I Want Your Advice, But Not Your Feedback

Via Daniel Pink is a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article that suggests asking for advice rather than feedback.  On the surface this may sound like a distinction without a difference, but research has found that asking for advice garners more actionable suggestions than asking for feedback.

Those who were asked to give feedback tended to give vague comments along with general praise, such as, “the applicant seems to meet most of the requirements.” In contrast, those who were asked to provide advice were more critical and actionable in their comments…Specifically, advice-givers suggested 34% more ways to improve the application and 56% more ways to improve in general.

According to Amantha Imber who wrote the HBR piece, an important element of soliciting advice is specificity about what you want to learn.

Ask yourself, “What will really help me get better at [problem]?” For example, instead of asking, “What do you think of my revenue numbers from last quarter?” you could say, “So far, I’ve tried [a] and [b] but I haven’t been able to meet my goal. How would you have gone about doing this?”

[…]

If you ask people to think about what could help you in the future, the advice you will receive will be more specific and actionable. For example, you could make the ask specific, such as, “What could I change about my presentation skills to deliver a more powerful presentation next time?” or “Could you give me a few tips to make my slides more appealing?”

I feel I should mention that this approach for getting actionable suggestions is not a completely new idea in the arts world. Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process which has been employed for about 20-30 years now involves creators asking for reactions about specific elements pretty much as outlined in the HBR article. Except in Lerman’s process there are more specific guidelines about the way respondents phrase their statements in order to keep the process focused.

Networks and Resources Have Always Mattered

I recently came across an article the LA Review of Books on the book The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech by William Deresiewicz.

Obviously, this sounded like a book I wanted to learn more about.

According to the reviewer, Robert Diab, Deresiewicz feels that the promise of the Long Tail espoused by Chris Anderson hasn’t emerged. He suggests that the broad ability to create has resulted a “..pie has been “pulverized into a million tiny crumbs.” The only people Deresiewicz feels have consistently benefited are big tech companies who have an interest in having people create content and then allowing other people to pirate that content.

This runs contrary to the early optimism of figures like former Wired editor Chris Anderson, who saw a bright future for less popular artists….Rather than a graph showing a sharp curve with most sales going to the top 100 or so artists, the net would lead to a graph with sales dispersed more gradually over millions of artists — leading to a long tail. But as Deresiewicz makes clear, this hasn’t happened. The net didn’t feed a long tail of content consumption; it just made the head of the curve a lot taller. In the 1980s, 80 percent of music album revenue went to the top 20 percent of content. Now it goes to the top one percent.

Deresiewicz conducted interviews with about 120 artists and found this to be the case across most disciplines. A lot of people were making very little. Others were doing moderately well, but weren’t able to really rise above a certain income cap. He also feels that artists are more vulnerable to market forces and less able to take the time to cultivate their ability. Unless Diab is misrepresenting Deresiewicz, I found myself disagreeing with some of his assumptions and conclusions.

According to Deresiewicz, the history of artists has moved from an apprentice to master system supported by patronage to the artist as a solitary genius and then to the post World War II model where “institutions — museums, theaters, orchestras, and universities — gave the creator a safe and steady perch.”

Deresiewicz feels that the concept of the artist as an entrepreneur responsible for managing all details for themselves has emerged in tandem with shift to institutions depending on temporary workers, adjunct instructors, general downsizing, and has not been beneficial.

But conditions today favor the amateur. They favor “speed, brevity, and repetition; novelty but also recognizability.” Artists no longer have the time nor the space to “cultivate an inner stillness or focus”; no time for the “slow build.” Creators need to cater to the market’s demand for constant and immediate engagement, for “flexibility, versatility, and extroversion.” As a result, “irony, complexity, and subtlety are out; the game is won by the brief, the bright, the loud, and the easily grasped.”

[…]

Deresiewicz shies away from putting it starkly, but the lesson is clear: a career on the older professional model — a gradual build to a moderate critical success — is only viable at this point for those who can support themselves for the long haul.

Again noting I have not read the book, the quibble I had with Deresiewicz is that throughout the range of history he mentions, it has always been the case that only those with either an independent source of wealth or family/friends network of support has been able to have an artistic career. You needed that to gain an apprenticeship during Da Vinci’s time and an internship any time in the last 25 years or more. Now granted, a much larger proportion of the population was supporting themselves as artisans during Da Vinci’s time than now, but the folks at the top of the social structure were also making  money from the work of those at the bottom.

