Q&A: Is Scrum Good for Creativity?

by phil on Monday Apr 16, 2012 4:36 PM

I recently gave a talk at Hallmark, Inc. about trends, and I casually mentioned how scrum was slowly taking over other industries after it's success in the video game industry. One of the attendees emailed me recently asking if scrum was good for creativity, citing this segment from wikipedia:

In 1986, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka described a new tactic that would increase speed and flexibility at the cost of design and quality, based on case studies from manufacturing firms in the automotive, photocopier, restaurants food and printer manufacturers. They called this the holistic or rugby approach.

I think comparing scrum to creativity might be an apples and oranges comparison. When scrum was used at Aspyr, the game designers didn't use it as their actual creativity tool. Scrum was just the means of creating a regular occasion for the game designers to report their progress on making various creative outputs i.e. "chapter stories", "character designs", etc. In some ways, I liked scrum's impact on creativity because almost nothing got wasted. There were no lost months of head-in-the-clouds brainstorming about things we couldn't have implemented anyway in our time frame. It was like this: Monday, we need a story arc for this character that takes ten minutes for the user to complete; Friday, here it is.

In my talk, I mentioned how concepts like flow and scrum were being seized by corporations as a way to make work more efficient. I then urged everyone to seize these ideas for their own lives to achieve their own aspirations. That was the gist of how I became an indie application developer.

The attendee then asked whether these efficiency-bringing tactics have impeded or aided my own creative process. I've used flow to break down the chapters of Dear Charlotte into a todo-list/progress-bar. I use little symbols to mark when each chapter has progressed through a certain level of re-writing. I then keep a regular semi-daily time slot where I make pretty much the same progress every day on my book. It's this rhythm-finding and progress-bar visualization that adds a layer of daily satisfaction to my creative process. Because of this, flow has made more efficient, period. I write more frequently, but at the micro-level, in the actual minute-by-minute of coming up with ideas for what I'm going to say, I have no quota or anything like that. However, because I have the routine, I can see that on some days I was slower to re-write, other days faster, and I learn something about myself while reflecting.

I should also clarify a potential misconception about creativity. It's a misconception I've held for maybe twenty years. It's that freedom and creativity are best friends. I've been the most creative when I've had the most freedom. And I love this principle from improv: "Say 'yes, and' to everything." But this article by Jonah Lehrer, makes me think twice about whether freedom and creativity must be absolutely linked. After all, there is also the brand of creativity that comes from limitations.

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