Creativity is often hampered by spin: wasted creative cycles that stall ideas. Despite the techniques you’ve already learned—storytelling, diagramming, lateral provocations, and thinking about analogous situations—problems can still seem intractable. When spin occurs, designers start to second- and third-guess their decisions and are unable to achieve a harmonious creative state. The creative quality will suffer, as will timelines and budgets. To overcome the negative state of spin, we need to revisit where ideas come from.
In creative professions, so much rests on the thing being made because it carries a sense of the creator in it. This is one of the reasons that the “shipping product” can be so important to product teams: When the product ships (launches), they get to see real people using the thing they made, and they can take pride in having produced something of value to the world. Consider those facts in juxtaposition to the culture of meetings, conversation, and discussion that underscore a lot of traditional business careers. These traditional business structures often ignore real people, both the users and the makers.
Many designers want their artifacts to have as large an audience as possible. Because creative teams care so much about their work, the work can be emotional, and putting something into the world feels like a contribution to a larger whole. Prematurely cutting a project undermines that feeling of contribution.
The output is as important to its maker as the process is, so teams expect their artifacts to actually launch, or be published or produced. Employee retention links to happiness, and happiness links to artifacts being useful. But executives, ignoring the project team, often kill incomplete projects because of budgets or company reorgs. Employee attrition grows with the frequency of those “murders”: They have tremendous emotional impact on a team that derives personal satisfaction and measures personal and professional growth on artifacts finding their way into the world.
Burnout, linked to killed projects, is an unfortunate part of the creative process, too. I’ve seen some of my best employees come into work, turn on their computers, stare blankly, and accomplish nothing. It’s not laziness. This component of spin is a feeling of hopelessness that creates inertia. And it festers—the entire creative team can get pulled into one person’s rut and take the whole project down with them..
To counter the inertia, we need a creative momentum builder.
Momentum or creative energy comes from a variety of places but rarely, in contrast to popular belief, in a “eureka” moment of insight. Instead, according to most creativity research, it comes through a more methodical and often-implicit process that stretches over time. This process typically contains several key ingredients.
For example, what happens when you combine the idea of sharing with home ownership? What happens when you combine robotics with vehicles?
These creative ideas lie bubbling below the surface, waiting for some form of creative clarity. That clarity emerges as combinations come together, sometimes forced, sometimes organically. It also emerges over time, which means you can’t rush creativity. Give it a runway and time for stewing over ideas.
As combinations spark ideas, unexpected combinations spark unexpected ones. This means that we’ll benefit from a diverse input to the creative process, which runs counter to our typical behavior: We tend immerse ourselves in our expertise. So, for example, if we are in education, we read education blogs, go to education conferences, and study other education products.
But it’s creative inspiration from outside disciplines that provokes new ways of considering old ideas. A team that’s encouraged to explore beyond the context of company’s subject-matter expertise will be more successful in establishing novel ideas than a team that stays in its lane.
And it does so at a more tactical level, not just a vision one. Consider how visual designers might go about their work. They move elements around on the screen, trying things, erasing things, positioning and repositioning elements. Their iterations happen in rapid-fire succession. The process of trying things informs the next iteration, and it happens so quickly that it appears not to happen at all.
Nor do these iterations leave a trail. Their creators aren’t saving iterations of every state. They may not even be aware of their “moves.” The artifact itself supplies the inspiration for the artifact, where each change is the impetus for the next one. This means that creators’ output may not be rational; after the artifact’s creation, Its creators may find it difficult to explain and justify the artifact.
Good designers borrow, it is said, but great designers steal. Creative people are constantly studying and appropriating the stylistic and content decisions of other creative people. This appropriation result in industry patterns and trends, along with a “sameness” in creative assets.
Supporting creative inspiration means recognizing that in each method requires time for exploration. As a creative leader, you must provide it. You must protect the team from meetings, readouts, working sessions, and other forced collaborations. Put control back into the hands of your team members, so they can explore for as long as they need to develop a solution that’s both innovative and well crafted.