John Siracusa on Hypercriticism

I came across a 2009 post by John Siracusa called Hypercritical and it inspired me to share some thoughts on the subject. I, like Siracusa, live in perpetual displeasure with my work. I’ve come to attribute this displeasure to the disparity between what my brain wants to create and what my hands can output. I’ve heard Ira Glass tell us that the antidote is practice, so practice I do.

There is a flip side of course, and it was recently summarized by @can:

Seems to me, the only bad criticism is one that is personal and inflammatory. Hyper-criticism is an unapologetic quality, and has a tangible impact on the final product, when channeled properly.

I don’t know how justifiable my criticism is. Is there a threshold of external validation one must meet before their opinion matters? I don’t think so, and I think the more I can constructively criticize – that is, back my criticism with logical analysis – the better I become at judging my own work.

I’m not about to compare my criticism to Steve Jobs’ secret-sauce of sucess (much to my ego’s dismay), but I think the general idea that the key to success is being critical of one’s own work and " being in a position to demand that it be fixed before a product sees the light of day" is, in fact, a key to Apple’s success and an indication of the failure of many competitors.

Choice quotes from the Siracusa article:

This touches on the idea of practicing even in the face of self-doubt.

But much worse than that, it means that everything you ever create appears to you as an accumulation of defeats. “Here’s where I gave up trying to get that part right and moved on to the next part.” Because at every turn, it’s apparent to you exactly how poorly executed your work-in-progress is, and how far short it will inevitably fall when completed. But surrender you must, at each step of the process, because the alternative is to never complete anything—or to never start at all.

I like what this quote has to say about using criticism to understand not just what sucks, but why it sucks.

And true to form, there was plenty of recursive self-analysis. Do I dislike these new tabs only because they’re different? Are my old habits blinding me to the benefits of this new design? People really dove deep on this thing: generalizing, trying to find the underlying patterns, and changing their positions based on new analyses.