Christian Jurinka is Chief Engagement Officer and Co-founder of Attack! Marketing, a multi-channel lifestyle agency specializing in experiential and promotional services.
As tech seeps deeper into our work and the digital and real worlds combine, a whole new demand is rising for people who can bridge the ‘in-between’ space – a place that straddles both creativity and technology, and takes two very distinct areas of expertise and melds them together.
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If I have just described you and your predicament, read on. Maybe you are tasked with managing cross-functional teams, with a creative objective grounded in digital and tech. To succeed, you have to be fluid enough to pass between both ends of the spectrum before reaching a final goal. In fact, oftentimes thriving in that space is just as much about your mindset as it is about your skill set.
When it comes down to it, even the most extreme ends of tech and creative are not that different. Both employ time-tested tools and processes, and both are chasing after the most succinct way of answering a need. Detailed below are some techniques and tools that, once armed with, will enable you to thrive in the space in between.
1. Tell the story, not the task
You might think you know the steps required to get from point A to point B, and you might even be right, but that’s not what creative (or techies for that matter) need to hear. Paint them a picture of what you want – the user experience, how the interface should feel, what problem the backend needs to solve, what intuitive behaviors the product should engender.
Over-explaining or over-instructing your perspective on how it should be done will not only limit your team’s freedom to think abstractly, it will also prevent them from taking any ownership of the project. When people are given the latitude to reach a solution by way of their own path, you’ll almost always get a better solution, get it faster, and get it from a more motivated team.
Don’t inadvertently shut off their inner inspirations by taking the creative spark out of it. Note: It is important to add guardrails to this approach such as a defined timetable/ deadline, defined team, or examples of other similar successes.
2. Be humble
You simply will not know all there is to know about both worlds, and even if you do, it will be hard at times to turn your tech brain off while you explore the creative side of a challenge. You’re only human, but being human also means exercising a degree of humility.
Ask for expert opinions and added insight, but be careful about how you do it. Creatives and techies, more than any other kind of people, have a finely tuned radar for sensing disingenuousness. It’s ok to put yourself on the line and say “Hey, I really don’t have a lot of depth in this area and I need you to explain this to me.” It’s been my experience one hundred percent of the time that appealing to a tech or creative person’s expertise and savvy is the fastest way to gaining their support (and advancing your project.)
3. Free lunch
I have found that there is no better way to get to know a team and to find commonality than lunch, especially when I am buying. There is no better use of $15-$20 than to take a colleague/ team member/ boss/ subordinate out for lunch away from the office. The time spent getting to lunch, waiting for a table, over some grub (and maybe a beer), and the time back to the office are so valuable.
Why or how is it valuable? Think motivation, frustrations, and opportunities. All of that can be gleaned from lunch. I have done this for years, and I have yet to work with someone that I could not reach a common ground with over breaking bread.
It is a chance for you to share about yourself and what you are trying to accomplish. It is a chance to provide that blue sky view of a shared project to inspire. It is a chance to understand what skeletons might be buried in the territory between the present and the goal. Best of all, it creates a pattern and an alliance for future dialog, support and feedback. Leave together hungry, return full and ready to act.
But when you are in the office, pay attention to the people who make an attempt to connect. People who nod when you’re talking in a meeting, who have side conversations with you and voluntarily ask you for your input. These people will be your champions when their teammates are in opposition. They’ll be your bridge to the people on the other side of the tech (or creative) divide.
4. Partner with champions
Those with influence, influence. There is no better person to lean on while wading through uncharted waters than a guide who knows each bend and what it has to offer. The same is true when navigating between the creative and tech groups. If who those individuals are is not clear at the onset or after the first meeting, it will be. Look to see who is driving opinion. That is who you want to partner with. The challenge is winning that person over.
Once you have that person on your side, you can partner to drive not only faster adoption, but through their voice you can be assured that the message comes across in words and meaning that is closest to their sentiment. Talking scrum to creative won’t work as well as to developers. Ideation may not resonate the same way with those tech members as with the creatives. Those champions will communicate the goals and vision in words you may not be able to muster and through them the bridge will be built.
5. Don’t be afraid to get people (including yourself) out of their comfort zones
As your work pushes you further into the ‘in-between’ you’ll quickly see, as I’ve already noted, that the underlying processes of creative and tech types are strikingly similar. They’re so similar that after the initial culture shock of combining the two worlds, these people (and even the two sides of who you are, personally) can sink into a very comfortable flow. You might think that’s synchronicity, but it’s more likely a comfort zone.
Both techies and creatives need opposing views to bounce off of. They need to be exposed to completely different methodologies and ideas in order to really think outside of the box. It’s the opposite of a comfort zone, and your job as an in-betweener is to constantly keep the zone moving. That can mean diversifying your teams even more, changing environments, employing novel exercises, reframing the question… there are a hundred different ways to shake things up and stir innovation. The trick is knowing how and when.
The key to all of this is keeping people focused on the goal, vs. the road to get there. The great design firm IDEO has the likes of structural engineers working side-by-side with journalists, software developers and surgeons to produce the next generation shopping cart. They have been on the bleeding edge of product innovation for decades.
What makes it work is valuing the opinions of all involved and recognizing that the difference between us don’t make what we are trying to accomplish easier or harder, but what is can predict is that the end result will be better. Revel in the in-between.
Image credit: Thinkstock