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Creativity & Structure. Are They Enemies?

Updated: May 2

In most organizations, there is a tension between the things that keep the ship in order: rules, guidelines, operating principles, budgets; and that which often drives innovation: creativity, risk-taking, trying new things. When not managed well, this creates chaos.When managed well it can put you at the tip of the spear.

Take it From an Operator/Artist

My entire life both personally and professionally my brain has had a proclivity for order. I was even diagnosed with OCD as a child. I always try to find that weakest part of the system and repair it. I always want to build and see the long term value in neat, scalable systems. On the flip side, I have always been an artist. I wanted to be a comic book artist, an animator at Disney, a tattoo artist. So I have a deep creative streak as well. Over the years, I've learned to keep both the left and right side of my brain happy. As it turns out, developing good scalable operational processes and tools is actually an extremely creative process. Along the way, I've developed some best practices to bring the order-minded and the artistically inclined together at work to drive scalable innovation.

Some art from over the years by the Author

Systematize and Institutionalize a Culture of Creativity

You CAN build systems. You SHOULD have operating guidelines. You NEED to think about how things will scale and be documented. You can do all of this, and still foster an environment where fresh ideas flow freely, where taking risks is encouraged, and where failure is just a part of innovating.

Make sure your left-brained people and right-brained people work closely together. Most of the time where creativity and process are causing friction, it is because of a lack of understanding or miscommunication. Good team members want the same thing: successfully accomplishing the mission. So make sure you actively foster respect and collaboration between these groups. You never know, they might just learn something valuable from the other way of thinking.

Diversity is king. Research and studies have shown over and over, time and again that having a more diverse set of experiences, backgrounds, values and opinions at the table will drive innovation and spark creativity. There are systems you can implement to drive creative brainstorming to solve problems, develop products, and take advantage of opportunities. Collaborative process like mind mapping , rapid ideation, and others are great ways to let the creative juices flow but inside of a system.
Low drag, high speed. The processes, guardrails, and rules you do have should not be a jungle of bureaucratic red tape that has to be somehow navigated in order to achieve anything. Your processes should create easily navigable guardrails that guide decision making but leaves plenty of room for empowered creative problem solving. Innovation is about acceleration, not navigating a mine field of paperwork, standard operating procedures and approvals. If you're wondering why your teams don't innovate much, this is the first place to take a look at

Be willing to scrap it all. Whatever rules you have in place, whatever strategic plan you spent hours making, you must be willing and able to adapt. You should be building that possibility into your processes and roadmaps. Be agile. Be ready to turn on a dime based on new info, better data, changing market conditions, and better ideas. Remember, your first idea is rarely your best one.

#4 is the one to really pay close attention to. If you are hearing or sensing that innovation, spontaneity and creativity are stifled, it's because they probably are. Everyone, all the way up to your COO should be on board with allowing space for spontaneity. Structure is good. Structure can be extremely helpful. But don't let it keep your teams and organization from being nimble.

In summary: If you want to scale, if you want to be first to market, if you want to be the innovator you have to make sure your organization is primed for creativity. You can do this and still be operationally sound. Need help? Rise Above is here to cut through the BS and get to the solutions.

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