“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” Douglas Adams
This was our mantra when we were at university.
For me, though, it was more of a case of the sound of deadlines hurtling, seemingly out of no-where, towards me.
I recently had a conversation with Dani Venn, a celebrity chef who holds the dubious honour of been voted out of the Masterchef kitchen twice, both times whilst holding an immunity pin. Dani’s journey in becoming a self-taught chef gave me great insights into her creative process under pressure. I loved that Dani’s secret sauce was to be a bit quirky.
Our discussion was a catalyst for me to think about boundaries in creativity. In a self-directed creative process, or when you are leading a team, boundaries for time, scale, medium and theme of the project are essential. It is time, the deadline, that is one of the defining boundaries in Dani Venn’s Master Chef experiences.
I think of creative boundaries as the Goldilocks and the Three Bears of creativity. The boundaries need to be not too broad or not too tight. They have to be just right.
One of my favourites takes on leadership is that you want your team to think that they achieved success all on their own. The reality is that as a leader, you must gently nudge them along in the direction you want the team to go, preferably if they are unaware.
If you are new to practising creative leadership, then you might take the seemingly contradictory approach of starting with narrower boundaries. Think of the bumper rails used in kids’ 10-pin bowling. You can let the ball ricochet all over the place, but ultimately keep it going in one direction, knocking at least one pin down. Now and then you can drop the bumpers to see where the ball goes.
There are two types of creative pressure once a project is underway. One is the client-or-brief-imposed tight deadline; the other is the deadline created by leaving everything to the last moment.
The former I find really difficult. The latter I find most uncomfortable, but it is the only way I can be my very best creatively. I need time to think and throw ideas around. I need to let creativity incubate.
I recently read about a study of the most creative architects in the world which found that it was those who left design decisions as late as possible in the process who were the most creative. While I fully understand this model, it has been my experience and observation that, taken to the extreme, this can be frustrating to the team, consultants, clients and builders.
Creativity, of which design and architecture are subsets, is an iterative process. A great creative result in any form needs time for creative thinking, for throwing around ideas and concepts, but that process can’t go on indefinitely.
Whether it be a quirky bowl of not-too-hot or not-too-cold porridge, or a too big or tiny bed of creativity (architecturally designed, of course), in the end, settle for creative boundaries that are just right.
PS. If you are interested in how I work with people and businesses, drop me a line Paul@paulfairweather.com
PPS. Check out The Common Creative Podcast with Dani Venn HERE.