The factors that influence creative workflows and outputs are nearly infinite. And for many managers, boosting creative output and creating an environment that is conducive to delivering the strongest possible work is (hopefully) an obsession. Often overlooked is how management needs to ensure that when it comes to creativity and creative workflows, they aren’t unconsciously stifling creativity.

Too often, creative professionals find themselves working in a framework that’s antithetical to producing the fresh work and ideas they were brought on to produce. Other worthy objectives – cost, efficiency and productivity likely among them – tend to get in the way, and over time the conditions that foster creativity and innovation are whittled down.

For that reason, as a leader, it’s important to take a step back every so often and do an unofficial audit of not only your creative ecosystem, but your creative workflows. How are you fostering creativity in your teams? Where are the blockers? Where are the killers of creativity? The good news is that many of these common creativity-stifling factors are easy enough to identify – and addressing them is guaranteed to unshackle your creative teams.

Faster and Better Feedback

One surefire way to curb creative output is to kill momentum with slow feedback. The longer a project stalls in any feedback phase, the less inspired and motivated a team will feel about their work when it comes time to pick things back up again. Ideas (and projects) are like streams, and every interruption can reduce the power and force of the idea – momentum is essential. And whatever you do – ban seagulling (a.k.a. “the poop and swoop”).

Cut Down on Approval Layers

As the expression goes, a camel is a horse built by committee. When you have a lot of “chefs” with strong opinions, projects or ideas get dragged down before they even have a chance to flourish. Try to work as closely as you can with all key decision-makers at the onset of the project so that you can attempt to anticipate any concerns that may arise down the road.

Don’t Let Comparison Kill Innovation

Mark Twain said it best: “Comparison is the death of joy.” Benchmarking is an important practice but it’s also important to try not to get too hung up on what other people are doing. Let what you know loosely inform rather than direct you. Imitation may be the best form of flattery but if it’s innovation you’re after, creatives should be encouraged to throw out the playbook. Instead of collecting or bookmarking examples of what they admire, think about writing down or sketching more ideas – no matter how small or unorthodox they seem. It could lead to creative breakthroughs, but you won’t know unless you give them room to breathe.

Create (Just Enough) Chaos

Creativity happens when we’re working in the sweet spot between comfort and challenge. One rule of thumb for the appropriate level of chaos to ignite creative motivation is this: “not so little that [the creatives] feel bored but not so much that they feel overwhelmed and threatened by a loss of control”. Managers need to be hyper-aware when it comes to the creatives on their roster and what they each bring to the table, in order to match talent to projects that will excite them, and even more importantly, projects that will challenge them.

Use the Right Tools

Raise your hand if you’ve ever worked somewhere where a bloated spreadsheet buried on a server did most of the project management heavy-lifting. Keep your hand up if that spreadsheet was the law of the land despite being an endless source of frustration for everyone. This kind of unnecessary pain is a major roadblock and creativity killer when you’re trying to nurture a free-flowing creative environment. Often people get in their own way creatively simply because they don’t know they have other, better options.  There is a broad range of creative and collaborative tools that are intuitive to use, and they’re an easy way to free up precious time and energy and funnel it back to where it really matters – creating. Tools like ReviewStudio are expressly built to empower creative minds by eliminating the friction that comes with using generic tools as work-arounds for hyper-specific creative workflows and processes.

A Diverse, Happy Workforce is a Creative and Productive Workforce

Having an empowered and happy workforce will make all the difference in the world of creative. On the flip side, a depressed, listless workforce will drag every idea down with your bottom line. Enabling creativity is both a job for management and HR alike.

Building on all these ideas, diversity in your workforce brings diversity into your creativity. Ideas need to be challenged. Echo chambers and siloes smashed. Experiences varied. You want cohesiveness in your operations, but variation in approach. Diversity in your teams is essential to getting there.

Fostering Creativity Should be a Purposeful Practice

The potential for creativity is often predetermined long before anyone actually digs into doing the creative work. Intangible commodities like ideas and innovation require tangible support to thrive. There’s no shortcut – the “killers” of creativity are only thwarted by continuous investment in an environment or framework that creates space for creative thinking and novel ideas.

Allowing creativity to flow must align with other priorities such as productivity, frugality and efficiency. With persistent vigilance, leaders can reduce the structural impediments that stifle creativity, and make room for creative innovation, in all its intangible glory.

As Steve Jobs said, “hire the best people, and get out of their way.”


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