We need friendly, fair critique to help us identify our faults and move on from them.
In 2002, the ballet and musical Movin’ Out premiered in Chicago. It was critically panned.
As the production was due to begin its Broadway run in three months, its choreographer Twyla Tharp was distraught. As we’ll see, the way Tharp dealt with this very public failure was inspiring.
Our brains often stand in the way of our success, trapping us in behavior that stops us from growing.
First, failure usually leads to denial. For example, certain prosecuting attorneys whose convictions were proved wrong by DNA testing concocted wild theories to deny any miscarriage of justice. In much the same way, Tharp could have dismissed the views of her critics.
Second, we can throw more resources after our losses, hoping that they disappear. Even some professional poker players let their emotions override their rationality, and make aggressive bets to win back the amount they have lost.
Third, we have a tendency to see the past as better than it actually was, interpreting old failures as successes. In a similar way, Tharp could have decided afterward that she’d planned all along to make a piece so avant-garde that the mass-media critics actually validated it with their scorn.
However, with the support of friends and family, we can distinguish our mistakes from our self-worth and find the strength to move on from failure. This group of close allies – our validation squad – provide vital constructive criticism.
Tharp’s validation squad picked out the most valid criticism of Movin’ Out for her to work on. In response, Tharp got up early, and rehearsed and improvised like there was no tomorrow. She also made changes to the characters, cut lines and kept morale among the actors high.
Once it reached Broadway, Movin’ Out became an award-winning success.