High Impact Strategic Business Sense Series (9i)

Understanding & Managing Creative People

EXPERIENCE DESIGN & MANAGEMENT BLOG PORTABLE

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Secrets To Managing Highly Creative People

MISCELLANEOUS WRITINGS | 2013 EDITION | VOLUME 27

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There are different levels of creative and with that, different personality types. I personally know a lot of highly imaginative people who ask very intriguing questions, and can day dream all year. But that isn't innovation, which always delivers quantifiable value.

Tom Ford (above) provides a masterclass of highly creative, and often, very complicated people at work, taking ideas from imagination to innovation. Ideas that solve problems customers often don't even realize exist.

That's the story behind the pasta sauce revolution Malcolm Gladwell passionately recounts, Apple's fabled renaissance thanks to Steve Jobs, and many more.

That is, authentic artists. Or if you like, “highly creatives at work, designing awesome experiences without which many organizations (and Dyson is not one of them), have had to file for bankruptcy or simply become irrelevant.

Authentic artists are people who do “emotional work”. And emotional work is about passion, strategy and ideation, planning, execution, impact and above all, to produce and ship the masterpiece in the first place: immersion. That is, commitment to understanding what is really at stake; to duration and lonesome, often thankless labor. This is the hallmark of those consummate professionals we call “creatives”. And to know one is to understand, respect and support their natural, solitary processes, no matter how social they appear.

They are not people who flirt with the status quo. Quite the contrary. They're rule breakers. Out to build, disrupt, reinvent and sometimes, re-erupt, —successfully. That is why visionary leaders who know better always hire exceptional experience designers (also “creatives) to complement them and the brand promise of their organizations. From Apple's Jony Ive to Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg.

They are careful about who they work for. For a reason: Because they're are linchpins and magicians who understand that whatever their flaws, they add stupendous value. Not simply there to wave their hand, clock time, collect a paycheck, be nefariously engaged in office or community Machiavellian politics of survival by elimination. Or, to be validated.

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Getting on with it without earnest commitment to understanding the big picture is not what they're about. Genuine creative work is meaningful work. And Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic couldn't have said it better in 7 Rules for Managing Creative-But-Difficult People: Only involve them in meaningful work:

Natural innovators tend to have more vision, research I've done indicates. They see the big picture and are able to understand why things matter (even if they cannot explain it). The downside to this is that they simply won't engage in meaningless work. This all-or-nothing approach to work mirrors the bipolar temperament of creative artists, who perform well only when inspired — and inspiration is fueled by meaning. This rule can also be applied to other employees: everyone is more creative when driven by their genuine interests and a hungry mind.

Don't pressure them: Creativity is usually enhanced by giving people more freedom and flexibility at work. If you like structure, order and predictability, you are probably not creative. However, we are all more likely to perform more creatively in spontaneous, unpredictable circumstances — because we cannot rely on our habits. Don't constrain your creative employees; don't force them to follow processes or structures. Let them work remotely and outside normal hours; don't ask where they are, what they are doing or how they do it. This is the secret to managing Don Draper, and why he never went to work for a bigger competitor. This is also why so many top athletes fail to make the transition from a small to a big team, and why business founders are usually unhappy to remain in charge of their ventures once they are acquired by a bigger company.Notice the degree of creative freedom Tom Ford enjoyed at Gucci, and the great success that spawned.

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Sure, paid professional work comes with its own rules. Nevertheless, at the core of my own creative philosophy, process and approach are 5 basic principles:

 I'm designing a novel emotional experience rich with detail, quality and of practical use.

The vision, strategizing and passion that saw its completion is/was divinely inspiredSteven Pressfield put it differently: “Artists are modest. They know they're not doing the work; they're just taking dictation”.

That divine inspiration doesn't cater to human arrogance. Only seeks to enrich humanity and/or business.

Curiosity, sustained interest, flattery, validation, applause or popularity: not my problem. In fact, T.S. Eliot was right: “Most of the trouble in this world is caused by people wanting to be important”.

E pluribus unum. “Out of many, one”. That's the idea diffusion strategy at play.

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Moreover, William Bernbach put it best: An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it. But of course people who lack imagination don't understand.

What the arrogant eyeball — and they tend to be indifferent and unimaginative people — does, is disregard the humanity of creatives, treating their work, the product of pure intuition and passion, with sneers and jeers.

Diane Sawyer and I don't worry about such people. That's why she opens one of my blogs with the words, “I think you can awaken curiosity…but you can't teach it”.

Your browser close button. The exit door of a movie theater. The smartphone you refuse to turn off or put on silent mode and can't help fidgeting and playing with while a beautiful movie you take for granted plays on. Your attention span. A function, be it music, technicolor, etc. that soothes the target audience (the true elites of curiosity) say, but for you, invisibly put in place to separate the wheat from the chaff. The true elites from the indifferents. The ones who yell: “I get it!”, when it's obvious they don't.

You enrich all your senses, learn and benefit or commit to the series (whether on TV, print or whatever media) because your motives, attitude, gratitude, hunger to learn...for the next surprise...your and heart, are all right...within. Not because you're entitled. That's the better attitude.

Understand and demonstrate that, and you'll have a better work or personal relationship with creatives. Provided of course they don't fit Google or Sutton's Rule. Yes, I admit. Some creatives do! But the vast majority can be understood, managed, retained and sometimes, even tamed, simply by beginning with respect. Not disrespect. By taking them seriously and/or affirming them. Everything else has already been said by Tom Ford, above.

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How To Be Smart And Retain Your Top Talent

Design 360° Series: Tom Ford(Follow the Dove)

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