There was this guy who’d been flown in from the East Coast to “help” us set up the operations of a huge project. He’d been teamed up with one of the local corporate process-tyrants, and together they looked like my next big problem. Why? Because I walked by the guys office one morning and overheard him say, “We’ve got to watch out for these people. They’re very creative.” I was shocked, but then again, people are people and sometimes having control is more important than seeing the problem clearly and allowing creativity to help drive out a solution.
I knew he was referring to my team. No, we weren’t rebelling. We were trying to meet a need with the simplest solution possible, and I thought we had come up with a pretty good idea. But … it didn’t comply with the newly mandated corporate list of approved tools and technologies; tools and technologies that were designed to meet such a broad spectrum of the market’s needs, they couldn’t be used out of the box for a simple single-purpose function. Yes, you got it: corporate was looking for a guinea pig project to try out their new toys and we’d been chosen. No pressure.
The project need wasn’t complicated; it was just big and urgent. We had a large and geographically dispersed audience of over 50 individual organizations looking for always current information about “what the heck was going on?” and “when could they expect a visit to their site?” and “when would they receive training?” and “how would they provide their input on design?” There was no way corporate would get their new tools and technologies up and running in a short enough period of time to satisfy the immediate appetites of our key customers. I also wanted to avoid the cost in time, pain, and frustration of setting aside a solution-in-hand in trade for compliance with a corporate mandate that had apparently been decided without considering the actual need.
Then, things took a sudden turn (for which I was a little bit grateful). Only a few months after I heard his remark about the team, the East Coast guy mysteriously disappeared. The same thing happened to the local process-tyrant. It wasn’t me, I swear. I chalked it up to divine intervention.
As it turned out, we reached a compromise with corporate. Our own single purpose solution was implemented right away, and corporate began working on their tool’s setup and customization effort. The corporate techie guys allowed us tons of input, and it took about six months to ready it for roll out on the project. In the end, it was a win-win-win. A win for the customers, a win for us, and a win for corporate.
There are many more examples, but there’s no need to go into so many long-forgotten stories. My point is that when you’re faced with a problem, creativity is going to be one of your most powerful tools. Creativity multiplies your impact as a project manager.
Did I just here you say, “But I’m not creative?”
Trust me when I say this. You are creative. Every human being on earth is creative. The reason it doesn’t foster itself is because we stifle it. We’re afraid of it. And we might think we’re smart enough to figure it out with our vastly superior intellect. Or we might be a recipe follower, ignoring the true nature of the problem in front of us while blindly applying steps that don’t fit, don’t matter, or actually make the situation worse. Or we’re accustomed to doing exactly what we’re told, no more and no less.
Believe me, I understand the value of planning, standards, protocol, process, and predictability when trying to make big things happen. But even in those situations where regimen is key, there are still opportunities to let creativity run free and drive out unique solutions to specific problems. In other words, trust your subconscious to lead you into a little bit of creative chaos so that you’re able to see new possibilities that won’t leave you at the mercy of mandates that carry unintended or less than desirable consequences.
So now that I’ve got you excited about entering the domain of creative chaos, I offer this caveat. Creativity isn’t something to throw around willy-nilly. It’s a tool that can multiply the impact of your efforts, but you first need to know what the rules are before you can find creative ways to work within them. Right: you won’t always know what the rules are. Some rules are written, but most are unwritten or inaccessible. Sometimes you’ll need to take a risk and assume that if you’ve broken any rules, it will soon become evident. And if you find out you have broken a rule, look at it as an opportunity to creatively negotiate a compromise that solves the problem and leaves everyone concerned with a piece of the win. You’ll reap huge dividends from stronger working relationships and enjoy greater latitude in proposing creative solutions when faced with the next big issue.
Note: This is not for the faint of heart. Try not to be a bull in a china shop, okay? A little wisdom, sense of timing, patience, and discretion go a long way. But be creative! It will expand your perspective in multiple ways and lead you to insights and ideas that you might not otherwise see.
Until next time, be blessed.