I don’t like to say “no.” I think it’s partly because I tend to gravitate toward possibility rather than pragmatics. But that tendency to always look for new solutions has at times significantly hamstrung my creative process and has, in the past, seriously affected my ability to creatively lead teams.
One of the most important disciplines that any of us can learn, especially if we create for a living, is to close doors. (This is a phrase my friend Ben uses to describe the decision-making process in creative work.) “What if?” is a fantastic question to ask early in the process, and can even help clarify our work as we progress through a project, but as we enter the middle and later stages of our work we must be disciplined enough to close doors on decisions that have already been made.
The unfortunate result of not closing doors is that we can (1) be in perpetual brainstorm mode and unable to complete great work, (2) be constantly second-guessing past decisions and trying to correct perceived (or feared) mistakes or (3) be confusing in our articulation of creative strategy to our team or co-workers.
It’s simple to close doors, but requires resolve. We have to be willing to say “no” to ideas that could potentially improve the work but could also do a lot of damage or be unfeasible. We also have to check our ego at the door, because a lot of these later-stage ideas offer us the chance to swoop in and appear heroic in crunch time. But it’s not worth the fire drill mindset that becomes engrained when we are constantly shifting strategy, especially within a creative team setting.
Closing doors is critical in client work. It’s important to guide the client through the decisions that need to be made, then to let them know that we’re navigating forward and that old doors are no longer available unless the scope of the project changes. To do anything less is to create an unpredictable environment for your team and to provide less than the best for your clients.
We need to honor the process and recognize that perpetual brainstorming mode on a specific project is not only ineffective, but can be significantly damaging to the climate on our teams. We need to get comfortable with making decisions and closing doors. At least, I know I do. It’s a work in progress.