Elisa Hebert

A Question of Perspective

Radical Candor: The Daily Practice of Crit(ique)

This is the first post in a multi-part series about Radical Candor and authenticity in the workplace. This series was originally posted on Medium.

A long, long time ago, I was a design student at RISD, the Rhode Island School of Design. In art school, there are two things you might not have been exposed to in the past that quickly become a part of your daily life: naked models, and crit.

You learn that physically fit people are easier to draw, but drawing wrinkles is more interesting and makes you better, faster at your craft. Time-worn bodies hone your artistic skills in ways that the taut skin of the younger set just can’t. You learn to appreciate the vertical C-section scars on the model whose baby now has their own babies; those scars tell a story on her body and in your work. Crit’s like that.

Crit(ique) is the evaluation of your work: by your peers, your professor, and sometimes a guest critic. It’s an exercise that can have rigor to it (informal and daily, or more formal at the end of the semester) or can be spontaneous. It is to art school what feedback and presentation are to the business world.

Easier crits can be a sigh of relief, but they don’t really make you better the way the 98-year-old model does. Every day, you draw, or you paint, or build, or make. And then you pin your work to the wall or bring it to the front of the class, and crit starts. Crit is a specific exercise intended to push you — your thinking, your practice, your execution. Some people have not figured out how to express their feedback in a way that other people can hear it. And so, sometimes there’s crying. Lots of crying.

Photo by Ayako Takase, Assistant Professor RISD ID / co-founder of Observatory

This daily practice of crit built both a direct nature and a self-critic in me. The self-critic tears apart my ideas and pokes holes — thereby avoiding the pain of someone else showing me my soft spots. (Let’s be clear, there’s still plenty that gets past my internal critic.) And being direct — well, that can be a blessing and a curse if your delivery isn’t finely honed. (And as are we all, I’m a work in progress there.)

When I came across a Denver Leadership MeetUp session about Radical Candor (led by the amazing EllenMary Hickman from the Turing School), I was intrigued. And then I read the book Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean, and it was like Kim Scott was speaking to me directly. I saw some of my less-excellent behaviors in her explanation of Radical Candor vs. Obnoxious Aggression. And I found hope in how to approach conversations that could easily veer into Ruinous Empathy (though my tendency is definitely more toward Challenge Directly than Silence).

I know, I just tossed out a whole bunch of new terms. I’d say you should go read the book, but I’ll let my over-the-top enthusiasm (which has led me to write a whole blog series about the book’s impact on me and how I continue to evolve my approach) speak for itself. In a nutshell, it’s about being direct (without being a jerk) and about caring about humans so deeply that this way of managing becomes an emotional imperative.

Kenzan’s Client Solutions team is kicking off a mini book club around Radical Candor — to look at how its principles inform our practice, both internally and with our clients. Stay tuned for examples of our own continuous improvement (and learnings from when we fall down) as we evolve our thinking and share back here.

If you enjoyed this article, good news! This blog is the first post in a Radical Candor series. Please keep reading:

art 2, Calling Yourself Out
Part 3, Management Style: Sunny With a Chance of Bananas
Part 4, Pink Hair, Piercings, and Professional Services
Part 5, Pandemically Candid
Part 6, Rocket Fuel for Your Teams

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