If I knew then what I know now ... I'd control the chaos

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Credit: istock

If I knew then what I know now is an occasional column by small agency leaders and executives about what they learned about starting an agency.

When my business partner David and I started our agency, we wanted to throw everything traditional or complacency-inducing up in the air. We wanted to spark a new paradigm for what a creative space could be. We didn't just want to improve the norm; we wanted to put the norm in a blender.

I was hyper-conscious of anything that might make us seem corporate, stifle us, or cage our creativity. Structure became a threat. It didn't feel like immaturity to do without; it felt like a celebration of creative improvisation and wanting very hard not to limit ourselves.

But that was the irony. What at first seemed perfectly progressive wasn't just limiting us; it was ultimately setting us back. If you aren't putting some structures in place for the group that you've rallied to evolve with you, you're doing them a disservice. Ultimately, they need a figurative skeleton to keep growing and learning—the same way new hires deserve a streamlined onboarding and clients deserve appropriate systems in place as you begin your work together.

Madwell's Chris Sojka
Madwell's Chris Sojka

Smart scale is about giving people just the right amount of structure. A simple architecture allows us to steer and aid the work and people's career journeys and development without bureaucracy. Process and systems aren't the enemy of creativity. When employed correctly, they're its best friend.

What I've learned in our humble eight years is that great work is about striking the right balance between excitement and predictability. Unanticipated adventures and surprises can be delightful, but so too can be cuddling up on the couch and watching your favorite show at the time it's supposed to be on.

If I could do it over, I'd make sure our ingredient mix was one part outsider ingenuity, one part insider experience and expertise. These are counterbalancing forces that, quite literally, force you to make a better wheel instead of reinventing it.

Let's not forget the lessons Elon Musk has taught us in sharing his challenges with the Model 3. He tried to build a game-changing electric car by eschewing the traditional models and experience Detroit had to offer, letting his designers and creative thinkers drive the process. Pun intended. In the end, that reinvention was expensive and wasteful.

Whether you're trying to revolutionize transportation or just make an amazing pitch, the impact of uncontrolled chaos on people's lives is always costly, from interns to founders. I know the impulses he followed all too well. Luckily, we're accepting the need to be traditionally nontraditional before we have to build a tent in our parking lot to achieve our goals.

And I don't use Twitter for a reason.

Chris Sojka is co-founder and chief creative officer at Madwell

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