How to Balance Creativity and Productivity

Creating something seems synonymous to producing something. Yet, the terms creativity and productivity can be very different concepts. If I describe someone as “creative” you probably imagine an artist or a person who generates clever ideas. When I mention a “productive” person, you likely think of someone very different. Perhaps an assembly line worker cranking out widgets, or a paper pusher who can empty their inbox at lightning speed.

The truth is you need to be both of these people. You need to be productive so you can meet deadlines and help your business be profitable. Meanwhile, you also need to be creative in order to generate new ideas, come up with better ways to do your work or find innovative solutions when things don’t go as planned. In the middle of the daily grind, you probably don’t think much about bringing the proper mix of creativity and productivity to your work.

But what is the proper mix of creativity and productivity? Here are 3 signs they are out of balance and how to balance your creativity and productivity.

Creativity-and-Productivity

  1. Too Much Play: Resistance pushes you to the next idea.

    An idea energizes and motivates you. You organize and rally behind it until you start to feel resistance. Energy wains as you realize the challenges of executing your idea. Eventually, you are lured away by another (newer, shinier) idea and the cycle starts over. Constantly chasing new ideas never allows the previous ones to mature.

    In her book Multipliers, Liz Wiseman describes this syndrome:

    Idea Guys are fountains of creativity, and their minds race with non-stop ideas. They may think they’re sparking innovation, but they cause whiplash as people scurry to keep up with each new idea, making minor progress in many directions.

    Signs you are too heavily in the “play” quadrant:

    • You never document processes for your activities because they change so often.
    • You are stretched in many directions, but don’t seem to complete many tasks.
    • You spend a heavy amount of time planning and brainstorming, but lose interest when it’s time to execute.

    How to restore balance:

    • Put new ideas in a “parking lot.” Write them on a dry erase board or add them to a list on your computer. Revisit them after the initial euphoria has worn off to see if they still have merit.
    • Start with the end in mind. Use the initial energy at the beginning of a project to set up milestones. Envision what success will look like and predict how completing the effort will make new opportunities available. This will help you push through the valleys of the project.
    • Use new ideas as motivators to finish your current work. There is an opportunity cost to saying “yes” to new ideas because they can take away from what you’re currently working on. Don’t allow yourself to start working on a new idea until you complete something comparable.
  2. Too Much Routine: Each day looks like the one before.

    You’re so busy executing, you don’t have time to question why you’re doing what you’re doing, let alone if there could be a better way to do it. Established ideas are not challenged and new ideas are not offered up. Because of this, each day seems like you just go through the motions. You stack ’em up, knock ’em down, then stack ’em up again.

    Signs you are too heavily in the “Routine” quadrant:

    • “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” is a common refrain. New team members or business partners are the only ones who offer ideas, and even that is temporary.
    • You’re losing market share to competitors who are more innovative. You keep old-fashioned customers only because of their sense of comfort and loyalty (until it gets too painful for even them).
    • Roles never seem to change. If you have a team, there’s no sign of advancement opportunities.

    How to restore balance:

    • Have more patience with alternatives offered by others. Allow ideas to incubate before shooting them down. (See 10 Signs You’re Shooting Down Good Ideas)
    • Be willing to test new ideas. If you’re scared to put a huge investment into a new product or service, see what you can do to float a trial balloon. Can you create a prototype or beta test with a select group?
    • Shake up routines. Ask team members if they want to do something different or try on a new role. Visit a museum or attend a conference. Visit the bookstore and select a few magazines from other industries, then identify trends and see if you can apply some of them to your business.
  3. Welcome to the morgue: Stagnation

    This is the most dangerous quadrant. You’re not creative and you’re not productive. You’ve practically flatlined. This can happen because of burnout or setbacks, but basically what you’ve been doing no longer works and you’ve now lost all motivation to try anything new.

    Signs you’re in stagnation.

