Category: Creativity

 

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

We’re talking how to solve your creative challenges with a Brainstorm book!  Last time I discussed how to record your ideas and track them.

Of course I assume you’re actually getting things done during this time by whatever method of productivity you choose. So let’s talk what to do to follow up once you get things done.

Signoff

Make sure you have a way to look at one of your projects and say “yeah, that’s done at least for now.” This way you can confidently say you’ve completed what you set out to do. This could be something as solid as a published book, or as ephemeral as a website update you know you’ll change tomorrow. Learn how to say “this is done.”

Defining “Done” means you can complete work. You can evaluate. You can deliver a product. You can relax. “Done” is vitally important to define – so do it as early as possible, including as early as possible when you’re maintaining your lists of all these ideas.

When you do decide something is “Done” have your Brainstorm Book handy – that “Done” will probably inspire other ideas.

Plus you get the peace of mind of something being over.

Retrospectives

It’s important to have a regular Retrospective – a review of how things have gone. I recommend two times to do them – in fact, I recommend both:

  1. First, do a retrospective after any big project completes.
  2. Second, do one after a period of work. For instance if you plan things out by month, then review every month.

On a Retrospective review the following:

  1. What went well?
  2. What did you have problems with?
  3. What work took more effort to do than expected and what work did you miss?

After this review, you should actually ask what concrete actions will you take in the future to make things run better. This could be doing things you did right more, it could be fixing things, it could be staying aware of issues.

Retrospectives help you understand how you brought ideas to life, and how work went from a scrawl in a Brainstorm Book to being real. They spawn new ideas and help you understand your creative process.

Plus each time, you get better.

Success List

Finally, keep an success list. Every month list out what you achieved that month to move your plans forward. That should include:

  • Any major achievements and successes in your plans.
  • Making distinct progress in one of your projects.
  • The completion of a project.
  • Anything you’re particularly proud of.

Reviewing your successess helps you see the results of your actions, appreciate them – and provides you reminders that you can get these things done. It builds habit of self-reinforcement.

All those ideas in your Brainstorm Book? This is when you see that you can make your dreams real.

You’re Not Done Until After You’re Done

Always remember that your brilliant ideas aren’t done when they finish. You want to take time to figure out how to end them, how to review them, and how to learn. That helps tie together all you did and all you learn and all you do at the end.

It’s important to have these kind of closing rituals to know you’ve ended things correctly. And of course, you’ll come up with new things to do or tweak my ideas – good.

Keep learning because even though things are done, creativity doesn’t end . . .

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

We’re talking how to solve your creative challenges with a Brainstorm book!  Last time I discussed how to review it – so new we talk getting active and using all those notes.

You’ve got a Brainstorm Book, you put ideas in it, then sorted them into various groups. You have your Archives, Incubator, Backlog, and Current Backlog. So, now what?

First, with the Current Backlog is self-explanatory – you’re doing that now. That’s your “getting things done in the near future” thing – and if you don’t have a system to do that, I have a free book for you.

But let’s talk the rest of the lists.

Using The Archives

The Archives are where you put ideas you like, but aren’t sure if you want to do. Of course, what do you do with them since they kinda sit there.

As you add to them in each Review, consider the following:

  • Are any of your files, documents, piles of ideas getting too large? Then take the time to purge them and cut out things you no longer care anymore.
  • Does anything look like it’s worthy of promoting to the Incubator? If so, go ahead (it’s not like you can’t remove it later).
  • Do you care anymore about a given set of ideas or interests? If not, find a place to just store old files in case, or outright delete them.

The rule I use with Archives is “is there any value in keeping this?” When there’s not, get rid of it somehow.

After awhile, you may find these things getting overlarge and need to do a review. Do this every six months, and set a timebox to an hour.

Using The Incubator

The Incubator is your “want-to-do-but-not-sure-when” box. It’s things you haven’t yet put on your schedule but are sure you’ll probably want to do.

Review the Incubator once a month for an hour – if you want, you can do it as part of one of your regular Brainstorm book reviews. While reviewing it do the following:

  • Reorder it. As you insert new items into it, or just go over it, see if you want to change any priorities.
  • Remove items. If something seems relevant to you, then delete it – I wouldn’t even put it in the Archives. If it was important enough to put here but you lost interest, you probably won’t care again.
  • Move an item to the Backlog. If an item is something you’re sure you want to do, move it into your Backlog – and put it in the proper order.
  • Move an item to your Current Backlog. If something seems ragingly important, you may want to have it on your short-term to-do list. I don’t recommend this unless there’s a good reason.
  • Do it and get it over with. If it was real simple and can be done in a few minutes, do it. In fact, you probably should have done it before.

As always, keep the Incubator in order of priority – with nothing of equal importance. That forcing-the-issue will really help you keep track of what you want to do and set your priorities.

Using The Backlog

The Backlog is where you keep your definitely-going-to-do items. Again, in order of importance – however there’s an important difference.
By the time something gets to the Backlog, you’re probably already thinking of how to break it down into pieces of work. If you’re not, you should, because a lot of great ideas take time to do, so you don’t do them all at once.

