The Invitation to Critique

“To build a prototype and expose it to critique is to make yourself very vulnerable…But you invite people in because you know that you can’t do the thing you want to do without their honest response…

…By contrast, Davey worked very hard on restoring that little Norfolk church, but he also sought help of every kind along the way. He gave up complete control of the project in order to draw friends and strangers into his endeavor. His motto seems to have been that great phrase from Wordsworth: “what we have loved, / Others will love, and we will teach them how.” He made a bet on mutuality.

That surely meant having to hear other people tell him “You’re doing it wrong” — something Justo, it seems, couldn’t bear to hear. But if we want to repair the world, or any part of our little corner of it, we’ve got not just to accept but invite that possibility. We have to discipline ourselves to welcome it. And we have to encourage those others to stick with us through multiple iterations of whatever we’re prototyping. 

-Alan Jacobs, “the invitation to critique.” ayjay..org. July 23, 2022.

This strike me as a skill that we all desperately need to cultivate. But, the challenges are often insurmountable.

As people, it is often difficult to admit that we are wrong, or even admit the possibility of it. Some of that is a function that so much of our modern lives are controlled by others. We want to feel, at least where we are making decisions, that we are in control. We are operating independently and that we are in control of our lives. We don’t want to hear criticism because criticism is everywhere. We have had our fill of it.

Further, I think “honest response” is a key issue. Often, in a social context, people are trolling. They are not giving an honest response, but one that is designed to serve some agenda, whether that is create social boundaries, create differentiation of status or what have you. There’s even the unintentional. There are people that are too busy thinking about what they are going to say next or trying to guess what you are trying to say that they are not even responding to you, but half formed conceptions or their own mind.

How does on open oneself up and invite critique when this is the social and cultural environments most of us live in?

And, it makes me remember this bit from John Cleese quoting another (below), “If people can’t control their own emotions, they they have to start trying to control other people’s behavior.” And, I think this points to a larger issue is that in order to open ourselves up to critique and in order for that critique to have value, everyone involved has to be both able to control their emotions and be invested in the improvement of whatever is the object of critique. Whenever you add in some other agenda, such as trying to control the behavior of others, relative prestige, or what not, you cannot have honest critique and their is no point inviting it.

The question is: how do we get to a place of constructive critique, or a constructive dialogue, with the people in our lives about the things we care about?

Swallowing the Elephant (Part 1)

“Years ago while interning in the rendering group at Pixar, I learned an important lesson: “interesting” things almost always come to light when a software system is given input with significantly different characteristics than it’s seen before. Even for well-written and mature software systems, new types of input almost always expose heretofore unknown shortcomings in the existing implementation.”

—Matt Pharr. Swallowing the Elephant (Part 1) pharr.org. July 8, 2018.

Probably true of any system.