Structure as fuel

In many perceptions, structure is synonymous with “boundaries”, “limitations”, and “restrictions”. This is often the perception of the creative thinker. “Don’t box me in” is an often used phrase. As a product person, I feel the role of a product person within a software team is to bridge the gap between how creatives and how analytical thinkers perceive structure. I see structure as fuel.

Thinking as a creative

As someone who enjoys thinking creatively, I feel the distilled process of thinking like a creative is to explore all options (including those not directly on the table). This often involves refuting assumptions, removing perceived boundaries and seeing that which is not presented.

Creatives often perceive structure to be restrictive and limiting, disabling their thought process.

Thinking as an analyst

Analytical thinkers often explore the options presented on the table in great detail, using the information provided to construct a well-versed viewpoint. Analytical thinkers crave structure and view said structure as a means by which to construct their view point (for example, “based on the structure and information presented, my viewpoint is X”).

Analytical thinkers are often bound by their structure, with the walls being so tall they cannot see what awaits over the other side.

Structure as fuel

It seems we’ve reached an impasse. How do we offer structure, while not restricting the creative thinking, as well as exposing analytical thinkers to alternate viewpoints?

Being in between a creative and an analytical thinker, I am able to switch between these two sides and see the points of view and pitfalls of each. I am also someone who enjoys structure, while ensuring the structure doesn’t limit or restrict me. For me, the perfect balance of structure and open space is the fuel which drives me toward success.

Just enough structure to make sense

The key variable not yet discussed here is volume. How much structure causes each party to actually feel their feelings towards structure? Is there some way we can find a median by which analytical thinkers are appeased, without limiting creative potential?

As a first step towards actively exploring this topic, I’ve begun by running tests on myself (aka. a human guinea pig). My first test was to set up a time boxed calendar where I categorise each hour of my day into boxes for tasks, emails, meetings, or creative time. I’ve factored in gym time as well to ensure I have time for fitness without this impacting my other time boxes. Instantly after creating this structure, I felt amazing. I feel I have time dedicated to each aspect of my day, while also ensuring I have time to step away from my computer for a lunch break or to explore something creative.

Sticking to the time boxes

Now that I have structure, the challenge will be to stick to this structure. This means shifting a few meetings around to fit into the correct time box, ensuring I find a way to be reminded of when my time boxes are starting & ending, and ensuring I continue to feel as wonderful as I do right now. Additionally, I need to remind myself to be flexible and, if a meeting needs to happen during a tasks box, I can switch those boxes around for that one day. If I run over time on a particular box, I mustn’t be too hard on myself and ensure I’m sticking to at least a rough version of the time boxes I’ve created.

This is the combination of creative and analytical thinking at play here (“put structure in place and, if you don’t stick to it exactly, that’s alright as well”).

How do you balance the amount of structure you impose on yourself and your team? Do you even have structure in place? I’d love to hear more.

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