As a publication focused on both business and the arts, we instinctively believe that the two subjects go hand in hand. A strong business climate can obviously support an arts community. And — not quite so obvious — a strong arts community can be the magnet that makes an area attractive to a productive and engage workforce.
Sometimes the arts provide lessons that businesses might find useful. Our August 19 cover story on writing groups addressed the challenge of offering beginning writers constructive criticism without destroying their confidence and enthusiasm for the task at hand. As Robert Hebditch noted in his first person account:
“Reading my own work aloud came easily, but hearing critique was not so easy. Note that critique should not be confused with the much harsher word criticism. Not understanding the difference can lead budding authors to withdraw, hiding their work from the larger world. Critique essentially addresses the question, ‘how can we make this better?’ Criticism focuses on ‘what’s wrong here.’ At the beginning, I certainly failed to understand the difference.
“I also failed to understand that critique is a two-way street. I did not consider that I would have to judge the work of others in a thoughtful way, or that it would require my effort. I am naturally disposed to be overly direct, but commenting on the work of others was a far more difficult task than I had imagined. These were my friends. I would have to learn to phrase my comments so that they would improve the story rather than admonish the writer. Having a good ear for a story is not enough. One needs to tease out precisely what will help a story that is not quite there.
“Critique is at the heart of most groups and, at its best, helps writers understand what’s good and what’s not so good in their work. What works well, what doesn’t, and how, where, and why they might rethink their work. The unwritten rule of a critique is to be generous with praise and kind with negative comment. The challenge is being honest without being cruel.”
Readers who dig into Diccon Hyatt’s cover story on page 26 of this issue will discover that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — whose empire now includes a huge warehouse with 2,500 workers in Robbinsville — has tried to walk the same line but not always so successfully. His goal of promoting “honest critique” comes at a very high cost for some employees.
As another writer participating in this Labor Day coverage, Princeton-based consultant Tamara Jacobs, notes on page 29, “the truth is that bosses, for the most part, don’t like a lot of dissent and do not foster a culture of communicating differences, despite the heralding of a corporate ‘speak-up’ culture.”
What’s the case with your company? E-mail our editor: firstname.lastname@example.org. This is one time when our otherwise unyielding boss might even print letters from people who prefer to remain anonymous. As Jeff Bezo’s grandfather once said to him: “It’s harder to be kind than clever.”