I just got back from my parents’ house, where we got sucked into a TV special on a live exhibition Dale Chihuly coordinated at the Museum of Glass. The artists he pulled together blew and sculpted some amazing pieces of glass art. We’ve all seen it done on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Reading Rainbow, but this was something else.
Our family noticed something interesting as we watched: the artists loved to praise each other publicly–often coming across as flattering one another. There was no critique or constructive criticism. Everything everyone did was “beautiful”–even if the person didn’t do what was planned. The only thing that came remotely close was when someone dropped a finished piece and everyone gasped aloud. Everyone was disappointed, but it was a communal loss. No one was pointing fingers.
That got me thinking about other occupations, particularly mine, where a gathering of often ends in a verbal blood bath. Read any technical books and blogs and you’ll come across a lot of critique and criticism–constructive and otherwise. Opinions are strong and believers get passionate. There’s a lot of debate about who’s right, who’s wrong, and who’s to blame as the root cause of a failure. I’m certainly guilty.
Of course the contrast I’m making between artists and the exacting isn’t always as bad as I just described. But it could change–at least among those inclined to critique. Instead of celebrating another company’s addition to the TechCrunch deadpool and analyzing why its business plan was doomed from day one, maybe we should look at some of the things they did right. We should try to find some beauty in the work they did even if the finished product ends up lying in pieces on the floor.