One of the attributes we recognize and admire in great artists, curators, and other professionals is how quickly and decisively they assess the world around them. They see almost immediately whether an action, object, or direction is ‘right’ or ‘aligned’ with some larger vision. Or whether an action, object, or direction is ‘good’ by technical or aesthetic standards.
It is, in part, this ability to judge in the moment that makes their work exceptional. Through fast and focused assessment, they make continual micro and macro adjustments to what they’re doing. And the process finds its way to beauty, power, or impact because they and their team are able to make these adjustments in ways the rest of us cannot fathom or perceive.
Because this is a celebrated quality of great artists, craftspeople, and other professionals, it is natural to assume that the path to greatness is about judging more quickly and more decisively. We should determine ‘right’ or ‘good’ as fast as we can, and then say it as loudly as we can, with commitment.
This is a rookie mistake.
In fact, what we perceive to be fast and focused judgment in extraordinary people is (usually) the byproduct of thousands of hours of suspended judgment…time spent learning to pause and probe an observation or experience long enough to understand it, and also to understand its relationship to a vision or goal.
What we perceive as instinct is more like relentlessly disciplined muscle memory or mental habit.
So, if your goal is greatness — peak performance in whatever it is you care about doing — fast and furious isn’t the place to begin. The place to begin is to notice without judgment — to see, and to say what you see, as cleanly as possible, without bundled assumptions.
If I asked you, for example, what you see in the picture included in this post, what would you say first? It’s an angry girl? She’s disgusted about something? She’s having a tantrum? She’s being silly? If so, stop that.
Now, just describe what you see (not what it means, or what she is thinking, or how you feel about it). You see a human face. The tongue is protruding. The nose and forehead have wrinkles. There is shoulder-length hair.
This may sound stupid and dull. But this is how mastery begins — in art, in business, in pretty much anything. And this is how judgment actually gets better, and eventually faster.
Learn to notice without judgment (at least at first). From what I’ve noticed, it’s the best first step toward greatness.