Before getting to this point, Randy talks about the environment that nurtures creativity at Pixar. One important element is having a culture where the expectation is that you will “plus” other people’s ideas. Randy explains this by talking about improvisational theatre, the core principle of which is that you have to accept any idea that’s thrown out by the other actor(s) on stage (you can also hear Emily Levine talk about this at TED) and then build on it.
For example, if you’re an improve actor and you say, “It’s a lovely day today” and the other actor says, “Yes, except for that 20 foot wave that’s crashing to shore,” you have to accept what that actor has said and work with it (so you could say, “Yes, which is why I have this inflatable suit on, just in case.”)
In many professional situations, there’s a real tendency to skip this step and instead jump to the contrary point, the little bit that could be improved, your small suggestion.
All of you smart, critically-minded people out there (you know who you are) ask yourself how often, when asked to give feedback of one sort or another, jump right in to all the little or big changes you think should be made. This is actually the easy way out: you feel like you’re being helpful, improving the output, and it makes you look smart to boot. And when you’re talking to someone you like and respect, you assume they know you think they’re smart/capable/etc. and that the thing they’ve just done (the practice presentation, the brainstormed idea) is pretty good.
Try plus-ing first instead. If something is mostly good, start with that. And don’t talk in general terms (“It’s really great.”) as this is neither credible nor useful. Give this part real attention and thought. Give it as much analysis as you give your (subsequent) critique. Tell the person what’s good. Be very specific about what you like.
This will accomplish three things: first, it will give the person just as much feedback about what works as about what doesn’t, so she has a chance to amplify and strengthen the best part of what she’s done. Second, the person will feel good and gain in confidence.
Perhaps most important, it gives you practice at giving positive feedback in an honest, genuine, and specific fashion – which is actually much harder than it looks.