Chaos and Order: You Need Both To Be Productive and Creative

Is there a role for both Order and Chaos in your organization?

I’ve been reading a lot lately about creativity, innovation, and productivity and the effectiveness of teams, and their environments, and I think I’ve come to some interesting conclusions.

Depending on the outcome that you are looking for, you need to revise and adjust not just your thinking, but also your surroundings and even the composition of your team.

In short, if you are looking for productivity, you need a homogeneous team in a clean, tidy and streamlined environment, and if you are looking for creativity, you need a diverse team in a messy environment. To truly get the best result, not only do you need to mold in the inner workings of your team’s brains, you also need to manage their external environment, including the people that they work with.

Here is the controversial bit: if you are looking for ultimate in productivity, maybe diversity on your team is a bad idea.

Reading a lot from behavioral scientists, and those judging the human condition, there seems to be a consensus that our external environment plays a huge role in molding our thinking. Robert Cialdini in The Psychology of Influence and more recently, Pre-suasion, cites how easily external forces can sway our minds. Bob Nease in The Power of Fifty Bits, describes how revising interfaces to take advantage of the tiny amount of data our poor dinosaur brains can take in and make decisions on can drive us to make the kinds of decisions others want us to, and Dan Ariely’s books all point to our base irrationality, and how moving things around can drive us, like zombies, to the decisions the marketers want to take us to, leads me to think that we are all driven by our external environments, more than we think.

Therefore, instead of fighting against human nature, by putting just any team in any space and asking them to be productive or creative, we should carefully determine outcome first, then assemble the teams depending on what we want, then put them in the right environment which maps to the outcome.

We, in the end, are emotional creatures, social creatures, and egotistical creatures. We have all sorts of interesting positives and negatives. Now more than ever, we are expected to be flexible. We are expected to be able to be creative or productive on demand, wherever we are and whomever we work with. And I’m saying that if you deeply look at humans and how we operate, then to truly get the best output, you really need to stop expecting it, unless you revise and devise the team and environment to ends that you hope to achieve.

Take a graphic designer, who is all about being creative and lives in a creative space, both mentally and physically. Because work is morphing to the point where everyone needs to do everything, then the graphic designer is expected to also be productive and efficient, one moment they can be something doing something creative another moment they are told to be doing something productive. If we, as humans, experience cognitive dissonance simply going from one room to another, how can we be expected to switch from one modality to another in our brains just like that?

Let’s look at the setup that you need. There are times that you need your team to be productive, and there are times that you need your team to be creative and innovative. So first, you need two spaces. You have your productive space, which is neat and clean and streamlined. You also have your creative space, which is messy and full of toys to play with. Too many startups tend to lean towards having a creative space, as opposed to a productive space.

In fact, it may be a good idea for a startup, as it evolves, to move from being in a creative space to a more productive space, as it hones down from playing with different business models to the one that works the best. (Maybe an analogy to the startup “growing up” a little).

However, you don’t just simply drop your team as it is into each space and expect them to be creative or productive. You assemble a homogeneous team and drop it into the productive space, and a diverse team into the creative space. Humans being what humans are, and if all the researchers I mentioned are right, then the productive team will produce at its top rate, and the creative team will come up with the most innovative solutions.

The question is: are we willing to leverage the innate strengths and weaknesses of humanity in order to get the best results?