Disclaimer: Well, isn’t every industry creative? Yes. For the purposes of this discussion, however, I am talking about the traditional (and incorrect, I believe) label of “creative businesses.” In this context, it is referring to sectors such as design, architecture, fashion, art, media and communications, etc.
While “creative businesses” worry about how rigid management procedures can damage creativity, other types of businesses, already well-versed in management theory, have started to see how valuable creativity is, and are more focused on inspiring creativity. It is the same problem being worked at from two different directions. Through my research into management styles for creative businesses, I have identified many characteristics of creative firms that seem to actually help management and creativity and contribute to success. What this means is rather than squashing creativity through “tyrannical” management, it seems some creative characteristics will actually help improve management, not conflict with it.
Treat Contradicting Requirements with Solutions
“Creative businesses” have a series of conditions that often seem to create conflict with one another. In architectural design, for example, these conditions are things such as: the dependence on commissions, poor distinction between architecture and building, lack of congruence (ultimately, opposition) between stakeholders desiring ethical responsibility and financial and technical responsibility, constraints on the design process due to size and complexity of the firm and time lag between planning and realisation(1).
These various factors impose greatly on the creativity of employees. Their imposition, however, is not only restrictive, it is also inspirational. Continuing with the architectural example, a firm must deliver what is asked by its clients but in creating a building for a neighbourhood it must also satisfy the community and the authority; in creating a building that is an examplar of a firm it must also reflect the firm’s values. This creates a solution that begs for creative problem solving, it also means that requirements for architectural design solutions are recorded clearly and accurately and every stakeholder addressed, simply because the complexity of the situation often requires it. Some things to try from this are:
- Recognise all stakeholders, even those with conflicting views, and especially those with opposing views. Do not try to remove opposing views, try to find solutions to everyone’s problems. When stakeholders are all on the same page projects run infinitely smoother
- Maintain a strong vision for what you are trying to achieve, regardless of market (client) wishes (take this point with a grain of salt – bring some of the arrogance of the artist but ultimately remember who is paying your bills). A clear vision means clear objectives, means clear requirements means clear activities which means efficient work
- View your functional and artistic requirements as being on the same level. This may not necessarily be the case for you – I am only saying consider it from this viewpoint. Maybe you consider it only for 5 minutes then go back to looking at it the old way. Maybe not. Anyone can see how integral the “beauty” of Apple’s products has been to its success.
- Flatten your hierarchy. A popular choice for businesses of late is the flat hierarchy which means decisions are made faster and by those more involved in the actual work. It also means change can be capture more quickly allowing projects to flex to moving requirements. Just be sure to keep a close managerial eye on validating and verifying phases.
In some “creative businesses”, how many employees have direct contact with clients has been identified as a factor that contributes to higher performance (measured in terms of industry awards, critiques and reviews, repeat clients, clients referring, profit, productivity and staff commitment) (1). While not every “creative business” has the same level of client contact among workers, one can clearly see a distinction between firms that work on commissions like many in the “creative industries” and those for whom the ‘client’ is a more homogonous, less defined and less contactable group of people. Things to try from this:
- Define your client. Is your client a single person or single organisation? If not, imagine this is the case. Imagine they have commissioned you for your project or service. Intimately know their needs. Work for them
- Get your employees, those involved in the day-to-day tasks to have as much direct contact as possible with this client. Even if your client is a large group of people, talk to them. Talk to them as if you were designing their house
Take a Project View
The work of many “creative businesses” is project-based which, by definition, is temporary in nature – designing a building, a season collection, a web page, etc. What this means is that when the project is over staff need to be re-assigned to other projects. Rarely will all the projects in an office finish and start at the same time. This means staff will be joining and leaving projects as they are required. Firstly, as so long as these time-frames are not too short, this will engage staff by ensuring they are facing fresh and new challenges. Secondly, it means staff will be joining projects and bringing fresh eyes, knowledge from a different (but similar) project and, often most helpful, knowledge from a different stage. If your work does not involve many projects, you can still try to allocate staff to activities based on trying to achieve these benefits. Also, additional projects can be defined within “normal” business. What qualifies as a project? A unique undertaking that has a defined beginning and end. That is all.
Many “creative businesses” suffer from a concentration of power. This is because, for example, it takes one person to design a dress and maybe three people to make it. The designer now has to be in charge of those making it to ensure they make it properly. The flip side of this is you automatically generate an environment where mentoring is more prolific. Mentoring requires a more relaxed, flexible, give-and-take relationship with superiors. This can help build a bottom-up approach to diversity management, where openness to diversity can be developed through individual relationships with staff. This will also decrease the perceived level of prejudice which helps to remove fear of expression which is a common block to creativity. This is enhanced by a flatten hierarchical structure as discussed above.
Use the Design Review
A “creative business” will usually have a singular vision regarding the styles and values embedded in the designs it produces. As it grows, this design vision is harder to enforce and regular. Many businesses will have a design review board, that will review each project and ensure it meets the business’s design vision and communicates this to staff at an individual level. This means that even the smallest and most seemingly insignificant decisions are made aligned to this design vision. Not only this, but the design review allows a chance for face-to-face meeting. This is an especially important point for larger companies where trust needs to be built and maintained across different sectors.
If you fall under the traditional “creative businesses” banner, you can identify these as areas where management will not step on the toes of creativity, but actually work with it. If you do not fall under this banner, learn from “creative businesses” and know these as areas where your typical management strategies (if maybe tweaked a little) can give your business a creative boost.
(1). Blau, J. R. 1984. Architects and Firms. MIT Press
Feature image courtesy of Henry Jose.