptance of fear. The risks are still there, but you act in spite of them, pushing new boundaries and opening new doors. When most of us begin something such as a new task or skill, we have nothing to lose so we have nothing to fear. In fact, fear is about losing what we possess, of losing the comfort of certainty and what we know
It was Socrates, one of the most beloved founding fathers of Western civilization, who said “I know that I know nothing,” courageously defending his views or the right to question them even when they led to his death. But we don’t need to be martyrs in order to live courageously and question everything we know. We simply must become beginners who see each day full of new possibilities.
The Shattered Cup
Zen master Ikkyu was very clever, even as a young boy. When he got into trouble, which was often, his quick wits always found a way to get him out. But one day he dropped his master’s beloved teacup, a precious gift and rare antique, which shattered the moment it hit the ground.
The young monk knew he was in trouble. But before he could think or formulate a plan, he heard footsteps approaching! He quickly swept up the pieces, hid them in his robe, only to turn around and see his master eyeing him.
“Is something the matter, Ikkyu?” the old man asked.
“No master…I was just wondering why…why must people die?”
“It’s natural” said the master “everything must experience both life and death. When it’s time, even you will die”.
“Should we be upset about it?”
“Nonsense. It’s a fact we must accept.”
“Master” said Ikkyu as he revealed the shattered cup “it was time for your tea cup to die!”
It’s time to play like children and see through fresh eyes. To once again be beginners and restore our passion and excitement for new possibilities.
Its time to break out cups so that we can fill them again.
Listen to this episode of the Killer Innovations Podcast: To Innovate You Must Have A Beginners Mind at http://philmckinney.com/archives/2015/06/to-innovate-you-must-have-a-beginners-mind-s11-ep15.html
Image Credit: iStock
Music by Bensound
However, in the past few decades, America’s lead in innovation has shrunk, and some experts believe our lead has disappeared altogether. In either case, the simple fact is that American innovation is being threatened by structural erosion and global pressures.
Here are some thoughts on how to fix it ...
Listen to this weeks Killer Innovations radio show/podcast at http://ow.ly/Q6Hbb
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him… The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself… All progress depends on the unreasonable man.” George Bernard Shaw
This weeks show was broadcast live from the Unreasonable Institute in Boulder, Colorado. The mission of Unreasonable is:
… gets entrepreneurs what they need to scale solutions to the world’s biggest problems at programs ranging from 5 days to 5 weeks. We do this by identifying entrepreneurs with the potential to address problems like poverty, lack of education, and social injustice at scale, and then by swarming them with hand-picked mentors, funders, and partners to help grow their impact. And once entrepreneurs leave our program they can forever access and engage with this global network of entrepreneurs, mentors, and funders that now spans over 50 countries. Our goal is to help each of these ventures scale up to meaningfully impact the lives of at least one million people each.
Guest: Daniel Epstein – Co-Founder of Unreasonable Group
Daniel’s life has been shaped by a fundamental belief that entrepreneurship is the answer to nearly all the issues we face today. By the time he received his undergraduate degree in philosophy, he’d already started three companies. In 2012 he was recognized by Inc. Magazine as a “30 under 30 entrepreneur” and by Forbes as one of the “top 30 most impactful entrepreneurs” of the year. In 2013, he received the prestigious “Entrepreneur of the World” award along with Richard Branson at the Global Entrepreneurship Forum. Today, this passion for entrepreneurship and startups has led to the creation of Unreasonable Group ( www.unreasonablegroup.com ).
Guest: Gavin Armstrong – Founder and CEO Lucky Iron Fish
Gavin is a PhD Candidate in biomedical science at the University of Guelph and is a Fulbright Scholar. He has received the William J. Clinton Hunger Leadership Award and the Michaëlle Jean Humanitarian Award. He has also received the Mayor’s Award of Excellence, has been named one of the Top 40 under 40 in the Guelph community, and has been named a fellow emeritus of both the Hunger Solutions Institute and the Kirchner Food Fellowship.
Lucky Iron Fish website
Guest: Rubayat Kahn – Co-Founder of mDoc
Rubayat Khan is a social entrepreneur, development practitioner and data scientist from Bangladesh specialized in the rapidly growing intersection between scalable low-cost technologies and international development challenges. He is also a global pioneer in the use of cutting-edge data mining, predictive modeling and interactive data visualizations to make development interventions and research more impactful and efficient.
Killer Question/Mind Hack
How can I eliminate customer hassles and create unique benefits for my customers?
Why do people choose you over your competitors? Or, vice versa?
How do you go about eliminating a hassle or creating a benefit to your customer if there is no obvious reason for them to pick you over your competitor?
I pretty much hate flying these days, which is unfortunate, because I log a minimum of a quarter-million miles every year. Travel is at best a neutral experience, and at worst an awful one, but that’s probably not news to you.
Every new hassle of flying is absorbed into the “new normal” and accepted by travelers relatively quickly.
Who would have thought that the flying public would accept more intense and invasive warrantless pat-downs than some police forces are authorized to do—especially when there is no evidence that these searches actually accomplish anything? But the public has.
The point is that customers are generally quick to accept a reduction in “pleasantness” and an increase in hassles, especially when the individual businesses that comprise an industry present a united front on the issue (for example, seemingly coordinated price hikes or near simultaneous service downgrades).
As frustrating as these situations are, they also present an opportunity. Low expectations and hassles are something to take advantage of, because they are an opportunity to surprise and excite your customer.
If you can twist these hassles and make people pleased to get an experience that feels new and exciting, or even just approximates old standards of service, they’ll be happy.
Just acknowledging the reality of the downgraded experience instead of trying to pass it off as something done “for your convenience” helps mitigate customer frustration and reduces the perception of a hassle.
One of my favorite airlines right now is Southwest, which is funny because I’m guaranteed an economy seat on them, rather than the business or first-class seat I get on a legacy carrier.
Why do I like Southwest? They’re pretty much perkless, but the minimal service they offer is given in a straightforward, easy-to-use way.
They don’t over-promise and, as a result, don’t under-deliver. The experience is consistent and uniform; I may not be excited to be flying them, but I’m not disappointed, either.
No hassles, no headache.
So ask yourself …
What hassles would I need to overcome for my customers in order to leapfrog over my competitors’ product?
What would I need to do differently?
How will our competitors respond to these changes?
Just as you go to the gym to work out your physical muscles, we all need to exercise our creative muscle.
So your assignment this week:
List 5 customer hassles that you can identify. For each hassle, come up with 5 ideas to overcome them. You will then have 25 ideas that eliminate customer hassles that you can use to disrupt the competition
If you discover some interesting idea, post them in the comments section. That way, you can inspire others to look beyond the obvious.
- CableLabsPresident & CEO, 2012 - present
- HPCTO, 2002 - 2011
Philip McKinney is the President and CEO of CableLabs. CableLabs is a non-profit research and development consortium dedicated to discovering game-changing innovations for its member companies.
Previously, he was HP's Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for the Personal Systems Group (PSG). In this role, he oversaw the long-range technical strategy and research and development for HP’s laptops, desktops, converged mobile phones, workstations, digital home and consumer media devices.
Before joining HP, Phil was engaged in the day-to-day operational challenges as the Senior Vice President and founding CIO for Teligent, a global provider of fixed-wireless services.
Phil also is the host of the podcast Killer Innovations (www.killerinnovations.com) with ~20,000 listeners. The podcast covers personal creativity, translating ideas into innovations and innovation management.
His personal blog can be found at www.philmckinney.com
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