How to keep your judge from sabotaging your business.

No matter your industry, you are in business to solve a problem. To be successful, it’s important to have a creative problem solving approach. That approach includes four roles: the explorer, the artist, the judge, and the warrior.

For most business professionals, the role of the judge is familiar territory. It’s also an area primed for sabotage.

The biggest obstacle I’ve experienced with the judge role is managing balance between being open to new ideas and being critical in choosing the right idea. Without this balance, the judge can cause more harm than good.

How do you keep your judge from sabotaging your business?

Roger von Oech summarized well:

‘You have to be critical enough to insure that you give your warrior an idea that’s worth fighting for. But you also need to be open enough so you don’t stifle your artist’s imagination.’ 

We all spend time on both ends of this spectrum, still preferring one over the other. Which is it for you? 

Have you ever stopped suggesting things to your boss or team, or stopped following up on ideas because too many have failed miserably?

Or maybe you keep starting projects only to see them fail or the momentum slow to a stand still. Then you feel like you’ve just wasted weeks or even months of your time for nothing.

Not all ideas will succeed, and failure has it’s own value, but there are things you can do to help the judge role stay balanced and make both the artist and the warrior happy.

1. What am I judging, the idea or the person?

What the judge brings to the creative process is experience, assumptions, and – judgement. The risk to avoid is seeing the idea and the person bringing the idea as one and the same. 

If you’re a one person business, it’s very difficult not to judge yourself if and when your ideas fail. The good news is if you continue to use all 4 roles of creative problem solving, you’ll be able to continuously generate ideas – enough to find the right one to help you succeed.

If you have a team of people all bringing ideas together for review and approval, it’s often easy to see who has suggested which ideas, even if you submit them anonymously.

First, check your language. Make sure to talk about ‘the idea’ and not ‘your idea.’ Yes, we want to give credit and feedback, but it’s important not to judge the person as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ but rather make a decision on whether to say ‘go’ or ‘no go’ to the idea.

2. What am I assuming?

This has to be one of my favorite powerful questions.

We all bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the decision making process. And the judge is by it’s nature assigning values based upon historical data. What’s important is to pause and ask yourself – what am I assuming? 

What about the idea, the approach, and the person bringing the idea am I assuming? Are these assumptions true? Take time to challenge your gut reaction. It’s valuable, but not always accurate. Balance reason with intuition.

3. What criteria do I use to judge ideas?

The strategies to help you use your judge role with skill include having a clearly defined set of criteria against which you can hold the ideas. Know these criteria before you start assessing your ideas to avoid any biases.

Note: Not all ideas need a vetting process. Your judge knows when it’s ok to just do it! These small ideas that have little consequence if you fail are not what we’re focusing on here. Have fun with those. Just do it and see what happens. 

For the more complex ideas, the criteria list is helpful. Match your criteria to your business and values. Some of the categories to consider:

  • ease of implementation of the idea
  • knowledge and skills required to implement
  • return on time/money investment anticipated
  • other benefit that could be realized beyond this implementation
  • time and resources needed to make this a reality
  • is there a deadline to decide?
  • do you have all the information you need to decide?

I like to use a scale of one to ten for each and rate the ideas in a portfolio approach. But don’t overthink it. Use what works for you. The idea is to be consistent in how you rate your ideas.

4. Are you fully utilizing your judge to the end?

Once your idea is handed off to the warrior, your judge can’t go on holiday. For the more complex and risky ideas, it’s important to identify key decision points along the way as you implement your project. Your judge will jump back into the creative process at that point.

Sunk cost bias is when we continue to invest in something, even though it’s clearly a lost cause, because we’ve already put so much time and effort into the damn thing. 

No one likes to admit it, but we all suffer from sunk coast bias and on occasion waste our most precious resource: time. 

Do your best to avoid sunk coast bias by building in check points along the way in your project timeline. Sometimes it’s clear when you should stop and re-assess the situation, other times not so clear.

Anytime you’re about to make a big financial or time commitment, it’s time to pause and have another meeting with your judge.

If there’s not a clear check point based on investment, consider conducting a review based upon time passed such as once a month or quarterly (all depending upon your overall project time.)

Build this judge review time into your implementation process and make sure the warrior (who we’ll meet next week) continues the discussion with your judge.


  1. Invite your artist/s to present all the creative problem solving ideas create from the explorer’s raw material. 
  2. Identify an ‘no brainers’ you can just do and enjoy. Do them!
  3. Select the criteria you’ll use to make your go/no go decision for the remainder of the list.

Don’t stop capturing materials from the explorer or creating ideas with the artist. Your ideas matter!