Creative Clarity: Finding Focus in the Midst of Ambiguity

Creative Clarity: Finding Focus in the Midst of Ambiguity

I had the opportunity recently to hear Jon Kolko, Partner, Modernist Studio give a Keynote at the Back End of Innovation (BEI) conference on Creative Clarity: Finding Focus in the Midst of Ambiguity.

Jon started out by discussing the myth of creativity and how it becomes mystified in the workplace. “Nothing is further than the truth,” he adds.

Jon then offers four themes for embracing creativity in the workplace:

  1. Acknowledge feelings
  2. Tame ambiguity
  3. Let them run amok
  4. Creative vision

Many people that “everyone is naturally creative,” according to a TED talk. Jon is not sure if that is true and questions that orthodoxy.

“Things are hard to make, even if you do it automatically,” he says. Young designers see that others are making things all the time, but then they start comparing them, and then they give you on the project, maybe even give up on the industry. Or worse, they entrench and double down on the thing, argue for it. At the critique, the artist takes feedback too personally.

So the first non-secret shared is to host critiques. These sessions fuel clarity and further iterations. We call it a Critique. We have rules. The artist cannot explain him or herself.  This structure builds trust as well as a sense of craftsmanship. This is how we handle feelings.

Ambiguity is “scary at the beginning of a project,” Jon says. “The ambiguity of a creativity problem is magical and it is overwhelming,” Once you feel your way through the questions and make something, you create something that can get feedback. The secret here is just get started, make something to start the process. Produce “crap” as a first draft, and the team will provide fuel to make it better.

Then constraints come in.  One key, according to Charles Eames, is to “recognize as many creative restraints as possible.”

Through this process, you articulate, “this is the problem we are trying to solve.” You can help your team see and articulate the constraints.

Let your team run amok. This advice is important and subtle. On the continuum of constraints-iteration-creativity is a framework that relies on behaviors but abhors rules.  The creative exploration needs no rules and a freedom to experiment.

What if you took away all rules at your workplace? You, as the leader, needs to own the consequences.

Drive a Vision.

Many clients say to Jon, “I’m not Steve Jobs. I don’t have a vision.” He claims that without a Vision, creativity cannot proposer.

A Vision gives “your teams a reason to go to work,” he adds.

“Constantly use real data to reinforce why their work matters … and it needs to happen over and over and over,” he says.

“When articulating a vision, frame the strategy, not the solution.” Create narratives that support this strategic vision.  These “concrete moments” help it translate to the value that could be created. This visualization shows here an organization is going. It is sufficiently visualized.

Create frame just enough to set a trajectory. Tell the story.

Get the Change Planning Toolkit from Braden Kelley

Image Credit: Pixabay

Wait! Before you go…

Choose how you want the latest innovation content delivered to you:

Michael GraberMichael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit to learn more.

Michael Graber




Cultivating food from the air we breathe: How decades-old NASA technology is still delivering disruptive tech today

By Dan Blacharski | June 29, 2021

The “Replicator” machine seen on the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” television series was imagined as a 24th century technology…

Read More

Il Sole 24 Ore and qiibee launch the first book ever made on Blockchain & NFT

By Francesco Pagano | June 23, 2021

The first book in the world made on blockchain, the first ‘decentralized’ discussion on leadership, completely shared and co-created with…

Read More

Leave a Comment