So remember, as you keep your Backlog and polish it, feel free to start prioritizing the parts of things you want to do. Maybe make the priority also reflect chronological order. Maybe think of what’s the most important stuff you can do first.

EXAMPLE: You really want to write and publish a short story. That can be broken down into several “stories” on their own – writing out the plot, doing the story, editing, etc. By the time that story idea hits the Backlog, you can break it down, in order, and maybe even have an idea of when you want to do things (which also affects order).

Review your Backlog once a month, and whenever you think you should. I usually find I look at it once to three times a month as I get new ideas, or review my Brainstorm Book, or get new feedback. Your Backlog is your roadmap to the future – take it seriously.

When reviewing consider:

  • Do I even care about this item? Some items may not be worth doing after awhile. You can send it to the Incubator, but usually if you put something into the Backlog and then stop caring, you’ll never do it. You learned how much you really want to do it by saying “not now.”
  • Should I move this item up or down in priority? Remember, if you’ve already broken an item down you might just shuffle parts of it. But either way, as you review, things may suddenly seem more important – though as you get used to a Backlog, I find that changes less.
  • Should I move anything into my Current Backlog? Maybe it’s time to start doing something now. So do it.
  • Do it now. Again, sometimes you just get it over with.

Using The Current Backlog

Well, this is the list of stuff you’re trying to do right now so you’re probably looking at it daily. I’ll assume you’re fine here.

As You Review . . .

So you’ll find yourself reviewing your past brainstorms, you’ll most likely find that you’re having new ideas as well. Which is good, but kind of annoying as you’re busy.

This is of course great because, hey, new ideas – plus you see that your imagination is working away. But again, you’re busy.

What I do is take these ideas and put them in my Brainstorm Book so I don’t get distracted, unless the idea is so absolutely stunning it must go in my documents. You have to make the judgement call, but I’d say err on the side of caution and jot it down for later.

Why Actively Managing Your Documents Matters

You’re now regularly reviewing the documents that are . . . created from your Brainstorm Book reviews. So why do these matter to you?

  • You’re able to re-review your ideas. This keeps them in mind and helps you appreciate them, analyze them, prioritize them, and reassess them.
  • You’re able to polish a long-term plan in increments. Instead of developing some huge, doubtlessly unlikely-to-succeed plan all at once, a plan to realize your ideas emerges over time. Its’ more likely to succeed.
  • Because you review your ideas, you now see that, yes, you actually have good ideas. This builds confidence in your imagination and helps you overcome fears of being creatively blocked.
  • Since you’re re-prioritizing all the time, you’re keeping yourself from being overwhelmed with ideas. In time, these documents will grow, and you’ll not just see how imaginative you really are, you’ll use them to keep yourself from going overboard.
  • Finally, looking at past ideas will inspire you with even more ideas. Which you will, of course, review . . .

By now you have a Brainstorm Book system. However, I have a few more ideas for you.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

There’s a Tibetan Buddhist tradition where monks spend days building beautiful mandalas of sand, illustrating various principles.  Then at the end of this long ritual, they destroy the entire thing.  It is a nicely evocative example of the impermanence of all things – and a lesson to writers and artists.

Imagine you are making a mandala, knowing it will be destroyed.  You craft it perfectly, knowing it’s impermanent.  Every step is temporary, each precise.

Imagine working as people gather around you, in awe, looking at it, wondering.  They marvel art artistry, think over the meaning, ask questions.  Then they go on their way.

Then you spin it or scrape it away or let the wind come in and it’s all gone.

That’s very likely to be your book – any book.  That’s likely to be your art – any art.  Few of us will be spoken of in centuries, let alone years ,let alone ever.  We’re unlikely to be Kameron Hurley or Terry Pratchett or any of the other greats.  We’re temporary things, but in the end we’ll be sand – and even the greats will probably stick around a bit longer before they’re footnotes and records.

It’s worth it.

First, it’s worth it because art is what you do.  That is your expression.  That is who you are.  Be it for religion or creativity or to speak or even money, that’s you and what you do.

Second, it’s what you learn by doing this.  The craft, the knowledge, the self-reflection.  Each step in your own impermanent work tells you something more.  Each step changes you – because you too are an impermanent, shifting, collection, so make it a good one.

Finally, it’s that crowd gathered around you, watching and learning.  They may not take home the mandala, they may not see it again.  But they’ll think, and learn, and contemplate.  You may just touch hearts – they don’t need to take a picture or have their own copy to do that.

What many of us artists can hope for is not immortality as creators – and it’s not what we should hope for.  In these impermanent moments we leave behind something greater, not as a work praised for the ages, but in influencing ourselves and others.  Just because your book is forgotten a year or two from now, doesn’t mean it didn’t matter or have an effect.

It’s pretty much the same as how I take the Buddhist idea of Projected Karma – that thing that has an influence down the road.  Influence of action, not permanence of creation.

Just like the Mandala teaches, so can you work.  It doesn’t have to be forever – and indeed it shouldn’t be.  Nothing is, and clinging to past forms, worn and tired, isn’t immortality, it’s a specific kind of hell.

