As working from home get’s more and more normal, questions about how to do this thing we plug away at hours on end every week become all the more expansive.
You may manage a creative team, but they could seem stuck in a rut. Their ideas aren’t bad exactly; they just lack the excitement that you remember hiring them for—and they are definitely not going to cut it with a demanding client. Or you may be a creative that owns their own business and you’re finding it harder to come up with inspiring new ideas.
Creativity is a weird but magical thing and it’s really hard to press a button and just make it happen. It doesn’t work. In fact, putting pressure on people to be more creative almost always ends up sucking the life out of them and their ideas. Yet the expectation that someone who was hired as a creative or started a business as a creative is able to perform on the spot.
Clearly, being creative is a tough job. New, exciting ideas not only need to be ready quickly, but they must also be inspiring to other people (like demanding clients, or your own business) and ultimately make money for a company. This is complicated, and I feel your frustration. Managing creatives is especially hard because creatives usually don’t want to be managed. At the end of the day, your job is connected to getting the best from them.
So how do you make your creative team members feel not like they’re being managed but like they’re simply being given all the support and resources they need to be as creative as possible? It’s a deeper answer with a few steps involved.
Create the right environment
To do their best work, creatives need a physical workspace that is conducive to their work—think good light, art on the walls, and space for breaks. Even more importantly, creatives need a safe space, one in which judgment and criticism are limited. In team brainstorming sessions, for instance, make sure that everyone gets to share their ideas before the constructive criticism begins. To be truly creative, sometimes you need to take the needs of other people off the table, at least at first, and allow your brain to think without other people’s opinions. Have a meeting where you let them say whatever they are thinking, give them room for their ideas to grow. If needed, you could always have one-on-one calls to properly facilitate this.
For creative entrepreneurs, this could be something as simple as glamming up your workspace and limiting distractions. Into mood boards? Create one for all of your favorite projects you’ve done or some work from other creatives that inspire you.
Provide all of the information upfront
Before they get started on any tasks, make sure you’re giving your creatives all the information they need to know in order to get you what you want. This could be a short document that explains the project, its objectives, who the audience and client are, and details on tone and style, as well as timing and any additional pertinent information that they can refer to as they work. For creative entrepreneurs, this could be something along the lines of listing out everything you need to be done including all of the details above.
We all need some guidelines to start with. Make sure there’s also time dedicated to your team asking you—or the client, depending on how you work, questions about the project. Creative ideas that also solve the problem can’t come from nothing after all.
Make feedback normal
Feedback does not equal judgment or criticism. Unfortunately, telling someone to “do better” or “try harder” is one of the hardest things to do to a creative but they will thank you for it! A big part of what you need to do as a manager of creatives (or for yourself as the creative) is to keep pushing back the self-doubt, preventing it from coming into the room, and make the creatives (or yourself) keep believing in the process of well, being creative.
This is where feedback comes into the picture. You want to set up a culture of good constructive feedback, which involves you not just telling your employees or yourself what you think in a positive, growth-focused way, but regularly asking your employees for feedback about you. Most importantly, what can you do to help them achieve their—and your—goal? How is what you’re doing working, and not working, for them? (Keep in mind, everyone might need something a little different here.) For you, the job is to listen and to adapt your strategy to what (reasonably) works best for each member of your team. Raise issues in ways that make them feel safe and supported not criticized. “Hey, I like the start of this idea, but let’s talk through where it might go to help us get to X” is going to be a much better start than “This idea is lame, where’s that good stuff I hired you for?!”
Here’s another thought, How would you want to be talked to if you were one of the creatives you’re managing? Put yourself in their shoes and shape your feedback.
Give them a breath of fresh air
Everybody gets stuck sometimes. What stuck creatives need is a change. Luckily, there are millions of ways to help people get unstuck.
Take them out of the office. A group outing to a museum, park, or something in nature, maybe, to get ideas flowing? Encourage short walks (studies show a simple walk boosts creativity, both during the act and then afterward).
Give creative exercises that can boost energy levels, morale, and spirit, as well as creativity itself.
Remind people to pay attention to what they’re thinking in the shower, which is where 72 percent of our best ideas allegedly emerge. (Don’t try to force idea generation, just ask them to listen to what’s inspired when they can daydream on their own.) Encourage them to keep lists of these ideas on their phones and to share them, maybe in smaller teams (working on projects in small groups can be creatively inspiring, as well as more fun than solitary idea generation).
Suggest mindfulness and meditation, practices that put people in a more positive frame of mind and have been found to boost skills needed for creative problem-solving. (As little as 10 minutes per session can help.)
Encourage your employees to take time away from work. Vacations help everyone dedicate more time and energy to the task when they’re back.
Facilitate moments that help change their perspectives and the ways in which they look at things. Retreats and off-sites, if you can get a budget for this, can be great ways to shift points of view, allow for collaboration in a safe/different environment, and bring out the most in your creative team in ways that keep growing afterward. Fun (and change) are friends of creativity.
Be accepting of mistakes along the way
The saying is true that you can’t learn unless you make mistakes, and to be really creative, you’ve got to be free to not always deliver something perfectly the very first time. If you’re afraid you might get fired over a bust of an idea, well, you’re probably going to stop coming up with ideas that are anything other than safe and expected.
Rather than focusing on a win on the first try, it’s far more important than creative people trying because that’s how they’re going to eventually land on the idea that’s right. You can help them do that by supporting them through the mistakes, with constructive criticism, and continuing to provide guidance about what you want and what works for you and your company throughout the process.
Be honest with yourself
Once you’ve started to have open brainstorming sessions and talks (after explaining to everyone exactly what the expectations are), take note. Ask yourself these questions- Why do you feel like your creatives aren’t measuring up? Are they lazy? Do they have bad ideas? Do they not understand what’s needed on a project? Are they coming to you with problems you’re not able to fix? Ask yourself, also, if you’ve given them the right task. You’ll generally get better results by encouraging your employees to do more of what they love. Creatives who are motivated from the start are inherently going to push themselves to give more.
Chances are, your creatives aren’t underperforming because they’re just bad at what they do—after all, you hired them due to their skills. It’s more likely that they need the right environment and coaching to do their very best work. That may require some creative thinking from you, too!