    • It smells like entropy. Without any energy being injected into your business, things have trended toward chaos. Things aren’t well organized nor are they updated. Maintenance is slipping, perhaps non-existent, and appearances have not been kept up. (see The Smell of Entropy for an example)
    • It sounds like apathy. Common phrases are “Who cares?”, “It’s not worth the effort.” or “Nothing’s going to change anyway.”
    • It feels like death. You’ve gone through the stages 1) Denial and Isolation, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression and 5) Acceptance. Now all that’s left is to wait for the bank to put the last nail in the coffin.

    How to restore balance:

    In his book, Boundaries for Leaders, Dr. Henry Cloud talks about how to reverse the death spiral of a leader. His points give a good framework for escaping stagnation

    • Create connections. Schedule times to bring your team together and let everyone discuss the current situation and even share some potential solutions. Emphasize a positive tone, but encourage honesty. Share in victories and difficulties.
    • Regain control. Dr. Cloud recommends making a list of things you can’t control that are making business difficult. Spend 5-10 minutes REALLY worrying about them (don’t be in denial). Then stop worrying about them. Make another list of what you can control which can create positive results. Prioritize this list and plan these activities as your primary focus.
    • Take note of the 3 P’s. Realize it’s not Personal (you are not a failure). It’s not Pervasive (not everything is going wrong). It’s not Permanent (don’t lose hope). Dr. Cloud recommends journaling the negative thoughts around the 3 P’s and writing counterarguments to each.
    • Add structure and accountability. Break your workday down into small increments (e.g. 30 minutes each), and specifically plan what to do in that time. “[Writing down objectives] for each thirty minutes of the day helps identify and isolate activities that are particularly endangered due to inaction.”
    • Take the Right Kind of Action with the Right Kind of Accountability. Take action that SPECIFICALLY drives results. Dr. Cloud further states, “The accountability you want is the kind that drives success, not the kind that only measures results and keeps score.” and “Said another way, don’t count the score. Count the behaviors that run up the score.”

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned how creativity and productivity differ. By taking stock of where you are in the grid above, then restoring the balance of creativity and productivity in your business and/or team, you’ll likely discover these two words come together to create a state of flow. This is where creativity and productivity work together, building upon each other in a powerful way. When you’re in a state of flow, ideas help drive activities to completion while measurable progress promotes innovation and inspiration.

StateOfFlow

We need both creativity and productivity to accomplish meaningful work on a consistent basis. Finding this balance may be the difference in discovering your success.

If you have thoughts on creativity and productivity, feel free to leave a comment below or tweet me about it.

5 Tips for Finding Your Best Ideas (Infographic)

I decided to try something different this week and create an infographic to go with my post. (Hat tip to my friend Sandy and the members of my Master Mind group who have been encouraging me to do something like this.) Let me know how you like it.

I like to write about creativity, but stimulating your own creativity can seem elusive. You may find yourself stumped by a problem that requires an extra amount of resourcefulness. And, at one time or another, all of us have fallen into a routine where we default to the same ideas. Sometimes you need a strategy for conjuring up a little creative “magic.”

What can someone do (even if they don’t think of themselves as “creative”) to come up with more and better ideas?

I thought about this for a bit and came up with these 5 Tips for Finding Your BEST Ideas:

5-tips-for-finding-best-ideas-infographicTip #1: Speed Date

Don’t fall in love with your first idea. “Date around” a little bit before settling on a solution too quickly. Even if you eventually decide your original idea is best, considering options can add to or improve your first concept.

Tip #2: Interrogate

Curiosity can often breed creativity. So, ask lots of questions. Don’t be afraid of asking a “stupid question.” Be brave. Seek to understand what the goal is and why you want to acheive it. Break down assumptions and discover where the real boundaries are.

Tip #3: Hunt Your Muse

Seek out things that inspire you. Notice when you find yourself full of ideas:

  • When you’re in nature
  • When you experience art
  • When you read
  • When you listen to music
  • When you spend time with others
  • When you are in solitude

What works for one person, may not inspire the other. Find what speaks to YOU and then listen.

