Friday, October 2, 2009

Put us on a box, not in one

If you were to go grab a five-foot-high pile of books on management, odds are you wouldn't find much about managing a team of creatives. They're a different breed. They drive a different car, as different as they can find. They don't walk down the same road, they cut new paths. It's not that they're unpredictable, it's just that by the very nature of the word "creative," they don't fit into one standard.

Take job titles and descriptions for example. What is the standard description for Creative Director or Art Director? I have my own idea and I'm sure you have yours, but the truth is it varies based on the company, team, client and project. The way our industry is evolving, the titles themselves are also being re[created].

"What's your title?" a friend asked me last night, telling me how he had waited five days to print his business cards because he kept changing his title. He left it at "designer" - which is more of a statement than it might seem. I laughed because I haven't made my Little Black Mask business cards yet. I can't settle on a title, either! The current one is "Chief Creative," which I opted for over "Chief Creative Crusader." I'm not settled though. I know a "Chief Creative Altruist" and really like that, but won't steal it. Besides, if I did take it (which I jokingly told him I might), I wouldn't feel like it was mine and I would constantly be telling people, "Oh thank you, yeah, I got that from Andrew in Ft. Lauderdale, know him?"

Can you see where this is going? Creatives are individualists. Don't box them in, there is no box. Managing and motivating a team of creatives can be challenging at best. Then creatives often are promoted to management, leading to creatives managing creatives, which can be even worse! It's actually simple, though. To get the most from a creative team, just keep them happy. It's not that hard if you get to what moves them.

Titles can be important, but instead of a standard new-title promotion without a raise, maybe just let your team make their own titles up.  Money is important, certainly and please, pay people what they're worth – but if money was a creative's chief motivation, they'd be stock brokers or sales people or something that is more directly connected to the almighty dollar. A creative's main motivation is to create. To innovate, to make something new and wonderful, and to be recognized for it.

The best way to motivate your creative team is to facilitate them doing what they do best, and then give the recognition and respect so they want to do more. If you feel a temptation to take all the credit for what your team has done, maybe because you came up with the initial idea or you make more money and need to justify that, resist it! If you don't need the team, if it's all you, then do the work yourself. Play quarterback without your team, go ahead. When you come down off that mountain and realize you do need them, that you chose them for their strengths, take a moment to lift them up and let them shine. Do it every day and do it publicly.

As a leader, take credit in being able to keep everything cohesive and on-brand, take credit for knowing what a great team you've got, be proud of how well you all work together, how everyone's input is important, be the star quarterback and take credit for a lot of things... but give more than you take. It doesn't cost anything, and the value is immense.


  1. Hey Jessi, great posting! "Give more than you take" I believe the world would be a much better place if we all had this point of view. Kinda goes along with "treat others the way you would like to be treated". "Titles" wow, how many "what if's" play into our choosing of these...btw I really like "Chief Creative"--go with it!
    L.L. Effler

  2. Thanks Lorna... yes, so true, if everyone gave more than they took, we'd all get more than we give anyway! Ironic and fun thought. hmmm Chief Creative... yeah, so far that's the one. Thank you!