I am excitedly awaiting the release of Oathbringer, the third volume of Brandon Sanderson’s epic Stormlight Archive series, which comes out in November. To stoke the anticipation, Alice Arneson, one of the beta readers, recently published a post detailing the review process for Oathbringer.  The post is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the creative process for producing the Stormlight Archive books, each 1000+ pages full of layered plot, fascinating intrigue, and cool magic.

It got me thinking more about the creative process we mere mortals engage when we create learning strategies or instructional designs. We tend to think of creative work as something we do individually, but it is often in engaging with other people that our best ideas are born and refined. If I didn’t realize that before, it became clear when I researched Creativity Boost. One of the disciplines I identified for building creative capacity is conversing, the simple act of seeking input and testing reactions to ideas.

Many of the creatives who you would see as the best in their fields have structured ways of inviting critique and input. To wit:

  • As noted above, favorite fantasy author Brandon Sanderson has a robust beta review process that produced more words in commentary from 70 beta readers than were in the draft itself (550,000+!).
  • Acclaimed Broadway composer Lin-Manuel Miranda engages deeply with a talented “cabinet” of co-creators – his orchestrator, director, and choreographer – and they work together to constantly refine the show on its way to opening night.
  • Celebrated choreographer Twyla Tharp shares her work-in-progress with a trusted group she refers to as her “validation squad.”
  • The talented folks at Pixar have institutionalized the process with “Braintrust” meetings wherein movies that are in development are frequently presented for critique so that the best features get amplified and the worst features are identified and reworked.

It’s from Ed Catmull at Pixar that I got the quote that titles this post:

Frank talk, spirited debate, laughter, and love. If I could distill a Braintrust meeting down to its most essential ingredients, those four things would be first among them.

I think we need more of this kind of in-progress input and critique in our field – I know I could use it in my own work. We have two opportunities to surround ourselves with frank talk, spirited debate, laughter, and love: 1) seeking input and critique from other professionals during the creative process and 2) asking for feedback from our “audience” – clients, business leaders, and learners. When organizing your own beta readers, cabinet members, validation squad or Braintrust, look for people who:

  • Care deeply about the end product
  • Bring some form of expertise – especially expertise you don’t have
  • Know how to effectively engage in frank talk and spirited debate
  • Are not interested in angling for credit
  • Are willing to invest time in the process
  • Will bring laughter and love as well.