Creative runway: The amount of space that a worker has between their defined set of responsibilities and their freedom to work creatively to solve problems within (and often outside of) their role.
In short, it’s the difference between being expected to work within a defined role and the expectation that you will be a flexible contributor.
(To be clear, companies need both types of workers as they scale. Because within the proper context, each is uniquely valuable.)
Now, having creative runway doesn’t mean that the individual isn’t fulfilling their pre-defied role. It means that you (employer) encourage them (employee) to broaden their scope when applicable as a way to make things better for the wider business overall.
This is a real thing that some startups offer their employees. (It’s not just cute nomenclature.)
Senior-level workers leave enterprise companies and join startups to have creative runway—and feel those personal and professional growth levers pulling again.
Early-career workers join startups and accept a higher level of risk in exchange for creative runway; knowing that this latitude in their work may allow them to level-up faster—and leapfrog their peers in a fraction of the time that it’d take if they were working at a large corporation.
Creative runway comes with trade-offs. Most often, this type of problem-solving flexibility only resides at the early stages of companies where the founders, the culture, and the team are hyper-collaborative.
That said, this is a real benefit that will attract the workers—early-career to senior-level—who are looking for this unique type of growth opportunity.
Bottom line: If you’re a startup who sees that you offer your people creative runway, market the hell out of this value prop. It’s a key differentiator.
The reason I’m specifically seeing the reality of creative runway at the early to mid-stage startup level is that as companies scale, both worker and employer move further away from wanting autonomy and closer to the agreement that I-will-pay-you-a-pre-established-amount-of-dollars-in-exchange-for-a-pre-established-amount-of-hours-and-I-don’t-want-or-expect-more-from-you.
Which, btw, is a fine way to run a company and earn a living. It comes down to what you value. Again, trade-offs.