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A Creative Look at Your Systems & Processes

I have always considered myself a creative person. Though I am not “creative” in the same way that you would describe our talented artists, I have learned that, in an industry like advertising, there are some surprising applications for creative thinking.

Dr. Edward de Bono, the originator of the concept of lateral thinking says, “Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.” He goes on to say, “We need creativity in order to break free from the temporary structures that have been set up by a particular sequence of experience.”

Even though I don’t spend my days tinkering words into the next great headline or creating vector masterpieces, I use creativity to help establish and refine the systems & processes that keep our agency running. It is a constant exercise of reflection and adjustment to make sure our team is working as efficiently and effectively as possible. Here, I provide a few steps to help you take a look at your own processes and think of a more productive way to accomplish the task at hand. Doing this exercise quarterly, every 6-months or even once a year can help you manage your time and resources, while working towards a better result.

  1. Take a step back –  Start with self-reflection, and take a big picture look at your own processes by removing yourself from the equation. If you were an outsider, would these steps make sense? Imagine that it’s your first day starting at your company. If you had to learn all of these new procedures, would it be easy to grasp the steps involved? Do any of the steps seem cumbersome or redundant?
  1. Get some feedback – Asking others for honest feedback on your current systems and processes is an important exercise to help you see the gaps and the blind spots that occur. Ask your superiors, your peers and your employees to suggest changes to any processes. Ask for examples of times when processes caused a particular project to succeed or fail. Hearing criticism on the way you’ve always done things can be difficult, but it’s all for the sake of progress.
  1. Do some research – Spend time looking into how people in your industry accomplish similar tasks. Look to your partners or even your competitors, if possible, to find out what processes they use. You may even look to completely different industries for ideas. If you are a service company, you may be surprised to hear about the procedures followed within a hospital system that could relate to your process. If you have the resources available, look into hiring a consultant to give a professional and objective outlook on the processes you keep.
  1. Write it down – When you start to document your process, you have to think about all the steps, down to the most basic functions. Having a well-documented process makes it easier for training new hires and provides a reference in case any questions ever come up about the way things should be handled. You won’t be around forever (and honestly, neither should your processes), but you will want to capture this information for the legacy and future growth of your organization. Take the time to write it all down from the beginning, while it’s still fresh.
  1. Make a commitment – Now it’s time to jump in! You and your team will have to make a commitment to try a new process for at least 21 days to test it out, work out the kinks and get into the habit of the new way. Some will be tempted to just do things the old way because it’s easier and seems faster, but that is counter-productive. The faster you can learn the new system, the faster you will see how well it works, and soon you will begin to see the effects of a more streamlined process in your workflow and bottom line.

Bonus step: Review and Refine – It’s a good idea to review a new process after it has been implemented, so carve out some time on your calendar a few months after you start the process to meet with your team and discuss how things have been working. Pull out your documented workflow, and make any adjustments to the steps you defined.

Productivity should always be a work in progress for any organization. Using your creative thinking to look for new ways to save time and accomplish things more efficiently will most certainly be time well spent.