You don’t manage creativity, you enable it.

An amazing HBR article I came across today.

My reflections:

When you’re doing something creative and focusing on the highest levels of management, it is so important to enable and empower creators. One of the things that I was so proud of with Ministry of Supply in my role of biz dev is that, as someone who studied product design, I got that products need wiggle room.

A concept and word that I’ve been loving lately, borrowed from my friend Greg Nance, is runway. It could be financial runway, time runway, or in this case, creative runway. That means that judgment needs to get left at the door and ROI models stowed away and left for the end of the conversation rather than the beginning.

I have, in the past, worked as a designer and felt managed, and I can tell you that there is nothing more stifling. But are we asking for unbridled control and infinite timelines here? Certainly not. I think this is more to say that creativity shouldn’t be put on a military-style regimented diet.

Fundamentally, this gets at a deeper notion of positive constraints vs. negative constraints. Though the world is certainly not so black and white, I think it’s important to know which side of the spectrum one’s actions fall on. This deserves another blog entry entirely, but to quickly differentiate: positive constraints drive creative results and negative constraints drive dissent, frustration, and poor design.

“So at the outset you might be selling an idea that most people can’t grasp or understand, that might make them squeamish, and where there are no accepted definitions of quality or value.” This is so true, and thus, I believe, it becomes all the more important to talk about what the intent of the design is. Why are we behaving the way we are as designers? You’ll notice that in my entries I go between being a designer and a business developer/entrepreneur. This is simply because I often find myself playing dual roles, changing hats. I enjoy sitting in the middle, between engineering/design and business development/ops/marketing.

The author, Mukhti Khaire goes on to point out: For example, when some of her MBA students look at the art market, they want to make it more “efficient” by using technology to get rid of all the intermediaries—galleries, museums, art catalogs—to put the artist in direct touch with buyers. “The problem is that there is a reason why these industries have evolved with the structure they have.”

I love this. Let’s think about why the system is the way it is before we swipe our arm across the proverbial Scrabble board. I don’t have any problem upsetting people, but if we must disrupt, let’s do it in a strategic way that takes into account the deeper needs the system has.

She goes on: Art-works have much more symbolic value than material value. “The criteria for value in these markets are different and not immediately obvious to consumers. So you need all these people, the seemingly inefficient intermediaries, to actually do that. They are constructing value, making market exchange possible; they are not just brokering the meeting.”

To me, this is a level of sophistication in business that is important not to overlook.


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