Creativity, Process & Perfection

What’s wrong with loving process? The pursuit of processes is by its very nature the pursuit of perfection. I can’t blame people for wanting that, the alternative of chaos. Rules of the road are a great example of process that works pretty well for most of us. If we didn’t have agreed process on the black top it wouldn’t just be chaos it would be a blood bath, cars hitting bikes, people going the wrong way around round-a-bouts (Brits, go visit a US city with round-a-bouts to experience this first hand).

Are processes ever perfect? Can we ever have a good excuse to shun the creativity? To answer that we should first look at the state of perfection, and what the pursuit of it does to us.

“You can’t get to great without going through good, but you’ll never get good if you are trying to be perfect” – Me

Aristotle, Confucius and other classical philosophers propounded the principle of the golden mean which counsels against extremism in general.[2] The Pareto principle or 80–20 rule explains this numerically. For example, it commonly takes 20% of the full time to complete 80% of a task while to complete the last 20% of a task takes 80% of the effort.[3] Achieving absolute perfection may be impossible and so, as increasing effort results in diminishing returns, further activity becomes increasingly inefficient. Watson-Watt, who developed early warning radar in Britain to counter the rapid growth of the Luftwaffe, propounded a “cult of the imperfect”, which he stated as “Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes (Perfect is the enemy of good).

If process and creativity are diametrically opposed then let’s dig a little deeper. Creativity has, as one of its core tenants, synthesis. Taking multiple old things and merging them into something new, something better (Virtual Salt). Arguably even the other forms of creativity such as revolution and evolution require building on the old. Utilizing existing information in different permutations. Is there a place for both process and creativity? Can they, dare I say, have a relationship? Firstly all things are in balance. Extremism in general is a negative thing (Thought Mistakes). You could even have a scenario where you have a process that encourages creativity, in a company for example to keep things fresh and competitive you could reward failure. Creativity can also result in establishing a process. Something that was once new, ground breaking can become established as a process over time.

So once we have a process, we should keep it. Right? Well there is the nature of the universe itself, and our friend entropy. Having a process in place assuming that it is ‘done’, set in stone, is kind of like an adult who assumes they are all grown up (ahh bless, it is back to school week after all ;-)); learning, growing, changing. Thinking you are complete is an ignorant fallacy (The day you stop learning is the day you die). The rules of the road, and roads themselves change over time to accommodate the creativity and changes of the world.

Creativity is useful as it helps us solve problems. If there were no new problems to solve we’d never need new ways to tackle them (wow, that sounds really obvious as I type it). If you have a problem, in a business for example, to address it and resolve it requires analysis of components of the issue, a theory on resolving the issue must be created (there’s that pesky creativity again) even if the “change” is as something as simple as ensuring someone or something in the company complies to the process. So we can safely answer ‘yes’, creativity and process do have a relationship. They are both important so we need to find a place for both.

Should we all live in a wild west of creative ideas? No. Likewise we shouldn’t let the desire for structure and a modicum of predictability lead to a blind adherence to process for process sake. We should seek out the grey areas, fuel and foster both for the right reasons. What I would propose is that is that in today’s world more often than not we fail to create space for the vision and foresight that creates the future. That we are too bound to the short term pursuit of profits and cost cutting. At all levels in our corporations. It’s kind of like the accusations Bob Lutz levels at the short term pursuit of profits vs. long term success in his book “Car Guys vs. Bean Counters“. Managing creativity and innovation can benefit from process, from approach. Likewise process will becomes better and more effective when we create the space for creativity to make it better. Whether it’s a criticism of accountants and their impact on product innovation in biotech (How Accountants Kill Innovation – I love his comments “some of my best friends are accountants”) or it’s identifying new and more effective ways of marketing that cut through the attention economy (Dealing with Distraction) at the end of the day we have to take risks, to act, purse the new, and design our organizations with the intention of doing so.

Be it the balance sheet or the marketing campaign make sure you are leaving space to fuel what made you great in the first place.