Let the sand be sand.  Don’t mummify your creativity in the hope people will stare at it dumbly, unmoved, un-involved.  Let it be a living thing and go where it may, even when it may die.

Think of how liberating that is.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

We’re talking how to solve your creative challenges with a Brainstorm book!

Now that you have a Brainstorm Book and are filling it with ideas, you need to review it. When you review it, you’ll go through the contents, go over your ideas, and figure what to do with them. That means coming up with a review schedule – but also coming up with a way to organize these ideas.

Your Review Schedule

First, set up a time to review your Brainstorm Book. You want to find a schedule that’s going to work best for you and not drive you up a wall. I recommend one of the following two choices:

  1. Do it every 2 weeks regularly.
  2. Do it twice a month on regular times that makes things roughly equal distance. (I recommend the 5th and the 20th).

Now it’s OK to, now and then move the time around a bit, but don’t get too radical. Good, solid, regular review should become a habit so you make the time to do it.

But what do you do? Well, when you review you need to set a few things up in your notes. Let’s get ready for a review.

Preparing for a Brainstorm Book Review

Remember, set this up before your review begins.

When you review a Brainstorm Book, you’ll sort ideas into four separate files. Now that may sound like a lot, but bear with me.
Here’s the four ways I keep ideas.

  • Archives – A collection of files that are things written down that you might refer to one day. One file can be enough, though you may want to divide them into general lists (stories, cooking, etc.)
  • The Incubator – This is my list of things you want to do some day, but aren’t sure when. Keep them in a list in order of importance – and no item can be of equal importance to another.
  • Backlog – Things you are definitely going to do. These should also be listed in order of priority. In many cases you’ll start breaking down work here because you know it well enough.
  • Current Backlog – What you’re committed too now. As an example I plan my work in monthly increments, so it’s a month of things to do.

Yeah, it sounds like a lot, but I keep the Incubator, Backlog, and Monthly backlog in the same spreadsheet.

If you’re familiar with Agile methods, specifically Scrum, some of this may look familiar – that’s because it comes from a mix of my own experience, Scrum, and the Getting Things Done method of David Allen. I sum this up more in the next chapter but to give you an idea:

I use my personal version of Scrum, where I plan work monthly. Every month I determine what I can do (from my regular tasks and Backlog) and then commit to that. Then at the end of the month I re-evaluate.

(You can also get a detailed guide here)

Now you know what you have toset up, let’s talk about how we use the review.

Reviewing Your Brainstorm Book

When you sit down to to a Brainstorm Book review, commit to taking one hour to do it. You may not use all of the time – but sometimes you will. You may also find yourself needing to go over, which is fine, but if it’s a habit you may want to get more efficient.

With that time set aside, do the following:

First you take your Brainstorm book, and go to the latest page that needs revieweed (I mark pages as I review them). You look at the idea or ideas there and decide what to do with each:

  • Ignore It – The idea may not be worth it or isn’t as great in retrospect or you weren’t sure what you wrote down.
  • Archive It – It may be something you want to write down but there’s no place for it. Put it in an Archive file.
  • Incubate It – If it’s an idea that you really see value in, really want to do, then put it in the Incubator. However the Incubator is ranked in order of priority as noted – so you have to put the idea at the right priority. You might reshuffle the entire list (this is why you may need an hour)
  • Backlog It – If an idea is really important, really must-do, put it in your Backlog – and again, put it in order of priority. If the idea is maturing, take some time to flesh it out more – you may break it into parts – another reason you may need that hour.
  • Current Backlog – If an idea is that important, that necessary (or that awesome) put it in your current backlog so you get to it soon.
  • Do it now – If it’s going to take a few minutes, why not just get it over with?

Simple, isn’t it? You look at ideas and determine how important they are, then put them in the proper areas. It’s intended to be simple because we don’t want to overcomplicate this. Next chapter, we’ll talk how to use these gatherings of ideas in more detail.

Why The Review Matters

Now that you’ve started to do your reviews, why are they helpful? Well, first after a review or two you’ll see why they matter, but heres a quick summary:

  • You don’t loose ideas or worry about losing ideas. You record them twice over to make sure you have them.
  • By seeing your inspiration you’ll be able to trust it to help you. Even if there are problems in being inspired, you now can see them, address them – and know when they’ve worked.
  • Analyzing your inspiration helps you understand how you think. You may find ideas repeat, or that certain days are better than others.
  • You can get re-inspired. When you look at your ideas, they don’t just come back to you, new ideas form. This further helps you understand how you think and have confidence in your imagination.
  • Reviewing them like this is the start of deciding what to focus on. By sorting items into different lists (or discarding them) you start prioritizing already.

This prioritization helps you get ready for long-term planning to bring your ideas to life. In fact, that’s the next chapter.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Lately I’ve been talking about how we need to focus on our work to get anything done.  My friend Serdar has been following up on my musings, with discussing selecting work as triage or how we select our work carefully like a DJ.  Each column is a reading-worthy videpoint.

However, I have come to dislike the triage metaphor, and in further discussions with him, came to the realization that we creatives, writers, etc. often look at limiting ourselves as bad.

