We have trouble working together. Within our own groups we share a common language. Marketers, programmers, and designers, contain a dialog among themselves. They distinguish problems differently from one another, but all create with an eye towards a business solution. We sometimes fall short as a team when we try and share ideas across departments. Unfortunately, these three groups together can form a Bermuda triangle where good ideas vanish into thin air. The push and pull can be a real turf war, but each group offers more than just a narrow scope of responsibilities.
The designer is a visual problem solver. Programmers are engineers. Account service and sales focus on clients. But, we all focus on business. We have to keep our ears open to really listen to what other groups are saying to understand the different angles. I am not talking about the details of how we work, but ideas about what we doing and why. They are not the territory of any one group nor should they be.
Ideas have a life of their own. Ownership of an idea is like the relationship parents have with their children. You first conceive the idea. Next, you give it some time to let it grow and develop. You are the sole owner at this point, because you haven’t shared the idea with anyone. The day comes though when you have to let an idea stand on its own. You give it over to other people who push and pull it in different directions. They will form and influence the idea just as you have. As the originator you can be proud, but the idea doesn’t belong to just you anymore. Remember, the moment you speak about an idea is the moment you no longer own it.
I am strong believer in teamwork. A team is strongest when everyone plays their positions, but focuses on assisting each other. It can be a very positive and rewarding experience. My college design teacher liked to use the word synergy. Synergy happens when a group of people feed off each other’s input to create something that is better than any one person could have made. Conversations with true synergy are a thing of beauty. It’s how we jump from good to great. But, it’s not without its difficulties.
Opening yourself up to a creative dialog can be a bit like walking into a punch. It can really sting when people start jabbing at your work. But, if you leave your ego at the door, you can get through it. I’ve always tried to emotionally distance myself just a bit when I get into these situations. No one is attacking me, not usually anyway. I have had many successes in my career and I am not looking for validation, I am looking to improve my work. I accept what people say, valid or not. I try to listen to what they are getting at, even if they’re not communicating it very well. Some people mean well and say bad things. Other people just say bad things.
I spoke to manager once who told me that you want some level of competition between employees. I suppose that makes sense if the competition is healthy. The reality of it can be a cold smack in the face. I have seen just about every bad intention pursued.
There are the defenders of the status quo. Usually, their background has no training in creativity or problem solving. The head of the pack throws out a thought and everyone nods their heads in agreement. It’s silly. No creative dialog, just egos and assholes looking to be top dog. For them it’s not about leadership, it about control.
Sometimes you have ideas pissed on because someone just wants to mark their territory. They didn’t add anything relevant, didn’t make the work better, and in most cases watered it down with a full bladder to claim some level of ownership. And that’s what they do when they like the work.
If you are in a position where you can offer feedback, be careful. I was in a situation once where a business team put together a baffling presentation that accompanied a Web design I created. So I offered constructive criticism. In response, I received a demeaning e-mail letting me know I didn’t understand the first thing about presentations and they called out my design as “graphics” for their proposal. Having worked on dozens of proposals, I can say the response wasn’t valid. Criticism is not a personal attack, but when you are dealing with people who don’t understand creative dialog, they will fire back like angry children.
If we have an opinion that isn’t demeaning to other people and is purely intended to improve the work, we should take the time to articulate our thoughts and assert them. It does take some level of personal honestly. Are you criticizing the work because you don’t like the person who is came up with the idea? Do you not like how much attention other people are getting? I could go on and on about the wrong reasons to criticize. Personal egos can infuse dialogs with spiteful pettiness. Maybe, you are dealing with people who just don’t understand. Management should step in and help educate them. And if management doesn’t get it either, you’ve got quite a bit of work cut out for you.
We are in a people business. What happens if you don’t make an effort to respectfully listen? People won’t like you. And when we start to make enemies of our coworkers, it’s the work that suffers. They have their jobs, I have mine. I always ask people what they think, but I never tell them what to do. I expect nothing less in return. We are educated professionals who have to trust one another. A creative dialog isn’t about forcing another person’s hand or dragging them down. It’s about opening yourself up to better possibilities, better work, and honest relationships.