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Creative Ops

Creativity vs control: Can they co-exist? (We think so!)

July 29, 2021 · 6 min read

Let us guess: You started your business to maximize productivity and efficiency for your customers or clients. Many businesses do the same.

However, when you’re “in the business” of creativity—like agencies, designers, or in-house creative teams are—you may experience a clash between creativity vs. control.

Creativity can set a brand apart from its competitors, but if it’s not harnessed correctly (as we’ll discuss below), you may waste it on designs or branding that don’t resonate with your audience. 

Yet if there’s too much control over the creative process, you may stifle your team’s imagination and miss out on attracting new customers and sales. 

Neither of these outcomes serves your creative team, your business, or your customers. The key to leading a successful creative team and building a thoughtful creative process is finding the balance between creativity vs. control. 

Creativity vs. control: Yes, they can co-exist

Whether you design new concepts or create fresh takes on old designs (like a rebrand), creativity is a significant competitive advantage. 

Creativity helps you and your company stand out to potential customers and take advantage of new market opportunities and channels. For these reasons, managers should foster creativity across their organization.

However, the creative process can be unruly and unpredictable when there’s no oversight or management. To “optimize” your team’s creativity, ensure everyone is on the same page about your design goal(s) and how your creative juices can impact your bottom line for the better. 

This is where control comes in. Thoughtful management of the creative process allows team leaders to harness their team’s creativity to shape the outcome of a project and achieve consistent results.

For instance, clear parameters for a design project (which can be communicated via a project proposal) can be the difference between a successful, impact brand and an arbitrary idea that doesn’t interest your audience.


While creativity and control are essential to your organization's success, they’re often seen as two conflicting priorities. 

Rest assured that it doesn't have to be “creativity vs. control” but rather creativity AND control. Let’s discuss how.

How to successfully manage a creative team

To find the right balance between creativity and control, create a work environment that allows your team to explore, ideate, and innovate—in ways that support your team’s metrics and business’s bottom line. 

For example, is your social media marketing team goaled on the size of your audience? Keep this in mind when getting creative with new channels, like TikTok or Reddit. If research shows that your audience isn’t on TikTok, don’t explore it—as fun as it would be.

Also, put a structure in place that ensures consistency and delivers results without restricting creativity.

Here are a few ways you can create a work environment that supports both productivity and the creative process:

1. Set clear goals and expectations.

Free flowing creativity may lead to some interesting ideas, but it offers no way of ensuring the final outcome supports your business. 

Provide clear goals and expectations for your team so they can better understand the expected result while also giving them a starting point for ideation.

These goals and expectations don’t have to be so specific that they stifle any creativity. However, they should be detailed enough for your team to understand what they’re working toward and what the outcome should achieve.

2. Establish boundaries.

Ensure any boundaries are communicated early so your team can keep this in mind through the ideation and creation process.

For instance, perhaps your team needs to follow a client’s brand guidelines. Maybe you need your remote creative team to be available during certain hours of the workday for meetings. 

Establish these boundaries early on so that your team can succeed within them.

3. Encourage collaboration.

Depending on their background and personality type, some creatives may be used to working autonomously and relying on their ideas to complete projects. 

However true this is, most creative projects don’t succeed in a vacuum.

Encourage collaboration between team members to introduce new perspectives. Pair up two creatives who don't often work together or bring in someone from another department to share their perspective—or your customer’s perspective. 

Most importantly, give your team the tools they need to collaborate seamlessly. For instance, at Air, we’ve made it easy for creatives to collaborate on design projects by giving them one central place to collect, review, and approve content. Your team members will be more likely to collaborate if it’s not cumbersome.

4. Avoid micromanagement.

Nothing stops creativity in its tracks like someone looking over your shoulder. Providing team structure, boundaries, and leadership help ensure the success of your creative team, but these things don’t require you to micromanage them.

Instead, communicate that you’re available if anyone needs to brainstorm or receive thoughtful feedback. When you trust your team to do their work, you empower them to think critically and creatively.

5. Recognize accomplishments.

In her article, "How to Kill Creativity," Teresa M. Amabile discusses her research on innovation and creativity. She found that extrinsic motivation (or outside motivation) like money can certainly motivate creatives. However, intrinsic motivation (or internal motivation) like interest, passion, and challenge is what drives them to create.

Giving praise for an individual team member's (or your whole team's) work taps into that intrinsic motivation. Recognition reminds people that their work matters, to themselves, their team, and the business. 

This may be just what they need to sustain their passion over time, especially when they run into issues or challenges along the way.

Creating a work environment that fosters creativity

The bottom line: Offer a work environment that gives people what they need to succeed creatively. One study on creative work environments found that people who worked in intellectually challenging environments that offer sufficient resources and encourage innovative thinking were more likely to be successful when working on creative activities or projects that require creative problem-solving.

A big part of providing your team with intellectually challenging work is understanding each team member's passions and skills so you can match them to projects that fit them best. Ask your creative team to share this information with you.

You'll also need to make sure that your team has everything they need to succeed in terms of resources. That could include everything from software and education to additional team members and supplies. To find that balance between creativity vs. control, make sure that your systems and tools are built for creatives and designed for efficiency and productivity.

For example, Air's visual workspace is built for creatives who want to organize their content in a way that reflects their brand. It also offers features that allow users to organize, plan, and present design work in a way that promotes consistency. For example, you can track changes and updates so that no one is using outdated files. This is a way to have control over design assets without stifling creativity.

Ultimately, creativity and control are not mutually exclusive. Controlled creativity often leads to more successful results. The key to finding the right balance in your organization is creating a work environment and culture that promotes and rewards creative and innovative thinking while also communicating boundaries and expectations to achieve shared goals. 

Finding that balance can be tough, but once you do, you'll reap the benefits of both creativity and productivity.

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