We don’t want to limit ourselves.  We want to tell every story, explore every nook, paint in colors no one has yet seen.  We want to do it all.  Creativity means a head full of infinity in a mortal frame that has to pick and choose what parts of that endlessness to let into the world.

We make it even harder because we often talk about our need to be selective and to cultivate work in negative ways.  Triage. Limitation.  Pairing ideas down.   Killing your darlings.  We come up with the most negative ways to talk about this, ensuring of course we want to do it less.

Thats the problem.  So let me make a suggestion – as a creative don’t talk about choosing what work to do in the negative, find positive terms.  Yes it’s a psychological trick, but by using negative terms you’ve already been tricked into seeing this as a bad thing.

Think of it as:

  • Focusing on the best choices you create.  You decide on what brings the most benefit and do it.
  • Curating the most important works you can do.  You’re like a librarian or a DJ creating a best-of for people, chosing what they truly need from your infinite repertoire of possibilities.
  • Cultivating a garden of possibilities.  You choose what to “grow” in your works and nurture it to life.
  • Being a steward of ideas.  Perhaps that means not just developing them, but also knowing when to pass ideas on to others.

So I challenge you as a creator to look at your need to focus and find the most postivie way to look at it that is still rational.  Find a way to see the good in it, and you’ll be able to focus better and more effectively.  In doing so, your need to make choices will be much easier.

You don’t need triage when the DJ has you dancing to the best tunes already.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Last time I discussed the many creative challenges we face – and how I solve it with a Brainstorm Book.

At it’s simplest the idea of the Brainstorm Book is that you have something you write ideas in, and then extract them at a later time. I’ve got specific methods and ways of doing this that make it extremely effective.

But before we get to those methods let’s get to the Book

Finding Your Brainstorm Book

For your Brainstorm Book, find one that is a reasonable size, that you can easily carry around in your pack/pocket/purse, and that you can attach, clip, or stick a pen in. You want something you can get to at a moment’s notice and start writing.

Usually, I go for books that are about 4” x 6” – they fit into anything but art still large enough to write in. You may find that other sizes and features fit you. However, for the first time don’t go waiting, go get a Brainstorm Book now.

You can always get a new one when this one is filled up – and it will be.

Note I only say one Brainstorm Book. In general, I avoid carrying more than one Brainstorm Book at a time so I have only the one book to go to. You may find that more than one is needed, but start with the one – I will discuss these cases later.

Let’s keep it simple.

Using The Brainstorm Book

So you’ve got this thing, now what do you do with it?

Keep the Brainstorm Book with you at all times if possible – and make sure a pen or other writing instrument is with you as well. If you have trouble doing this, find ways to keep it close -or think about a smaller book.

The reason you keep the Brainstorm Book with you is that as soon as you have a worthwhile idea, you do the following.

  1. Put a date at the top of the page – so you know when you had an idea.
  2. Jot the idea down immediately in the Brainstorm book. If you have several ideas it’s fine to put them on the same page if it’s the same date.
  3. You don’t have to flesh the idea out in detail. The goal is not to explore it but to record enough information for you to reconstruct the idea in your head.
  4. If you can’t write it down, take a note elsewhere, send yourself an email by phone, what ever you can do. Just get it back in the book as soon as is reasonable.

This is simple – you’re recording your ideas. But it raises two questions – what is worthwhile and what is enough information.

Deciding If An Idea Is Worthwhile

How do you know that the inspiration that just waltzed into your brain is worth putting into your Brainstorm Book? On some days we might be writing in our Brainstorm Book for hours, and we have stuff to do.

First and foremost, when in doubt, write it down – especially when starting out. Get the ideas out of your head because you’ll review them later. The habit of writing down ideas is important.

Secondly, most of the time you’ll just know an idea is good. You’ll feel something line in in your head, with your goals, with what you like. Some ideas just feel right – those should be written down.

Third, pause for a moment and ask if there’s any value to the idea – to yourself or others. An idea may need to be analyzed more before it’s value is apparent, or you’re not sure, or someone else may like it. If there’s something useful there, even if you’re unsure, record it.

In time, recording inspirations is something you’ll get better at. It’s a skill you develop.

But while recording them, we also ask just how much detail is needed.

Proper Level Of Detail In The Brainstorm Book

Next, you decide to record an idea – but how much do you write down? Some of us can get an idea and go on for ages with it. Some of us have.

I record the right amount of information I need to reconstruct the idea in my head – essentially to re-inspire me. That inspiration didn’t vanish when you wrote it down and went back to other things. That idea is still in your mind, you just find what words and phrases help bring it back into your mind.

Most essential wild ideas can be recorded in a sentence or two. “Color code our department workflow by skillset” and “Steampunk dragon fighters of the Old West” may be all you need to write down. Again, you’ll find what works for you personally – and on an individual basis for each idea.

If more detail is needed – or is present in your mind – go ahead and record what seems reasonable. However, there’s really no border between thinking over an idea and developing an idea. You can, easily, find yourself lost in your latest inpiration, creating pages of thoughs.

