Eric Karjaluoto

Don’t Be a Crehater

Making things is challenging. Getting them to market is even harder. Finding an audience that cares? Damn—that’s a real toughy. So, it’s no wonder people often give up. If you’re a maker, you know what I’m talking about. Excitement turns to doubt awfully quick.

No shortage of trolls

Yesterday, I discovered a particularly shitty response (which he has since edited, to be less derogatory) on ProductHunt. The self-appointed critic called the maker’s idea “hideous,” “ugly,” and “stupid.” He then finished with a—rather perplexing—“No offense.” This made me angry. I kept wondering: Why did this commenter need to beat the crap out of someone who’d just tried to make something good? (I so wish he’d watch this video and ask himself why he’s not contributing something.)

Although I don’t know the creator of this product, I feel a sort of kinship with him. My take is that anyone who puts their time, money, and guts on the line deserves our respect. Such work isn’t easy, and most never even try. However, this guy did. And he responded thoughtfully to his critic’s remark—which didn’t warrant such grace.

I wonder why we pick one another apart. My hunch is that we hate on others not because of them, but due to our own inadequacies. We see someone ship an idea we once had—but never acted upon—and feel embarrassed to have missed the boat. Someone else’s product is a hit, and we become jealous of their glory. Or, we feel bad about what we’re working on, and think we’ll find some relief by criticizing another’s work.

Frankly, I stopped visiting Brand New (which is a great site) just because the comment threads got so sloppy and vicious. I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise. As the old adage goes: everyone’s a critic. However, it’s not the common person’s negativity I take umbrage with. It’s when fellow creators exhibit such spite. I call these people “crehaters” (which seems only slightly clumsier than “Trumped-up trickle-down economics”).

Acting like losers

When Uncle Eddie shits on the new Verizon logo, I’m unfazed. He doesn’t make anything—other than snide remarks. What grinds my gears is when makers start treating creation as a zero-sum game—because it isn’t. It never was. It never will be. And the more you treat it in this way, the more we all (paradoxically) lose.

Speaking of losing, do you know what you lose when someone else makes something? Absolutely fucking zero. In fact, you benefit—because those creations might make your life better. Plus, we all feed off one another. If one of your peers innovates in some way, her/his lessons are there for you to learn from and build atop. No matter how good you think you are, you can’t go this alone. Your peers’ work is not a threat—it’s a gift.

Let’s get back to this criticism thing. There’s a difference between giving critical feedback and just being a dick. The latter is easy and requires no consideration or imagination. It’s not that different from making a yo-mama joke—and it’s equally pointless.

Building, not burning

Good criticism is about helping someone find alternate ways to look at a problem. You see, no one wants to make bad work—but sometimes we can’t help it.

Perhaps we chose an idea that wasn’t quite right. Maybe we took the wrong path. Could be that we stopped seeing what’s in front of us for what it truly is. And then we get stuck. In the worst case scenarios, we see what we just built as totally fine—even though it’s failing on some level.

At this stage, the last thing a creator needs to hear is trash-talk. In fact, that’s just the sort of thing that’ll stunt his/her work even further. This is because no one makes better work when they’re on the floor, getting kicked (while the attacking goon repeats, “hey—no offense”).

We need to be better than that. If this were a sport, and our teammate fell to the ground, we wouldn’t point fingers and talk about how stupid he looks. We’d pause, extend a hand, and speak some words of encouragement. I admire team sports for this. These activities build camaraderie, empathy, and community. This is something we can learn from.

We are the champions

Good creators don’t talk shit about their fellow creators. They champion the work of those around them. They know how hard this stuff is. They accept that stumbles are part of what we do. And they treat one another with respect—because we all deserve that.

When you see something great, let the maker know. She could be having a crummy day—and your words might rekindle her enthusiasm. When you admire what someone else has done, talk about it, share it with friends, and help spread the word. When you see something so good it intimidates you, take a moment to appreciate that we all have the capacity to make work that inspires awe.

And when you see something that isn’t what it could be, take pause. Re-holster your cheeky retort. Consider why this thing just doesn’t seem to work. Then ask if the creator wants feedback. If the answer is yes, you can share your thoughts—acknowledging that your perspective too might be flawed. The purpose in all of this isn’t to tear down—it’s to build up.

A few years back, Casey Hrynkow noted that her husband Ray (both distinguished Vancouver designers) wouldn’t allow anyone in his studio to bad-mouth others. He didn’t think any good came from such behavior, and he stuck to those ideals. In spite of the fact that I haven’t always done the same, I’m certainly trying to do as Ray did.

And now I ask you to follow Ray’s example. We’re a team. Let’s act like one.

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