Sunday, March 4, 2012

Letting Go (aka Issy Goes All Engineer on the Blog)

I know I've mentioned in the past about how engineering has helped me ease into the writing process.  The parallels can be a little bit eerie at times, and the more that I dive into the writing world, the more parallels pop up.  Lately, things happening on my team at work have reminded me of some of the writing advice I've heard from fellow bloggers, authors, and the amazing people at the SCBWI conference. And that's why today, I'm diving into "letting go" during the critique process:

At a work costume thing, dressed as an "engineer nerd"
Some people actually thought we always dress this way!

We've just reshuffled our teams to work on a key projects.  The project that I am now assigned to was originally being handled by one engineer.  That engineer went from working with little to no support to having a team of engineers and designers swooping in to take over huge percentages of his design and transfer work.  Not because he's incompetent or was doing something wrong, but because one person handling a huge project can be inefficient and crazy-making (note: if you know the building security code to be able to leave after the alarms turn on at midnight, you may need more resources.)

And, one person can sometimes get too close to the project to admit when it might need improvement, change, or a fresh viewpoint.

After over a year on project XYZ, this coworker is having a very hard time letting go.  Automatic "That's impossibles" and "Nos" became part of his vocabulary during design reviews.  When one instrument design was given to another engineer, he would walk around mumbling about how the new design would "never work."  I have been asked to moderate reviews and feel terrible about constantly having to remind him that we're all working towards the best product possible and even though he's the subject matter expert, that doesn't invalidate everyone else's feedback.  He's getting better about the whole situation, but it's been a long few weeks.

Truth: We've all been there.  We've all been reluctant to "call our babies ugly" or to accept that someone might have a better idea than our original WIP.  When someone points something out that could use improvement, it's natural instinct to just say "Yes, but--"

It's important to remember that the people who are providing feedback are trying to help you make the best final product possible-- unless you've handed your design, manuscript, macrame belt... whatever to someone with a crazy ulterior motive.  Maybe they don't have your background information, maybe they might be totally off mark... or maybe they may have hit on the very thing that will take project XYZ from "pretty good" to "excellent."  You will never know if you don't listen.

I had to learn this early on in my product development career.  The manufacturing and quality engineers are not "out to get me" or "trying to delay my project because they hate me" (well, most aren't-- I sometimes wonder about some of them!)  Their goals are to make a cost-effective, inspectable product that is easy to manufacture and has all of the safety checks and balances in place.  I make things that go in people's bodies and, if I screw up, people could potentially die.  And "pretty good" to "excellent" could mean better patient outcomes overall.  I'm happy to have an extra set (or two or twelve) of eyes on my designs and drawings. 

In the writing world, no one will die if you or I don't listen to critiques or beta or agent feedback on an MS.  The world will go on in a perfectly fine fashion.  But... maybe that "what if you do this?" or "I suggest--" could be the key to making the MS something that really shines. 

Listen, absorb, learn, and be ready for change.  That's what a good design team does on a daily basis.  We work so hard at our writing, pour our souls and hours upon hours of effort into it that it deserves that much, doesn't it?

1 comment:

  1. It's always cool (and instructive) when I find parallels between my writing life and "life-life." And it's good for me to start thinking about a healthy attitude towards feedback since I'm going to be giving my baby--er, book--to beta readers soon. (eek!)