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Is Your Creative Process Creating More White Elephants Instead?

Business Management

'A burdensome possession; creating more trouble than it’s worth’ – that’s what a ‘white elephant’ refers to.


This term originated from the reverence of albino elephants in ancient times, as these animals were considered holy and sacred. Not only did they require special food, but the caretaker even had to provide a way for people to worship it! This made them extremely expensive to raise. Interestingly, the gift of a White Elephant from the Thai king back in the day actually signified his dissatisfaction with a subordinate as it would, in most cases, ruin the recipient.


Fast forward to the present: at AKÏN, we may not be elephant keepers, but we do use the phrase ‘let’s not create white elephants’ for a somewhat similar purpose. As human driven designers, we constantly try to push for fresh, creative ways to approach our projects and internal processes. Yet, are we creating something just for the sake of being creative, that actually brings us no real value? 


How can you determine if your project will be a ‘white elephant’? Here are three reminders that have helped us create sustainable and meaningful creations at the office.



1. The Heart Of Your Project Should Be Intrinsically Linked To The Purpose Of Your Company

  1. White-elephant-purpose.png


It’s not about answering the ‘what’ and ‘how’; instead, always start with your ‘why’.


Some questions to ask:

1. Why are we creating this? / Why do we need this?

2. Why will it add value?

3. Why will this be better?

4. Why does this further our purpose?

After you’ve answered those questions, shift your next focus to the team. When conveying your new idea, will your team buy in because they have to, or because they want to? Everyone else has to understand the answers to your ‘why’ questions, in order for the project to be sustainable.


At AKÏN, we used to have weekly late night study sessions so the team could learn new skills together (because who has the time to do that during work hours right?). Yet, the late nights began to wear people out and instead of study sessions, it became dinner chitchat sessions and post-work coma was very real. In no time, it became a white elephant and we dropped it.


(note the food on the table)

  1. 2. It Always Starts With The Heart (& The People)




Now it’s time to think fully about whom you’re designing for and how they will use it. Remember that everybody involved is an important stakeholder – from its creators to the users. It might even help to bear in mind the 7 factors of designing User Experience (UX) – Useful, Usable, Findable, Credible, Desirable, Accessible and Valuable. Approaching your project in a holistic manner, no matter how small it may be, makes it all the more likely to succeed.


Some further questions to ask:

1. What are some of the user’s needs, concerns and feedback?

2. Will your user recognise the value quickly?

3. Does this project fit into the culture of your company?


We decided to change up our weekly Monday sync up sessions three months back. It was time to give each team member a mini stage! The idea is simple - teach everyone a skill or topic you're passionate about and tell us how it could add value to the way we do things at work. Sharessions are meant for us to grow our creativity and challenge ourselves to think deeper as a team. With an open brief but specified end goal, it's allowed for just the right balance of structured creativity for everyone. 




3. Sometimes Simplicity Is Key - Especially On A Short Time Frame

  1. 3.png


Aside from highly prizing creativity, time is also always of the essence in startup life. We’re constantly trying to push our productivity to balance efficiency with quality. Trying to create an overcomplicated project might result in it not moving past its ideation phase at all; on the other hand, not properly establishing a project could incur losses in time and money! Don’t overthink – keep things as organic as possible and it’ll take root.


Some questions to ask:

1. What is the team’s current bandwidth?

2. Do we have the right resources and abilities for this project?

3. How much time should we set aside for it?


AKÏN’s original daily stand up was born from a creative idea that resulted in a complicated process. With a full-fledged Kan ban-styled board, morning team updates became a tedious and unnecessary task. We then changed the process to quick pointer updates (What I did yesterday, What I’ll do today and any challenges) – saving us time and helping us achieve the same purpose!





Going crazy with creative ideas may be the first step to creating things with great potential; however, it’s equally important to keep yourself and your team in check along the way. Being human driven designers armed with our Human Brand Methodology, we constantly remind ourselves that our creativity should enable and empower people to do more. Now go and start a project that brings jumbo value to the team!


Visuals designed by Amirul Firdaus, our junior designer. 

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