Democratize creativity

Power to the people!

Power to the people!

In the industrial-era model of managing a company creativity was reserved for the executive suite. Only leaders and managers were allowed to determine what the company was going to build and how to implement it. These decisions were then pushed down to the execution teams who took this direction and executed it to the letter. In a known domain with known constraints, market forces and consumer behavior this was a productive and efficient way to work.

In software there are too many unknowns. We have no idea how complex a project truly is until we begin it. We have no idea how the product will be used by our customers. In fact, we have no idea IF it will even be used at all. To dictate a fully thought-out solution from the executive suite to execution teams is a recipe for failure.

Instead, your company should strive to democratize creativity. Take advantage of all the talent available in your organization and task them with coming up with the solutions for your business’ problems. Build diverse cross-functional teams and ensure that the freedom to be creative is distributed evenly – not just to the designers. Let them be creative. Let them try solutions. Let them fail and learn. The products these autonomous, self-organizing, creative teams create will be far more successful and innovative then anything you could have dictated to them.

About Jeff Gothelf

Jeff Gothelf is a lean thinking and design evangelist, spreading the gospel of great team collaboration, product innovation and evidence-based decision making. Jeff is an author, speaker and thought leader on the future of product development and design, often teaching workshops or giving talks on building cultures that support teamwork and innovation. Jeff co-founded Neo Innovation, a lean/agile product firm in NYC. Prior to that, he led the UX design teams at TheLadders and Web Trends. Earlier he worked with and led small teams of software designers at AOL. He is the co-author (with Josh Seiden) of Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience and the upcoming (Harvard, 2016) Sense and Respond (
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  • Brian Durkin

    I have found that when you “Build diverse cross-functional teams” that your statement of innovation is completely true. What I have found to be a roadblock, is in many organizations understanding of what a cross-functional team means or how it should work.

    I have seen cross functional teams all get together 1 UX, 1 Design, 1 Front-End, 1 Back-End, 1 PM, 1 Producer and more, and they all get together and discuss who does what and break and go back to the silo. I have also seen groups break these silos up and the silos work apart from each other.

    It’s been my limited experience that when people work together through the process and get out of the silo, that’s when innovative solutions happen. I say limited experience because unfortunately I still see this as a roadblock and see a majority of companies, still stuck in silos.

    /my 2 cents

  • Jeff Gothelf

    Thanks Brian. Agreed that, in practice, this is hard. It has to be a part of the culture of the organization or, at the very least, the team’s mandate.

    Sometimes, in my experience, the simple act of getting cross-functional teams to physically sit together — i.e., to not sit in their department — was the most difficult challenge.