Critics Are Your Best Friends

CriticsAreYourBestFriends. Unless they criticize in a manner that cause you to feel totally devastated...

...in which case, maybe they aren't your friends because they are insensitive to you?

...in which case, maybe you're too sensitive to the criticism?

...in which case, maybe you realize the accuracy of their critique and realize just how much you need to change? [amount of work or depth of personal virtue]

...in which case, maybe you had unrealistic expectations of your friends the critics; you expected them to support you no matter how wrong you were?

...or perhaps your best friends have seemingly "totally devastated" you with a truth that is firstly "hard to accept" and secondly will require a "radical change" on your part to correct. It has been said that it is in knowing the "truth" that one is "set free".
Yes, that's right. It's almost a tautology, but very few people are aware of it on a continuous basis.

First of all if you don't think that critics are helpful, well, I don't know what else to tell you .. :)

Second, you may have a lot of friends, with whom you share ideas, you have great respect for each other, and usually their critic is a little moderate and only on a very occasional basis. Those friends are great in the private life (although they should try to be more critic even there). But in some aspects of professional life they are useless if they don't criticize you.

Let's say you have a great new idea. Many things in software development are inherently about new ideas, at a smaller or larger scale. A new language, a new paradigm, even a new project, or even a refactoring of existing code, all it's about new ideas.
This is a pattern I first learned in the chess world. See PatternsInChess.

I'll come back to chess for a more simple illustration. You have a new idea, let's say it's a great new move, or even after a party (won, draw, or lost, it doesn't matter) you think how you could have played better. So you sit at an analysis table, together with your friends (fellow colleagues, and even direct competitors in chess). In the worst case, you sit alone, so you have to have a split personality and be your own critic, and very few people know to do this effectively. Now in that situation you are desperate for critics, without them you just can't progress. And the more they criticize you from an opposite point of view, the better. CriticizeHelpfully is useless. You want to know as profound as possible the worst consequences of your new idea (the most profound weaknesses in case of software). Your friends have the unique mission to try to beat you at analysis, to prove that your idea is wrong, if you still beat them or draw them or have a positive result, that means you validated your idea.

Therefore you'll know CriticsAreYourBestFriends. Of course a nice encouragement is helpful from time to time, a word of praise gives you some nice comfort but in the end they don't help.

If you are a friend of the guy with the new idea, the best you can do is sit in front of him, and try to beat the hell out of his ideas. Be very circumspect before you can say, "you know, I think your idea is great" or even "your idea might work". If you say such a thing you're no longer helpful.

But if you believe an idea is great, (you would think so or you wouldn't say it), how is it not helpful. Is there more that the idea lacks? If so you might have said "You know, I think you are on the right track, but you obviously have not considered the importance of thus and such". Or: "you know your idea might work, but there is a much better way to do this (followed by the suggestion you as a friend are happy to offer). What is it about agreement that indicates a failure to be "no longer helpful". If it might work, with a CriticalSpirit, you could offer some tests or validation techniques that might help your friend prove the idea. Is there ever an end, when you are at an end of finding profound weaknesses and when is it that strength of your friend's ideas are finally realized? Can a CriticalSpirit offer assistance and help his friend to "Win". I cannot believe that you would want a friend to "Lose".

The spirit of software development and the spirit of software development community is a lot less confrontational than a professional sport. But I think the pattern still applies. -- CostinCozianu

Why do you make these assumptions? Sometimes brilliant ideas spring from the mouths of babes, and other times all that is required is the seed of a greater idea (which is the principle behind BrainStorming). Attacking an idea in the manner you've described would close down the discussion, rather than open the discussion, which is counter to the CriticalSpirit who is seeking out the truth.

Many is the time a good friend has come to me with an immature and ill-formed idea. Rather than trying to beat the hell ouf of his ideas I instead used that idea as a springboard to another idea, a better one. All the many deficiencies of the earlier idea are irrelevant once we abandon it, so there is no point in utterly crushing it. It's a waste of energy and time.
What do you think?


If you are a friend of the guy with the new idea, the best you can do is sit in front of him, and try to beat the hell out of his ideas. Be very circumspect before you can say, "you know, I think your idea is great" or even "your idea might work". If you say such a thing your no longer helpful.

