Working with creative chaos

In my last post “The messiness of creativity“, I looked at how organisations need to get comfortable with chaos in order to innovate, particularly when bringing diverse people together. This is difficult when they also need to become more productive and efficient as they grow.

NO CHAOS Daniela Hartmann via Compfight

My work involves working with lots of creative ideas and people, and bringing everything together into something that can be made tangible. Here are some of the techniques I use:

1.      Maintain a healthy balance between ideas generation and action

Creativity on its own is not enough. Innovation starts there, but it must lead into implementation.  Creativity needs to be given space so ideas can develop, but there must also be an awareness of when it’s time to move a project onto the next stage. Alongside that, flexibility throughout a project is vital to allow for any valuable new ideas to be brought in at various stages- and this will invariably happen. But there must be good methods for assessing these new ideas against the project scope (time, quality and cost) to identify which ones to include or reject.

2.      Set boundaries

Despite what many think, creativity works well when it’s given boundaries.  When there are no parameters, there is less clarity about how far ideas can go.  When there are, at least those parameters can be stretched.  And, creative briefing is a key part of this process.  Teresa Amabile refers to this in her research (pdf) as creating ‘right amount of challenge’ in managing creativity.  By defining a specific problem well, the right people with the right knowledge and skills, can be brought to work on it together.

3.      Document everything

Capturing ideas is a large part of the creative facilitator’s role in collaboration.  First ask the right questions, and then create the space for ideas generation and conversation. Find a way of documenting the content so that it can be drawn upon later. The discussions will be multi-dimensional, so this is where the classic mind-mapping process, or the newer discipline of graphic recording, can come in handy.

4.      Be comfortable with being uncomfortable

Collaboration can be uncomfortable, particularly at the start, but with the right processes and techniques, it quickly moves into something productive and fruitful.  This slide from frog showing their interpretation of the collaborative process sums it up brilliantly. 

frog – “Making clients part of the design process” on Slideshare


Taking an entrepreneurial approach to each new project, treating it like a start-up, creates an environment more tolerant of the uncertainty and “extraordinary diversity” (Geoffrey West – see previous post) that sets the stage for innovation.

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