Want to know the kiss of death for a creative team? Create an Org chart. Ya, that’s right. An Org chart often shows up as a “restructuring” effort. It’s all to become more efficient, lets put everyone in a square box. Perfect. Except designers are not little squares, they are—people with aspirations, hopes, and dreams. The designers I know like circles, and they are passionate about finding a creative solution to a business problem. Their mind rolls around an idea while incubating the thought. Sometimes, it’s the circle dancing among the tree branches.
An Org chart is a sharp and pointy pyramid, invented to bring order and structure to the masses. The problem is that creative energy is elusive, it’s not a linear journey; it can’t be forced to perform on command. Michigan J. Frog, is the animated cartoon character who debuted in Merrie Melodies cartoon, One Froggy Evening. The storyline goes like this; a construction worker finds a box, opens it to a singing and dancing Frog, belting out, “Hello Ma Baby, Hello! Ma honey, Hello! Ma ragtime gal. Send me a kiss by wire. Baby my heart’s on fire! If you refuse me, honey you’ll lose me.” The worker might have simply enjoyed the frog’s fine voice. But, out of professional greed, he decides to exploit the frog. He seeks fame and brings people into the auditorium by offering them free beer. But when the curtain rises for the performance, the frog becomes mute. The lesson from Michigan J. Frog is creative energy requires a team effort. There is no instant create “live-button.” Likewise, if you dictate the solution, don’t be surprised if the effort is mute with lacklustre results. You must allow the creative process time to percolate, and incubate. Don’t be the master of the frog. Trust the talent to find a solution and together, rise, take centre stage, and sing your hearts out. Dancing is optional.
In the corporate world, I have achieved the role of Director, doesn’t that mean I’m the master of all content, creative vision, and all mediums? No. Frankly, there are not enough hours in the day to master all there is to writing, video, photography, illustration, and design. The team I help inspire collectively is far smarter, and talented than any single individual from within the group. Together, we form an opinion on what the solutions might be for testing. Different individuals offer unique perspectives that as a team we sing, “Hello Baby, I think we have a solution.” The creative spark can come from anyone or a rapid collection of insights that lead to the aha moment. Having a flat collaborative structure is the key to bring out the best creative from a team.
Rather than the typical Org structure of a pyramid, I like to think the visual metaphor of a team structure is an apple tree. Years ago, my mother wanted a young apple tree removed from the corner of the house to make way for an addition on the back of the house. Rather than kill the young tree that had yet to bear fruit I volunteered to transplant it to the middle of the backyard. For the first couple of years that poor tree clung to a miserable life in its new spot. Bearing fruit was out of the question. Three years later, I thank the divine creator; the tree took a firm hold on life and yielded apples. I never lost sight of the vision that with a little bit of love, water, nature would prevail, and bear fruit. I think inspiring a creative team is much like transplanting an apple tree. Give it time, provide nutrients, and the team will sing like a dancing frog and bear fruit.