Sunday, June 25, 2017

Are you genuinely evaluating ideas? Or just judging them?

In the early nineties, I was working as an art director for a mid-sized agency with a quick-service restaurant client who, during creative presentations, was notorious for saying things like, "I don't like that typeface," or, "I don't like that color." Rarely, if ever, did he say, "I don't think that typeface works," or, "I don't think that color works." As a creative team, we were choosing our colors and typefaces to appeal to the young demographic at whom the designs were aimed (not the older demographic client). The client, however, would scrap those choices immediately, not because they didn't work, but because he just didn't like them.

It wasn't long before, when doing layouts for this client, I started choosing "safe" colors and typefaces—things I believe were generally less interesting and potentially bland to the intended target audience—for the sake of not having the agency look like they didn't understand "what the client wanted." For the following two years, unbeknownst to our client (or even to my creative superiors at the agency), every color combination I picked mimicked one NFL team or another. These colors were familiar to the client, they were safe, but they would not have been my first choices for the intended audience. However, after I adopted this methodology, never again did my color choices get refused (or even questioned) by the client—ever!

Although the example I give above is specific to design and advertising creative, I'm sure everyone, regardless of industry, can relate. In my experience, those people who let their internal beliefs suppress their capacity to truly assess something's merits don't even realize they're doing it. There is a very fine line between evaluation and judgment, and while "evaluation" and "judgment" are technically synonyms for one another, in the world of decision-making they could not be more different.

4 Tips for Differentiating Between Evaluation and Judgment

  • Evaluation is a very empathetic process; it requires understanding—understanding of the goal, the strategy, and the suggested tactics. Judgment is detached; it requires no interaction with the facts, and it relies on nothing more than the internal dialogue of the fault-finder.
  • Evaluation is a positive process; it assumes one is searching for the best way to accomplish something. Judgment is a negative process; it relies on naysaying and abnegation to eliminate options.
  • Evaluation measures relative worth; it gauges each option on its individual virtues and ranks them on those merits. Judgment tends toward a "yes" or "no" approach; it discounts options regardless of individual merit.
  • Evaluation looks to the future; it considers all options in the context of "what could be." Judgment looks to the past; it regurgitates "what was."
In my color story above, I mentioned how I started choosing "safe" options for fear of having the agency look the fool to the client. I don't care if you're working with an outside agency or an internal team, if those idea-generators around you are having to change, limit, or adjust truly good, on-strategy ideas to grease the wheels or minimize fallout when dealing with you, you are doing yourself (and ultimately your company or brand) a disservice.

3 Ways to Make Sure You're Evaluating Rather Than Judging

  1. Ask, "Why?" Quite simply, if you are asking this question, then you are evaluating rather than judging. Asking "why" supports every one of the conditions listed above (it requires empathy, it keeps the process positive, it measures relative worth, it looks to the future).
  2. Be wary of expressing personal opinions. It doesn't mean your opinion should be discounted, but it should be considered in context. For example, if you can truthfully say you share the same experience with those for whom the idea is meant, then there is some validity to your opinion. Just be careful of opinions that are detached from the circumstances of the idea.
  3. Don't assume that "then" is "now." If you find yourself saying things like, "That's never worked for us before," or, "We've already tried something similar and it failed," ask yourself what conditions were different then, and for what reasons might a similar idea work now.

It really comes down to being aware of how you approach decision-making. Know the difference between evaluation and judgment and put these tips into practice—you'll be supporting a more fertile environment for idea generation.