Creativity can be routinized.
If you don't believe that, see the coffee-induced brainstorming process Jony Ive, Steve Jobs and the Apple design team have used over the past 20 years; giving birth to the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad.
An Italian designer on Jony Ive's design team perfected Apple's espresso ritual that bolsters their twice-weekly, 2 hour design meetings in their secure design studio in Apple's Cupertino Campus.
"We can work with a level of collaboration that seems particularly rare" Ive said. "In fact, the memory of how we work will endure beyond the products of our work."
If the Apple team is able to build a brainstorming "process" so meticulously that their espresso machine must drip for precisely 28 seconds or else the whole thing is for naut, then you can sure-as-hell build a process to perpetuate success around whatever you are doing.
Anything that leads to success should have a process built behind it to perpetuate further success. If it's working, build a system for it. Improve upon that system -- but first define what your success was and how it was reached.
This is not a "how to be successful" process -- that will come to everyone uniquely.
This is the process of taking success and turning it into a perpetuated pattern.
Define your success -- perpetuate it using systems.
The steps to define your success are the most important. In this process you are finding the patterns of your success, what worked and what didn't.
My example in these steps will pertain to blogging specifically, but could be applied to any situation -- business, personal or what-have-you.
- Define what made you successful -- a voice (what you said), a perspective (how you said it).
- Define why it made you successful -- an audience (who you said it to), a medium (where you said it).
- Analyze your content to notice patterns -- be meticulous, was your copy long-form? Was it short? Was it to the point? Was it entertaining? Was it clever? What made it tick?
- Lay down core principles (establish your voice) -- style guidelines that you gathered from analyzing your content, create guidelines from what made your work successful. This will help establish your "voice" as a writer. Consistency will increase your following, create exposure and solidify a "brand" as it pertains to your content.
- Define your future audience -- from defining what work made you successful you can establish who the audience was that you most deeply reached, and through that you can define what audience you will future go after. Perhaps you already have an idea of who you should go after if you have a business targeting a set group of people. Establishing "personas" will amplify any potential future success. Without a "core 1000" or a solidified target for your content, you will never reach anyone. It acts in waves that build to a snowball effect; when you target a certain group of people, a certain amount of people will react. When you have a solidified audience, you build upon that with more like-content, and they perpetuate your audience by sharing it (as it deeply connects with them). You will then reach a broader audience and can venture out into broader topics. You should always focus first on a very defined audience though.
- Define future success -- how will you gauge success? Through social following? Through revenue? Through referrals? Through email-signups? This is crucial. If there is no measure of success there is nothing to work towards, thereby any "success" that you reach will be by utter chance. Defining a measure of success, while arbitrary, is pivotal to reaching success.
- Plan goals based on your definition of future success -- "I will write 4 posts a month targeted at freelancers with long-form copy that is informative, simplistic and insightful -- with quotes from respected industry leaders to give examples. I hope to increase my following by 200 twitter followers in 2 months." By reaching freelancers I will create more connections with people in my industry and help people improve at what I'm very passionate about. Be simple, yet descriptive with your goals. Make them count, don't make them ridiculous but don't make them vanilla either. It needs to be something seemingly out of reach but not beyond the scope of reason.
The TL;DR of this list is as follows:
- Understand your current success
- Understand what made you successful
- Notice patterns in what made you successful
- Create principles based on those patterns
- Define your audience
- Define your future success
- Create goals and act towards your definition of future success
This is how you scale. This is how you perpetuate your success by creating systems.
Again, this is not "how to be successful" this is the process of taking success and turning it into a pattern.
You (or your business) were a success for a reason, you don't want to lose sight of that reason, you want to perpetuate it -- to grow it, to define it, to take the guise off of it and let the world view it. This is lean-branding through your past success.
It's building a off of your past-won battles and perpetuating it so that you will dominate every battle you face in the future. The one who loses in the end will be the one who didn't define what made them successful to begin with.
For a real-world example, who better to guinea-pig than Apple?
Apple was initially successful because they made computers simple for the end user, while simultaneously giving a level of quality that was not present in their industry.
- Understand what made you successful -- bringing something different to the market than anyone had ever seen before (could apply to almost any of the product lines they established)
- Notice patterns in what made you successful -- simple computing for the end user, high level of quality and attention to detail.
- Create principles based on those patterns -- "Think Different", Simple, Design-heavy, Powerful ability, High-end status token
- Define your audience -- at first it was people who wanted a simple computer, something they could use without having to think about, once they started to dominate markets it turned into everyone who wanted a status symbol object, like a designer-purse for the product lovers in their vertical.
- Define your future success -- innovating new categories, revolutionizing user interface through clean design, didn't care about "market share" and focused more on revenue (though yes, they report on market share anytime they can because that just adds insult to injury to their competition, as they care about margins more than market share).
- Create goals and act towards your definition of future success -- continued to revolutionize verticals such as MP3 after personal computing, phones after MP3 players, tablets after phones -- next will be watches? Who knows.
The real point of this story though is that they actually struggled for a long time in-between their meteoric rise and current domination. Obviously everyone knows the dark past in Apple's closet (not so in-the-closet).
Once Steve was taken out of the picture Apple lost sight of what made them successful, what their core principles were, who their audience was and what their true measure of success was. When Steve returned it all came back together. Obviously there is more to say about that history, but the honest truth is it doesn't take much more than that.
Apple lost its definition, it lost its process of success. Steve had internalized it, it was him. This is also why it is so important to define this process for your business so that everyone understands what they're working toward and what they're working against.
This is at the base of "company culture" which has been a poster-child for modern business for years. This is the structure of building a successful business that can act like a dynasty, building and perpetuating off of its success for years to come.
So, do you want to scale? You need systems -- a process.
Define what made you successful, define the core-principles of your business, visualize future success using your core principles and create action-steps to get there.
If creativity can be routinized, your success can be too.