But if you believe an idea is great, (you would think so or you wouldn't say it), how is it not helpful. Is there more that the idea lacks? If so you might have said "You know, I think you are on the right track, but you obviously have not considered the importance of thus and such". Or: "you know your idea might work, but there is a much better way to do this (followed by the suggestion you as a friend are happy to offer). What is it about agreement that indicates a failure to be "no longer helpful". If it might work, with a CriticalSpirit, you could offer some tests or validation techniques that might help your friend prove the idea. Is there ever an end, when you are at an end of finding profound weaknesses and when is it that strength of your friend's ideas are finally realized? Can a CriticalSpirit offer assistance and help his friend to "Win". I cannot believe that you would want a friend to "Lose".

When somebody comes with a new idea, first of all we have to assume he thought hard before coming in public (or within his circle of friends). Therefore even if we see some weaknesses, WE DON'T KNOW if we are right or if our friend hasn't already observed the apparent weaknesses and is not being able to treat them with something subtle or more profound. We can't say therefore "you know your idea might work", until we actually prove that it doesn't work in its initial form, or until it is our friend who says "you know I haven't thought hard enough about this idea, I might need some help", because we don't know if his idea has some flaws or we are not able to understand it. Something along the lines "might work but there's a much better way to do it" automatically places the critic in a condescending position, and what would be terribly funny is for the condescending attitude to be from a false position of superiority.

So you first have to assume that your interlocutor is at least as smart as you, that he thought very carefully and extensively and his ideas are worth it exactly in the form that he presented (and not in another form that you might think could be better). Once the weaknesses/flaws has been discovered/proved the friends start looking for ways to improve one's idea, or they might reach the conclusion that the idea is not worth salvaging. If an improvement has been proposed we go back to criticizing, preferably CriticizeBluntly.

-- CostinCozianu
Can a CriticalSpirit offer assistance and help to his not so skilled friend to "arrive at the truth". I cannot believe that you would want a friend to "not know the truth" even though he has demonstrated a desire to know it. What is so bad about that - is it truly condescending to do so? and why must all your friends be at least a smart as you?
[Editing note: here is the original question without which the response does not make sense. The question has been reformulated above, and I'll try to respond later.]

Can a CriticalSpirit offer assistance and help his friend to "Win". I cannot believe that you would want a friend to "Lose".

A CriticalSpirit is concerned with finding out the truth. Who wins and who loses is irrelevant, there are no losers and there are no winners in a discussion, even in a polemic.

The same as in chess training, from which the example was drawn, the focus is on finding the best moves and the likely outcome of a particular position. Who loses and who wins at training is utterly irrelevant. What happens during an official game is altogether another story :)

-- CostinCozianu

Along the ideas above maybe we should all drop our names, and use pseudonyms on wiki, so that we can leave our egos aside. When I was thinking about how to refactor CriticalSpirit pages I just witnessed the polemic on WhyDoPeopleMakeSoManyMistakes, and it was very interesting to observe.

The author of the idea chose to contribute anonymously for the fear that it might be flamed if he tries to suggest that something might be wrong with the very basis of ExtremeProgramming. Very few responses (critics) to his ideas were actually valid critics, many of them were about explaining tautologies that had nothing to do with what the man was trying to say, and so on, and many responses were from an unjustifiably condescending position. So egos are quite some demons on wiki.

-- CostinCozianu

Egos are demons in all dealings with people.

"chose to contribute anonymously for the fear that it might be flamed" - care to justify this supposition, or is it just part of your paranoia and persecution complex?

<quote>My first reaction is that if you don't make many mistakes, you must not be challenging yourself.</quote>

How do you qualify this, please? You are already trying to flame me, but I'll skip over this aspect because CriticsAreYourBestFriends.

I was not the author, but why does it need qualification? It's just a person's first reaction.

Can a CriticalSpirit offer assistance and help his friend - I believe so - to fail to help a friend is not in the framework of friendship. Whether it is to win or to come to the truth, a friend will help. A friend does not carry paranoia and persecution into the relationship of friendship. He is not worried about the Critical Spirit of his friend, he knows that he will not be accused of some complex or that his ego is in the way, or that he is unable to receive criticism. He will value his friend's criticism and become better at what he does because of it.
<DeleteMe> Tautology:

My good friends here will appreciate my sharp criticism for them failing to use the dictionary.

So DonaldNoyes first came up with a correct definition for what the word meant in the context that I used it on this page. Later on somebody else deleted the correct one and came up with this.

not a commonly used word so for those not aware a definition is in order:
Tautology
Needless repetition of the same sense in different words; redundancy;

Which might be true in some contexts (I'm not an expert in English), but is far too obvious that it is not what tautology meant in the context.

