The Value of Criticism

I’m a sensitive person. This is no secret.

I’m also finishing up my degree in a program that is half-graphic design and half-digital communications. That graphic design part…well, if you know anything about art and design programs, just about all of your core classes involve some form of critique.  A massive, and I mean MASSIVE, part of the learning experience in this realm is taking criticism and turning into something productive and useful for growth. Over time, I learned to have my work reviewed and criticized (both by well-intentioned and hostile critics) and sort through the criticism for useful feedback. The bigger lesson for me in all of this isn’t how to deal with critics in design; it was the ability to deal with them in life.

In fact, I would say one of my greatest assets as a person and professional is that I care about the feedback. I want the honesty, I want to know where I fall short. If I know, I can consider. If I have the opportunity and ability, I can improve. And there’s always room for improvement.

I’d like to prompt everyone who reads this to consider the value of criticism. Whether it’s outright, blatant, even hostile, or if it’s gently offered by a friend, it has its place in the world and should be considered fuel for growth. When people criticize, listen. Learn to accept it graciously, patiently, and with a level head.

I’m not suggesting that when someone openly attacks you, you shouldn’t be upset. There are lines that some people shouldn’t cross. But, the value of lessons learned through being receptive and open-minded about the critical information you take in is massive.

I recently had a talk with my friend Rosie Templeton on Twitter. We were discussing criticism, and how it is up to us to sort through the criticism we receive and weigh the gravity of it all. Gentle, well-meaning “constructive criticism” can at times be totally useless. It can be bad advice. Harsh criticism, even delivered in the form of an insult, can sometimes be the wake-up call we need. Too often are we set in our ways and only willing to accept the criticism that is delivered from people we like, or in a way we appreciate…if we even accept criticism at all. Agriculture is an industry full of hard-working, stubborn people. It’s a necessity for agriculturalists to be like this, as it’s a part of surviving the ups and downs of production. It’s that same mentality that can often limit us in our ability to approach conversation with an open mind and accept views that differ from ours, including criticism.

I’ve been on a kick lately of asking the people around me, “What can we do better?” While this isn’t always implied as criticism, it comes from a habit of expecting growth and evolution in people, in practice, and in the industry I love. Agriculture needs criticism; it is criticism and a desire to improve that allows the amazing innovation that enables farmers and ranchers to produce enough food to feed 155 people a year. Not only do the critics drive our industry to better practice, but they can also offer perspective.

The major lesson that I want to share here is that criticism comes in many shapes and forms. Some is offered for the sake of improvement, while some is tossed out to inflict hurt. The problem is, many of us are unwilling to accept when criticism is correct, and how to build on it. Even the criticism that hurts us can be useful, and the process of dealing with that criticism is as major learning experience for anyone. Be willing to consider the opinions and thoughts of those who disagree with you. Don’t ever shut them down, because, just like you, they are a person trying to make sense of the different opinions and viewpoints in the world.

I’m not saying all criticism can be constructive. Some is misguided, some is strictly insulting with little or no useful insight. But, we, as people, should strive to hear criticism and grow because of (or in spite of) it.

So, what are you going to do in the face of criticism? How will you adapt your tactics for interaction with critics? How do you feel about criticism’s role in communications, agriculture, and advocacy? Please, share your thoughts. I’m all about people working with people to grow a stronger, more constructive community.


2 thoughts on “The Value of Criticism

  1. Criticism is hard not to take personally. I’ve been drawing and being creative since i was a kid. I’m 34 and working in a creative environment and harsh criticism still has a bite to it. It’s tough even now not to turn in to that sensitive 8 year old kid and yell, “I don’t care what you think!” But I do care and I agree with you Kelly that it make us better and want to be better. It is a necessary evil of the creative process or any process for that matter. Great thought provoking article.

    • I agree whole-heartedly, Brian. It’s hard, sometimes overwhelmingly so, to hear nay-sayers rip apart your work. Whether it’s a creative project, or a cause you support, or one of another million things people can find to criticize in life…it can be tricky. But, I’m an underdog by nature. That means I find a certain sense of satisfaction in rising above critics. And constructive criticism…well, I won’t ever turn down help.

      Thanks for stopping by, Brian! Much appreciated. Hope to see you soon!

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