Approaches to Creative Outsourcing

Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable and many other business books, had an interesting post recently about two different ways to outsource creative projects.  The two forms are “blank slate” vs. “inside the box” (although Seth calls them “clean sheet” and “strategic mission”).  The “blank slate” refers to a very basic set of instructions to the creative talent and relying on them to come up with something that you like while the “inside the box” refers to a clearly defined set of parameters for the project.

The strategic mission takes more preparation, more discipline and more difficult meetings internally. It involves thinking hard without knowing it when you see it. It’s also the act of a mature individual, earning his salary.

The clean sheet of paper is amazing when it works, but involves so much waste, anxiety and pain that I have a hard time recommending it to most people. If you’re going to do this, you have an obligation to use what you get, because your choice was hiring this person, not in judging the work you got when you didn’t have the insight to give them clear direction in the first place.

What if you could combine the two approaches?
Every project, at some point, is a “blank sheet” and the question is simply when you decide to bring a creative talent into the process.  The sooner you involve the talent, the greater chance you will get an outstanding result.

Why would you get better results?
Because people who wear the label of “creative talent” (whatever that means in your situation) have tools or ways of thinking that they bring to the table which are often outside the realm of “typical business”.  They are also a pair of objective eyes who can see your problem in a new light and question some of the basic assumptions that may be causing the problem or, at least, holding you back from achieving an outstanding result.

It’s not about the box.
While Seth Godin’s blog post kicked off the discussion, his short post didn’t really capture the full spectrum of possible working scenarios available when outsourcing creative project work.  Most creative types actually work well when they are given “a box” to work within and the best actually rise to the challenge of finding a creative solution that fits.  On the other side, if creativity is applied to the creation of the box the results can be, in the words of Seth Godin, “amazing”.

What’s worked for you?

D.Mark Wheeler
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