Today’s marketing teams are expected to be digitally savvy, analytically minded, process oriented, and creatively inclined. Achieving excellence across these talents is no easy task. More often than not marketing teams are so focused on trying to keep up with sales needs, campaign deadlines and industry changes that they feel like creativity has to be rushed or outsourced.

Two things happened yesterday that made me think about how marketing teams enable the creative process.

First, in a meeting yesterday with a creative director he said that when he initially heard about our software offering “centralization” and “governance” of marketing activities, he wanted to rebel against it. After walking him through how easy it is to find files, create content and craft messages in Percolate, his view completely changed: by the end of the conversation he saw how software can enable creativity.

It was a good reminder that we talk a lot about marketing operations (the science), but also need to be deeply respectful about the creative side of marketing (the art). The reason we’re building software is to remove the annoying, repetitive parts of marketing, to free up time that allows a marketer to be more thoughtful and creative. Repetitive tasks that keep the marketing engine running may be necessary, but they come with an opportunity cost because they often take up mental capacity and time for brainstorming. This made me start to think about the mental space that’s required for creativity.

Second, we hosted our third DesignTalk event last night at the Bowery Electric. The theme was “Spaces to Play” and our speakers, who came from a variety of design backgrounds, brought awesome ideas to share (if you haven’t made it to one of the DesignTalks, make sure you get to the next one!). Our speakers were given the topic and had 20 slides that automatically moved forward every 20 seconds to present thoughts about their Creative Spaces. Many of them talked about the mental space that I had been thinking about all afternoon, but they also talked about it in relation to physical space too.

The takeaway for me is that your physical space can impact your mental space and allow for better creative thinking. As marketers, we don’t often have the luxury of time to sit and think creatively, but perhaps using the space we are in can create that mental room. There were three things that jumped out at me and for several of my colleagues as productive moments in creativity that play between physical and mental spaces.

Percolate Office Space in Soho

Interdisciplinary collaboration

One of our speakers said that in his first design job, he removed himself from the nerf guns and noise of the bull pen and moved to a quiet corner of the basement. It was a process for him to realize that better, stronger creative comes from collaboration. Another speaker recalled his time in university, when students of various departments weren’t encouraged to mix. They were physically separated. It didn’t makes sense to him. The most authentic and exciting work came from disregarding “stupid rules” and stepping outside of his own department and working with other students from different disciplines.

Sveinung Skaalnes Disregard the Rules

Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, a designer here at Percolate agreed, “As a designer, having the opportunity on a daily basis to collaborate across engineering and business, to create solutions that really matter is both invaluable and inspiring.”

Many of the speakers talked about how traveling not only gave them new places to think, it offered them new ways to see things. In a recent article, we talked about how marketing teams worked best when there were few specific traits portrayed by the team members and one was the a strong ability to detect the emotional state of other people on the team. Funnily, teams that interact online or face-to-face performed at the same level. So while the location when working together didn’t seem to be an issue, I found that understanding your team better emotionally, was absolutely a function of understanding your team culurally as well — and traveling is immensely valuable in that case.

In my first job after college my team was moved to Europe, so nine months after moving to New York City as a college grad, I was transferred to our Amsterdam office (rough life, I know). I found that by immersing myself in Dutch culture, I was better able to think through problems and concerns that we had both internally and externally. Not to mention, I went from a relatively stagnant cubicle in an old Wall Street office to open air office with no dividers between the desks, endless streams of coffee and stroop waffles and lots of light coming through the big windows — a much better place for creative thinking and mental stability.

Thinking from a different perspective

Ruminating on this idea of how physical and mental space play off each other, especially when it comes to travel, Anne Foley, a Percolate product designer said, “This made me think about how traveling not only takes you to a new physical space, but also lets your mind experience new things which opens up space in your own head.”

One of our speakers talked about growing up in the North of England, he was surrounded by a lot of things that look and feel the same. So when he left Newcastle and moved to London he was inspired by authenticity — everything from the Knotting Hill Carnaval to graffiti on overpasses around the city, but he was critical of the veneer of authenticity, specifically citing how the Olympics tried to create authenticity in only the best parts of London. Design that focuses on the highlights of a place, doesn’t show the whole picture. He said that even after moving to the US he continues to look for the crazy and weird, because it shows an authenticity.

That authenticity should come through in creative thinking. When you look for design and ideas everywhere, inspiration can come at you in any form. Anthony Agrios, one of our product designers thought about how design could engrained and philosophized, “It’s not just a job, creation is a way of life.”

That also means that interacting with space can offer it’s own form of inspiration. One of our speakers briefly showed how the audience interacted with her performance art installations which Kelsey Hunter, another one of our product designers thought, “was really interesting as it relates back to product design. We have to consider the spaces our users are in more than our own.”

Sougwen Chung Spaces to Play

Thinking Freely and Using Your Constraints

One speaker talked about how she finds inspiration in a blank page. It’s clean and open and gives you the freedom start with out narrow expectations. And when you get stuck you can always turn the page and there’s a fresh start. She also talked about how she is experimenting in 3D printing and how it is creativity within a box. Learning the software behind 3D printing is just new set of rules that offers new creative opportunity.

That message resonated with Kim Solow, Percolate’s product marketer. She put it in the context of brand governance and safety tools within our own software. “Brand prompts aren’t there to make you less creative, they’re there to guide your thinking. Constraints can actually advance your creative thinking by providing structure.”

Constraints can even be physical. From the place itself to the tools you use. Many of our speakers talked about how traveling might mean that you are working from a train seat or hotel lobby quite often, but those tight, foreign, or public places can force you to think through the issue from a different perspective. On tools, one speaker talked about his various desk setups and mentioned that with a single, small screen he was able to better focus on the task at hand, but it also allows you to spread papers out around you.

These “Spaces to Play” are so much more than a desk and laptop. It’s a mindset. With limited mental capacity and growing demands in our day-to-day, the way to free up space to think will determine our ability to think creatively

I know how scary software might seem to a creative director on the surface, but there’s really something magical to the right marriage of technology and creativity. We talk a lot about marketing operations because software can solve the types of job problems that keep people in the office late at night. We need to also keep reminding ourselves to talk about the creative part more — the magic of the story you’re trying to tell or the visual you’re working to create. It’s less obvious, but removing headaches in marketing operations frees up the time and mental space for marketers to do their best work.