Managing Creative People: Are They a Little Crazy?

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Everyone loves what creative people do, but many find their lifestyles and behavior a little strange.  Just hire an advertising agency, or glance at MTV to confirm that there are some pretty odd creative people out there.  But for the organizations to reach their real potential, we have to learn to maximize our creativity, and cultivate our relationships with original thinkers.  There’s no question that creative people are wired differently.  Their perception of the world, their reactions to events, and even the way they sleep is often dramatically different from most.  Therefore, much of that behavior comes out of biological differences.  So trying to change their behavior is often a futile and impossible task.

They even have different priorities.  Instead of political battles over a corner office, access to the boss, or a bigger title, creative people are more interested in the color of their office, or being able to listen to music while they work.  Few creative people care about the same things other workers care about.  Creative people see different ways to achieve the same goals.  When it comes to nonprofits and religious organizations, most pastors or ministry leaders want to achieve goals, but often they are overly concerned about how to reach the goal.  They are interested in rules, procedures, and paperwork.  One Christian TV station executive I know has a “flow chart” for the station that looks remarkably like Dante’s Journey Through Hell.  Just reading it gives me the chills.

On the other hand, creative people are just as driven, but much less concerned about “how” they reach the goal.  That’s why “breakthrough” thinking often comes from creative people.  They see the world differently, and are more concerned about achieving the goal than rigid, specific ways to get there.

The fact is – if you have creative people in your office, you need to make a conscious effort to deal with them differently.   Here’s a few suggestions:

1)    Within reason, don’t let their habits, appearance, or style bother you.  Sure – there are unavoidable office rules for smoking, suggestive clothing, breaks, etc…  But if it’s not absolutely critical to the mission of the church or ministry, cut them some slack!  Let them have a little fun with their hairstyle or clothes, and you’ll see their motivation dramatically increase.

2)    Give them flexibility in their schedules.  Who cares if they do their best work at night?  In most creative functions, you can easily measure their output and the quality of the work, so worry less about how many hours they put into it.  As long as they keep up and are doing great work, what does it matter when they do it?

3)    Learn the art of compliments and motivation.  Most creative people are easily hurt by criticism – it’s part of their make-up.  But if you can compliment and motivate them, you won’t believe how the level of work will improve.  Remember – a carrot always works better than a stick.

4)    Finally – learn to value creativity.  If we’re going to impact this culture with a message of hope, we need the most creative people doing their best work.  Can your church, ministry, or organization do things in a more creative way?  Are you reaching this generation in a language and style they understand?  Are you always on the look-out for creative people to help you achieve your vision?

Learn to manage creative people, then stand back and watch the difference it makes.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Tanny Santamaria

    Great article. Thanks.

  • http://www.stephenbrewster.me brewster

    I could not agree more. I have been in environments where creative people are allowed to be creative, and other situations where creative people are tolerated. Managing creative people requires a person who gets the concepts of “feelers”. Creative people want to be respected, protected, and heard. They do not have to be right all the time, but they have to have space to be allowed to feel. If creative people do not feel they have that space, that they are not respected and are not protected from those who do not understand how they work, you will never be able to get their best work out of them.

    Love your blog posts Phil.

  • http://www.BuzzDixon.com Buzz

    “The great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even ordinarily respectable.” — H. L. Mencken

  • http://twitter.com/klinnert Katy Klinnert

    Love the post. It’s fabulous to read as a creative-that at last one person “gets” it! Fabulous.

  • John Ondo

    As a creative and a manager I do encourage leaders not to be scared of nudging creative people if the work isn’t what you’re looking for. Creatives do need feedback, we like to know we are making the boss happy and they are involved with our creativity. If your creative bucks ever suggestion. Not a good situation either.

  • http://rkweblog.com/ Rich Kirkpatrick

    Phil, I love your wisely informed words on this.

    More needs to be said about how to manage and lead creatives–one area of research and writing that I undertake, especially in the local church/non-profit arena.

  • Chucx Chuck

    I Love this… Creativity a good synonym for “DIFFERENT”

  • http://twitter.com/kristen_collier Kristen Collier

    Especially–don’t play artist. Kev has illustrated over 200 books and for shows on 3 networks, yet there are authors who say, “Can you change this,” “No, change it back,” “Well maybe it was better before,” so by the time he’s changed an illustration he may as well work at McDonald’sm he’s put so much into it that he’d make more there. Stop hanging curtains. It’s almost always women authors who do this…. So now, he’s real careful about authors he works for. But the stereotype of the prima donna artist who throws a tantrum–I can see why (and I know from other illustrators this is not unusual). So to people that hire creatives–don’t try to get them to work for nothing!

  • Rick Wilson

    “… most pastors or ministry leaders want to achieve goals, but often they are overly concerned about how to reach the goal. They are interested in rules, procedures, and paperwork.” What you said brother!!

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  • http://e-devotional.blogspot.com/ Melissa Miller

    So true! I tried for the longest time to create a schedule for my day (mom of three, writer, lots of hats to wear) and I would fail daily! Finally I realized I’m such a creative type (art major) it doesn’t work for me and I needed to find something that did. I created a system where it was goal focused rather than schedule focused and I have rewards/consequences for myself to help me stay on track. I am a thousand times more productive now than I was trying to do it with a regimented schedule.

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  • http://AgapeAmbassador.com Caleb Suresh

    Glad to have you for a friend, bro.