How does the idea make you feel?

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When we want to validate our ideas the most obvious way is to ask someone else what they think of the idea.

“Is this a good idea or not?”

But thinking and feeling are two distinctive things, and each represents a different interpretation of what we experience.

Love, for example, is an often illogical or irrational feeling. Then it’s difficult to feel anything about an Excel spreadsheet (unless you’re a math nerd). Yet each of these things serves a distinct purpose and provides us with meaningful experiences or information. Similarly: ideas can be illogical or feeling-less. Creative ideas are usually fall into the former category: illogical, especially when first encountered.

When we ask someone what they think about our ideas, we’re asking them to logically look at the concept and tell us whether or not they can comprehend it. But the problem with many creative ideas—those which are truly novel and valuable—is they’re not the type of thing you can immediately, logically, wrap your head around. They’re often confusing, daunting, or seemingly crazy at first. History has given us ample examples of thinkers who were “ahead of their time.”

Imagine trying to evaluate the concept of an elevator, or tablet computer, or car, from a person from the 1800s. They wouldn’t have any basis from which to understand what you’re even talking about, let alone critique the idea well. Similarly, you’d be hard-pressed to get someone’s interpretation of Moby Dick if they had never read anything like it before, or of Jackson Pollock if they had never seen the style (and knew nothing of the artist).

When asking someone else what they think of our idea, we may be asking them to respond to what they don’t understand. How could they? If it was obvious, they would have thought of the idea.

Instead, we should seek to not validate our ideas by asking “What do you think about this?” or “Do you think this is a good idea?” Rather, we should ask how the idea makes someone feel.

Feelings can often help us better understand where gaps in our ideas might be, or what cognitive bridges we’ll need to build when sharing our ideas. Feelings are a far better guiding light when it comes to building new concepts than more logical thought processes. If the person we’re interacting with feels confused, overwhelmed, or frustrated by the idea, that’s a good sign that we need to work to simplify the concept, or make it easier to relate to another, existing, idea. If the feedback we get is that the idea excites the other person, or makes them feel optimistic, or hopeful, or another positive feeling, that’s a good indicator we may be onto something worth pursuing further.

The next time you want to validate whether or not your creative idea is worthwhile: ask your audience how the idea makes them feel, not whether they think it’s good or bad.

Doing so will get you closer to the feedback you need to evolve the idea, not merely scrap it or call it a success.

Three tips for effectively critiquing creativity


Creativity is less about critique and more about creation. You should never mix the two.

However, there comes a point with any creative work where there has to be a critique in some form. The critique will come either by yourself, from peers, or from customers or audience. Sometimes you’ll be invited to critique other’s creative work as well, of course.

It becomes critically important to know how to critique well. If you can effectively critique your own ideas or work in a constructive way, you’ll end up feeling empowered and driven, with more insights into what to do than what not to do. If you can critique other’s work with equal prowess, you’ll learn about yourself and your style from the critique, as well as become the go-to person for feedback in the future (expanding your personal network).

Learning to critique well is just as much of an art as the art work itself. It requires both skill and practice. But here are three tips to serve as a starting point:

1. Know when the right time for critique is

For some ideas, a critique is vital in the first few stages, after the idea has come about and just begun to develop. For others, it’s only after an idea has reached a more concrete, completed phase that it can effectively be evaluated.

The right time for a critique depends entirely on the context.

If, for example, you’re about to critique the results of your own brainstorming session, it’s likely better to wait until as many ideas are already out in the open as possible before critiquing them; otherwise you stand in the way of possible ideas making themselves known.

This makes sense, as the creation mindset is very different from the critiquing mindset; one requires free-roaming thoughts and a certain openness to what comes as a result, while the other relies on pre-existing concepts for evaluation and comparison. It’s surprisingly difficult to move from one to the other and then back again.

Likewise, if you’re evaluating another person’s work it’s important to know where they’re at with it before you begin evaluation. Do they feel as though the work is entirely complete and ready for a full critique? Or are they feeling stuck on a certain element and hoping your opinion can help them see something they otherwise wouldn’t see? In which case the critique you give should not be a full critique of the work, but solely of where the creator is currently at with it.

The company 42floors refers to this approach as Thirty Percent Feedback, and it’s very well worth exploring.

Before critiquing any work, first identify what the concrete goal of the critique is. Outline where in the process of creation you are. Only then can you consider beginning an effective critique.

2. Be constructive, not opinionated

Avoid using words like good and bad, or phrases like “I like that” when critiquing.

When you avoid these words, your critique becomes centered on the concrete reasons behind whyyour reaction to the idea or work is what it is. It’s those reasons that can be further explored and – most importantly ” acted on.

For example, If I looked at a project and stated: “I don’t like the colors,” that’s not a critique. Such a statement is simply unhelpful criticism. On the other hand, if I explicitly say something like: “The colors look overly muted and that makes me feel like they conflict with the message you’re trying to convey in the work” then suddenly there’s a starting point for discussion and exploration in the work. It’s clear from that statement what needs to be either discussed or acted on next.

When evaluating ideas it’s crucial to do the same. Our gut reaction to something (whether we like it or not) is certainly worth noting, but don’t merely cross ideas off a list because your first reaction is that they’re no good. Instead, take that feeling (of an idea being good or bad) and ask yourself why you feel that way, what is it about the idea that makes you not like it?

3. Invite critiques from your community

The purpose of a critique is often to see aspects of your work or ideas that you couldn’t see yourself.

Presenting the work for critique from a larger community of trusted peers (when the work is ready, of course) is the quickest way to get outside perspective. It’s from those outside perspectives that we learn and grow.

Finding a community that understands these fundamentals to critiquing is just as important as opening yourself up to the critique.

Fortunately quality communities exist and criticisms can be sorted through virtually. Sites like Behance, Quora, even Tumblr and Twitter are all worthwhile for inviting critiques.

No matter where you’re at with your work, a time for critique will come. Ensure you’re prepared.

Photo by Kevin Dooley.