I don’t doubt his statistics about 80% of revenue today going to 1% of content and the belief that an artistic career is becoming more tenuous and less remunerative. I just don’t know that what is required to carve out freedom to mature in ones artistic practice has worsened precipitously overall. It has always been weighted against those without access to connections and comparable resources.

One Creativity To Guide Them All!

H/t Artsjournal.com which linked to an article on recent study which found artistic creativity and scientific creativity emerge from a similar source. (my emphasis)

“The big change for education systems would be moving away from a rather fragmented and haphazard approach to teaching creativity, to a much more holistic and integrated approach,” Prof Cropley says.

[…]

“Until this research, we didn’t know whether creativity in STEM was the same as creativity in anything, or if there was something unique about creativity in STEM. If creativity was different in STEM – that is, it involved special attitudes or abilities – then we’d need to teach STEM students differently to develop their creativity.

“As it turns out, creativity is general in nature – it is essentially a multi-faceted competency that involves similar attitudes, disposition, skills and knowledge, all transferrable from one situation to another.

“So, whether you’re in art, maths or engineering, you’ll share an openness to new ideas, divergent thinking, and a sense of flexibility.

Reading the text of the study, the researchers note that there is more exploration necessary in this area. For one thing, the study didn’t look at the role of age and gender in creativity. They also encourage deeper exploration of micro-domains of different fields:

Future studies therefore should investigate more explicitly possible differences between domains and micro-domains driven by specific environmental or contextual factors unique to those areas of activity. In simple terms, do engineers, for example, learn to think like engineers, in contrast to scientists or mathematicians? Does this then influence how these domains see creativity in products?

The last paragraph of the study summarizes the holistic and integrated approach the education system should employ as well as providing a little insight into how different fields value creativity:

People who are open, flexible and adept at thinking divergently are best placed to be creative, and education systems at all levels should foster those qualities. Conversely, while all areas of endeavor recognize creativity in outcomes (products) as inseparable from originality and relevance/effectiveness, there are discipline specific differences in exactly how these qualities are valued. It is no surprise that engineers have a more functional (see Cropley & Cropley, 2005) view of product creativity – valuing effectiveness and feasibility in particular – whereas artists place greater emphasis on originality. Creativity in people is broadly domain general, but creativity in products is shaped by the needs, standards and cultures of the disciplines that produce those creative outcomes.

For Whom Are People Creating Art?

In September, the National Endowment for the Arts released the results of an Arts Participation survey, Why We Engage: Attending, Creating and Performing Art.

Much of the information about why people attend was very similar to other recent survey results I have written about in the last 3-6 months. To be honest, given that all the data was collected pre-Covid and so much of that may no longer be valid in the future, I didn’t want to devote a lot of time reviewing that information.

What caught my eye were some findings about how people view their own creative expression.

Like this bit about the intended audience for created art and how it was shared. I was surprised so few performing artists share their work on the internet compared to other artists.

Between 35 and 40 percent of art creators and performers said their art was intended only for personal consumption. (The percentage was highest for creative writers at nearly 40 percent.) Greater variance was observed among those who reported their intended audience as only people they personally knew: 52 percent of art creators identified this audience type, with only 32 percent of creative writers doing so. The highest percentage of respondents creating or performing for the general public were creative writers (29 percent), followed by arts performers (18 percent), and visual art creators (13 percent).

Nearly half of those who personally created art used the internet to share their work. In contrast, about 41 percent of those who engaged in creative writing used the internet to share their writing, and fewer than 14 percent of those who personally performed art shared their work in this manner.

The findings on price and income are interesting and complex. Income quartile was not predictive of whether people would say price factored in their decision to attend an event. In other words, income level didn’t necessarily align with whether they said price was a factor. However, of those identifying low cost as a motivation, it was almost the only reason they attended.

The percentage of each income group reporting that low cost motivated their attendance ranged from 30 to 39 percent, with those in the lowest-income quartile citing it the most often as a factor, and those in highest-income quartile citing it the least often. However, unlike in 2012, income quartile was not a significant predictor of whether an individual would identify low cost as a reason for attendance. Of those who identified low cost as a reason for attendance, between 68 and 71 percent of each income quartile group indicated the factor as the most important or only reason for their attendance.

Socialization was a big factor in generational terms. The younger the generation, the more frequently the respondent would say not having someone to accompany them was a barrier to participation. While Covid may change a lot about people’s willingness to venture out for in-person experiences, I suspect this is one finding of the survey that will hold true for those that are willing to attend in-person in the future.

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