The Creator vs Editor Dilemma
This stems from an interesting situation that arose at work.
Imagine an organisation where there are a ton of ideas generated. Everyone (design, engineering and product) is able to imagine and put them in motion, generally being good executors. Even leadership is contributing to ideas. But when they zoom out and look at the bigger picture, you notice not a lot of needle-moving stuff has shipped. Why you ask. It’s because no one was editing the ideas. Even the leadership had blinders on in the chase to execute fast.
This can be dangerous.
Let me talk about this specifically for design. There’s a clear line between creating and editing. A designer’s role is to create (explore and recommend designs) and a leader’s role is to help edit (review designs).
Depending on the team size, a design leader can be close or far from the act of creation. If it’s a small team you may see the leader being more involved and often hands on.
The co-creation trap
Co-creating with the team can be a risky trap for leaders. Knowing when to detach isn’t always intuitive. If the leader were a designer before (most often the case), it’s natural for them to slide into the files and get working. Being deeply involved in creation can block your critical thinking and impede the quality of your editing.
This is what I recommend:
- Step 1: Seed ideas & a direction (attach)
- Step 2: Let the team create (detach)
- Step 3: Edit critically with strong fundamentals (attach)
Distancing from creation
It is important that a leader distances themselves from the creation process once directional alignment is achieved. This makes plenty of space for designers to explore and bring lots of ideas out.
Once the ideas are out, the leader edits them. Their distance brings the requisite objectivity and detachment to edit well. They help the team maintain a high & consistent quality bar.
Creating and editing are separate roles because it’s very hard create and edit at the same time.
If you edit consistently well as a leader, you earn the trust of your leadership and become the functional owner where the buck stops. If you don’t do it well, the person above you will need to do edit your work. That usually isn’t a good look and will hinder your path to functional ownership.
Leaders focus on editing. They don’t let the creator in them get in the way of that.
The bigger picture
Compelling and long-lasting products are built by nurturing a healthy balance of creators and editors in the organisation. If everyone is heads down busy in creating, it gives an illusion of progress but no one’s is editing. And since no one’s is editing, the product may veer into a decline without anyone realising it until it’s too late.