Creativity Born Out of Structure

Yes, you read the title right. The all-important and often overlooked way to stimulate creativity is through structure.

Technology, process, organizational design, and purposeful management trump latte machines, foosball tournaments and in-house yoga classes when it comes to encouraging innovation.

While extracurricular perks are undeniably nice, experience shows that the way to truly inspire an in-house team is to make it easier for creatives to do their jobs.

Giving them the freedom, the information, and the feedback they need to be creative is a sure-fire way to motivate your team to excellence—and trigger other, often elusive outcomes: High fives from internal clients; soaring sales; and IHAF Awards crowding the conference room table.

Increasingly in-house agency leaders are perfecting the tools that provide the needed structure appropriate for a fluid, iterative agency environment. Some lessons we have learned:

Remove impediments to creativity. Rework, manual tasks, too-short lead times and last-minute late nights bog down your creative team—and cause dissatisfaction among internal clients. End-to-end process minimizes these barriers by giving everyone context for their work. With processes in place—planning that drives creative, creative that drives execution—and defined points of collaboration, review and approval, the team is relieved of uncertainty and confusion. Processes and their enabling technology enable more productive workflow—and a more creative environment.

Help creative teams be successful by stating goals. Without specific direction and strategic insight on intended outcomes of the piece or campaign, the team can’t produce at the level the business needs—and creatives want. A means of assuring actionable creative briefs (via a combination of high-level process and well-defined technology) based on corporate direction and approved plans is empowering.

Measure performance and provide feedback. Creatives need to know … how did the latest email campaign perform? What were the results of the A/B split tests? Which channel works best for which audiences? Real time tracking, measurement, and communication enables continuous creative improvement—and needs to be a built-in part of the automated workflow.

Separate managing the work from doing the work. For outside agencies, the division of labor is clear: Creatives focus on creative, account managers focus on managing. At in house agencies, the division is less clear: Managers and creatives often blur their responsibilities as they fill in where needed. Just like external agencies though, in-house agencies need distinct and dedicated roles—one for keeping clients satisfied; and another for creating quality work.

Focus on intake. The trend within in-house agencies is to move processes upstream—applying expertise to planning of campaigns and tactics, all the way through execution. It’s important to realize that intake is the single most critical point. As the project moves from planning into execution, ensuring good direction is necessary to prevent the hours from burning away. If structure is not defined at intake, it will never be defined.

The mention of systems or process or accountability makes most creatives cringe, implying in their minds a rigid way to work. In reality, properly designed structure is a creative team’s best friend, liberating them to do what they do best.

Food, games and fun charge creatives it’s true, but it’s digital transformationthat will help them, and the organization as a whole, meet the demands of increased globalization, competition and management scrutiny—and succeed.


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