So the meaning that applies to the context is: a tautology is a proposition that is always true., well the more exact definition in formal logic is a little bit complicated, but this is the essence of it.

One example where a tautology is not needless and is not repetition: ((p IMPLIES q) AND ( p IMPLIES (NON q) )) IMPLIES (NON p) is a tautology. It serves as the basis for the reductio ad absurdum demonstrations (I don't know the equivalent in English for reductio ad absurdum) .

I said that CriticsAreYourBestFriends is almost a tautology, because critics are your friends is a tautology (providing a reasonably wide definition of friend is accepted). CriticsAreYourBestFriends go a step further and tells you that you should praise your critics as your best friends.

</DeleteMe>

a tautology is a proposition that is always true. - Wrong. A tautology, in logic, is composed of simpler statements that may or may not be true independently, but when combined the statement as a whole is true. For example: [A or Not A] will always be true, and is a tautology. You can also see the redundant repetition of the common definition there too: A, Not A ... they both mean the same thing.

CriticsAreYourBestFriends is not a tautology in either sense, not even "almost". For starters, the two components {Critics, BestFriends} are not synonyms (except by assertion of this page, making that a circular argument), and secondly the two components are not statements that could be true or false. Critics is not a statement, nor is BestFriends. AnonymousDonor

I find it nice that you are so keen to prove me wrong. I said above that a proposition that is always true is the essence (a shortcut for people who lack training in higher mathematics) of the formal definition and not the formal definition. What you described is also very approximate and far from formal definition, not to mention that it excludes tautologies derived with predicates, and I maybe lack mathematical training in English but I have only heard about propositional logic not about a logic of statements. You can call [A or Not A] a tautology or a principle (axiom) known as tertium non datur, But (A) --and-- (Not A) do not mean the same thing ( let's not go into meaning, ok ? ), they are quite the opposite of each other, only the combination of them through the OR operation gives you a tautology.

So the definition that you cut and paste from dictionary was inappropriate for the context. More, when you study a dictionary you will often see more meanings for the same word, usually marked by numbers (1,2..), it's not enough to choose one at random you have to apply it to a context.

More, if you use dictionary.com like I do, you'll see several definitions gathered from various dictionaries and not only one. So if you go there you'll find a definition identical with what I said (a proposition which is always true), although I am reluctant to consider this a mathematical definition. It can be used however in the context of a linguistic dictionary where mathematical terms need to be explained for a larger audience.
How can critics are your friends be a tautology?

If we define critics as people who criticize you (find fault with, uncover errors), that means that they help you to correct those errors (you can't correct them unless you know about them). Then we can accept (without starting a discussion on what exactly friends are) that people who help us are our friends. It follows that critics are our friends.

I said CriticsAreYourBest? friends is almost a tautology because the next logical step from critics are your friends to critics are your best friends is a matter of individual choice.
First of all if you don't think that critics are helpful, well, I don't know what else to tell you.

This appears to be the crux of the problem. If critics and criticism are asserted to be helpful, then "Critics are your best friends" becomes "Helpful people are your best friends" and the statement merits little discussion. Unless one can justify the statement "Critics are helpful," there is nothing meaningful to discuss on this page. What value does criticism provide?

ItDepends on whether the person criticized is listening to what the criticizer is saying, and whether or not the criticism is evaluated on its merits. It is a case of valuing the merit of the criticism. If one does not look at the possibility of truth existing in the criticism and the possibility of error existing in what is criticized, then the only value that exists is that at least the critic tried to be a helpful friend.

This seems to be a rather circular statement. It still assumes "the merit of the criticism." There may just be an insurmountable chasm between those who believe there is inherent value in criticizing and those who do not see the value. From the caveats listed above, I believe there might be common ground in stating that "Criticism is not always beneficial" and the differences in opinion are based on determining the underlying cause(s) when criticism fails to be beneficial. One view appears to be that the individual receiving criticism is at fault, where as an opposing view would be that the act of criticism itself is at fault. Please feel free to amend my assertions concerning underlying belief as necessary. My statements are only intended to provide a basis for continued discussion and refinement and not imply an omniscient view of what others might actually be thinking.

I really dig good criticism. However, good criticism is rare. The best criticism is self-standing, carefully articulated, does not depend on ArgumentFromAuthority, is not rude, and uses specific examples. Few know how to do this well. One of the best persons at this also happened to be a tech teacher, not suprisingly. [should this be moved to ConstructiveCriticism]?
See ConstructiveCriticism
CategoryCriticism

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