A good friend of mine recently sent me a message about a t-shirt he had seen. On this shirt was screen printed the words “Great Process = Great Product”. I imagine it was probably some sort of branded advertising shirt, created to impress on the viewer the quality of said company’s product (as an obvious result of their great process). But in all seriousness, this statement deserves more consideration than we are likely to give it coming from a t-shirt. I am not one given to waxing on about the weightiness of popular cultural memes, but this one got me. And this post is my feeble attempt to save this idea from pop culture triteness.
Creativity is process. Plain and simple. Innovation, creativity, “thinking outside the box”, whatever you want to call it, they are all results of process. We often think of it being the result of an epiphany or of a particularly gifted individual (especially if we think we are that individual), but that is simply not the case. I would even argue that these moments of epiphanies are just small steps of the whole process. These “aha” moments are important, maybe even critical at times, but they are just pieces of a larger puzzle. The sooner we can accept this the quicker we can put “the process” to work for us. Which will then hopefully result in better products, services, life, however you want to frame it.
This idea of process is deep. It is multifaceted and scalable, but is subject to all of the insecurities that we have talked about before (you can catch up here.) When we start the process of creative problem solving or innovation we never really know where it will take us or what it may require of us. This is the tricky part (see previous post.) But at the heart of it all, we start the process individually and internally, but the real magic and the real mess doesn’t begin until the process involves different individuals. This is your team and it is made up of different point of views, approaches, and maybe even goals, but all of this is what really brings life to a project. The more passion here the better. The best solutions are never stumbled upon by apathetic workers. But this is also where it usually all falls apart; for the very same reasons it can be so successful. Different approaches, points of view, and passion. It is a difficult thing to manage such potential without disaster. Ego and hidden agendas are killers to the creative process and the end goal. Sometimes the team just gels and everyone works well together and it goes off without a hitch, but most of the time it takes understanding, communication, and dedication to the process. Often people will sign up for the vision or the dream but fail to acknowledge what it will take to achieve the vision. Often we have a really crappy process but think it will lead to some great product just because we say it will. The cold truth is it won’t. The process must be considered, changed and managed well if it is to result in a great product. A crappy process is just that because it is just what happened. It was not considered, planned or really even valued from the start. If a great or even just a good product comes from a process like this it was a fluke.
The idea of process that we have been talking about is very concrete but not universal. Every process is different and dependent on the particular goal and dynamic of the group. The timing and the order of actions are also very important but are never the same. There is no outline that insures success. It’s the little things that make a big difference in the end. Such as, do you go straight to the computer and start working or do you pull out a pencil and paper first. In a team setting, do you meet and brainstorm first or does everyone work up their own ideas and then come together for discussion. These things have huge consequences but there is no universally right way. Creating and refining a process takes time, commitment, experimentation and careful observation. I am afraid I can’t give any clear concise answers, but one thing I will say is that if you can not talk about your process and why things happen the way they do, then you will be perpetually stuck hoping, searching and wishing for that success that may not ever come. Without a basic understanding about your process and the language to talk about it, success is serendipity. And I wish you luck, because in the end that is really all you have.