As the leader of a design team, I’ve had many moments thinking to myself – what exactly is my role? Throughout my experience, I’ve come across many different answers to that question. We are task managers, syncing between company needs and employee skills; we are strategists, directing the team and company according to market changes; we are professionals, teaching and sharing our knowledge; we are listeners, taking in information and giving honest feedback to our team members; we are culture definers, solution negotiators and much more. There is a ridiculous amount of responsibility that falls under the title of a leader. A responsibility is a gentle balance between pushing the company forward, while also making sure your employees are fulfilling their own potential.

As a leader for a team of designers, this task becomes even more challenging. Because you have one more very important task on that list – to make sure your team has enough means and opportunities to bring their creativity to full effect.

“I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.”

― Michel Foucault

Less is More – The Art of Nothing
Keeping the flame of creativity alive is a goal for all team leaders. And there are many roads a leader can take to get there, each one choosing the road that fits him or her best. Some use workshops, listening to inspiring presentations and talks. Others use mutual brainstorm sessions, researching and developing ideas together. And of course one of the most common methods is just distributing the tasks that need to be done – great ideas can come from simply starting a new project.

We always try to improve ourselves, our teams and the company by DOING – by keeping busy all the time. But we might be missing a crucial point. A lot of team leaders, including myself at the beginning of my career, neglect one important thing we should provide our designers. And that thing is – NOTHING. A quiet place. Peace of mind. Minutes, hours and maybe even days of boredom. Nothingness.

I’m not the first nor the last to talk about the importance of doing nothing. Some call it “boredom time”, others say it’s time using values from the meditation world, learning to deal with silence and the “blank canvas syndrome”. This very basic concept is similar to all: practice doing nothing in order to feel comfortable with emptiness and void. Learning to live in peace with “empty” time allows for more significant thoughts to arise, allows us to deal and process events in our life and more importantly – to be creative.

When I first tried this method with my team I did it intuitively, so I made a few beginner mistakes. I didn’t communicate my intentions properly, which resulted in confusion and frustration. All that free time made both me and the designers feel stressed. Suddenly, problems that didn’t exist before were coming up, as if to fill the void with something; anything. I mention this because you should know that doing nothing is actually harder than giving tasks. There are no immediate results, no apparent goal ahead. But I promise it’s worth holding on to because a significant, different type of creativity can be found.

Clean that Desk!
If you want to try this “nothingness” approach, I suggest you try thinking of yourself as “the desk cleaner”. You have to make sure these empty slots exist for every member of the team. If they don’t exist naturally – it’s your job create them. What I mean is – clean the desk, wipe the slate clean, create intentional space for nothingness. Then take the time to talk with your team about what it means to have that time and space for themselves. Ask them to sit in a quiet place or outside where there is no interruption. Guide them to look for a deeper intention, curiosity, idea – anything they have the urge to explore. This may sound a bit abstract, I know, but that’s only because this nothingness can truly lead to anything and should have the opportunity to do so.

“To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s.”

― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Happy Employees = A Better Company
And what about the company, you might ask? Well rest assured – it’s these great creative ideas that make a company by far more successful than any other. Success comes from great teamwork, but also by giving employees the time and space to pursue their own individual creativity. Both loyalty to the company and loyalty to self are important but if you find the way to combine the two – this is where the true magic happens.

Managing is often thought of as leading people to a certain goal on a pre-planned road map, following a great vision you have. But what if it’s also something else? What if it’s also about having the courage to allow your team to inspire you, and show you places that you’ve never thought of before?