Last weekend, I showed my wife a personal project I've been working on for nearly two years. It was the first time she'd seen it. While watching with her, I noticed how many elements of the piece I still needed to fix. Two minutes before, I had thought I was pretty close to being finished. Why was I now seeing so many things I needed to tweak?
I've noticed this phenomenon throughout my career. This is how I think it works: when watching with someone who has not yet seen my project, I am acutely attuned to their reaction. I'm trying to perceive the piece through their eyes. In doing so, my attention increases, making me more conscious of what we're both seeing. It's a kind of heightened awareness that leads to new discoveries.
It's easy to get lost in the million small editing one make during the course of a production. But watching your work with someone for the first time can instantly brings you back to the big picture. This technique can be extremely productive, particularly at the end of a production cycle. That's why I generally hold off on screening work with others until I'm close to done. Plus, you get better and fresher feedback from others if you ask for their critique once and not throughout the production.
But as David Mamet warns in Bambi vs. Godzilla, never seek the opinion of someone who doesn't have a vested interest in your success.