Tip #4: Symbolize

Don’t be so literal. Instead, use metaphors to describe your ideas.

What is an important attribute of what you’re attempting?

For example: If you want customers to have a sense of adventure when they enter your store, then “exploring outer space” could be a metaphor you use. You could have “launchpads” where customers find quick help information. Areas around key merchandise could be “orbits.”

Tip #5: Boil It Down

We started with the idea of “speed dating” lots of ideas, but you have to boil it down eventually. Strip your ideas down to their essentials. Dieter Rams called this “less but better” design. By removing what isn’t necessary, you can focus on what is important. If you don’t know what is essential, go back to step #3 and interrogate with more questions to find out.

Do you have any other methods you use for finding your best ideas?

(and let me know if you want to see more infographics like this in the future)

On Being a Creative Thinker

I have often described myself as a creative thinker. It’s not an exercise in self-aggrandizement, it just happened to be the quickest way I could sum up how I love brainstorming, white boards, quizzical questions and looking at things differently. “Creative thinker” has become somewhat tired as a descriptor though, and to think creatively may not be the loftiest goal. It certainly can’t be the end game, otherwise we fulfill the old IBM commercial with a room full of people “ideating” and seemingly accomplishing nothing.

Perhaps we got it backwards. Do we want the emphasis on thinking or creating? I would argue the world has no shortage of creative thinkers. We have a wealth of ideas spoiling away like excess food in the dumpsters behind your favorite restaurant. What the world is actually starving for is not just imagination. It craves courage with wisdom, initiative with judgment and a reckless abandon tethered to integrity. We have the resources, but fail to deliver them.

Your friends, our culture, the global community… we are all aching for thoughtful creators who understand they cannot afford to let their talent and efforts remain on a dry erase board. We need THOUGHTFUL CREATORS to help MAKE a new world, not just imagine it.

Pick a Fight

In her book The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp gives several creative exercises.

Creative Exercise #16 is Pick a Fight

Tharp states that “Creativity is an act of defiance.”

What are you defying? Are you willing to defy your usual route to the office and see what the new scenery inspires?

Would you defy your typical lunch selection in order to experience a totally new set of taste sensations?

Dare you to defy your evening routine and pick up a book, rather than watching TV tonight… what ideas may come from that?

“Every act of creation is also an act of destruction or abandonment. Something has to be cast aside to make way for the new” says Tharp.

If you never destroy/abandon/change, then where is the vacuum creativity can fill in your life?

180 Ideas

180sign

Here’s a quick brainstorming tip.

Next time you’re stuck on predictible, unoriginal ideas, try this:
Think 180.

  1. Ask yourself, “What is the LAST thing I would do in this situation?” or “What is an idea opposite of these?”
  2. Make a list of the ideas that come to mind.
  3. Read over the list and evaluate WHY each idea wouldn’t work.

Now, you may not use any of the ideas you’ve listed, but you’ve stimulated new thoughts. After you explore the opposites, you may go back to one of your original ideas with a twist. “What if we create this product, but market it to women in business instead of men?” “What if we do the seminar on these topics, but the seminar is free, we charge for lunch and sell snacks during breaks?”

Sometimes thinking outside the box is most helpful when you eventually bring the ideas back inside the box.

Top Posts

If you’d like to read some of the top blog posts from Casual Fridays, here they are:

7 Reasons No One Likes Your Ideas
Why don’t people listen or use your ideas? Here are a few clues.

Pull! 10 Signs Youre Shooting Down Good Ideas
Are you as open to new ideas as you think?

One Idea Forward, Two Opinions Back
What’s the difference between an idea and an opinion? Why does it matter?

Ponder This: Q&Q
A new take on Q&As

Byproducts of Busy Bees
A dedication to those who make a difference.

A Free Exchange of Ideas
How do trust and risk affect the sharing of ideas?