On Creativity, Creating, and Collaboration

Most people working in tandem with others on unstructured problems grapple with the three Cs above in some shape or form. With the intent of bringing to the surface ideas on how to do it better, this is the first of what I hope is a series of posts that explores how we as dreamers and makers work.

I have spent my entire career working with some incredibly talented and creative people. People whose work has won highest honors and been recognized as innovative without equal; whose work has transformed businesses and completely changed what is considered amazing.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been central to the process of bringing this work to life and seen not only the high highs, but the incredibly low lows of this very laborious and intense process. I’m not here to talk about a formal process, the output, or even the people, but about some of the key ingredients to achieve greatness and how to nurture each of them.

Creativity. This one is unique and very personal. It’s innate to each individual. It’s something that one is fortunate to have held on to despite their education or career trying to extinguish; or something that one nurtured and fostered through a variety of ways. Most organizations don’t know how to encourage or harness this and yet it is the one thing that is required for them to flourish and thrive.

It’s something that is intensely private and very delicate. It often manifests in the form of deep and heads-down activity and the result is the atom around which everything builds. Letting this take its course takes great restraint and letting it thrive often requires the benevolence of an artist or someone intimate with the arts. This is also something that’s incredibly inefficient and counter-intuitive in how much it asks of oneself versus how little it actually produces.

The outcomes are things that need to be given form and shape and, in the right hands, can be honed to become amazing. Or, again in the right hands, be destroyed because they are simply fundamentally flawed.

Creating. This is the physical act of making something. It’s a labor of love and must be recognized as such. No detail is too minor and no iteration is excessive. The reward is the satisfaction derived from having created something that deserves to exist and not the financial gain—that’s just the outcome if it’s successful.

Unfortunately most conflate this with busywork when in reality it’s anything but. It’s where being meticulous, thoughtful, and working with intent pays off the most while simply going through the motions just produces artifacts.

Creating has speed where appropriate and is slow and deliberate when needed. It’s what gives the world ligatures and hand-crafted kerning. It’s where craftsmanship and finesse can shine—simply look at a calligrapher to see it in action.

Collaboration. This is the most tension-filled act and if done incorrectly, can be extremely destructive. It’s where the idea is tumbled and ingredients get added (or subtracted) by many more than just the ones who conceived of it. This is where trust, honesty, and the greater purpose guide teams to move beyond personal agendas and instead align their collective focus on something singular—to make something great.

This requires knowing limits and what can be pushed—and what can’t. It also requires a sense of oneness with others and is the leading cause of friction within most teams.

Yes, it can be too early to collaborate and it can also be too late. The perfect time to include others is up to the one who conceived of the idea and how much that person trusts others to bring it to life. To be clear: I don’t mean simply execute on their vision but instead to work closely with others to push, pull, and give it form beyond the germ that exists.

With the right people and when done in the the right environment—one of supreme transparency and devoid of hubris—this can produce some fabulous results.

At RPA, where I lead the User Experience practice, we try our best to stay true to these principles and have been fortunate enough to create great work for our clients. I will also admit that there are times when we don’t get it right and it leads to much pain and anguish, however we always do our best to learn in the hopes of never making the same mistake again.

We are nearly 600 creative individuals who wear different hats and pride ourselves on our ability to Unlevel the Playing Field for our clients. Part of that ability comes from how we harness the creative potential of our associates and direct it to doing great work for our clients.

When it comes to what it takes to make great stuff, I know this isn’t exhaustive or complete by any means—I had to start somewhere. With the intent of collaborating, I’m happy to hear your thoughts on how you see the three Cs; or even anything else as it relates to solving unstructured or difficult problems.