Method: Critique Circle

When you’ve been working on something deeply, and investing personally, it can be hard to see the proverbial ‘trees from the forest’. The Critique Circle is a way to bring people together to hear what you’ve been conceptualising, and respond with a fresh perspective.

The people in the circle participate in service to you and to your idea(s). Their questions and comments help you find things you may have overlooked; consider diverse perspectives; and provide insight about how your idea might be received by others.

IMPORTANT: This is not a validation method. You don’t do this with the customers or people whom your idea will serve.

It is called a Critique Circle because critical thinking is sought – this can be done in a spirit of generosity and friendly support. This is not an opportunity to criticise, i.e. to bring the person down.

What happens in the Critique Circle, stays in the Critique Circle. This enables everyone a degree of safety in providing honest responses.


This is a method that can be done quickly and cheaply at short notice. It’s excellent to use when you are preparing a pitch for investors; or a presentation to a sponsor; or a presentation that will later be part of a validation with those whom your idea/design will directly serve.

The purpose of this method is not to convince the people in the circle nor get them to support you. It’s to learn what you can do to improve your idea and improve how you present your idea.

A. Before the Circle

Each person/team with an idea they have been working on, prepares a 10-minute pitch or presentation. The format and contents of this presentation are not stipluated and don’t have to be.

A circle of people (4-8) is called. The diversity of the circle members is up to you – it is good to include people who help avoid any ‘echo chamber’ effect. Invite people who will speak up and voice their own perspective.

It is appropriate that you feel you are amongst people you trust, as you want them to be frank and honest in what they say. If you don’t trust them, you will have difficulty receiving their words. To avoid ‘the nice’ factor, circle members will give their response in your hearing, but not looking at your face nor interacting with you. In this method, you do not want to be defending yourself or your idea – you are simply to receive the responses. It’s completely in your control about what responses you will accept or reject after the circle.


B. In the Circle

Appoint someone as Facilitator of the Criqitue Circle. The primary role of the Faciltiator is to keep-time and to open/close the circle experience reminding all who are present about the approach. They can choose to be (or not) a participant and respond to what is presented.

For the Person/Team with the idea

  1. Setup your space and props. [5 min]
  2. Present your idea/concept/pitch. [10 min]
  3. Move your seat/position so you have your back turned to the circle members.
  4. Listen to participant’s responses without interaction. [15 min]
  5. Thank the circle participants for serving you with their attention and perspectives.

For the People in the Circle

  1. Arrange yourself comfortably in a circle. [5 min]
  2. Listen to the pitch-presentation without asking questions; take any notes you desire. Listen with your head and your heart. See with your eyes and your spirit. [10 min]
  3. Provide responses to what you heard without interacting with the person(s) who pitched. [15 min]

Types of responses

  • Use the following statements for your responses to keep focused on the aim of helping the person(s) refine their idea.

When I hear _______________, I ____________________

What I didn’t hear was _____________________________

As your ______[A]_______, I _______________________
(where [A] is Investor, Business Partner, Customer or some other relevant role.)

My lingering impression is _________________________

  • Speak from your own personal perspective – don’t imagine what others might say or think.
  • Be frank and kind-hearted.
  • Expect and provide confidentiality. Don’t speak about what your hear or say, outside the circle.
  • Don’t interject new ideas or alternative solutions. This is not an ideation role/method – it’s purpose is to critique the existing idea/concept presented. It is up to the design/development team to decide if the responses they hear will take them in a new direction or reject what has been done.


C. After the Circle

For the Person/Team with the Pitch

Take some time to reflect on what you heard. Decide what you will accept or reject, and adjust your idea and/or your pitch-presentation accordingly.

You may wish to follow-up with a more considered word of gratitude to circle members and let them know how their perspectives influenced you. This is a particularly nice thing to do, if your circle contains people with whom you have an ongoing relationship – people like to know how things are progressing to which they contributed.


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