You need to make the call how far you have to go and should go – and how valuable the idea is. However I like to separate the “detailed fleshing out” from the “writing down the idea” so I can get back to whatever I was doing and not be distracted. Such an attitude also helps us get better at reconstructing deas.

Why The Brainstorm Book Matters

If you do this for a few weeks, you’ll probably notice some if not all of the following happening to you:

  • You worry less about not being inspired because you see your inspiration at work each time that book is opened.
  • You get more inspired because as you write ideas down – and see past ideas – more ideas come to mind.
  • You’ll worry less about losing ideas – because you’re writing them down.
  • You focus on what ideas are worth it early on – allowing you to find more inspirations or avoid distraction.
  • Because ideas are being recorded, you can get back to other things you were doing.
  • You gain a better understanding of how to record information so you can recall ideas later.
  • Just having this book helps removes many of the fears that plague creative people as noted earlier.

But it’s not just recording things. Next we’ll talk about how to review it.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Hello everyone, and welcome to my new column series. It’s a followup to an old series I did on how to use a brainstorm book. I’ve decided I need to rewrite to include my later insights, improve the writing, and explore it further.  If all goes well I might turn it into a book.

But let’s get to what’s important – the Challenges of Creativity.  These are why you need some method anyway.

Creative Challenges That Plague Us

Creativity is something we all rely on. For some of us, such as writers and graphic artists, it may be the core part of our careers. For others, it may be part of what we do, like creating presentations or infographics. Even if creative work isn’t part of our career it may well be part of our hobbies, recreations, and goals.

To be creative, as so many of us need to be, we need inspirations. We need those lighting-bolt ideas that come out of the blue, or slowly—incubated dreams that suddenly come to life. Inspiration is where the connections come together so we can make new things.

The problem is that creativity brings in a lot of challenges – a lot to fear.

We fear a lack of inspiration. We are terrified that our new ideas and innovations will just dry up. Without those creative sparks, we can’t do what we want to do – and the fear of losing them makes it worst.

We might fear too much innovation. Ideas come thick and fast, new possibilities intrude on our thoughts as we’re dealing with past inspirations. We get overloaded trying to keep up with what we might do – it almost makes a lack of inspiration welcome.

We fear losing ideas. No matter how many we have, too many or too few, we need to keep track of them to cultivate them and develop them. How we track them and evaluate them becomes critical to our creative work.

We fear not knowing how to focus. We have our dreams and ideas, we want to develop them – but which do we focus on? What creative work comes next?

We fear not knowing how to plan long term. It’s a problem to focus short term, but how do we arrange all these ideas for long-term? Will some never come to fruition? Should others be moved up in priority?

We fear being blocked. What do we do next? Why did this great idea suddenly stop energizing us? Perhaps the greatest fear creative people have is when things just stop in our heads.

If you sit back and think about it, creative work can be very stressful. Thinking over what can go wrong can paralyze us and make our creative efforts even harder to do. There’s an irony in that.

. . . maybe I shouldn’t have brought it up.

However, even if I’ve suddenly destroyed your confidence, I do have a solution I’ll be discussing in the upcoming blog posts – what I call a Brainstorm Book method.

The Brainstorm Book – A Quick Overview

The Brainstorm Book Method is actually three things.

  • First, it’s a physical thing – a book you record ideas in. You use this book to capture ideas.
  • Second, it’s a system – a way to use those ideas to maximize your creativity and prioritize them. You review the book at certain intervals, capturing and prioritizing ideas regularly.
  • Third, it’s a philosophy – a way to think about creativity. This helps you innovate and make your own methods or tweak my methods to fit you.

I’ll be exploring this method over the weeks to come – to help you out with your creative work and maybe put some of those fears to rest.

Remember, this is not just for artists or writers. This is for anyone that needs to imagine, dream, and creative – which is really anyone. From home cooks innovating new recipies to someone trying to figure out better memo systems on the job, we all create.

So, next column, let’s talk about your Brainstorm Book.  Er, the physical one.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

And here we are, the last Agile principle. Appropriately, it’s about review

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

It’s another piece of simplicity – the team regularly reviews on how to become more effective then adjusts. It’s one of those things that should have gone without saying, which is why a bunch of people had to say it.

This is one that doesn’t have to be changed or altered for creative teams. But let’s take a look at what it means for creatives by breaking it down.

At regular intervals . . .

Reviewing is done at regular intervals – happening every x days or y weeks, or z months. Not “whenever” or “when we have time.” Reguarly.  This is important.

First, this regularity means that the review is guaranteed – you know it’s coming and when so you can prepare for it. If you’ve got a hectic or unpredictable schedule, this provides an anchor so you’re ready.

Secondly, this regular review means you hold it no matter what. There’s no saying “we didn’t learn anything” or ‘we can’t improve.” It’s a great way to break people’s habits and challenge any assumptions there’s “nothing to learn.” – and can get things out into the open and stimulate conversation. In creative works this is vital, since the unpredictable nature of the work may mean lessons are not immediately obvious – besides we know creative folks can build who ideas that they know something and be wrong (I’ve certainly done that).

