Monday, March 10, 2008

11 Tips for Managing a Creative Environment

This two-person panel was made up of the CEO and design strategist from Adaptive Path, an SF-based company that, according to their website, “helps companies create products and services that deliver great experiences that improve people's lives.”

They picked the brains of a range of people who manage creative environments, mining them for insights into striking the balance between creative freedom and strategic deliverables on a rigid deadline. A comedy troupe, a head chef, orchestra musicians, a screenwriter collective, a stage manager, a writer and producer and a magazine editor all contributed to these 10 tips (these will probably read pretty dryly, but it was a really well-done, interesting and hopefully helpful panel):

1. Cross-train the entire team. Have specialists, but give everyone exposure to all aspects of the job.

2. Rotate creative leadership/ownership from job to job.

3. Actively turn the corner from divergence to convergence. This means that you should have two phases. The first in which there are no bad ideas, everything is thrown up on the wall and there is NO KILLING or telling why an idea won’t work. Then there should be a distinct point in which you shift to editing, killing off the bad, and organizing the good. The point is to cull the ideas down, so don’t keep throwing out unrelated ideas.

4. Know the roles in the convergence phase. Your role may be anything from the decider to “shut up and listen.”

5. Practice. Practice. Practice.

6. Make the mission explicit to the whole team. Make the mission actionable, not theoretical.

7. Kill with kindness. When killing your babies, or other people’s babies, even the ugly ones, do it kindly. Be supportive and respectful. “Great idea for phase 2.” “Remember that for the extended version.”

8. Leadership is a service. Good leaders listen, understand everyone’s investment and interest, then help them represent their ideas in the best way. Facilitator rather than Dictator. Give people space to do their best work vs forcing your vision on them.

9. Generate projects around the group’s creative interest. Identify specific interests/talents and fill roles accordingly.

10. Remember your audience. You are probably not them.

11. Celebrate failure. Appreciate spectacular misses. After the project, have a post-mortem party (or “After Party”) in which you discuss what worked, what didn’t and what was learned.

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