Speed, Lies and Creativity: When It's Time to Step Up the Pace

The beauty of moving fast

Commercial creativity loves a process slide. Problem, strategy, insight, idea, execution. It makes everything feel accessible to the people not making the work. The accumulation of value that crisp, clean phases imply. At the end (and not before, never before) you get what you briefed in at the beginning. A concept. Some app screens. The script for a :15. 

Our industry celebrates the idea of work that happens in discrete steps shown in tidy phases. Gantt charts marching down and to the right. We love a framework. We crave order and repeatability. No one wins an advertising award for admitting they had the idea before the insight. We are enamored of the lies about creativity and order is the biggest lie of all. 

And order, or the illusion of it, comes at a cost. Time spent doing things you are supposed to do before you even think about solving the problem. People to confer with and consult because they have to be conferred and consulted before the idea is had and the work is made. 

Be honest with yourself; there's the way your best people work, and the way everyone else writes about it. The first step to moving faster as a team is acknowledging the difference. 

Ditch order, choose speed.

Speed is a choice. An organizational decision to dispense with the things that don't add enough value to justify the time they take. A conscious move to overcommit energy to the places that make the biggest difference in velocity, no matter the consequences. 

Speed is a choice and choices come with tradeoffs.

The SR-71 Blackbird, reportedly the fastest aircraft to ever fly, leaked explosive jet fuel like a sieve when grounded. Its fuel tanks didn't seal until their materials expanded in the extreme heat created by streaking through the upper atmosphere at 2,200 miles per hour. Its designers had to choose between hitting peak performance when airborne, or grounded. 

When you decide to go fast as a team, prepare to let some things go. Encourage informality and reward riffing. Stop worrying about the direction of travel. If the first idea someone has turns out to be good (sacrilege!), have the spine to say so. Celebrate great work born of a process that would look like a swarm of bees if anyone bothered to add it to a slide. 

The process is people.

So much of the structure around professional creativity is there to make up for having the wrong people on the team. Decks and artifacts for organizing data and socializing thinking. Getting buy-in. Reviews and check-ins for managing quality and keeping people on task. 

These structures weren't made with your most autonomous teammates in mind. 

The people you want on the speed team won't need hand holding, they will chafe at it. Build this team on first principles. Makers over managers. Experts over executives. And one clear leader. 

With a collection of multifaceted problem solvers tinkering and crafting their way to solutions, the only process is whatever you need to do to accelerate interactions. Put away the kickoff presentation. The fewer trappings the better. 

The right tools are multipliers.

When Figma co-founder Dylan Field called it "an invitation to leave ego at the door and create shared consciousness with others," he laid bare his twenty billion dollar secret sauce.

We are working in the golden age of collaborative digital tools. Good ones like Figma, Slack and Asana flatten org structures and distribute knowledge by breaking silos and empowering individual contributors to self-organize. The speed difference between working in digital isolation and in networked creative environments is head spinning. 

This is the drawbridge down era. Silos are out and open documents are in. We may have abandoned our open floor plan offices but our work is more open now than ever. 

To succeed in 2023 you need the right people, not the right processes. Hire creators, builders and makers, give them space to move, the authority to decide and the freedom to ignore the jet fuel pooling on the ground when they finish. 

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Andrew Carlson
Andrew Carlson is the CXO of Organic and author of The Creative Team: Notes on Design and Operation of Creative Organizations.

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