Jim Hull noted a fascinating article from the Harvard Business School website about the way people can be creatively shut down by those trying the aid them with ‘helpful’ suggestions. Jim’s take is that this can make animation dailies counterproductive. As a mentor and as someone who believes in actively collaborative environments, I worry that I’m sometimes on the other side of this equation, that I’m the one shutting people down. Here’s the relevant section of the article:
One of the classic interpersonal challenges I see in brilliant, technically gifted people is their desire to “add value,” especially to other people’s ideas.
When does this occur?
Imagine that you are an entry-level employee. I am your manager. You come to me with an idea — which you think is great. You have been working on this idea for months and are really excited about what you have developed. I like the idea.
Rather than just saying, “great idea!” — being the brilliant, technically gifted person I am, I may well say, “That is a very good idea. Why don’t you add this to it?”
This could well be a case of trying to add “too much value,” and here’s the problem: the quality of the idea may go up 5% with my suggestions, but your commitment to its execution may go down 50%. It is no longer your idea; as your manager, I have now made it my idea.
I’ve had it happen to me, and I’m know I’ve done it to others. As Jim writes about the dailies process, “There comes a point when you’ve made so many changes to a scene that it no longer belongs to you and your interest in it plummets. I’ve had this happen before and always chalked it up to laziness.” Welcome to animator hell, where your shot circles round and round like it’s been dropped in a toilet and flushed.
Where I’ve felt this phenomenon most obviously, however, is when I’ve been kicking around an idea for a film or some personal animation, and someone does this number to me:
If we are honest with ourselves, when we start excessively pontificating and trying to add value, we are often not really focused on the quality of the idea at all. We are just trying to prove to the world how smart we really are.
Ideas are really fragile that way, and sharing them with a pontificating know-it-all is sure death to those ideas. Or at least death to your drive to go forward and develop the ideas.
I still think animation, the supremely collaborative medium that it is, requires lots of input and suggestions and value adding. Plussing, as Disney liked to call it. But clearly this is a two-edged blade, and the article has some good advice for us all:
Ask yourself, “Will my ‘added value’ make this person more – or less – committed to doing a great job?”
Ask yourself, “Is this comment going to make our team more effective – or is it just intended to prove that I am more clever than my peers?”
Ask yourself, “Do these people really care about the ‘sermon’ that I am about to deliver – or am I just annoying them?”
Sad to say, we’ve all known people who have to say ‘yes‘ to those questions, especially the last two. Try not to be one of those people yourself, while still being able to give good feedback and advice to your coworkers and peers.
(Credit where credit is due Department: the article in question is by Marshall Goldsmith.)