When structure holds space for creativity

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About a month ago, our Bucharest-based Events Manager – Andreea Gătin – shared with her Linked network (via this post) a realization that she had had related to structure and creativity. In this post, she shared that she used to feel reluctant about introducing structure into her creative endeavors, but that now she has realized that “structure and processes actually bring freedom and hold space for creative juices.”

What do you think? What has your experience been as a leader on this front? Has structure proved to be a friend or foe to creativity in your organization? …and what about within your own person / personal ecosystem? Has structure helped your creativity – or has it hindered it?

Having worked as a personal productivity coach for over ten years, it’s not uncommon that I would come across people – especially in creative professions – either who worry about, or who are reticent about, introducing too much structure into their work. Typically the fear is that too much structure will suffocate creativity and potentially strip it of everything that makes it beautiful.

Whereas I haven’t found this to be 100% false, I have found on the whole that injecting a healthy amount of structure into creative endeavors  – as Andreea has come to realize – actually has the opposite effect: it provides a framework through which a person’s and a team’s creative juices are able to really come alive and flourish.

Let’s dive in to a few examples (some unconventional – and outside of the realm of business) and see what we can learn from them…

But first! Let’s take a stab at defining our key words here:

Structure
Something built or arranged in a definite way.
The manner in which something is built, arranged or organized.

Creativity
The use of imagination or original ideas to create something, inventiveness.
The ability to produce or use original and unusual ideas.
The ability to create.

Wonderful! Now back to the examples…

⁜ The example of Adriana Mendoza, our Community Manager

“Make it up. Make it happen.” This is a tagline originating from David Allen, one of the world’s leading experts on personal and organizational productivity. I invoke it here because our effervescent Community Manager, Adriana Mendoza, hasn’t been struggling with the first half of this equation: make it up. She experiences her ideas as butterflies in her head – each one beautiful and detailed. “If I pay attention, I will notice many details, its colors, the shape of its wings, how there is a pattern to its flight, etc. I am so present with it that I can easily get lost daydreaming about making it come true, and the feeling is GREAT. And then…there is another one, and it’s so majestic, and the process starts all over again.” Magical! The problem, however, for Adriana, is that at some point she realizes how much time she has been spending with the ideas, and that potentially none of them have turned into reality. “I go from feeling inspired, happy, and hopeful, to feeling overwhelmed, confused, and desperate.”

Drawing inspiration from our Chief Brand & Marketing Officer – Theodora Gatin – Adriana has come to understand creativity as “the divine feminine, that chaotic freedom that can conceptualize transformation and build beautiful things on the energetic plane, but gets stuck when it’s time to manifest it into reality. It needs its counterpart, the divine masculine, to add order and structure – so that it can be seen on the physical plane.” This is the Make it happen part of the equation.

“I’m pretty new to being so much in contact with my divine feminine. I needed to lean on my divine masculine for most of my life. I had to be a warrior, a protector, the one watching over the others until I decided it was enough, and I asked life to release me from this. I guess now I need to find the balance, and I know I’m in the perfect place for that.”

In order for Adriana to find her sweet spot when it comes to making it up, *and* making it happen, she is looking forward to introducing more structure into her current creative way-of-being.

⁜ Our all-company meetings here at Growmotely

I recently wrote about our once-a-month all-company meeting here at Growmotely, which takes place on the first Tuesday of every month. One of the reasons that this meeting is such a success, is surely because our Founder and CEO, Sarah Hawley, follows the same format for each meeting. There’s a beautiful structure to the meeting – that I compare to the structure of an Italian meal in the aforementioned article (!) – that allows us all to relax and focus on the content of what is being said. When the structure is set, not only are all team members able to focus more on what everyone is saying, we are all able to better prepare to contribute, as we are so intimate with the structure. We know when the dessert comes on the menu so to speak, therefore, we can properly prepare to eat the dessert, or we can prepare appropriately to contribute to the creation of the dessert (e.g. bring our chocolate sprinkles out at the relevant time).

And speaking of food, no need to speak in metaphors, when we can speak about it explicitly…

⁜ Eating in France and Italia

Although every region of of the world has its culinary masterpieces, both France and Italia are known for their exceptional cuisine. I’m writing to you from France at the moment (I’m staying in the Parisian suburb of Courbevoie), so I will focus on the structure of the French meal, which has shorter and longer variations…depending on the occasion of course. I’ll use the following courses for the purpose of this example:

  • L’apératif (small appetizers)
  • L’entrée (‘official’ appetizers)
  • Le plat principal (main course)
  • La salade (salad)
  • Le fromage (cheese)
  • Le dessert (dessert)
  • Le café (coffee)

Having this incredible structure set in stone from the get-go in French cuisine allows those of us who are stellar – or amateur – chefs a beautiful framework through which to channel our creativity. By ditching the blank slate, we immediately are able to focus our energies on creating the smaller pieces of the bigger puzzle. Our brains can relax with the extra structure, knowing that the structure provides half of the recipe (no pun intended) for success.

And as with the monthly meeting, when everyone involved has visibility over the structure, and what is to come, we can all pace ourselves on the energy – and the appetite – front so that we are sure to make the most of what is in front of us.

And whilst I have you in France…

⁜ Cistercian monasteries

The Cistercians are a Catholic religious order of monks and nuns and they follow the rule of Saint Benedict. Although their monasteries are found across the world, France is home to a fair amount of them.

Being someone who is frequently surrounded by monastery-goers (my partner used to be a monk, and my mother is a frequent retreatant), I have often heard said that the structure of monastic life lends itself to joyous levels of freedom and creativity.

There are six ‘offices’ every day that the Cistercians (and the retreatants if they like) show up for:

3:30am – Vigils
6:30am – Lauds
9:15am – Terce
11:45am – Sext
5:30pm – Vespers
7:30pm – Compline

And then there are the meals, which are also served at the same time every day.

Much like the structure of the menu, the offices break up what might otherwise be a blank slate and create a number of concrete time blocks throughout the day that allows both the monks and retreatants to direct their activities in-between the offices with purpose, and the consistent regenerative breaks serve to imbibe all daily activities with more meaning.

⁜ The articles I write for Growmotely’s blog

These days, whenever I write a piece for Growmotely’s blog, I first write an outline. This extremely simple outline always starts as such:

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion

As I flesh out my ideas, the outline – of course – expands. As ridiculously simple and obvious as this practice may appear, I haven’t always done it this way. It was something that I started doing with time, but once I got going, I never looked back to my non-outline days.

Why do I do it? Having a structure into which I can organize the deluge of ideas that invariably come flowing into my head when I start putting a piece together is a serious Godsend. Without it, my ideas remain as they first came to me: all over the place!

⁜ ⁜ ⁜ ⁜ ⁜ ⁜ ⁜ ⁜ ⁜ ⁜ ⁜ ⁜

We’d love to hear your stories about how structure has either facilitated the creativity in your company (or in your community or family) – or stifled it. Although there is surely no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to the perfect amount of structure in your world, there is probably a right answer for you, your team, and your company right now.

Do you need that extra structure when it comes to your time? When it comes to your meetings? When it comes to your spiritual practices? Or: what about your eating and exercise routines? Or – like Adriana – is more structure needed when it comes to the execution of your ideas?

Whilst you reflect on the answers to these questions, here at Growmotely, we will not only do the same, we will continue to imagine what the most beautiful Future of Work might look like on this front. (Make it up.) And then we will do our best to turn it into reality. (Make it happen.)

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