Deferring Judgment

Posted by on March 26, 2011

Anyone who encounters a creativity process for the first time is given – much like Moses handed down the tablets with ten commandments – the set of rules for creative thinking. It might seem strange that a process for being creative would have any rules, but it does. Creative Problem Solving is a structured process that leads to unstructured thinking. There are, in fact, two sets of rules, for diverging and converging, and if we manage to follow them – like operating instructions – as we go through each step of the process, we’re likely to end up with a creative outcome.

The first list of rules (let’s call them guidelines) is for generating ideas and options. And not just when we’re hunting for new ideas. The process asks us to think widely and wildly about our objectives and things we wish for, the problems or challenges we want to address, the criteria for success, and all the ways to implement a solution.

Again and again, we’re asked to defer judgment and make note of anything and everything that comes to mind.

The other set of rules applies to the moments when we need to converge. At certain points during any creative process (structured or spontaneous), we have to make choices and selections about where to put our energy moving forward. These guidelines help us to do it in productive and positive way. Rather than trashing an idea, we evaluate it by using positive judgment: we always ask what’s good or useful before making any criticism. And we try to make criticism in a productive way, asking questions instead of merely pointing out drawbacks. We try to spend our time and energy choosing what we want, rather than spending those valuable resources focusing on what we don’t want. That’s affirmative judgment.

This is the ideal temperament for creative problem solving, and for creativity in general.

I remember the first time I attended a creativity conference. It was the sister-conference of CREA, the Creative Problem Solving Conference (CPSI), which is held in the United States every June. The keynote speaker that year was George Land, a deep thinker with gravitas and gentleness. At the end of his talk he challenged the audience to optimize their experience at the conference by deferring judgment. Not just in little pieces, he suggested, but to make a wholehearted attempt to spend the entire week in a state of non-judgment. Just to see what it was like.

At a conference like this you could try such an experiment.

It takes a lot of energy to have an opinion – positive or negative – and the energy freed up by staying in neutral place and accepting different ideas and methods without pronouncing them right or wrong, or good or bad, is rather liberating. At least that was my experience during that week, which was my first encounter with creative process. I’m reminded of this notion every time I come to CREA.

I think the awareness of how we judge and when we do it is a key part of being creative. I strive to suspend judgment, setting it aside for a while, and then draw upon my ability to discriminate (but affirmatively) when it’s time to be decisive.

Each year, while at CREA, I’m reminded of that very first CPSI experience and Land’s intriguing challenge to defer judgment. He was right, a week cloistered with other compatriots who are likewise exploring and appreciating their creativity is a perfect occasion to practice the art of deferring judgment. So when I walk through the doors and into the lobby of the Villa Balbi hotel, home to CREA, I draw my shoulders back and take a deep breath: Can I use this week to augment my own capacity to defer judgment? Here, in this creative place with these creative people, can I stretch myself to remain more open-minded, more affirmative?

4 Responses to Deferring Judgment

  1. Maëlle

    Thanks Maggie for sharing this! Deferring judgement is for me the hardest but yet most satisfying thing in the creative process…

  2. Marina

    “Can I use this week to augment my own capacity to defer judgment?” thanks :) I’ll keep that in mind all week – see you soon!