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3 Ways to Help Creative People Flourish On Your Team

There are some lessons we only learn the hard way. One of them for me has been ways I help creative people on our teams flourish.

I used to think when leading creatives, the key was to free them to create. Therefore, I gave huge blank slates, allowed people to dream, and gave them very few parameters of what I was thinking. I wanted them to come up with their “best” work – the most creative way.

I’ve learned – the hard way – freedom alone for a creative can spell disaster. The fact is that without some direction to creative people nothing gets accomplished and no one is happy.

Please understand. I’m not a basher of creatives.

I am actually a creative myself. I’m not the artistic creative type, but an idea creative. I have millions of ideas. (And a few of them turn out to be good ones.)

This principle is true for me also. I used to think I wanted and needed to be led with no boundaries. I was wrong. It’s not a good recipe for me.

I’ve learned the tips I’m about to share the hard way by attempting to lead creatives – and attempting to lead myself.

Creatives don’t need freedom – or at least freedom alone – they need more than that.

Here are 3 ways to help creative people flourish:

Give clear lines of direction.

Give them a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish. Help them see what a win would look like to you. Help them draw a box around certain end goals or objectives.

The clearer you can be of what you are looking to do the more creative they can be.

Grant the freedom to draw within the lines.

Here’s the freedom creatives love. Once the end product is defined, creatives like limited micromanagement and maximum empowerment. They want the freedom to fail and the freedom to dream.

Creative people will flourish within broad but defined boundaries.

Provide accountability along the way.

Creative people need someone to check in with them periodically. They like to be motivated and encouraged. Let them know they are making progress and that they are doing good work. But also keep them challenged to meet deadlines and complete projects.

Without any lines or accountability creative people don’t flourish – they flounder. Things aren’t creative. They are messy.

Creatives love freedom but it works best sandwiched between clarity and structure.

When those 3 are combined – lines, freedom and accountability – stuff gets done and everyone is happy.

Actually I should clarify that mostly everyone is happy. If everyone is happy someone’s not leading – creatives or otherwise.

If you think if I can help you or your team I would be happy to talk with you. You find more about my experience here: LinkedIn:

Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Jim Pemberton says:

    I could fill this with plenty of examples, and the more I think, the the more I could write. This could be a great book, the area between structure and creativity in the workplace. My family was discussing this just yesterday over our Sunday meal. We typically eat a big meal with the kids and kids-in-law on Sundays. We ended up talking about writing SOPs. (You know your family is a little bit odd when SOPs are fun discussion.) Our oldest son was self-motivated in his job to write his own SOPs for the benefit of his company in the event he gets "hit by a bus". He calls this his HBAB file. Our daughter works for my wife, who directs a Christian non-profit. Her job entails doing a lot of creative work (designing newsletters, videos, fundraiser decorations and materials, etc.) and my wife had asked her to come up with an SOP. She replied that it's kind of hard to write down how to be creative. My own work has a combination of creative development of data processes and very structured implementation of those processes. So I write SOPs for the processes I create and write principles for structuring the creative process. So if I get hit by the proverbial bus, at the very least someone can continue to perform the processes until a creative person can be found to perform continual development.

    So I'm going to suggest that teleology is what is important for structuring a creative. If the function has discreet goals, like a newsletter, then set a deadline for the creative design of the newsletter. If the function is process-oriented, like in continuing development, then set principles that hedge and center the process. In both cases, something often helps creatives – and this depends on the person or the nature of the creation – then a helpful act is to have them come up with multiple designs or design ideas that can be discussed and decided on. This helps reinforce principles of creation and keep them focused on deadlines by providing sub-deadlines: points along the way that can be measured and planned. These are opportunities to encourage your creative people and keep them structured while giving them enough latitude to create well. It also allows you to quantify and qualify their work for the purposes of evaluation.