Hard-won tips and tricks to help inspire and wrangle creative talent
I’m thrilled to be stepping into this new role at Audienz, but I’m not embarrassed to admit that over the last few months I have routinely (and sometimes frantically) Googled questions like, “How do I manage a creative team?” Or, “How can I inspire creative people?” And, during a particularly stressful week, “What the f#@k am I doing?!” Admittedly, I’m a little embarrassed about that last one.
In my continuous search for answers, I’ve learned a lot, both from thought leaders on the internet and from my own experiences and victories. Here are a few of my favorite tips:
1. A little chaos is good, if it’s channeled correctly.
Every experienced creative has their own individual processes. A way they get things done. And like a superstitious athlete wearing the same socks to every game, the justification behind “why” is both personal and often inexplicable.
As a manager of creatives, I try not to interfere with these individual processes. As a writer, I have my own proverbial “game-winning socks” and I’d be pissed if anyone tried to remove them. But individual processes can be a breeding ground for chaos and log-jams. To help battle that, I provide tools, resources, and strategies to help my team deliver their work more effectively. It’s a delicate balance between allowing them to create in their own way and building a work environment that promotes productivity and timely delivery. This can be as simple as providing a checklist for kickoff calls, helping them set clear milestones, or even defining expectations. My goal is to help wrangle the chaos while also creating a space for controlled and channeled chaos to inspire great work.
2. Encourage downtime to increase the effectiveness of uptime.
Burned out? Tired? Overworked? The first thing to go out the window in those situations is creativity. At Audienz, we’re lucky to have leaders and values that promote work/life balance. As a manager, I encourage my team to turn off, take a walk, and demand space. Sometimes the greatest ideas come from simply walking away.
3. Get your hands dirty.
As a creative manager, I sit across a ton of projects. And, while in many cases I need to stay high-level, there is incredible value in strategically jumping in and getting my hands dirty in the work. This allows me to better understand my team’s challenges, keep my own creative instrument fine-tuned, and ingrains me in the day-to-day just enough to be able to step in when my team needs it most.
4. Get the hell out of their way.
Even though it’s important to get my hands dirty, I never want to get in my team’s way. I am a better leader when I let their work, styles, and decisions shine, rather than forcing them to do things my way. I would write or phrase something differently than a lot of my writers—but that doesn’t necessarily make it better. Art and creative work is subjective. And I believe a great creative manager doesn’t impose their own bias on their team’s greatness.
5. Create a safe space for failure.
Creative work is art. And making art—and having someone provide critical feedback on that work—can incite a lot of vulnerability. In my team, I try to create a safe space to try new things, explore crazy ideas, and fail. I institute a FSD (first shitty draft) process, and try to instill a sense of comradery over competition. We help improve one another’s work, rather than critique it. And we never, ever laugh at each other’s mistakes.
Managing creative people is often challenging but always awesome. Seeing my team stretch and grow and create powerful work is one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I’ll look forward to continuing to learn (and adding many more tips to this list) as my team evolves. In the meantime, stay creative, my friends.