Creativity vs. the deadline

Creativity vs. Deadlines

One of the things I hate hearing the most at any job I’ve ever had is that something happened a certain way — a half-assed way — because people had to “get it out the door.” This is what I mean by the concept that daily deliverables murdered strategy: people get a deliverable and that becomes gospel. So if the deliverable is “X-and-Y is due to Z-Person by June 1,” then June 1 and Z-Person are everything. But if you come across potential land mines and rabbit holes in the process, you’re still slaving away to June 1 and Z-Person — because you probably feel that if you bring it up (“Hey, maybe we should push that back…”), you’ll look like a slacker and someone can potentially jump you on the totem pole. In reality, you’re all making about $30K less than you should.

When you get up on deadlines and worry about deliverables, the whole idea of creativity can take a major backseat. Not all jobs are supposed to be creative, per se, but a lot of jobs have some degree of creativity built into them — or, at the very least, the person holding the job wants to be somewhat creative because otherwise the whole thing is fairly boring, right? Your job doesn’t have to be a laugh riot, but it can have some purpose in it for you.

So how do you manage the concept of “being creative” with the idea of “deadlines and deliverables?” How do you push the words “Well, we had to get it out the door…” out of the room?

Well, that’s an essential business question in a lot of respects — and some people don’t even want to push that vocabulary out of the room, because as that exists, you can much more easily turn in shitty projects and rely on that as an excuse.

Here’s an article on the topic of creativity vs. the deadline. It interviews a lot of people in very creative jobs — Daily Show writer, for example — and most of them say similar things. Here are a couple of quotes:

“Accept that you can fail, but will succeed the next time. A good way not to have a bad day is to not obsess about the last bad day you had, and keep going forward. It’s all about learning how to shake off your failure.”

And then:

“If you have a deadline it means you probably have another deadline behind it. You should do your best, but everything doesn’t have to be precious and perfect, you can get it next time. I like having a weekly show for that reason. Knowing that each episode doesn’t have to be the definitive episode of 99pi is the key to me getting it out in the world. The struggle is in doing the best you can every week, not sweating over every single thing and expending all your energy until you collapse.”

And a third person:

There is an art to fostering a creative group environment and killing the notion that it matters who came up with the latest idea. “When you are in a room with a lot of ideas flying about . . . it doesn’t matter who came up with the idea or who evolved it during the ping-pong process of development . . . just that it came out of the collaborative energy you created together.”

Overall interesting article, but if you look through it, the main theme that seems to resonate is: learn from failure, but get over it and move on. That maybe isn’t tied directly to “Hey, I have this project due but it’s a total half-ass job and not creative at all,” but maybe it should be.

I personally think we should talk about failure way more at work — and in a transparent way — but also question the success we have too. (If you don’t question success, how do you know where it came from and/or it wasn’t just serendipity?) And finally, this whole thing speaks to the idea of a core future of work discussion: if you become a manager, will you be a “maximizer” (perfectionist, essentially) or a “satisficer” (good enough works)?

That’s everything, in a way — because there’s always another deadline, and nothing is ever going to be perfect. So if you give your people a little flexibility to understand this, and realize failures happen — basically if you’re a satisficer — then you might free them up to be a little more open and creative, even on a tight deadline.



Ted Bauer

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