Divide & Conquer?

How do creative teams function best? The conventional wisdom is to delegate tasks, and let the result come together after each person has done their part. Tasks are assigned based on expertise. Sally, for example, is a graphic designer, so her job doesn’t stray far from that field. More specifically, her specialty is logo design, so that is the job she is being tasked with. That makes sense. Assign people roles based on what they’re comfortable with or what they are capable of. “Play to their strengths.” This is excellent advice because it is difficult to refute. We certainly wouldn’t assign Sally a video production task. However, great work is never produced by someone that is comfortable with their role.

If the goal of a team project is to produce avant-garde work, I want to be assigned the difficult, the challenging and the intensive. I don’t want something that ‘plays to my strengths,’ I want something that pushes me to the limit of what I am capable of. In other words, I don’t want to be comfortable with my assignment. Otherwise, what is the point?

Too often, however, this line of thinking is translated as producing more content, assigning more tasks or asking for the truly impossible. I’m not advocating that Sally, to use the example above, should do ten logos instead of one simply because it is more challenging and pushes her to the brink of a nervous breakdown. That is counterproductive. What I am suggesting is that her work, whatever it is, push her to her creative limit. Perhaps, even push her beyond her creative capability.

I don’t like the idea of team members feeling confident with the tasks they are assigned. I want them to feel confident that they can deliver no matter what tasks are assigned. Those are very different conceptual lines of thought. The former places confidence in the group, while the latter places confidence in each member of the group. Creative people want challenging creative tasks. Tasks that push their creative boundaries. Feeling completely confident in one’s assignment yields either mediocre or average results. Feeling confident about one’s self, knowing that one can complete a difficult task, no matter what it is, yields creative results.