Hierarchy’s Effect on Creativity

Any of us who have worked in a marketing/advertising department at a large company has experienced the long process of corporate approvals. If you haven't, consider yourself lucky. To sum it up, this process is a chain of reviews moving up the hierarchy with each lower level making adjustments in an attempt to please the level above them rather than reviewing the subject's effectiveness. Typically, the feedback from such reviews sounds something like this, "Make the logo larger." Or, "Let's add in another logo."

We all know a larger logo will not do anything for a product or service's sales. So why is this piece of feedback so common? Shouldn't we be more curious about how our message is coming across and how much visual/mental impact the subject holds?

This corporate process is to blame for watered-down creative. After years of hearing this same feedback, many designers and directors have stopped making cool shit that consumers will find captivating. Instead, our industry focuses on making things that will get passed through the hierarchy and put money in our hands quickly.

Don't believe me? Take a look at Dribbble, Instagram, or Behance. These platforms are where designers post THEIR work. Often, these projects will be personal or side projects done by small design teams or an individual. We can immediately see that the creativity found here is more engaging than what we see in real-life marketing and advertising. As a side note, a lot of this work was done at a fraction of the standard corporate budget.

This showcase leads us to our next set of corporate statements:

Yeah, this stuff is cool, but how could we use it? Our company/client does X, Y, and Z. By nature, we're not interesting. On top of that, our upper management is super traditional and afraid of new ideas.

All of the above statements are general cop-outs to challenging tradition and/or ineffective communication. We all know what happens without change, so what is stopping us? We may know what our bosses want, but nobody wants a watered-down, ineffective ad campaign or brand. So, why does this process continue? Why do we continue to make boring shit that makes all of us (consumers + marketers) unhappy?


It is never comfortable having a conversation focused on our companies' short-comings with bosses, coworkers, or pretty much anyone. Will discussing these topics make us, the marketer or designer, guilty? They shouldn't. It is easy to place blame, but this a structural issue that affects nearly every large organization.

Often, marketing, advertising, and design seem personal since we attempt to channel our creativity through it. When something looks like trash, we and others blame our talent and skill for its failure. To address that, let's examine how "creative" we are inside of a corporation.

We generally don't start a project until a superior indicates they want something. Higher-level employees are often less specialized. Between people and projects, they have a lot to oversee and manage. This is the exact reason for lower-level employees that are specialized. For instance, why would a CEO know what is currently trending in design or the newest 3D Javascript library?

Projects start and also begin to fail at this point. Many times, higher-level, less specialized colleagues send out overly specific tasks/ideas. This act circumvents the implementation of specialization while also removing the individual ownership of a project.

For example, let’s say a CMO thinks a website is underperforming, they will review the site and share what they think can be improved with the lower-level employees who will be implementing the solution. Generally, this task would get moved to someone like a marketing manager, who then transfers it to a creative, who sends it to a developer, and then back up the chain for approval. If we look at this chain, the most capable candidates to accurately address why the site is underperforming and fix it are the last two links. In this situation, however skilled, these two positions are now just hands for the less specialized higher-ups.

How can we fix this?

Since this issue is spread throughout an entire organization, everyone has to make an effort to address it. At higher levels, we can start by relying on ideas and solutions from specialists who are more knowledgeable on the subjects we need to address. When we notice a challenge, we must involve a larger, more dedicated group before suggesting solutions to ensure we find the most relevant approach. Next, at lower levels, we should share our thoughts, knowledge, and influences as often as possible. By sharing our knowledge and interests with others in our organizations, we are more likely to be referenced once a relevant challenge arises. This allows us to fully implement our talent rather than just be a set of hands for coworkers that are higher-up the chain of command.

The world is full of talented people who have the potential to create amazing things. All we need to do is give our peers the trust and power to use their skillset. It can be tough to relinquish our control, but we must challenge ourselves to share responsibility and ownership to get next-level results.

Other Benefits from Fixing This

Aside from making marketing and design efforts more effective, your partners/coworkers are going to enjoy their job more. None of us enter into a career in search of being a cog. If we utilize each other's knowledge, interests, and skillset, we allow everyone on the team to take ownership of their respective role. This ownership helps us feel that what we do is making an impact. This process also makes us a critical part of the team rather than seeming mindless and replaceable.


All of us want to make cool shit. To do so, we need to realize both our own strengths as well as others around us. By sharing ownership of challenges and tasks with the peers dedicated to addressing them, we will arrive at better results. This is common sense, right? So, why isn't it happening?


Thanks for reading this! Agree or disagree? Want to share your 2 cents? Drop a comment or hit us up! We would love to dive deeper into the challenges you’re facing and work together to solve them. Student, Art Director, or CEO? It doesn't matter to us. We would like to hear from you!

Quarantine is rough. We could all use a bit more socialization. ✌️

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