Words Make You Go…Hmmmm

The Power of the Debrief.

So, have you ever heard a word and wondered what does that have to do with me? I did and still do sometimes.

Navigating through one more concept from my three-day conference several weeks ago, I’m going to unravel this phrase: The power is in the “debrief.”


OK, before you click away and tell everyone Virginia has lost her mind, let me explain…

As a kid I heard my dad use the word “briefing” and “debriefing” all the time. Evidently, it’s a military thing! Or it was then! I had no idea what it meant and didn’t ask.

So, when I started my online businesses and began hearing that word again, I thought I had done a bit of time travel. But no, I hadn’t. Turns out, it’s USE-FUL! Who knew?

A “debriefing” is a meeting to get information about something that has been finished and to discuss what was done successfully and what was not.

Well, powder me in sugar and call me a donut! 1

I could use that…

Does this have anything to do with creativity, creative thinking, or your creative practice?

Oh, my dear creative, let me count the ways!

So, this great phrase, “the power is in the debrief,” is all about examining, questioning, and collecting information on what you did, what worked well, and what didn’t. I’m going to show you how I have used it in my creative work and how you can too!

Let’s dive in.

From a simple “yesterday didn’t go as planned” to a “lukewarm launch of your latest art collection,” this idea of examining a finished “something” and learning from it is incredibly valuable.

I have always loved this quote “Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.” 2

However, to do that, you have to know “what worked” and “what didn’t” specifically. It’s not a surface thing like “that didn’t go very well!” It’s an honest look at the results you’re getting from what you do and how you do it. And if your “thing” is a long project, like a new art collection, you can collect “data” along the way, day-by-day, so your “debrief” at the end is easier.

Let’s take this blog as an example. The work itself is writing, the topics center around creative work, and there is some tech involved like website posting and email scheduling. When I first started, I was terrified, couldn’t think of anything to write about, and had hate-hate relationship with tech. One specific article was very late because of tech issues. The “debrief” looked something like this:

Example #1:

Summary: Blog post on X date late in posting; very stressful; I’m emotional wreck and eating those emotions; feel sick; website wasn’t letting me log on, unable to trouble shoot; web developer researching back end; problem due to blah, blah, blah, (insert tech jargon here that I don’t understand); email went out two days late; I feel sick from eating junk and stressing; not worth it.

What went well-do more of: article got lots of comments, resonated well; only one person noticed it was late; live broadcast got lots of views; learned work-around for log on problems in future. Continue researching great topics, engage with readers to learn what they want.

What went wrong-do less of; change: Can’t depend on everything going as planned; Don’t wait to write the blog until the Monday before posting-need to work further in advance; try batch producing several at the beginning of the month and schedule the release; get at least two weeks ahead of myself that way if tech issues arise I have several weeks to resolve it; make a better plan to handle stress, organize a place to meditate and journal when things get intense, have it set and ready to use at a moment’s notice.

For the whole of 2022 I haven’t had any problems and a continuous blog is a no-brainer for me. The reason – I am doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t…because I “debriefed” enough times that I have a system that works now. It’s stress free and easy now!

Here’s the thing to remember – your DE-brief should BE-brief! Take no more than a few minutes to sift through a general summary, some bullet points on what went well and that you’ll do more of, and some bullet points on what didn’t go as planned and how you can change things up next time. Notice there is no judgement as far as right/wrong or good/bad. Just “I’ll do more of this” and “I’ll change how I do that.”

Example #2:

Let’s look at another one of my stellar learning opportunities. Several years ago, one of my collections was set to release on a particular date, and I had sent out save the date emails, coming soon emails, and posted on social about the launch. I was delighted at how it was coming together. So, I called the photographer and the web developer to get on their schedules. Needless to say, when there are other people involved, thing don’t always go as planned. Their schedules didn’t match mine and the collection went out 1 month to the day later than planned.

By doing a quick debrief, I was able to rework my launch plans for future collections by changing the order of my tasks and building enough time into the calendar for my resources to do their part. Building and launching a new collection no longer seems like a herculean task. It’s actually quite leisurely now!

The interesting part of all this is that I had been doing “debriefs” long before I knew that’s what I was doing! My many decades as a Director of Product Development had me troubleshooting creative obstacles long before it was “cool.” The power truly does lie in the “debrief.” By doing it, you’ll find lots of gems that will help you in the future.

Over to you…

Let’s start easy with an ordinary day. Have you ever planned to jump into a creative pursuit only to find at the end of the day it didn’t happen? I’m going to guess that’s a yes. It might be obvious to you why, but maybe not. Do a quick debrief on the day. Write a summary of what you wanted to do and how it actually turned out. Then make a short bullet list of some good things that came out of it and what you might want to try and do more of. Then do the same with the things that didn’t work out the way you planned. How might you approach it differently next time? Maybe instead of committing to an hour of creative work, you schedule 30 minutes next time. Maybe you had too much on the calendar and learned to scale back. Maybe you see that you ‘d get more done if you set your expectations for mini goals instead of giant all day affairs. Or maybe, like my examples, you see that others are needed, and you will need to schedule further in advance, or allow “buffer” zones to account for things that are out of your control.

Congratulations! You have just discovered a way to take the sting out of a less then stellar day! Do a quick debrief and find out what could change to make it work next time.

Here’s another one of my favorite quote:

I never fail. I either win or I learn. Nelson Mandela

Tell me in the comments about something you did a quick debrief on and what you learned from it. Big or small, it doesn’t matter! Even an ordinary day can be a good source of information.

Stay tuned as we explore more topics in the coming weeks as we continue to learn how to be a more successful and consistent creative.

Join me LIVE on my Facebook page, Virginia Leigh Studio, at 3:00 pm Central every Wednesday to ask questions and talk creativity.

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1. The Big Bang Theory Sheldon Quote #7589

2. Have scoured the internet to find the originator but had no luck. It seems to be attributed to many people. If you know who the originator was, let me know. I’ll be happy to credit.