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Professional criticism

Posted by Dominic Cronin at Dec 03, 2011 10:55 PM |

One of the blogs I follow is Glenn B. Allman's "Herding Cats". He rounded off a recent post with the following:

"If you can't defend your position on the facts, but instead reject criticism as an attack, then your idea is pretty much going to die a slow death."

This is right on the money. It reminded me of something that I often see happen on projects. Members of the technical team will engage in (sometimes animated) debate: one proposing an idea, and the other probing it for weaknesses. Sometimes people looking on who don't understand what's happening will worry that there's bad blood between the participants, or that robust debate might be damaging the team dynamic.

Far from it. Engineers need not only to come up with ideas, but to develop them in a professional context. An engineer must be willing to show that he has done his homework, and show and explain his designs and calculations to his peers. Not only must he be willing to defend his position against criticism, he must seek out that criticism. The fellow engineer he consults must be convinced that the idea is fully thought through; then - even if her own design would perhaps differ in some respects - she will be willing to join forces and back the idea in front of people outside the team.

So the next time you see a bunch of technicians in a discussion round a whiteboard, be happy that they are able to give and receive criticism. It's the lifeblood of a successful project.