Process can be a dirty word. It can evoke images of rigid guidelines, humorless bureaucrats, and mind-numbing work. And there’s some truth in the stereotype! But process can also be liberating. It can help anticipate and bracket chaos, which is the enemy of any kind of creative work.
Process should be nothing more than your ‘most successful recipe’ for doing the things that help you achieve your personal and professional goals. If life is a series of small experiments, process is the ‘saved wisdom’ gained from the successful experiments — wisdom that you’re able to apply to similar situations. And a good process can always be better.
Imagine if you had a process flexible enough to accommodate both a few “fire drills” and product development based on customer interviews? What if your creative process wasn’t always sidelined or derailed by external forces? It’s possible.
The good news is the your creative teams already have a process. The bad news is that it’s probably a sub-optimal process. It’s probably reactionary, and not proactive (see above on “fire drills”), so the idea of taking time to plan and innovate might seem like a pipe dream.
Are your teams typically focusing on the most important things to grow your business, develop a product, or reach your target market? Are you sure? Do you know? Before you can fix your process, you have to take a long, hard look at how your teams and departments work now. Take some notes and discuss with other company leaders.
What are your goals for your department, or even your company? You might reply: Making more money. Yes, that’s good, but too vague. Or you might reply: Getting through this quarter without losing money. Also a good idea! But also too vague.
Think about where you want your company to be. What do you want your brand to stand for? What sort of work do you want your teams to focus on — and not focus on? What can you do to cut out the distractions and do your best work? What you you do to make work enjoyable again? How do you tapped the untapped creative potential you just know is lurking within your team members? How can you stop talented people from packing up and moving to greener pastures at your competitors?
Talk to Sales
Sales people, in my experience, have a great way of cutting to the chase. If they know they can speak freely, they won’t be shy about telling you exactly where the company is failing to meet the needs of customers. It can be a humbling experience!
It’s important not to get defensive or point fingers back at the Sales team when they share this intel with you. Instead listen to what they’re saying and consider it carefully. What can your creative teams do, so to speak, to get out of their own way and achieve results — products, services, marketing programs, and so on — that can really grow the business?
Talk to your best customers
All businesses have a few types of customers. On one end are those customers who demand a lot and deliver little in return. On the other end are those customers who are raving fans and form the financial foundation of your company because they provide most of the revenue. Your goal in delivering a better creative process is to create more raving fans. So talk to the ones you have now!
Why else? Because it’s all well and good to create great marketing programs, apps and products, but if they don’t appeal to the type of customers you want to have (i.e., the ones who seem to want two of everything you sell), you’re wasting time and money.
Set up goals
After you’ve looked ahead and got clearer in your mind about where you want your company to be, it’s time to write down some preliminary goals for your teams. These goals aren’t the same as a plan, but they’re general organizing principles — your North Star, so to speak, so you know that any activities that don’t support those goals are really distractions you need to eliminate.
Here are a few example goals:
Building better audience engagement
Improving the awareness and efficiency of Marketing
Increasing revenue from live events
Developing new product/service bundles for our best clients
Do the most important thing first
This might should a bit too obvious to mention, but unfortunately it isn’t. While we all want to focus on the most important thing, but then…everything else tends to get in the way. Things like “pet projects” from the VP of So-and-So. Office politics. You name it. And in the end, you have a mushy mess instead of real progress toward your team or departmental goals.
What if you did things in a different way? What if you simply chose to work on the most important thing, and then the next thing, and then the next thing, in that order, until you ran out of time and team members? What if you looked at your goals, prioritized them, and then broke them down into projects you could knock off in order of priority?
Determine what the most important thing is
Maybe you noticed in the previous item that in order to do the most important thing first, you need to know what the most important thing to do is. Very perceptive! And just how exactly do you know that? Again, you go back to your goals. Then you think about what you can do to achieve those goals, step by step, project by project, task by task.
The reality of work (and life in general) is that we live in a world chock full of distractions, of shiny objects calling out to us, seeking “just a few minutes” of our time (promise). We all have to choose what’s most important, those things on which we’ll focus our attention.
Look back and learn
You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to fall on your face. You’re going to want to quit in some cases.
Don’t quit. Instead, reflect on what went wrong. Did you focus on the most important thing first? Did you not speak to customers before launching an idea? Did you take a build-it-and-they-will-come approach?
If you’re not clear, ask a colleague or friend. Talk it through with them. Nine times out of ten, you’ll have that ‘aha’ moment somewhere within the first few minutes.
Remember what process is really for
Repeat after me: A good process is the best friend of the creative person and the creative process. It’s not meant to ruin your life (or your career). It’s meant to help you deal with all the other stuff of life — your personal and professional ecosystems, if you will — so they’re healthy enough to support the creative process.
So take some time today to think about your creative process. Who knows? You might experience an ‘aha’ moment or two along the way to being your best creative self. If you do, please drop me a line and tell me all about it.