Third, it gets people into an improvement mindset. In my experience the more you do these reviews, the more you learn, but also the more people improve outside of the reviews. Self-review and self-improvement is a skillset, and doing this develops it. There’s nothing like turning an imaginative team loose on self-improvement.

Fourth, it encourages applying lessons that can be used. In creative works, projects may differ wildly, so a regular review will in general lead to developing improvements that apply well into the future. Yes, short temporary changes may come up and be made, but in time you’ll improve longer and longer term as repeating issues come up and new insights get put into long-term practice.

Fifth, people don’t have to worry about missing opportunities or remembering everything they want to improve. Their work, especially creative works, may be seen differently in retrospect or with a marketing change. A person may have a hundred ideas but only remember five. Regular reviews mean you’ll be able to get back to forgotten ideas later or incorporate new views of old work. You can relax – you’re less likely to miss something.

. . . the team reflects on how to become more effective . . .

There’s two parts to this section.

The Team

The team is who does these regular reviews so they can improve – not just as individuals but a team. Now we have to ask who is the team?

To me the team is usually the folks doing the work – in the case of creatives those doing said work and their support team. But does that include consultants? The client? Beta testers? The legal team?   Asking this question is probably going to lead to unexpected and important answers:

By the way, no I can’t give you an obvious answer. But I can say in creative teams that it gets a bit hairy because that’s a place “things come together.” So your “team” may not just be people doing what you think is the work, but:

  • The legal team reviewing copyrights.
  • Proofreaders for documents who provide “testing.”
  • Marketers testing your ideas.
  • Support teams who provide software, hardware, maintenance on things like cameras, etc.
  • Administrative teams scheduling events.

Ask who the team is. The answer may surprise you.

Being More Effective:

Reflecting on being more effective sounds great, but there’s  an issue.  What does it mean for your team to be “more effective.”

It’s not an obvious question, which is why the importance is in how we answer it! How do you measure effectiveness so you know you’re getting better.

I often solve this by asking the team how they want to measure effectiveness and then going around until we have an agreement and a way to do it. For many it’s a simple general gut check of “did we get the work done and signed off on” but you may find a few additional factors come in. You may also find that it changes over time.

The best way, of course, is to focus on Value – did you deliver what people valued. But the way there, that may take some consideration, analysis, and arguments.

In creative teams, where metrics may be hard to come by and subjectivity is an issue, this question is very important. It may help to ask now and then just what effectiveness is and how you measure it.

. . . then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Ah, yes the end goal of these regular reviews with the team – you review how you did and then figure how to tune and adjust what you do accordingly. In short, you decide how to improve your behavior, approach, actions, tools, and methods. you hold these reviews and then create *takeaways.*

I can’t emphasize this enough. Make sure that these reviews lead to concrete goals for the team that you can measure, and tasks for the team or individuals so you can say “it’s done.” I’ve seen people who do reviews insist everything be something that can be tracked as simple as a piece of work – and I have to say it’s effective.

Make sure your team comes up with concrete suggestions that you can move on. In fact, when I do this I review them reguarly, often during other meetings and definitely at the start of the next review.

This is needed in creative works because of the many variables, obvious, but also for another reason. Creative works, with their infinite options, also provide us many ways to improve. Having solid choices is a nice way to narrow things down to workable selections.

Having definite choices also keeps people from overloading themselves. After all, you can’t improve if all you’re doing for a few weeks is doing things better – so you have no time to DO the things you want to do better.

A final important note – improvements for individuals should be called out by the individuals themselves. The team’s goals are to improve as a team, and blame-slinging (even if true) is pretty disruptive at these meetings. I found a way to make this easier is to see if people have any personal improvement goals they want to call out to encourage personal improvement – but note the team has to support these people.

Note: If your team has too many improvements to make, have them force-rank them in order and pick what they think they can do in the next time period. That helps them prioritize (and deprioritize) and focus.

Do I Do This As A Solo Creative?

Yes.  You should do your own reviews even if it’s just you.  Even if you don’t review with a client.  Even if it’s just personal work. Sit down and go over what you did, how you’re doing and how to improve.

Remember, never assume there’s no way to get better . . .  even if you’re awesome on your own.

Roundup At The End

So there it is, the Twelfth Agile principle – go and review sutff regularly with the right people and make concrete improvements.

I find these reviews are almost comforting in any practice. In creative practices you’ll always be focused on going forwards, on lessons learned, on getting better. it adds a structure where needed – while also breaking you out of any assumptions or mental straightjackets.

Besides, creative people asked to “make something better” can often take off when given a chance . . .

A few quick roundups:

  • A regular review puts people into an improvement mindset, reduces the chance and fear of missing opportunities, and makes it predictable.
  • The team should be involved – but you have to ask who “the team” really is.
  • Reviews should focus on being effective, but you need to determine how “effective” is defined.
  • Concrete goals should be the end result of the review so you can move forward.

And that’s it folks!  The Twelve Agile Principles for creatives.  Now you’ll be pleased to know this isn’t the end – I’m using this as raw material for a book. So in a few months get ready for something even more awesome . . . and probably better edited.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

We’re almost there, my iterative (ha) effort to review the principles behind the Agile Manifesto – for creatives. We’re on the eleventh principle.

