How to Manage and Lead Creative People

Paper Beret Day!

How to Manage and Lead Creative People – Al Getler

When I showed my wife the picture of me wearing a paper beret, she wondered out loud whether we actually get any real work done at our media company. In fact, the people who work at our media company work extremely hard.

Nancy knows that well and was just poking fun at me. She knows how important play time is for me during the creative process and she knows we work until the job gets finished.

Paper Beret Day

Today was paper beret day. One of the team members decided to draw a beret, copy them off, apply tape to the back of them, and urge people to have their picture taken wearing one. About a dozen people did this, including me.

The creative team at our company sits in a room of their own. They take tremendous pride in creating ‘questions of the day’ that employees around our building answer as they pass by the room. The team is also at the center of our company celebrations, often coming up with great ideas like the newspaper tower building contest during our company picnic.

This team works hard. Very hard. They create the finest advertisements and marketing campaigns and have won national awards for their efforts. They produce a high volume of high quality work. Play is as important to this team as work.

Loosen Your Girdle, Myrtle

Now, you are the boss. You are the leader of the company or organization where you work. Your team decides to do their own paper beret day.

Let me ask you a question: Will you get your picture taken wearing the paper beret?

If you answer quickly with a ‘no’, you probably don’t get what it takes to lead and manage creative people. You have probably lost a part of the child-like ways (notice I did not say childish ways) that allow you to connect work with play; play with creativity.

Not every organization needs creativity, right? You are probably saying, “If you work where I work and do what we do, then you would know creativity is not a part of what we do.” And to that I respond with a Bronx cheer.

Part of what we do in our media business is manufacture. We have very big machines that rise three stories from the ground. The crew that runs our presses is well-trained, they take safety very seriously and they make quality output their goal during every moment they work. They too have awards to prove this work ethic.

Our press crew, made up of brawny guys in blue uniforms, is also an extremely a creative bunch. Together, as a creative team, they imagined and then built a contraption that collected and reused waste ink. It looked a bit like a moonshine still, but it worked well and saved us money.

And oh, by the way, the press crew won our snowman building contest this past winter. Their snowman was so well-planned out and wonderful. So creative.

Let Creativity Reign

The aforementioned snowman building contest was an idea the creative advertising team came up with to shake the winter blues. Teams were formed by departments and everyone had a great time building snowmen and laughing.

People, and I am talking about adults here, need to play. They need to laugh. They need to loosen up. And that doesn’t have to mean adult beverages. It can be honest to goodness creative fun.

Intensely Creative Teams

A team that gets paid to be creative requires more playtime, more looseness and more of being able to do their own thing. The reality is this team is paid to produce creativity. As a result, they often have stringent deadlines and they often have very high levels of expectation associated with their output.

I am wracking my brain to recall which Pixar DVD had bonus tracks with John Lasseter and his team sitting around and discussing their creative process. If you know where it is, leave a comment below because it is a great description of how creativity works in that environment.

I did find a different video about the team that creates the toys associated with the movies Pixar makes. You can watch it below or watch it by clicking HERE. Notice the process that is described and see how much fun and work mingle.

Here is Lasseter talking about some of his inspirations. Notice the connection between child-like memories, play and ultimately millions of dollars in revenue.

How to Manage and Lead Creative People: The final word…for now, maybe

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t manage the creative process and that you can’t lead creative people. The process requires expectations, feedback and deadlines. The people need room to grow and be creative as they are carefully guided to do the work they are required to do. The creativity comes from a delicate balance of recognizing each team member’s strengths and playing toward those strengths. The fun comes when you move from project to project and then a different person seems to have strengths associated with each project. If you manage and lead creative people a bit differently than other people in your organization, you will see the results.

A Quote

“Our group of performers has been together for many years and we know each other so well that we can kind bounce off each other when we’re working together. This working relationship has a kind of marvelous chemistry to it. I think it’s terribly important that, when we’re working in the studio, we work with this kind of affection and high spirits.” – Jim Henson


How does your company or team find creative play time? How is your creative team urged to do their work? How do you manage and lead creative people? Share your thoughts in the Disqus section after this post or by clicking HERE if you are reading it in an email.

Al Getler is a newspaper, website, book and magazine publisher. He is also a comedian/ventriloquist and a speaker on leadership, customer service and personal branding.

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