Friday, September 26, 2014

Overcoming fear

In the last few posts, I've been exploring ideas expressed by Ed Catmull in Creativity, Inc. Everyone likes good ideas! But putting them into practice can be both difficult, and frightening. Change is work, and creating something which has never existed before, is creating the future. The unknown is daunting.

In meetings with the Braintrust, where new film ideas are viewed and judged, Catmull says,
It is natural for people to fear that such an inherently critical environment will feel threatening and unpleasant, like a trip to the dentist. The key is to look at the viewpoints being offered, in any successful feedback group, as additive, not competitive. A competitive approach measures other ideas against your own, turning the discussion into a debate to be won or lost. An additive approach, on the other hand, starts with the understanding that each participant contributes something (even if it's only an idea that fuels the discussion--and ultimately doesn't work). The Braintrust is valuable because it broadens your perspective, allowing you to peer--at least briefly--through other eyes.[101]
Catmull presents an example where the Braintrust found a problem in The Incredibles film. In this case, they knew something was wrong, but failed to correctly diagnose it. Even so, the director was able, with the help of his peers, to ultimately fix the scene. The problem turned out not to be the voices, but the physical scale of the characters on the screen!

This could happen because the director and the team let go of fear and defensiveness, and trust that everyone is working for the greater good. I often see us doing this in KDE, but in the Community Working Group cases which come before us, I see this breaking down sometimes. It is human nature to be defensive. It takes healthy community to build trust so we can overcome that fear.