Process vs. Creativity

These two seem like opposites, yet there is always an intermingling. It takes creativity at times to figure out what the process should be, while at the same time when talking about creativity, people often use the term “creative process.”

There is some intermingling to be sure. In my context, a process is a series of defined activities that produce a result. Creativity is the ability to create.

If a process creates something, then it is by definition creative. Using that thought process, they shouldn’t be seen as opposites as they are. What most people are discussing if they place these two apart is a task-based approach vs. an outcome-based approach.

When Pixar makes a new movie, they may have a mix of both, but on the macro-level they are taking an outcome based approach. They are going to adjust constantly until they make a great movie. Conversely, there are companies so large that they take a task-based approach. Follow the script for the sale, and if they don’t go with us, that’s fine, we did it the way we are supposed to.

Task-based approaches are much easier to manage. They require people who don’t want to make decision-making part of their job, nor accountability. The one place where task-based approaches are a god-send are the factory floor. Since this was a significant amount of the jobs, society took this and tried to slap it on every job. Sales. Marketing. Engineering.

Task-based approaches work well when defining a process with a clear, well-defined input, and getting a clear, well-defined output. I have a 4’x8′ piece of sheet metal, that I need to turn into 24 stamped parts for an automobile. They need to be laser cut, then stamped with 3 different dies, the edges knocked off so they don’t cut people, then packaged and shipped. The output is 24 stamped parts according to the customer specifications and the input is a piece of sheet metal.

Pixar works differently, they basically start with “we need a popular family movie.” That’s not well-defined. What is the plot? What are the characters? What is the tension in the story that pulls us in? These are all decisions that are made as the movie develops. There is no well-defined input. The output isn’t well-defined either because no one knew what the story of Wall-E was going to be until it was significantly deep into development. As a result, this is an outcome based approach.

Knowing which game you play in is important as a business. Knowing which game you play in as an employee is even more important. If you’re in the outcome-based positions, don’t sell your value short.