This is not an on-the-toilet thought but a walking-to-town thought. Yesterday I was walking to town with my husband and we stumbled across a lady trying to parallel park in a tight spot. She was struggling and an impatient white van man was waiting to get past. Willing to help we both stopped to guide her in. Once she was safely in my husband turned to me and said ‘I don’t know why you are giving advice, you can’t parallel park’.
This resulted in a very heated discussion, not about my parking (as I fully acknowledge that I can’t parallel park), but about whether you need to be an expert in a field, or even good at it at all, to be able to comment and advise someone trying to achieve greatness in that field (such as parallel parking).
I sit on the ‘yes you can’ side of the fence. He was leaning more towards the ‘no you can’t’ side of the fence. He argued that you can recognise something as rubbish (such as a piece of art or writing) but unless you are an expert in the field you can’t suggest ways to improve the piece of artwork (writing, music, furniture etc). I disagreed. I think that, particularly with art in mind, that you can advise someone on how to improve a bad job even if you are unable to implement those improvements yourself.
Consider for a moment, TV programmes such as Britain’s Got Talent, the X Factor and Dancing On Ice. We sit at home watching and we judge. We think we can distinguish the good from the bad. We give advice (albeit falling on deaf ears). We feel able to be constructive in our criticism. But how many of us can ice skate beyond going around in circles? Could we stand on that stage and face Simon Cowell? The same applies to sports. Think about how many people shout advice to footballers at football matches?
Scientists have actually studied this issue and they conclude that non-experts are able to judge creativity (and perhaps other areas such as sport), or at least they can be trained to be good judges of creativity. So perhaps this conclusion, based on science, is in fact a happy medium between what I argued and what my husband argued. You don’t have to be good at the thing you are criticisng but you need to be instructed first in what constitutes the good and the bad before you can comment.
I’ll conclude this ‘thought’ with a comment I saw recently on Facebook directed at Andy Murray after he lost in the quarter finals of Wimbledon: ‘Played like a beginner!’ Indeed he did.