How do you develop good ideas into great ones?
Well, you could place, as Stewart Guss mentioned in his interview on The Rankings Podcast, “respectful dissenters” among your inner circle to make sure you’ve always got an objective voice around. Or, there might be another answer from the more creative industries – a critique session.
In some way or another, you may have already run some crit sessions without knowing. The idea behind them is to present work or ideas and, as a team, discuss them in an open and honest way. This gives you a clear view of their merits and drawbacks thanks to the number of perspectives they’re subjected to.
You could run a crit session to discuss branding ideas, ways to improve your content strategy, or even to decide on a new direction or niche for the firm to take. But whether you’re discussing these or something entirely different, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.
Organize a Dedicated Critique Session
Whether you want to discuss your own or someone else’s ideas in a group, tell people that’s the objective of what you’re doing. It should be clear that you’re meeting to discuss different ideas so that everyone’s on the same page. Because where a joke might be fine in a daily catchup, it could be taken much more negatively by someone who’s trying their best to present a new idea.
Overcome this by organizing your crit sessions as their own meetings and don’t, say, shoe-horn them into the middle of a financial review. Everyone needs to come into the session ready to receive and interpret what’s being presented with the aim to help explore and refine new ideas.
Unless your team comes from a creative background, this may well be their first crit session. These exercises are for exploring ideas and concepts from a range of perspectives to find out what does and doesn’t work and think about what could be improved.
Prior to the meeting, and even during the meeting, it’s vital that you explain and encourage critiques, not criticisms. The differences are quite subtle, but it’s important to understand them to prevent good ideas from being thrown away.
- Finds faults with things and explores what is lacking.
- Doesn’t look for clarification and dismisses what it is analyzing.
- Is negative.
- Explores all aspects of an idea, not just its failings.
- Tries to understand what the purpose of something is to help fulfill its purpose.
- Is positive.
So the aim of critiquing is to try to understand an idea or product in its entirety to gauge how effective it is as a whole. It also looks at the purpose of the idea or product and asks whether it serves it. And it is positive and doesn’t dismiss something just because it has flaws.
However, being positive about an idea that has flaws doesn’t mean blindly saying “great idea”. It means not rejecting it immediately so you can discuss the elements that work and others that need improving. The crit session is not the place to reject ideas. That comes afterward and is up to the decision-makers once the session/sessions have concluded.
A common method for critiquing ideas or products is to offer two positive comments and one comment about something that could be improved. This is a great way to avoid falling into the trap of criticizing as comments are kept positive and focus on strengthening weaknesses rather than abandoning ideas.
Employ "Radical Candor"
This is a tip straight from one of the finest management minds in Silicon Valley, Kim Scott. Kim’s book Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity serves as an excellent guide on how to conduct yourself in a crit session.
The main principle behind radical candor is the “care personally” and “challenge directly” axis. To achieve radical candor, you have to satisfy both of these conditions. This basically means being honest while still considering the other person's feelings.
This axis has other dimensions too, which are definitely not conducive to a successful crit session, They are:
- Obnoxious aggression – challenging others directly with no regard for their feelings.
- Manipulative insecurity – neither challenging others directly or caring about their feelings. This is also characterized by passive-aggressive behavior.
- Ruinous empathy – caring too much about someone’s feelings and not challenging them directly or being honest.
You should encourage participants to practice radical candor in these sessions. Stress the importance of caring about others while also being honest and challenging ideas when necessary. This will ensure a rigorous crit session where ideas are questioned and developed to be the best they can be. It'll also benefit the ideas people by providing a supportive and honest environment for them to present their thoughts.
A big part of radical candor relies on having good empathy skills, so check out our other post on the importance of empathy in law firms.
Everyone’s Input is Equal
When inviting people to take part in the crit session, make sure that everyone knows that all opinions are equal. This can be difficult if the meeting consists of staff with different levels of seniority. But it must be enforced to maintain the integrity of the crit session.
If you have a person or group of people who feel that their critiques are being ignored or undervalued, you’ll soon find they stop contributing. This means that important notes could go unsaid and, in a worst-case scenario, a product or process is rolled out that isn’t fit for purpose.
As we mentioned, crit sessions are there to expose ideas to diverse perspectives so you can find weaknesses in an idea and improve them. Take away someone’s voice and you risk losing a potentially integral perspective.
One way to combat this is to host your crit sessions in a “round-robin” format. In this scenario, someone presents their idea and then each participant, in turn, gives their comments. It’s time-consuming, but it's an excellent way to make sure that everyone gets their say and feels valued.
Another point to consider is the people you invite to the crit session. Take a new idea for improving your intake process for example. It might seem like this is something for your management team to discuss as they will ultimately roll it out and possibly have a bird’s eye view of the issues you’re trying to address. However, it would also be logical to open up the discussion to the people on the ground handling intake too. After all, they'll know the areas where improvements could be made and have a better idea of what will and won’t work.
After the Critique
The critique session is there to explore the ideas and products being presented. It is not the place to start rectifying them. Have someone take notes of the comments made so the decision-makers can figure out the next steps. These next steps could be:
executing the great ideas.
finding ways to address concerns raised in the crit session.
going back to the drawing board to approach your challenge in a new way.
But whichever course of action you take, save the decisions for after the crit session. And remember to deliver the news to those who have been working on the project with some radical candor.