Thought Starters

Ask a Leader: A quick hit on Productivity in the Creative Process

How does this productivity thing affect your work as a design professional?

In the business of design, regardless of the type of design you do, the creative process is a key component to the success of your deliverables, their viability and your ability to remain competitive. As design professionals we continually explore ways to improve ourselves, our processes and our teams in order to stay ahead of the arc. While there are many facets of the creative process from strategic development right through to putting pen to paper the idea that we are focussing on here and of key interest to us is that of productivity.

We can view productivity as a double-edged sword in that with deadlines looming it is a reality that your ability to be freely creative can be thwarted and you may feel limited in what your output can gain you. However, within those boundaries is where there is potential for brilliance. Thinking can become concentrated, the superfluous can be cut away and the essence of the problem statement becomes the singular focus. It sounds easy but I bet, like me, you may find this an ever challenging task.

Naturally leadership professionals are forever seeking the right mix of productivity and creativity in order to achieve the best results. If there is the perception of a formula then there may be a proclivity to think that the boundaries are far too restrictive to the creative process and as a result the best work cannot be achieved.

With this idea in mind we have assembled an ad hoc team of creative leadership professionals to ask a specific question as it relates to productivity. This is the first in such a series where we will address the issues surrounding work flow in the creative industry.

The team:

Craig McBreen at McBreen Design

Danny Brown at Jugnoo Inc.

Todd Henry at Accidental Creative

The ask:

“As a business leader or leadership professional in the creative industry how do you focus your efforts to ensure that your team can be as productive as they can be?”

Without further ado let’s find out what these fine gentlemen had to say:

Craig McBreen

Craig McBreen is Principal of McBreen Design, a branding and design agency with experience and expertise in the strategic art of getting companies noticed. He has expertise creating strategic forms of design for companies of all sizes. This includes leading teams of creative professionals and coordinating projects from start to finish.

“Creativity is a daily process and I habitually look for ways to streamline project flow and incorporate daily practices to maintain my creative chops.

I work with many contractors and when I assemble a creative team I always look for the usual characteristics in any individual: Someone who can work independently has a great work ethic and respects a good production schedule. But what I value more than anything is open communication.

I’m a big believer that we are ALL inherently creative, so I expect creative feedback from everyone.

My focal point is coming up with the best creative solution possible, a smooth production process, and making sure the client is always in the loop.

That’s my focus, so I rely on my team’s expertise and constantly ask for feedback, on the creative and management sides. Are there alternative solutions we haven’t discussed with the client? Am I communicating / managing the project effectively? If not, I want to know. I try to act on those suggestions, especially from developers who know the technology and tools way better than I ever will. They may have a better solution for the client or an idea that will streamline the process.

If you want things to run smoothly you really do need to foster an environment where all input is valued and creative feedback is encouraged.”

Danny Brown

Danny Brown is VP, Product Intelligence at Jugnoo Inc., an internet and media technology company for consumers and business. An award-winning marketer and blogger, he is also the author of The Parables of Business, offering business strategies and advice through the art of storytelling.

“I’ve always found that letting your team go and do what they do best (mistakes and all) is the most effective way to get results that are truly creative. I’ve been at companies before that have a hundred processes to go through before something is signed off. Okay, maybe not a hundred, but you get the picture! Then the company heads wonder why they don’t see the results they’re after.

We’re all human. We all err. We only grow by making these mistakes and learning from them. So if an idea is born that sucks, at least give it the air to breathe and show – naturally – why it sucks, and then open up the floor to the team on how we can make it better.

If you allow people to breathe and grow, and in an environment that encourages failure, you’ll have so much creativity coming from that space you can’t possibly do anything but make the most amazing things happen because of your approach. And when you do that, that’s when you lead the way in both productivity and creativity.”

Todd Henry

Todd Henry is the founder and CEO of Accidental Creative where he helps creatives and teams be prolific, brilliant and healthy. He regularly speaks at companies and conferences about how to build practices that lead to better ideas. Todd’s 7 word bio is “An arms dealer for the creative revolution.”

“The primary roles of a leader in the creative industry are to (1) define the work, (2) provide clarity around expectations, and (3) provide air coverage for the team.

Defining the work begins with defining the specific problems that need to be solved in order to have a successful outcome, and ensuring that everyone is clear on what success looks like. Clarity begins with defining next actions and setting rails around expectations so that there isn’t a lot of duplicated or wasted effort. Providing air coverage means ensuring that your team has the resources it needs, and that they are at least somewhat shielded from the pressures and demands from above. A good leader always goes first, which often means taking the most arrows on behalf of the team.”

Thank you gentlemen for your valued input.

