Avoiding Purple Crayon Determinism

Human beings tend to see any kind of constraints as limiting, not empowering. That’s a problem because it can stifle the very creativity (and its close cousin, resourcefulness) that CMOs should be trying to encourage.

Today’s marketing teams and organizations have come to assume that spending more or having more or hiring more will automatically deliver unicorns and rainbows. As anyone who’s worked in marketing departments knows all too well, though, giving marketing teams more budget or more tools can be a little bit like giving a kid a lot of sugar: there tends to be a frenzy of activity and a lack of focus, leading to a crash shortly thereafter.

How can we respond to this ingrained thinking about creativity? What if we saw our constraints as liberating and reoriented our mindsets accordingly?

Purple crayon determinism

When my 2 year-old son hands me a crayon and says “use this one, Daddy,” he means that I will draw with that one and none other. If he gives me a purple crayon but I want an orange one, it’s too bad for me. I need to make due with orange.

But do you have to make due with the purple crayon everyone’s telling you to use? No, not really. You could swap the orange crayon for a purple one. 

And that insight gets to the heart of time constraints. It’s true that organizations don’t have infinite time, but they almost sure as heck can spend the time they have more wisely. Like on projects that empower Sales or grow the bottom line or involve learning more about customers. If you make a list of the tasks that your marketing team performs on a weekly or monthly basis, I’m sure you can make a swap to get that purple crayon you desire. (Think Agile, for starters.) 

But what about monetary constraints? In some sense, the same rules apply — can you spend the money more wisely, like on those purple-crayon priorities? On the other hand, if you want more revenue, leading to a bigger budget, you can always develop higher-value (and higher-value) products and services that your best customers will love. In this case, your constraints would be a) what customers want and b) how much extra they’re willing to pay to get it. 

In the end, creativity around products and processes needs to meet traditional constraints-are-bad thinking head on. Are you and your teams ready to go after the purple crayon?

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