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We had an incident the other morning that almost derailed an entire day’s worth of productivity in the studio. The coffee was bad. Not, gross but I can-power-through-it-bad. Spoon dissolving as you stir bad.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened. In fact, it’s a fairly regular occurrence. Maybe not pots of wallpaper-stripping sludge, but we are constantly having discussions about the proper techniques and bean to water ratios that, considering we have a basic drip coffee maker, really don’t matter all that much. So, are we particularly picky about our coffee? Or is this coffee conundrum indicative of a larger pattern of behavior?

Until we drop the drip, it is most certainly the latter. The role of the critic has always been a part of our culture. Every great invention, idea and revolution was met with some level of resistance, and though we’ve graduated from burning heretics at the stake to burning them with incendiary comments on the internet, nothing has inherently changed about our zeal for being right and, more importantly, pointing out how others are wrong.

There is, however, a fine line and important distinction between criticism and critique. The critique plays a crucial role in the creative process. We examine, we poke holes, we stretch and rethink and reshape ideas to make them better, more powerful, more interesting. It’s constructive, despite how uncomfortable or downright painful it may be at times, and, as we all hopefully learn in the early stages of our careers, it’s about the work, not the ego.

Or, at least, that’s the aspiration. That aforementioned line between criticism and critique? It’s trust. Trust that the critic has our best interest in mind. Trust that the recipient can and will do whatever they can to improve. Without either one of these, analysis and judgement are a verdict rather than an opportunity. And, once a conclusion has been reached, it’s difficult if not impossible to reverse.

Our endless discussions about brewing methods aren’t a bad thing. Nor is it bad when the boss says you’ve missed the mark or the client would like to see some other options. There is always an opportunity for improvement, always something new we can learn or try to make our work better. That drive and curiosity are cornerstones of how we approach our business. But, to get better, it’s imperative we can openly and honestly survey our failures and missteps as a progression to our desired results, not a conclusion on our abilities.
As for our coffee debacle, we’ll soon find out whether the caffeine-deprived fracas fell under the criticism or critique banner depending on whether the perpetrator takes another shot at our morning brew. Here’s hoping we get a slightly less toxic blend soon.