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Sunday, May 27, 2007

The "No solution" rejoinder to criticism-- weak

No one likes to be told that something that they have done was done poorly, or stupidly, or just incompetently. We all react (naturally) with a combination of irritation, defensiveness, or hostility. Often a "discussion" will ensue regarding the merits of the "your (work | decision | product) sucks" statement, and this is a natural part of the process of confirming that the thing which sucks does in fact suck.

However, I have noticed a growing tendency to assert that the statement that something sucks is insufficient-- the critic is required to offer an alternative that would be better. This should always be rejected. There is no requirement that criticism of a decision, product, or action also have a full project plan for addressing the less than adequate elements of the criticized thing.

I noticed this relatively recently when a competitor was reacting to multiple references to the UI of their currently in-market product. The UI in question does, in-fact, suck. The reaction (from a company executive no less) was that those criticizing the UI weren't very useful, as they weren't stating that should be changed. He was quite wrong-- they were saying that the UI should be changed, not applying for the job of UI designer at this competitor. What they were pointing out was that the UI does suck, and that there should be some effort by this company, if they want to sell software, to address the suckiness of the UI. I can see, for instance, inviting additional comment on how the UI sucks, or asking individuals to join focus groups, etc. One can even ask what would be done differently, but asking what would be done differently does not negate the criticism if no answer ifs given.

This little trick is an old standard of Republicans and the current administration defending the Iraq war. Most recently I have seen this as a statement which roughly is "let's stop talking about how we got here, what you critics need to offer to be taken seriously is a plan to move forward." (this was recently offered to us here) Like the company executive above, this is weak. In fact, it is still required, in this case, to point out how much that decision sucked, and how many, many actions stemming from the decision have sucked. I am sure that this criticism is tiring for the administration, the GOP, and their legions of defenders. However, we really haven't gotten much in the way of an explanation of how this tremendously bad decision was made, so pointing out how much it sucked has a useful element-- highlighting that the current decision makers are the same ones who made the very, very bad decision to invade Iraq (which includes the decision that post war planning was adequate). So the ongoing criticism of that decision, and it's outcomes, is worth continuing to make.

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