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The Role of a Critic

"In many ways, the work of a critic is very easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment."
“In many ways, the work of a critic is very easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment.”

On the role of a critic, Theodore Roosevelt once famously observed “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena …”

In Creativity Inc., Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar, reminds us that the challenge in many organizations is “protecting the new.”

He writes, “when someone hatches an original idea, it may be ungainly and poorly defined,” which lends itself to easy criticism, “but it is also the opposite of established and entrenched – and that is precisely what is most exciting about it.”

While there is constant tension between the old and new, organizations favor whatever is already in place. Getting support for new ideas means combating entrenchment, politics, and a gauntlet of filters aimed at vetting ideas. People become a critic of the new rather than its defender.

Whether it’s the kernel of a movie idea or a fledgling internship program, the new needs protection. Business-as-usual does not. Managers do not need to work hard to protect established ideas or ways of doing business. The system is tilted to favor the incumbent. The challenger needs support to find its footing. And protection of the new-of the future, not the past-must be a conscious effort.”

In the Pixar film Ratatouille, the restaurant critic Anton Ego sheds light on the role of a critic in defending the new…

“In many ways, the work of a critic is very easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.”

Creativity Inc. may be one of the best books on creativity ever.