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

For people not familiar with IT, the only area of this that may seem odd is the word “architecture,” the structure of IT systems and the like. So let’s tweak this just a bit for creatives

The best structures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

There we go. So what can we learn from this principle?

The idea is basically this: that teams who-self-organize create the best designs, the clearest requirements, and the best way to get stuff done. This sounds great, but I find a few people worry about it; how can people who self-organize get stuff done?

That’d be a great title for a section.  Let’s do that!

How Can People Who Self-Organize Get Stuff Done?

First, the entirety of Agile thinking and Agile methods is about self-organizing. The principles reflect this constantly, from communicating among people to reflecting and analyzing ideas and results. All of this helps cultivate self-organization.

(Also, most teams self-organize anyway, because no one can constantly be there monitoring their every move, though people try.  So it’s more realistic.)

Secondly, I take the word “teams” in the broadest sense – this is everyone involved in the process, from the actual creative to the person requesting the work to the people giving feedback.  I mean everyone involved – we’re all part of the team, even the folks ordering the work or the users testing the software as part of a beta program.

I find this approach helps because when you think of teams as broadly as possible (which you should), there’s more collaboration and communication, more trust, and far less us-versus-them. You get a lot more done as you’re automatically involving more people . . .

. . . and you cultivate self-organization with training, with being a good role model, with pitching Agile methods, and of course by using the principles of Agile and the methods to get your own stuff done.

So Why Does This Work?

OK so your team self-organizes and gets how to work together.  Or they’re close enough that they self-organize anyway.  But why does it actually work?

  1. People use their hands-on knowledge to design, plan, and organize. Like it or not the person up top of the big old command pyramid doesn’t know what’s going on all the time – the people doing the work do. This is doubly true for creative works, that often require intimate knowledge, gut-checks, feedback, and specific knowledge.
  2. People find the structure that works for them. The people doing the work don’t necessarily know what’s going to work at the start – but being self-organizing they’ll find out. Plus this exploration yields insights they can use elsewhere.
  3. People who self-organize communicate. This feedback tells people what’s needed, allows for adaption, and builds relationships to further the work.
  4. People determine needed artifacts. Agile principles and methods aren’t big on giant piles of documentation, but we do need them. When you self-organize you come up with what’s needed to track work, describe it, and record information. This saves time and increases clarity (also saving time).

Just remember, to make this work you have to make sure people are allowed to self-organized, encouraged, and trained or otherwise supported in doing so.

Where Does This Help Creative Work?

I’ve hinted at just how this affects creative work, but let’s get down to it – why does self-organizing support creative work – and how can you support it?

It Avoids Overstructure: Starting a creative effort with lots of unnecessary structures in place will kill creative work which needs a level of freedom and feedback and experiment. Allowing teams to self-organize helps avoid this.

  • What you can do in your creative works is allow for self-organizing and be aware of when you’re over-attached to processes and procedures.

It Allows For Adaption: Creative work is hard to automate, even though many of us have tried (me included), and it needs room for adaption. Allowing for self-organizing teams allows for that adaptability upfront – people can find what works for them.

  • In your creative works, support adaption by helping people (even if it’s just you and your client) change and adapt what works, with your eye on the eventual goal. That focus on value will help keep you from being distracted.

It Allows For Communication: Creative works are communicative work (even if sometimes the goal is to confuse, such as in a challenging game). To support communicative work people have to communicate and thus self-organizing teams support that – but also force it. When there’s no checklist being ordered and people are encouraged to communicate, you get more actual talking.

  • For creative works, encourage communication among people – and communicate yourself. It helps to be supportive, finding what works for them, not forcing your goals of “how it should be done,” but helping people find what must be done.

It Creates Habits and Culture: Self-organizing teams build their own structures and methods – and habits. This means that there’s more than just some org chart – there’s good habits and in long-term efforts, a culture that evolves. People who develop their own structures,, methods, and so on will remember and embody what they’ve learned. In time this leads to even more productivity as this is in the bones.

  • In your creative efforts, support developing a culture by finding what works and noting things that went right. In times the best lessons burrow into peoples habits.

What About Solo Creatives?

But what about solo creatives? How does this apply?

Recall that the “team” is everyone as far as I’m concerned – the client, people giving feedback, your roommate offering unsolicited advice. Even if you’re on there own there’s still “teams.”

What you want to do is:

  1. Find what “teams” there are – you and a client, you and an editor, etc.
  2. Encourage the teams to self-organize. Be open to feedback, listen, communicate, focus on goals.
  3. When possible, cross teams over. Share that client who wanted your art with a writer that you know. Share an editor with someone else. Build a larger culture among individuals to support each other.
  4. Even when it’s just you in the end, listen to yourself and your ideas. You’re a multitude – be your own team.
  5. Self-organize – don’t get too lost in other people’s ideas and advice, even mine.  Learn to rely on your own wisdom.

Always keep the need to adapt and adjust and self-organize.

In Closing

The eleventh agile principles notes that self-organizing makes for the best results. This works because people communicate, determine what works, and create what structures and tools are needed to get those results. You can encourage this with

  • Avoid overstructuring
  • Encourage adaption with feedback.
  • Encourage communication
  • Encourage development of a larger culture – the self-organizing lessons we keep with us.

