5 Reasons Creative Teams Should Adopt Systems Thinking

The Golden Ratio. Complementary colors. Logo lock-ups. These are important and innate concepts for creatives. For experienced creatives, it’s like riding a bike: This knowledge is accessed on autopilot. 

You’re probably mostly on autopilot with the tools you use at work, too. You’ve used these tools for years, and they just work (barring any glitches with updates). You know how to use them, and you rely on them to help you complete your daily tasks whether that’s a logo design or a video storyboard. But more tools are being introduced to the marketing and creative tech stack every day it seems. There’s the Martech 5000, which actually includes more than 6,000 tools. And there’s new functionality constantly being added to existing tools, too.

There’s also an ongoing avalanche of information, data, stories, and opinions that are available on an ever-growing number of platforms, in a variety of formats. In fact, until 1900, human knowledge doubled approximately every century. Now, IBM believes that by 2020, it will double every 12 hours. To say that’s overwhelming is an understatement. 

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(Source: Photo by Jamie Haughton via Unsplash)

All that technology and information can make creativity more challenging. It’s easy to become more focused on the tools than the creative element of work. How do you cut through the noise and focus? How do you continue to produce outstanding creative work despite the volume of information competing for attention?

One solution is to change your approach and adopt systems thinking. Here are 5 reasons why systems thinking can revolutionize the way you work.

Umm, systems thinking?

Let’s start by defining systems thinking. In a nutshell, it’s looking at the big picture and the interaction of the parts within the whole over time. “Over time” is one of the most important parts of systems thinking. It’s the context from actions over a period of time that provides a useful perspective. It’s been described as “zooming out.” There’s a good example in this video, which talks about the system in a hypothetical community in the context of health and obesity:



Systems thinking can help a person view systems from a broad perspective that includes seeing overall structures, patterns, and cycles, rather than seeing only specific events. It can be helpful when you feel like you’re stuck in a rut or only being assigned one type of work. Next time you feel that you’re only working on website wireframes and not having the opportunity to work on social ad design, step back and think about the system in place at your office:

  • Do people usually specialize in one area? 
  • Or do they move around and try different things?

What does the bigger picture show? Perhaps you need a new way to manage and assign work. Systems thinking prioritizes the way processes and systems work together over time to help creative agencies build scalable, centralized digital ecosystems and workflows. Now let’s talk about 5 ways systems thinking can improve your work.

“Systems thinking has a certain simplicity and elegance to it — basically, a shift from seeing the world as a machine to understanding it as a network.” – Fritjof Capra
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(Source: Photo by Robynne Hu via Unsplash)

1. Part, part, whole

Let’s be honest: It’s difficult to design part of a system unless you understand the whole system. How can you create a webpage if you don’t know what the goals, color scheme, and layout of the whole website will be? How can you design and print a direct mailer as part of a campaign if you don’t know the tagline and desired call to action?

Systems thinking helps establish context around projects, whether you’re working on part of a campaign or the whole shebang. To use systems thinking, remember to step back, look at the big picture, and understand how your work fits in. And if you aren’t sure, ask!

2. Harness your creativity

Visual thinking is an important component of systems thinking — and obviously pretty standard in creative processes, too. You may not consider yourself to be a visual thinker but think about a time when you were reading a poem or story that painted pictures in your mind or made the words come alive. You could see the smoke in the air or feel the scratchy blanket. Think of the character Dr. Shaun Murphy on the TV show “The Good Doctor” and how he solves complex problems by visualizing vital organs and surgical techniques.

Visual thinking in systems thinking means you can visualize the individual parts of the big picture. You can see the connections and links between parts of the system and how new connections and links can be made. When you put it all together, you have the context and detail needed to solve whatever challenge you’re facing.

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(Source: Strategic Insights)

3. Work in one place

I don’t mean work in one location physically. By all means, work wherever you’re most productive. But try using one platform that integrates with your creative tech tools to manage the workload. 

Consider a collaborative work management platform. It can be your single source of truth with all of your information in one place so you don’t have to go searching through different systems every time you need something. Was the latest version of that file in an email or was it in the group Slack channel or did the client text it? Save time and headaches and streamline your management of work requests and status. You can set deadlines and assign projects or elements of projects to team members. Consolidate all interactions into one platform. Cut down on the use of email and chat by commenting on the task itself so all details and conversation are in one place. 

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Collaborative work management enables a system-wide view of your team and company’s work. When you have improved visibility into individual workloads, project status, and overall resource utilization, it’s much easier to improve efficiencies and profitability. Wrike is one great option.

4. Automate and scale

Zooming out and seeing the whole process makes it simpler to automate and scale. What does it take to produce an email campaign, for example? Beyond the copy, one must consider design standards, formatting for various email clients, layout, color scheme, deadlines, etc.

Are you starting from scratch each time you create an email campaign for a new client? Systems thinking can help your team design a workflow and templates so you’re more efficient. And a collaborative work management system makes it simple to implement. That means you can produce more email campaigns, for more clients, with the same staff — so you’re keeping clients happy and benefiting the bottom line, without overworking your team.

5. Implement and iterate 

You have the tools, you have the talent — now you can build toward greater success. Systems thinking is not something you adopt overnight. It’s a major shift in how you view the world and your work. Start with baby steps, grow into this new way of thinking, and build in flexibility for other changes as they arise. 

You may encounter roadblocks on your systems thinking journey, but that’s normal. Don’t be discouraged. Keep implementing. To systems thinking success!

Put systems thinking to work for your team

It’s been said that creativity is making connections between different parts of the brain. Systems thinking is a way to visualize and make new connections within and among systems. By evaluating and changing the way processes and systems work together over time, creative agencies can build scalable, centralized digital ecosystems and workflows. Try Wrike, a leading collaborative work management platform, free for 14 days and see how it can help you implement systems thinking and revolutionize the way you work.

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