Sunday, January 4, 2009

The fine line between false praise and encouragement

one. ugly. monkey.Image by berbercarpet via FlickrThere exists a fine line between false praise and encouragement.

Encouragement is necessary. It provides a positive support while someone is either exploring their creativity of improving their craft. No one is instantly good at anything, so we all naturally go through a development process in anything that we do.

But unlike encouragement, false praise halts development. It incorrectly leads people to believe that they are at the top of their game, and that no further improvements are necessary.

I see this happen all to often in the new media sphere. It's as if some special pass is given. Some bar has been lowered. A general understanding that is simply can't be as good as "traditional" media. And since it can't, then we should have our own devalued sense of quality.

To speak frankly for a moment: fuck that.

I don't think new media has anything to prove to anyone. I think there is plenty of room for huge variations in quality. And I fully understand that we're often examining qualitative aspects. And yes, there is plenty of low quality stuff on the radio, TV, movies, theaters and more. New media shouldn't strive to be traditional media.

In fact, we need to lose those labels for moment. Let's talk about media. And let's use the same scales.

Was the last podcast you were on "one of the finest you've ever been on", or was it simply good? Was that last free book you listened to "better than anything I can buy at the store", or just a good yarn? Was there nothing worthy of fixing? Did they nail it on all points? And are you being honest?

I hereby dub 2009 The Year of Honest Criticism. Wanna join me? Note that this doesn't mean I'll be trashing everything I dislike. I'm not that big of a new media douchebag. But will be giving honest feedback when it's asked for, and I'll moderate my own enthusiasm for things, relying less on superlatives and hyperbole. Reality. Whoa.

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  1. Well said. Praise should always come from a sincere appreciation of the person's work, not from a desire to connect with their celebrity, no matter the degree of their fame.

    And as my first step toward honest critiques in 2009:

    You suck, Evo.

  2. I completely agree. There is a ton of stuff out there that sucks, yet for some odd reason I keep hearing the creator/artist/whatever praised. It's annoying, is derived from low self-esteem on the behalf of the person praising and is really a waste of most people's time.

    This same idea could be brought across to relationships between others. Stop pretending to like people you don't. Stop acting differently online then you are in person. Stop using fake names, stupid avatars and ridiculous screen names when you converse with people.

    Sure, sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes it hurts a lot, but no one gets better by praising them.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree! I appreciate when those who listen/read what I have to say are honest in their opinions of me. How else do I learn how to improve myself and satisfy my audience at the same time?

  4. Obviously agree... I don't pat people on the ass and tell them good job unless I actually believe they did. Which is the biggest reason for me not pimping out everybody's site/project/startup/post unless I actually liked it, which causes some resentment in certain people but, I'm not a bitch to post anything you think I should post because I have x amount of followers and can get you exposure... If I like it I'll mention it, if not - don't whine, just do better next time ;)

  5. Good post Evo. Not just good, but slightly better than good. I do the very thing you're talking about from time to time, but I stepped out on a limb and gave some honest critiques once and believe it or not the guy actually appreciated it. Then someone did the same for me and I appreciated it too. It was a hard pill to swallow, but I got it down and determined to do better. So, while I don't make resolutions, I will try and implement this in a broader scope. Thanks.

  6. I'm with you on this Evo.
    I feel sometimes that folks render a great deal of how innovative and groundbreaking New Media is, for example, but have no real understanding of either its limitations or its actual strengths.
    They operate under a misguided kind of evangelism in which all that is past (sometimes that means Web 1.0) is useless, and all that is good is new.

    This is as faulty a thinking as being a Luddite is. I've always asked for, and desired nothing but honest feedback and criticism.
    I'm usually able to identify what is "honest" feedback, and what is personally motivated.

    I need people to tell me how to improve, I don't need people to tell me how awesome I am. The former keeps me ever moving to improve, the latter, while emotionally gratifying at the time, sets up the problem of establishing me as some kind of "guru"... which lets face it.. if you meet the Social Media Expert on the road, kill him. :)

    Good thoughts as always.

  7. A terrific post, Evo, and one I find validating. We in the Social Media circles are throwing sound terms that are used as an excuse for sub-par content, and as The Shat would say, "I can't get behind that. It doesn't matter if you're me or NBC, you should strive to produce the best media you can.

    You are one of my toughest, most demanding critic. Have been for years. Please, if you feel the need, be tougher, be rougher. It only makes me, in the end, a better producer.

  8. Great post, Evo. And that's not just a free pat on the butt.

  9. Brilliant.

    So when Indiana Jim thinks something is a "knockoff," he ought to feel free to say so. I'm the sort of person to jump on anything that comes out of the gate with hype first and quality second.

    Anyway, I've been criticized for criticizing podcasts or podcast novels or audio dramas or what have you, because that creator "worked hard," or is "just as proud" of their work as anyone else. What, do we give A's for effort here in the podosphere? Effort is great, and sure we all have a development process, like you say. But if we're putting out some sort of creative effort there ought to be a built-in response. Podcasters live on feedback, but somehow we can't have the negative variety?

    Competition is what makes us better, and somehow in the New Media realm, "room for everyone" has become "everyone is special." This isn't Sesame Street!

    And you rule, Evo. Jack Mangan sucks. ;)

  10. I appreciate the feedback, everyone. Some specific points:

    Jack: Right on, brother. Celebs don't get a free pass, either.

    Tyler: But the reality is that people do behave differently. I don't think this is an inherently bad thing; just a fact. But that's no reason to stop behaving like a human. And it's certainly no reason to pile on false praise. In fact, it may be a good reason to do the opposite -- less chance the person will be pissed at you! But now we're on the anonymous troll slippery slope. No one wants to be That Guy.

    Scott: The trick is evaluating the criticism and making sure it's valid. If so, then work towards improving. But be careful of implementing a change just to make a complainer happy. Hard to be objective on both sides of this fence.

    Jack (not Mangan): I wonder if people can really tell you how to improve? Perhaps it's more accurate to have them tell you where they think you need to improve.

    Tee: Happy to play that role. I'll do it any time anyone asks, and for a few even when they don't.

    Indiana Jim: You should always feel free to say so. If they quality doesn't match the hype, what's the point?


  11. Since I am black and a Christian, I have had a chance to witness a similar problem several times. Black movies and Christian movies often have an inordinate amount of praise heaped on them within their communities. The thinking is that we have to heap praise on them to let the mainstream studios know that we want more of these movies. The problem is that in many cases the quality is low, but people are afraid to say anything negative.

  12. [...] wrote about the fine line between false praise and encouragement about this time last year. Perhaps it’s the season. And while that still holds true, I [...]


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