Friday, January 29, 2010

Getting a little feedback on feedback...

The topic of constructive criticism has come up several times in discussions with other woodworkers over the past few months. I was thinking about tackling the subject in a more thorough manner, but I wanted to get an idea of how people in the woodworking community in general felt about it.

(Plus, I'm also working on writing shorter, more interactive, blogs and I thought a survey might be a good first step...)

Constructive criticism, as I see it, is defined as using your (limited or extensive) knowledge gleaned from life experience, structured learning, or books to offer advice to another as to how they can improve upon something they've done. When providing this service to another, I think the focus should be on the word, "constructive." Nobody wants to hear you say their work is crap, but they might be open to suggestions as to where they could apply themselves a bit more in the future.

So what are your thoughts on the subject? When you present a project to others, be it family or friends or other woodworkers, do you want to only hear the good? Are you completely satisfied with where your woodworking skills are and do not feel any desire to improve them? Or would you be interested in hearing what might be improved as long as it is balanced with some positive comments? Or are you completely comfortable with someone else offering advice on improving your work?

If you would go to the home page of my blog and take 10 seconds to fill out the brief survey, I would most assuredly appreciate it!


The Village Carpenter said...

Interesting--so far 7 of us said that we can take it. I'm always trying to improve my skills, so if someone has pointers to share, I want to hear them.

Adrian Baird Ba Than said...

I think criticism can be of vital importance but only of technique,not aesthetic design.There's no such thing as good or bad taste only personal opinion.Sure,there is a beauty that can be found mathematically,the golden section for example,but sometimes beauty can be found in harsh angles & over extended lines,things that not everyone can see.
On the flipside of criticism,when it comes to praise,I prefer it when it comes from other creative people,people who can deconstruct an object & appreciate it for its structure as well as its form.

Rick said...

Interesting poll. As I think about the question, I believe I can take the feedback from others. I think another question could be, "Can you give it"? I sometimes hesitate giving feedback that could be thought of as negative, or constructive, because while that persons skills may be a lot more advanced as mine, or less, I know what effort it took to produce the piece, so I'm not sure how that feedback should be given. My 2 cents, Rick

Ethan said...

Kari - I find it interesting that all but a few have said they want to hear constructive criticism. My take on it over the past five years has been that people didn't want to hear anything but the good. Maybe the people who are open to CC are simply the same kind of people that fill out surveys?

Black - I have to disagree with you on the aesthetics critique. I learned how to give and receive CC in my art classes in college, and it was almost never on technique but on the aesthetics of the piece. If two guys make table tops, one focusing on the grain continuity between three carefully selected boards and the other simply using the first three boards on the stack, the first one is going to end up with a more aesthetically pleasing project. Why shouldn't one be able to point to the second top and indicate such?

Rick - The most common issue I hear regarding constructive criticism is that people equate it to being negative. While criticism itself is generally negative, constructive criticism should be thought of as being helpful.

The second most common issue I hear is that people don't think they have the right to offer advice to others. You ever watch a home improvement show and see the "experts" tell someone the wrong thing? I once heard an expert say MDF was, "multi-density fiberboard". Just because you've been doing something for a long time doesn't mean you've been doing it RIGHT for a long time. Don't be afraid to question an expert.

I don't think the amount of effort someone puts into a project should have any impact on whether or not you give them constructive feedback. Consider this... What if you know they spent five hours mortising a lock and two hinges and your feedback includes a technique on how they could do it in 30 minutes? Don't you think they would want to cut that time from the project? If everyone is afraid to show them that technique because you all know how much time and effort they put into it, then they'll never know of a better way!

Adrian Baird Ba Than said...

I see what you're saying but I think that example is a matter of education rather than criticism.
I believe that someone who just randomly picks materials without care for grain or colour is someone who isn't saying,
"I like it like this.."
They are saying,
"Grain & colour don't matter.."
They are not making a choice in regards to aesthetics,they are ignoring or are unaware of the fact that they have a choice.
To my mind timber selection is a fundamental part of woodworking & to ignore it is to not understand your medium.

Ethan said...

Constructive criticism can be educational.

Anonymous said...

I think many (if not most) people will disagree with my opinion but here goes. I think beginner and advanced woodworkers can really use critiques. I think the intermediates don't need it nearly as much.

A beginner still doesn't even know what he doesn't know yet. If that doesn't make sense, I'm just saying that there are so many possibilities out there that a newbie will probably be completely overwhelmed by the choices available and will often take the easiest, if not best approach. Advice can steer them towards better technique.

An intermediate woodworker knows what's out there in terms of techniques (not everything obviously, but plenty). They also can differentiate between levels of quality. They might not always achieve the quality they aspire to, but just by making the attempt, they are building on their skill level. The mistakes during the process also offer countless (countless for me anyway) learning opportunities. I know what I did wrong and probably know how to fix it, but it's too late so I'll just be smarter next time.

Finally the advanced woodworker is already producing excellent work. They are the ones that really understand that one lifetime is not enough to master every woodworking skill, or even to know what they all are. I think that once you reach this level, you are probably looking pretty hard to find a way to improve a project because you need help to see your work through another's eyes.

As an intermediate, I can take or leave the criticism. I don't mind hearing it when it is meant to be helpful, but odds are I've already got so many things I've noticed on my own that I've got my hands full for the next project. If you want to add one more thing, so be it, but it will just be one more thing on a long list of items.

As a final note, I'm glad I finally found you blog almost a year after you left lumberjocks. I know the criticism thing is one of the reasons you decided to go elsewhere, but I was disappointed when I lost access to your blogs.

Ethan said...

Wow, I think that is a great analysis, Anon!

And I'm sorry it took you a while to find my blog after Lumberjocks. This blog address SHOULD be in my signature there, so any entry I have on LJ would provide a link back here.

Once my part-time job finishes up for the season (usually some time around the end of February), I'll tackle this topic in more detail. I must say, however, I'm a little disappointed in only 24 responses with several hundred website hits over the 5-day period...

Kari, what is your secret for reader interaction??

Ethan said...

Survey Results:
4 people said they were interested in finding out more about how to give and receive constructive criticism.

19 people said they were fully open to receiving constructive criticism on their projects.

Nobody said they were completely opposed to it.

Very interesting results. Maybe the kind of people who can muck through my blog are the kind who are artistically open to such feedback? Or maybe the majority of people who would take the time to fill out a simple survey are the kind of people who are so open to receiving feedback?

I'll have to ponder these results further as I write about the topic.

Thank you very much to all who took the time to participate in the survey.