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Four Ways to Make Sure Structure Unleashes Your Creativity

by Bryan Nielson  |  
May 15, 2014
  |  4,037 views

Myth: "Creativity needs room to blossom."

Marketers, and especially designers, are creative by nature. So there is a tendency to want to remove the restraints of structure or "process" because "creativity needs freedom." Creatives worry that organization and process are constraining and take away from time that could be spent creating.

But without work processes in place, you lose more time than you gain.

Up-front planning, with clear objectives to achieve a strategic goal, doesn't just add "one more thing to do and update." Rather, it helps streamline work and avoid potential errors.

And errors are the true culprit that eats up time that could be better spent on creative endeavors.


Jed Simms, founder and co-creator of TOP (Totally Optimized Projects), notes that on average 30-35% of project time is spent on rework, including revising reports, revisiting decisions, redoing work, correcting errors, checking again, and repeating steps. Simms also points out that reducing the need for rework releases 15-20% of project time and effort for more productive work.

With the right structures in place—for example, standardized work requests, templates for repetitive work, complete campaign plans, and a clear approval process—you can save time various ways. You get the feedback you need at the right time and from the right people, reducing the amount of time you spend waiting on approvals, doing repetitive tasks, and reworking projects, thus giving you more time to spend in the right side of your brain.

In short, structure creates time for creativity.


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Bryan Nielson is the CMO and work management evangelist at AtTask, maker of cloud-based enterprise work management solutions. He is the author of the e-book The Five Most Dangerous Marketing Productivity Myths: BUSTED!

LinkedIn: Bryan Nielson

Twitter: @AtTask

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  • by Gord Collins Thu May 15, 2014 via web

    Great article Brian! I would add that structure should be weighted more to helping workers focus on the essential and to free up their potential creativity. That might be a better way to avoid rework. Rework suggests the vision isnít clear right from the get go. The creative brief is very important to getting people on the same page regarding strategy and what weíre doing for the client.

    Creative people donít like structure because all too often, itís the wrong structure (old school) and deflates their inspiration and retards the quality of their work. And I think right and left hemisphere donít have to be separate, if our guiding concepts are correct. The two will get along like good buddies, as long as the creative brief is done well.

  • by Ford Kanzler Thu May 15, 2014 via web

    Article certainly offers wise advice. Where I've seen things occasionally go south is when a higher-up (CEO, VP, etc.) inserts themselves into the approval process and begins messing with the production details...exerting THEIR creativity, often without any involvement in developing or reference to the creative brief. It always amazes me when senior management has the time for changing tactical execution and throwing the project off schedule, after having ignored strategic planning.

  • by Mark Limbach Thu May 15, 2014 via web

    Reminds me of Ernie Schenck's "The Houdini Solution"
    Put innovation and creativity to work by thinking inside the box.
    A great read for creatives.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Houdini-Solution-Creativity-Innovation/dp/007146204X

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