I can’t remember when I first started using the term criticalfriend but its wider use in the public sector, beyond education circles, seems to have been attributed to me.  I do remember introducing it to the Local Government Consortium in the 1990′s and my enthusiasm for the concept hasn’t wavered since. Sometimes I’m asked to define what the term means.  That’s always a bit of a bugger but you can’t go far wrong with Costa and Kallick’s widely quoted definition that:

“A critical friend can be defined as a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critiques of a person’s work as a friend. A critical friend takes the time to fully understand the context of the work presented and the outcomes that the person or group is working toward. The friend is an advocate for the success of that work.”

My unofficial biographer tells me that I’ve been quoted as saying,

“We should all be celebrating our successes but now and again we need to be self critical because it is through this process that we improve our products, our services and our personal offering. Sometimes we need a little help by way of a friend, a critical friend”

“There are differences in emphasis between the terms advisor, consultant and critical friend but integrity must underpin the relationship. An effective criticalfriend must imply the development and deployment of a palette of skills and sensitivities as we reflect and adapt to new contexts”

“Franklin Jones once said that honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger, he said nothing about a criticalfriend”

For me a criticalfriend fills a niche, being facilitative rather than directive with the emphasis on being a friend to the person and a critic of their actions. Put simply it is about supporting improvement through empowerment. Risk and reward travel side by side. Avoid one and the other will also pass you by.  My reputation may be for challenging the consensus narrative but for me it is important to act with positive intent, as Emile Chartier says,

“Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it’s the only idea you have”

We have a duty to question, it’s in our make-up and why not for William Shedd and Albert Szent-Goygori tell us,

“A ship in the harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”  William Shedd

“Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different”  Albert Szent-Gyorgi

And why am I doing this? Well as friend and fashion designer Jo Hawtree says,

“If I were to offer advice from the heart, though it may be controversial, I would say break the rules, don’t rely too much on outside influences. Find something that inspires you every day. Carve your own path. Make friends and enemies, not everyone is going to like what you do, that’s a good thing. Most importantly be yourself. Personal style creates a much bigger impact than following trends. Be a leader. You are unique and only you have the ability to show your vision to the world, embrace it.”