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The Power of Plussing in Critique and Creativity

Feedback is a necessary part of the creative process. You need to collect feedback to know how your work is being received, and whether or not it is serving the purpose you need it to serve. But feedback comes in many shapes and sizes, some of which are more productive than others. One of my favorite types of feedback is “plussing,” and today, I want to talk about the power of plussing in critique and creativity.

What is plussing?

I mentioned plussing briefly in another post, but just to refresh: plussing is the practice of adding, rather than subtracting, when giving feedback or refining your creative work. 

When you plus, you don’t shoot down ideas or simply say “no.” You add to the ideas that are already there, in an attempt to make them better.

Plussing is “and” instead of “but,” “yes” instead of “no,” and “what if” instead of “no way.” (It also very much ties into the idea of asking WHY instead of WTF.)

That doesn’t mean that you accept mediocre ideas. It means that you add to those mediocre ideas (or replace them with a similar idea) until you find something that really works, and then you keep doubling down on that.

The idea of plussing is generally attributed to Walt Disney, and in recent years, Pixar has made it famous. Now, plussing is widely considered to be better than traditional brainstorming and a way for companies to tap into their team’s truest and deepest creative capabilities.

Considering the creative and commercial success of Pixar, there’s got to be something about plussing that works, and works well. But what exactly is it?

The power of plussing in critique and creativity

Plussing is a powerful technique that can be used in both idea generation (creativity) and idea refinement (critique). Let’s explore why it works so well in each of these areas.

Plussing in creativity

First, plussing can be extremely useful in idea generation. This generally happens at the initial stages of a project, but really, it can happen any time. The power of plussing in creativity lies in the fact that it:

Invites new ideas 

We’ve all been in a room where we didn’t feel comfortable sharing an idea, for fear of being rejected or laughed at. Plussing helps lower the risk. When you share an idea in a plussing environment, you can trust that your idea is going to be considered just as much as any other. 

In that environment, more people are going to speak up. And that means more ideas to work with. The sheer quantity of ideas can introduce new thoughts/directions to the project that otherwise may have gone unseen. 

Makes good ideas better

When coming up with new ideas, you are bound to have some ideas that are better than others. The trick is to add to the bad ideas to make them good, and to add to the good ideas to make them even better.

The great thing about plussing here is that it encourages you to not give up on an idea, but rather to focus on how to improve it. Rather than stopping a thought or concept in its tracks, you think about what you could add to make it work. This keeps the creative juices flowing, which will inevitably leave you with better ideas.

Promotes teamwork

Most creative projects are a team effort. The practice of plussing builds teamwork into your processes, requiring the whole team to consider everyone’s ideas and contribute to making them better. Ideally, by the time you’re finished, you are left with a combination and melding of ideas that incorporates everyone’s thoughts so that each contribution matters. 

Plussing in critique

As important as plussing is when it comes to creating new ideas, there is also power in plussing during the critiquing process. During a critique, plussing works because it:

Finds the good in every idea

No idea is worthless, but sometimes, it takes a little extra effort to find the merits of an idea. Being in a “plussing” mindset definitely helps. When you are actively looking for the good in something, you are much more likely to find it. 

In critiquing, this is much more productive because it paves the way forward. Instead of just stopping a train of thought, plussing gives it new life. This allows it to become more than it originally was. 

Plussing introduces a new starting point, rather than an ending point.

Fosters a positive environment

Positivity can do wonders for a creative project. Shooting down every idea as bad or unworkable can leave everyone feeling discouraged and lost. But believing that something is going to work (no matter how long it takes) is motivating and inspiring.

This is good for morale, and that matters—not only because it keeps everyone happy, but also because it benefits creativity.  

Weeds out the bad (eventually)

When you critique using plussing, you don’t cut out the “bad” ideas entirely. You do either (a) add something to them that makes them better, or (b) replace them with something similar but better. At some point, the “bad” ideas will be entirely overrun with good ones. As you zero in on what is working for your project, you’ll end up with only the best parts.

The interesting thing is, many of those “best parts” would never have come to be if it wasn’t for those original “bad” ideas. By adding in more good things, the subtraction of the unnecessary things happens naturally.

The bottom line is this: the power of plussing in critique and creativity is that it leaves you with a happier team, a smoother creative process, and a better end product. But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself, and watch it work its magic.

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