Self-organizing teams can produce the best results – even if sometime the team is one person.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

Now gear up for one of my top Agile Manifesto Principles, the 10th Agile Principle.  Let’s get to it.

Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.

It’s another one of those principles that I can’t really modify or need to tweak to apply to creatives. It’s simple – maximizing work not done is essential to Agile practices. Agile practices are a great way to get work done effectively and sanely. So to deliver things effectively and sanely – maximize work not done.

Of course simple, compact statments like this are the ones where we also need to delve a bit, so let’s just take a look at what the value of simplicity and maximizing work not done means to a creative.

Simplicity Is About Right Value

Simplicity sounds easy to describe – until you actually try to do it. Then I find its a bit hard to phrase it, but you can think about simplicity as not just delivering Value, but the right Value. You focus on what people need delivered – and as little else extraneous as possible. Remember, Agile is a way to deliver Value.

When you focus on delivering the right Value to people, then you avoid distractions, unnecessary work, and the like. You don’t just deliver value – you avoid delivering less valuable and non-valuable work.

Up front this means focusing on simplicity from the start. I find this helps with creative works because, with many options, and at times unclear goals, you have to choose options and clarify them. You may well have to help your client or end user find what they really want – because they may not be too clear.

This also means simplicity is about an investment of time – doing the simple thing might just seem to take more effort up front. As you’ll see, the benefit of this investment pays off.

Simplicity Is About Clear Communication

Focusing on simplicity also means clearer communications for three reasons:

  1. First, you work early to clarify what’s needed (and as noted, you often have to talk this out).  This means that you have to work on and develop clear communications.
  2. Because you’ve worked on simplifying work, you’ve also got less things to discuss to distract you.  Communications are clearer because there’s less to talk about.
  3. You also have less to distract you period.  Simplicity means less chance of error, less rabbit holes to go down.

In creative endeavors, that can mean subtle works, assumptions, and hard-to-communicate idea, this clear communication is valuable indeed.  The efforts that you make earlier (and the work you don’t do) make your life easier.

I find this is a great thing to communicate better with this simple rule; if it’s hard for people to communicate about a project or creative work, if you’re going in circles, it’s time to focus on simplicity.

Simplicity Reduces Waste

Because you’re not doing extra work due to a focus on Simplicity, you’re spending your time better. The work you actually do meets a need – a need you clarified by a focus on simplicity and not complicating things. Everything you do is almost certainly valuable, or at least more likely to be so. Remember the agile emphasis on reducing unnecessary processes and documents?

The focus on simplicity also reduces wasted time.  Simply, you’re doing less and so there’s less chance to do it wrong.

Simplicity Is A Goal

So the benefits of simplicity are clear, but Simplicity doesn’t just happen – it has to be a goal. Your creative works need to focus on the simple, the precise, the effective from the start.

It’s probably easy to get everyone on board with this once they realize the value of simplicity (which is often found by discussing value).  We all want less complexity anyway.

But remember, ultimately simplicity is . .

Maximizing The Amount Of Work Not Done

Yes, your goal is to do less work overall as an Agile Creative.  Lazy?  No.

There’s plenty of work you can be doing, so you focus on doing the right work.  You work on what really matters, in a way you can keep delivering effectively.  There’s all sorts of things you can be doing, focusing on simple, valuable work means you don’t get distracted or do unneded things.

I believe you should celebrate finding something is no longer needed.  When you find something isn’t necessary, when you can ditch parts of a project, when you find something you can cut, good.  I’ve actually complimented people on the job for finding something isn’t needed.

And when it comes to creative projects, remember that creative people love figuring things out.  Turn some of that loose on simplicity . . .

But this all ties to one more thing.

Don’t Just Find Simplicity – Make It

You shouldn’t just seek simplicity – though you should – you should also find ways to make things simpler over time.  Simplicity is something to build in:

  1. Streamline the processes and documents that you use to make them simpler, focusing on value.
  2. Find ways to streamline code that you reuse or templates that you use for art (shades of the 9th Agile Principle)
  3. Improve communications with simplicity, such as combining several meetings into one or having a check-in as opposed to elaborate email conversations.
  4. Drop overcomplicated methods.

Just as you work to deliver value, always be on the lookout to deliver simplicity in how you do things.

This allows you to not just help your client, but to constantly uncomplicate your life and your efforts.  Each time you make things simpler, it pays off now and down the road.

Remember This Is Essential

That “Essential” part of the 10th is a final thing to remember.  Simplicity?  Doing less?  That’s essential to agile and agile practices.  All that clarity, all that focus, all those benefits?  The’re indispensable.

So next time you find things getting complicated, remember simplicity.

Rounding Up

So let’s get simple with simplicity.  Working for simplicity and looking for work not done is essential to agile practice.

To do this:

  • Keep simplicity as a goal and develop it.
  • Focus on value to keep things simple.
  • Focus on clear communication
  • Focus on reducing waste.
  • Maximize work not done.

– Steve

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