What makes a good doctor? A good scientist? A good cook? Well, perhaps goodness itself.
In university years, while pursuing design and also interning part-time, I came to the conclusion that the mark of a good designer—beyond the skill set—is the way he or she critiques another’s work.
As students we would sometimes show some very terrible work during critiques. And it bewildered me that professors or managers at work could view anything in front of them and talk about it analytically. They could be looking at something that defied every rule of every thing they’d repeatedly taught us, but they would never say “what’s wrong with you?” or “this is terrible.” Instead they would go through the composition, talking about hierarchy, engaging the edges, color, type, white space, etc.
This reminds me of Nouman Ali Khan’s example where he mentions how in teaching, after going through an entire lesson, a student may raise his hand and say “I didn’t get it, can you repeat it?” The teacher will ask which part, and the student says “all of it.” The teacher repeats it, the student still doesn’t get it. So the teacher stays after class, invites the student home, comes up with alternate ways to teach. The teacher does not blame the student for not learning the material properly, but instead sees himself responsible for not communicating it properly.
It also reminds me of a story Aamir Khan related in an interview. He stated that his mother would congratulate him on winning a match and then say “what about the other boy’s mom—she must be very upset.” He said it taught him to view his opponent as a human being and he’d later celebrate with the other player(s), sometimes with a vada pao.
And so it seems that each profession has its little secret to becoming truly successful. The great designer will critique and not criticize, the great opponent will celebrate the game and not the victory, the great cook will share with you something of theirs you’ve asked to learn. I suppose it comes down to this: arrogance is that one characteristic that has no beneficial manifestation. In its presence, skill and talent, status and grandeur, all fall meaningless. But in its absence, one shines like the afternoon sun.