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Feedback in the face of creativity

A simple framework for helping you welcome feedback, even when you don't want to.

Three smiley faces representing a rating system from positive (or happy), to negative (or sad)
Feedback in the face of creativity
Matteo Grand
September 14, 2023

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This article was originally posted on Making Space, a Substack penned by our Cofounder, Matteo Grand. Subscribe below to receive more content just like this.

The act of creating something, anything, is deeply personal. 

Whether you’re designing a piece of furniture, painting a canvas, curating a space, or putting together a mood board for a project, the process carries a lot of personal attachment.

Further, when you’re being truly creative, you are not responding to a brief, you are responding to emotions that move through you, using you as a vessel to come to life in one form or another.

So when someone comes along and says, *‘I think this would look better over there’*, or ‘*this little details isn’t quite working for me’*, it’s only natural for us to get defensive and see this as a personal attack.

This is a primal instinct — a survival method. We all want to fit in and be liked, so when someone takes a red pen to our work, it can easily feel like they are taking a red pen to us, assessing whether or not we belong in the tribe.

I often over identify with the work I produce and whilst I have been working on detaching myself from it, feedback can still be hard.

But, the reality is that everyone has an opinion and often these opinions will be in conflict with our own. So, learning to both give and receive feedback is a life skill that will not only make putting work out into the world more bearable, it will help make the work be the best it can be. 

So, how can we change our relationships with feedback?

Here are three simple things I try to remind myself of in the face of feedback that help me navigate the turbulence.

1. You are not your work

Historically, I over-identified with my work. This means I end up drawing a lot of my energy (both the good kind and the bad) from my work. Reminding myself that I am not my work helps me regain perspective and separate my worth from my work.

2. Understand who it is for

Often, working in a creative field means you are producing work for someone else, such as a specific client, a customer segment, or even just your boss. Their wants and needs are individual, just like yours, and your job in this instance is to create something that resonates with them, not you. Having said that, I do believe you should always start by creating something that truly excites you, as this will have the best chance of exciting others.

3. You are learning

Every time someone speaks, it’s an opportunity to learn. If you approach their feedback with curiosity, you will unlock so much more than just what the person is telling you. Ask yourself things like: What is this person’s worldview? What frame or context are they operating from that I wasn’t previously aware of? What expectations did this person have before seeing the work? What is my own insecurity surrounding this? Why is my ego flaring?

Finally, perhaps the most important question you can ask yourself is ‘how important is this feedback to the success of the work?’

We can be so quick to become defensive that we forget to check in with our own intuition. Sometimes forgetting the audience is in the best interest of the audience.

So, next time someone gives you feedback, take a beat and check in with yourself. 

Do it for the work.