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Being Negative is Safe

It struck me recently that those people who fixate on the flaws in every plan are in safe territory all the time. There are no perfect plans. There are no perfect interfaces. So these people will be right every single time — there are ALWAYS flaws.

But you can’t actually live like that, getting bogged down under the weight of life’s many flaws. And you certainly can’t provide a service or run a business like that. At some point you have to choose a direction and move forward, imperfections and all. This choice to move forward isn’t naiveté, it’s life.

9 thoughts on “Being Negative is Safe

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  4. I think it’s a difference in training. I was trained to critically interrogate theories for their flaws, identify them, and posit fixes. And, because everything has flaws, there is always something that can be tightened up. While some may find it irritating to have a weak spot pointed out for tightening, I am equally or more irritated at folks refusal to contribute actual advice. Pure positivist is useless to me. It isn’t supportive. It doesn’t help my project be more successful or better received. It sends me out in the world with a flawed project, when more critical looks at it would have improved it.

    I want critical analysis and feedback of my ideas before I set them free. And so I provide the same to my colleagues. It isn’t negativity — it’s engagement and caring a great deal about them and their work.

    I think the notion that criticism is negativity feels a lot like the notions of self esteem that rolled around for a while. Neither works for me.

    I guess we all work differently, and bring different things to the table. Which is a very good thing.

  5. Rudy, I think you misunderstand me. Critique is not the same thing as fixating on flaws. Healthy critique, with the goal of testing an idea and making it better, is vitally important.

    But when people simply can’t move beyond the critique phase, ever, and into the experimentation/pilot phase, then there’s a problem. Or if every pilot phase simply includes a lot of “I told you so” and contempt rather than active working towards a better outcome, then there’s a problem. That’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and it’s demoralizing and obstructionist.

    Not every idea has to make it past the critique phase, of course. But ideas worth trying should, flaws and all. At that point the idea should be to minimize or compensate for flaws while increasing the benefits.

    (At this point I should also make it clear that I am NOT talking about my co-workers here, who debate ideas HARD but always in constructive ways, and who are constantly trying new things. They’re awesome, and I’m lucky to work with them.)

  6. I see where you’re coming from here, Iris, and I agree. In addition to what you have already said, I get frustrated if new ideas are rejected out of hand before given due consideration. It is often useful to ask, “Is there something to this idea? What would we gain from this initiative or change? How could we approach it so that it *would* work?” These kinds of questions are different than, “Here’s everything that is wrong with your plan,” which can really put the kibosh on innovation.

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