DWP 2017 Recap: How Process Can Drive Creativity


Allow me to borrow some business jargon and open the kimono: I get my best ideas while I’m in the shower. It’s not because the shower itself is a mystical realm that spouts brilliant ideas while I’m trying to wake up in the morning. It’s because when I’m going through my daily routine, my mind becomes free to wander.

For the second year in a row, it was my pleasure to speak during Bonfire’s Design Week Portland event. It wasn’t just a chance for me to explain what I do and how I do it. It was a chance for all the eager, brilliant minds in the room to come together and have a productive discussion. By the end of the presentation, everyone in attendance was discussing how processes — as vilified as they sometimes are — can improve our lives and fuel our creativity. Here are the finer points.

We already depend on process because we need process. 

In “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” journalist and author Charles Duhigg points out that “40–45 percent of what we do every day sort of feels like a decision, but it’s actually habit.” In a world where thousands of things compete for our attention all day every day, we can’t afford to constantly be shifting our attentions. We have to be able to concentrate on and accomplish what really matters. We need process to bolster creativity to start looking at the right stuff.

“We need process to bolster creativity to
start looking at the right stuff.”
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As Bonfire’s creative director, it’s my job to get people to do their best work, to get them to be looking at the right things and to empower them to come up with their best ideas. So where to begin?

We start by narrowing our focus.

How do we build empowering processes?

Let’s go back to my shower example. As soon as I set foot in the shower, I hit autopilot. I know exactly where my shampoo, body wash, and beard soap are. And unless I accidentally knock something over during my “Aha!” moment, my entire process is templated. Whether we want to admit it or not, we’re creatures of habit. So why not use that to your advantage in a creative setting?

Template everything you can.

The grand illusion of most design projects is that we’re starting from scratch. But that’s not true. We’re never creating something out of nothing. A lot of times we’re repeating basic principles to come up with different designs. If all my brand materials, like fonts and images, are templated ahead of time, it cuts down on my planning time and gets me into the creative heart of the project sooner.

Stay fluid and challenge yourself.

Sadly, no process is perfect. That’s why it’s important for us to create systems that allow us to sidestep problems and learn from them. Process doesn’t have to be a static thing. In fact, if our processes can’t survive under differing circumstances, they’re not good processes to begin with. That’s why we need to make sure they’re permeable, not only to keep people sane, but to make sure they don’t jump ship.

As companies and departments grow, processes can actually become a problem. That’s when it becomes crucial to lean on your team to adapt and survive. Nine times out of ten, it’s not as dramatic as you think it will be. Most of the time, you just need to make a few small adjustments rather than overhauling the whole thing.

Educate your team, be transparent, and integrate trust. 

Educating doesn’t mean pontificating on why your process is the be-all-end-all solution. The best teachers are the ones who are constantly learning from their peers. So the sooner you recognize your team members as peers rather than as subordinates, the sooner you’ll all begin listening to and learning from each other. If what you’ve put together specifically to make people’s lives better is actually making their lives harder, it’s time for a change. You have to listen first.

Because, in the end, process enables creativity and frees up people to do their best work. And a solid process in the hands of a really creative person can be a truly beautiful thing. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we’re all striving for?

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