The One Thing You Need to Improve Creativity

Think about it. Our most creative moments come in times when options are most limited. The sonnet is a structure—a limitation that talents as various as Shakespeare and Frank O’Hara used to colossal effect. Visual design adheres to classical rules of composition. Even the Apollow 13 astronauts had their greatest moment of creative triumph when they had to build a ventilation system with almost no parts. All these are structures to channel our infinite creative capacity. Without structure, all the foosball tables, latte machines and weekly hot yoga sessions lose their value. Structure is a proven way to get great work

What does that mean? Technology, process, organizational design, purposeful management—all these things that seem antithetical to increased creative output can actually improve it. Make it easier for the creative team to do their jobs; let them know what their goal is and that they have real support to get there, and watch them take off.

Giving them the freedom, the information, and the feedback they need to be creative is a sure-fire way to motivate your team to excellence—and trigger other, often elusive outcomes: High fives from internal clients; soaring sales; and IHAF Awards crowding the conference room table.

Increasingly in-house agency leaders are perfecting the tools that provide the needed structure appropriate for a fluid, iterative agency environment. Some lessons we have learned:

Get stuff out of their way.

Rework, manual tasks, too-short lead times and last-minute late nights bog down your creative team—and cause dissatisfaction among internal clients. End-to-end process minimizes these barriers by giving everyone context for their work. With processes in place—planning that drives creative, creative that drives execution—and defined points of collaboration, review and approval, the team is relieved of uncertainty and confusion. Processes and their enabling technology enable more productive workflow—and a more creative environment.

State the goal—and the context

Without specific direction and strategic insight on intended outcomes of the piece or campaign, the team can’t produce at the level the business needs—and creatives want. A means of assuring actionable creative briefs (via a combination of high-level process and well-defined technology) based on corporate direction and approved plans is empowering.

Tell them how it performed

Creatives need to know … how did the latest email campaign perform? What were the results of the A/B split tests? Which channel works best for which audiences? Real time tracking, measurement, and communication enables continuous creative improvement—and needs to be a built-in part of the automated workflow.

Separate managing the work from doing the work

For outside agencies, the division of labor is clear: Creatives focus on creative, account managers focus on managing. At in house agencies, the division is less clear: Managers and creatives often blur their responsibilities as they fill in where needed. Just like external agencies though, in-house agencies need distinct and dedicated roles—one for keeping clients satisfied; and another for creating quality work.

Set them up for success

The trend within in-house agencies is to move processes upstream—applying expertise to planning of campaigns and tactics, all the way through execution. It’s important to realize that intake is the single most critical point. As the project moves from planning into execution, ensuring good direction is necessary to prevent the hours from burning away. If structure is not defined at intake, it will never be defined.

The mention of systems or process or accountability makes most creatives cringe, implying in their minds a rigid way to work. In reality, properly designed structure is a creative team’s best friend, liberating them to do what they do best.

Food, games and fun charge creatives it’s true, but it’s digital transformation that will help them, and the organization as a whole, meet the demands of increased globalization, competition and management scrutiny—and succeed.