The dread of criticism is the death of genius – William Gilmore Simms
The notion of deferring judgment is a highly underrated, extremely powerful tool in the change leader’s toolkit. It is also highly underutilized.
It works something like this:
- What if I were to refrain from censoring my own ideas long enough to inventory my options? (personal application)
- What if I were mature enough to not need to hear my own voice in response to someone else’s thoughts on how to solve a problem? (interpersonal application)
We all succumb to any number of self-inhibitors when trying to think up novel ideas. Sometimes the inhibitors are so strong, we don’t even try to think; it is a struggle merely to be. the shame of it is, a nation of survivors does little to innovate, grow, or enhance the culture around us; much less cultivate our own personal mental space.
Statistics indicate most children are creative until they reach kindergarten or 1st grade. The corollary statistic says most adults are no longer creative. The ratio is something as obscene as 85:15.
The conundrum of processing judgment instantly rather than deferring it for a time is that we fear we will not be heard, or that we are somehow inviting others to walk all over us and our ideas as though we were a doormat. So we choose the path of pre-emptive verbal strikes. Typically long-winded and varying in degrees of “on-topic”, they help us scope out our territory, be heard (or at least be verbal, if not simply be loud), and prevent others from taking all the credit for an idea that is not our own. Or, at least, prevent them from poking holes in our thoughts because they are too busy holding their breath, attempting to get a #$*!$&!! word in at all.
This doctrine works equally well when talking ourselves out of an idea. Note the irony of an original thought being crowded out by our habitual mental defenses. For demonstration purposes, when was the last time you had a novel, potentially useful idea? What was your first mental or verbal response to it: positive or negative? What was your response the the last time someone else shared an original thought?
It is easier to resist in the beginning than in the end – Leonardo da Vinci
Studies further show students require a praise-to-criticism ratio of 4:1 just to maintain current behavior. To actually alter (read, improve) it, the ratio shoots up to 8:1.
Conclusion: we are far more likely to be negative than positive. Negative, judgemental thought is habitual to the point of going unnoticed in us. The routine of crushing, killing, stomping out or otherwise destroying others’ ideas will do that to a person, because we are so used to having our own novel thoughts crushed, killed, stomped out or otherwise destroyed.
Immediate takeways for any team
The downward spiral can be broken. What if, instead of critiquing someone else’s “bad” idea or our own “stupid” thought, we were to draw out the value and find the good or great potential?
Change leaders bear an extra burden to turn the tides of meaningful change on behalf of those they wish to lead.