How to ask for – and give – feedback on a creative project

February 28, 2018 Richard Justenhoven

Creative desk

Seeking out comments on creativity

It’s often quite straightforward to ask for, and receive, feedback on something concrete. But what about when you’re working on a more creative project? How is it best to get ask people what they think without their comments then stifling your creative juices?

Research by Harrison and Dossinger offers some insight – and they flag the importance of so-called ‘trait curiosity’.

But back to basics. One of the very real challenges of working in more creative areas is that, by its nature, ideas need to be different. But if we share and ask for comments from other on projects too soon, ideas can be dismissed out of hand simply for being ‘too different’ and may never then have the opportunity to flourish.

What we need to do is to find a way to ask for and provide feedback that encourages the continued development of the idea.

The research
The researchers noted that previous research by Amabile et al (2005) found two clear patterns regarding feedback in a creative work environment; getting comments back was rare as people seemed to avoid it; and, when people did receive them, it left what the authors call ‘emotional residue’.  That is, it hangs around even after it being given.

Harrison and Dossinger set out to understand how we can encourage a review. They looked at T-shirt designers, their creative drafts, the questions they asked of feedback providers as well as the comments back they received. Across nearly 2000 statements, Harrison and Dossinger concluded that:

  • Those designers motivated to seek feedback out of curiosity – and not just to improve their design – attracted more and higher quality feedback. They tended to ask open questions.
  • Those feedback providers who acknowledged that their feedback was a subjective opinion rather than an objective statement were more effective in improving the final design.

How can we use this?

The creative process is important in probably all businesses and not just those thought to be typically ‘creative’. New ideas to approach product development, competitive threats or improved service offerings all require an element of creativity and innovation. It’s therefore useful to think how we may support and encourage this process in the questions we ask of others, and the way in which we supply feedback. Below are some ideas from Harrison and Dossinger.

  1. Don’t be too narrow in what you are asking for comment on. The researchers suggest that when we focus in on too specific an area we are doing this to limit an ‘attack’ from a reviewer. But it in doing so, we are limiting ourselves in creating something quite different.
  2. Ask open questions. The research showed that those highly curious people asked “What do you think?” or “Where could I go next with this?” – and received far more feedback than those asking narrow questions, and their final designs received higher scores. Asking such questions signals that we are comfortable and open to ideas beyond our own.
  3. Offer feedback based on acknowledged subjectivity. Remember that creativity requires novelty and needs space to develop. When offering feedback to creative co-workers, remember that your opinion is only an opinion – and remind others of this too. The researchers suggest that we use first-person pronouns – I me, and my – so that we are saying “I see…” or “What strikes me is that…” or “My opinion is…” And they warn against what they call the “managerial impulse to plan and retain control.”

References:
Amabile, T.M., Barsade, S. G., Mueller, J. S. and Staw, B. M. (2005). Affect and Creativity at Work, Administrative Science Quarterly (ASQ). September 1, 2005 vol. 50. Issue 3, page(s): 367-403,

Harrison, S. H. & Dossinger, K. (2017) Pliable Guidance: A Multilevel Model of Curiosity, Feedback Seeking, and Feedback Giving in Creative Work. Academy of Management Journal. December 1, 2017 vol. 60 no. 6 2051-2072 https://doi:10.5465/amj.2015.0247AC

 

About the Author

Richard Justenhoven is the product development director within Aon's Assessment Solutions. A leading organizational psychologist, Richard is an acknowledged expert in the design, implementation and evaluation of online assessments and a sought after speaker about such topics.

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