This season on Margins we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the nuts and bolts of the creative process. And what better place to start than the messiest part of all: Burning it down. We’ve all been there — a project just doesn’t work, and we’re forced to take a match to our once seemingly amazing ideas and start from scratch.

But a little creative destruction can be a very good thing. In fact, that’s how Managing Editor started. Mary Ellen and Lee felt our company blog had reached a plateau. So we blew it up and started over.

Was it easy? No. But if we hadn’t embraced the power of creative destruction, we’d have never gotten here. We spoke with three amazing women about their experiences burning it down.

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Prepare to Get Messy

Alison Pittaway is a writer and the owner of Written Content Plus. She’s nearing completion of a book, but it’s been a long journey for her to get there. In fact, she threw out what she’d written after working on it for five years.

A few weeks after throwing out her old draft, Alison got back to work on her book. She says time away is critical, but you don’t necessarily have to spend weeks away from your work. “If it’s an article for a client, you don’t have the luxury of being able to take two weeks away, but you can put it down for today and pick it up again in the morning,” she says. “It’s important to create a distance between yourself and whatever that frustration is.”

But no matter how frustrated you might get, Alison offers a few words of encouragement. We all know our clients expect a lot of us, and we certainly expect a lot of ourselves as marketers. But don’t let perfectionism impede your process, Alison says. “When we’re talking about the creative process, I think that need for perfectionism really does get in the way,” she says.

“Whatever it is you’re doing, you have to be prepared to make a mess.”

Approach Creative Destruction with Intention

Charlene Li is an expert on disruption — so much so, that she has a new book called “The Disruption Mindset: Why Some Organizations Transform While Others Fail.” She spoke with us about disruption, and gave us three ways we can reposition ourselves or our organizations for disruptive growth:

  • Set your sights on the future. “Take the time, gather some resources, and say, ‘What is the future we want to build?’ ” she says.
  • Create a movement. Figure out how you can bring other people onboard in your organization for the changes you want to make. Inspire them to join with you!
  • Start thinking about how you need to change your culture. “Culture is just made up of beliefs and behaviors,” Charlene says. Figure out which beliefs are holding you back, write them down and say goodbye to your old bad habits. Also, figure out what you want your culture to look like going forward. “The culture part is so important because that’s the engine that will drive your strategy,” Charlene says.

When Failure Isn’t an Option

Elena Valentine is co-founder and CEO of Skill Scout. But a few months after she and her partners started the company, it had become obvious that its original mission was not sustainable. So Elena and her partners pivoted to the company’s current iteration, even though it wasn’t what they had intended to do.

It’s an experience that highlights one aspect of burning it down: Sometimes you’ve just got to figure out how to make a buck. “Money absolutely matters,” Elena says. “The reason why I can stand here today is my co-founder Abby and I absolutely had to not only make a commitment to each other, but for our families.” But Abby and Elena embraced their new direction, and now they have a successful, thriving business.

The experience also taught them quite a bit about running a business. “The only way that you’re going to learn is by failing,” Elena says.

“This is what great businesses are made of.”

And Speaking of Creative Destruction …

This is going to be Lee’s last episode serving as host of Margins by Managing Editor. She’ll be building her own business and working with leaders and companies to bring their ideas out into the world.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode