Play it safe or innovate?

The problem with the creative process that I’m seeing really has nothing to do with the creative process itself. At the nonprofit where I work, I’ve been a part of teams that come up with really great stuff – from clever contests to innovative campaigns that would definitely generate buzz. We all leave those meetings sorta buzzed ourselves about the ideas and their potential.

But then comes the approval process. Up the chain of command, sideways to another department and various other people throwing in their opinions even though they shouldn’t be involved in the process at all. By the time everything comes back to the people who had the ideas in the first place, the work is barely recognizable. It gets watered down. It gets turned into something safe and bland (i.e. bureaucra-tized). Or it gets shut down altogether. Well, that doesn’t happen all the time. I’d say a good 2% of the time, a phenomenal idea gets through and shines in its true, original glory.

And I think the issue boils down to one thing: some people want to play it safe and only do what they’ve done before while some of us want to innovate and push the envelope. And there’s the perennial dilemma: the play-it-safers want the creative people to come up with something new, edgy, innovative – but not really. Because new, edgy and innovative are rarely safe.

These conflicting perspectives are interesting to me because, though I’m definitely a creative type, I think I’m also a bit more analytical and formal in some ways than some other creative folks I know. So even though I can see both sides, I still would always rather take a risk than play it safe.


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