What can we take from these varied viewpoints? The common tenet that has come to light here is trust; trust in your team’s skills and abilities, trust that the team will be willing to explore and fail without giving up and trust that when they are left to create that they will respond with their best work.

Considering we all fail in our ability to be creative trust is and will always be the alchemy of failure. Trust plays a significant role in the arena of productivity because it has the ability to greatly reduce the feeling of doubt. If a team is focussed on the problem and their skills are applied solely to solving the problem instead of dealing with external influences that limit their focus then productivity is inherent in the process. With an absence of trust such issues as self-protection, deep seated political agendas and the CYA syndrome can deplete skill sets and drive productivity into the ground.

So whether you’re providing Todd’s air coverage for your team and shielding them from some of the pressure, are using Danny’s approach of being open minded about mistakes and failure and support your team’s ability to look beyond their limitations or you share Craig’s approach on communicating, openly sharing ideas and results with your team you are building on your team’s ability to be as productive as they can be.

Thank you again to the team; Craig, Danny and Todd. Your contribution to this topic is greatly appreciated and your input has opened our eyes to an approach that we can only see as inclusionary and as a result can only breed positivity into the growth of creative teams in all industries and all walks of life.

  • What do you do to keep your creative juices flowing to maintain your productivity?
  • How does your team respond to the pressure of productivity in the creative process?
  • What can you change about your process that will increase your productivity?

About rdopping

interior design guy who loves other stuff; social media, photography, film, food and anything that is good for the growth of the self


13 thoughts on “Ask a Leader: A quick hit on Productivity in the Creative Process

  1. Hi Ralph,

    First of all, thank you for the opportunity!

    I’m not sure I belong in the company of Danny and Todd. Two guys I greatly admire and anyone would be wise to emulate their practices as writers, bloggers and thought leaders. But I’ll take it 😉

    Thanks for having me, Sir.

    Posted by Craig McBreen | May 8, 2012, 12:07
    • Hey Craig, thanks for stopping by.

      Not sure why you don’t think you belong in the company. You own your own business and you are leader. This site believes in equal opportunity and learning from all sides of professional business. So, thank you for participating and for your valued insights.

      Posted by rdopping | May 8, 2012, 14:26
  2. “Trust plays a significant role in the arena of productivity because it has the ability to greatly reduce the feeling of doubt.” +1 to that!

    Great post, Ralph, it was refreshing to read these guys’ viewpoints, as well as yours 🙂

    Posted by Gisele Navarro Mendez | May 8, 2012, 12:45
  3. Make the right hire in the first place and trust your team; empower them.

    Posted by billdorman | May 9, 2012, 20:50
    • Bill, exactly right on all three counts. A solid process is a big deal in keeping your team empowered, active and producing good work. Without solid leadership and a solid understanding of how to empower there is little hope for a productive team.

      Making the right hire is not always guaranteed. In my time I have had a few duds that have sold themselves well. It happens.

      Thanks for popping by.

      Posted by rdopping | May 10, 2012, 06:32
  4. Solid advice. I have found more issues are created by employers who don’t trust their team to get the job done than by those who provide the tools/resources that are necessary to make things happen.

    Posted by TheJackB (@TheJackB) | May 10, 2012, 15:33
  5. There you go Jack. Proof in the pudding, right there. Now, if I could just stop talking in cliches then I would be good. In all seriousness (because it is a serious piece on a serious blog) I agree that even if all the appropriate tools are not available just having trust goes an exceptionally long way. Building tools is way easier that building trust or maybe tools just take a lot less time to develop.

    Thanks you for stopping by. Your presence is felt……;-)

    Posted by rdopping | May 10, 2012, 18:35
  6. Hey there Ralph,

    First, thanks again for inviting me here, and loved reading the answers from Todd and Craig – shows how different thoughts can still have a clear, defining core at the centre of them.

    The great thing about posts like this is we all learn something new – Craig is awesome and someone I respect immensely, and I wasn’t aware of Todd before now. Off to rectify that now.

    Cheers, sir, and have a great weekend!

    Posted by Danny Brown (@DannyBrown) | May 11, 2012, 08:17
    • Danny, honoured that you dropped by. Your influence in the on-line world is likely not surpassed by what you do in your business. I am very much looking forward to meeting you at SocialMix2012 in Toronto, coincidentally my hometown. Thanks for your comments and I am very glad that you now know about Todd. Don’t know him personally but I am reading his book and visit his blog along with yours and Craig’s regularly. Solid bunch of guys.

      Cheers man! See you in July.

      Posted by rdopping | May 12, 2012, 12:11


  1. Pingback: What can we learn about managing stress from a cheesy Hollywood comedy? « the view from here - May 15, 2012

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