The process of creating something can follow a very difficult and winding path. Many people have fantastic ideas, but lack the follow through to see the project to completion. Many times, this is because there is a lack of understanding on how to go about the creative process. We unconsciously think the project will take care of itself and all we need to do is have the idea. We don’t realize the amount of work and TLC that makes a creative project what it is. Over the next few posts we’ll dive into a creative project, from beginning to end, finding out ways to approach the different steps in the adventure!
What is a Creative Project?
Creative, as defined by many dictionaries, involves implementing imagination and/or original pieces of work for an end. Usually it is defined as an artistic endeavor, but you may be surprised that many business related problems can also be solved in creative ways.
The problem you’re attempting to solve may not be as apparent to others as it is to you. If you want to make a game, the problem you are solving may be boredom, or a lack of intriguing entertainment. If you want to write a novel, perhaps the problem is that you find there aren’t stories out there that you want to read (and other people feel the same way).
If you’re anything like me, you have some great ideas for creative projects. Perhaps you have an innovative idea for a web application that could help many people, or you have a great game idea, or maybe you just want to write a novel.
In short, if you want to make something innovative or better, then your project is a creative one.
You need a team
There are a lot of things you can do on your own, but many believe that a creative project of any capacity is not one of them. To truly be creative, you need to be questioned or have the capacity to ask questions. To really make something that’s innovative you need other people. These people should be there to help you realize your project in several ways. These people need to be part of your team.
What is a team, really? A team can be two or more people who share a single purpose or goal. Team members may have a different perspective on what that goal is or even how to get there, but the essence of the goal remains the same. It’s these different perspectives your team members bring to the table that give them value. Secondly, your team is meant to be a group of people that are not afraid to raise questions about what is happening on the project.
Build your team
Picking members of a team should be deliberate. You certainly don’t want people involved that don’t share your vision. If you are the only person on the project team, then you don’t have a problem with this, but when you pick out who is going to join your creative project you need to get a feel for their intentions and whether they are going to be a good fit. Be sure to explain your goal and an overall direction of your project to better grasp if they feel the same way you do. After all, a creative project must come from a passion.
Defining team roles
In addition to simply finding people who are invested in your goal, you need to determine what kind of role you want them to play. If you want to go about your creative project on your own, understand that you must take on all the roles needed; you must be the manager, facilitator, quality assurance, illustrator, and writer all in one. You may not need all these roles, but you may need more than that depending on the scope of your project. Figure out who on the team is best suited to take on each role. You may even have someone who is dedicated to keeping the team on task and does nothing else, after all, if you’re not on task, you’re not getting anything done and your dream will quickly fade away.
The fact that you want to create something means you believe you already have a goal in mind. You want to solve a problem that you or others have. But there’s an issue: most initial goals are flawed. Yes, you certainly have an idea of what you want to accomplish, but may not have thought of how to get there. This is where your carefully picked team comes into play for the first time. Your team should be questioning your initial goal to find out if it’s really what you want. We will cover into this topic later, but having a conversation around your goal will help the vetting process and single out what the absolute goal is.
Many creative professionals understand something that others may not and that is your goal is going to change. You may not think it is, but as you and your team are developing the means to an end, you will find that your initial goal is impossible or at the very least unreachable with your current assets. You’re going to have to change the goal ever so slightly over the course of the project. Problems will arise that you did not think of or you may have altered your perception of the problem and therefore must alter your end result.
But that’s okay! That is part of brainstorming and it happens in nearly every creative (and even not-creative) projects.
Let’s say you want to build a web application. You probably already have an idea of what demographic your online solution targets, or maybe what you want is a place online to sell a product. These are very common scenarios, so exactly what is the goal of this project? Is it to simply sell a product or was there something about a web application that will make your product be more enticing? Most people might say that all web applications need a purpose and that purpose is your goal. While that’s true, think about what you wanted to accomplish when you had this creative idea in the first place. Break the original idea down into parts that don’t depend on each other.
Getting your goals on the table
To be clear, when you are trying to refine your goal, you need to try and stay away from how you are going to get there. The first couple of times that you enter the goal refining phase of your creative projects, preventing yourself and your team from entering the ‘challenge space’ can be…challenging. Refining your goal should be a conversation amongst everyone. If you find that one person is not contributing, but only agreeing or disagreeing with other suggestions, find out why they doing that and perhaps you will spawn a new line of thinking. The thing to remember while conversing about the goal of the project is to stop any line of thought that contains phrases like “what happens if…”, and any other phrase that could be linked to a process or scenario.
Fuzzy goals are one approach to refining your goal. Think about our web application project. The initial goal may have been to sell your product online. That is a fuzzy goal because it defines an end result (for customers to spend money on something you created) but remains vague enough to allow many ways to reach it.
It may turn out that your goal remains fuzzy for the duration of the project. Depending on the type of creative project, that could be just what you want. If you’re making a board game, you may say, “the person with the most points wins!”.
Process oriented goals are just as helpful as fuzzy goals. In your online store, you may want a very specific user experience and in that case your ‘challenge space’ is meant to find the path that leads them to purchase a product or that your goal is to create a very simple web application that leads users to buy something without deviation. If you have a game that needs ‘the most points to win’, perhaps you find that your ‘challenge space’ would be better served if you knew what the points represented; like, “the person with the most resources at the end wins”, where you might define ‘resources’ as money, personnel, land, or even documents. How the player gathers those resources is what the ‘challenge space’ is for.
Let’s say I have a awesome idea of producing the number 5. If I wanted a fuzzy goal I would leave it just as it is, because it’s specific but it remains yet to be seen how to reach it. If I want a process oriented goal I might say, “I want the user to add the numbers 2 and 3 to make the number 5.” You can see how process goals appear to describe 2 goals instead of just one, where one goal is partially how you got to the other. However, we haven’t quite entered the ‘challenge space’ just yet because we haven’t defined how the user gets the numbers 2 and 3. Maybe they got the number 3 first, or maybe they had to add 1 and 2 to get the 3. These are topics that the goal does not care about. In the process oriented goal type you a specific set of things to happen to reach a result. The actual goal is to add 2 and 3 together, not to produce the number 5.
It’s possible that a project does indeed have more than one goal. That’s just fine too, especially if you are creating a game that may have more than one way to win. Just be clear that you are not defining how to approach the goal.
Part 1 Wrap Up
Beginning a creative project is an awesome feat, but can also be defeating if you don’t prepare properly. Gathering team members, defining what role each person plays, and defining your real goal are probably the most important parts of the project. Remember that it’s okay to change up your goal and not be afraid to do so when it makes sense.
I’ve used the term ‘challenge space’ several times in this chapter, so in the next we’ll talk about developing the core of the project and the many ways you can go about it. This is the ‘challenge space’. It’s the area/time of the project where you define how a user, whether that be a reader of your novel or player of the game, reaches the goal you have set.