Don’t Listen to the Naysayers — You Do Need Creatives

Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 9.57.56 AMIf you’re not a “creative,” you’ve probably been annoyed by a creative’s lack of organization or follow-through at some point. You may even be reveling in the recent onslaught of articles arguing that creative employees only waste time and money.

But no matter how “Type A” you are, you can’t afford to overlook creatives’ potential in this increasingly innovation-focused market.

I understand where this “no creatives” sentiment is coming from. I once worked with a company that hired a cohort of creative individuals to “inject some enthusiasm” and drive growth. We soon discovered that these free spirits were a combination of unwilling and incapable when it came to learning our baseline technology elements and imparting them to customers.

Although hiring creatives hurt that business, the lesson here isn’t to rid your company of creative types. Rather, the real solution is to vet each hire carefully to find creatives who round out your company, fit in your culture, and create balance between innovation and results.

The Dangers of Eliminating Creatives

Welcoming creativity does more than make your business seem like a fun place to work; it drives growth. If you eradicate creatives from the workplace, be prepared to face these consequences:

  • Artificial limits on growth: The most creative ideas drive opportunities to meet customers’ unmet needs and tap into potential new markets.
  • An inability to identify unique solutions: The typical problems most businesses face are not simple, linear, or procedural in nature. If you eliminate creatives, you may overlook novel solutions, which rarely come from standard methods of analysis and thought.
  • Ineffective communication: The ability to communicate and position an enterprise successfully requires the talents of brand and image specialists who inject creative thinking into the process. Creatives can engage with customers, position your organization in the marketplace, and build brand equity, which will contribute to long-term success.

How the Balancing Act Works

Of course, there are plenty of dangers to only hiring creatives, as well. If you’ve ever known a happily married couple who seemed to validate the “opposites attract” theory, you understand how two contrasting personality types can complement each other to form a stronger unit.

Healthy organizations strive to create a balance between creatives and process-driven, analytical employees. A diverse workforce can help businesses:

  • Understand their broader market and identify a wider range of needs their company can meet.
  • Play off of employees’ varied skill sets to extract their best work and apply those abilities to internal demands.
  • Safeguard the long-term success of the company by helping creatives follow through on their visions.
  • Prevent the process-driven from getting trapped in a cycle of sameness when faced with a changing business environment.
  • Create a vibrant and welcoming environment that helps attract top talent and boosts employee retention.

How to Create the Perfect Balance

Although these outcomes sound fantastic, you have to develop your diversified culture the right way to reap the benefits.

I once worked with a client who decided to shake things up by bringing in a leader known for her creativity. The CEO gave this new vice president complete freedom to make changes in the organization.

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Unfortunately, the organization wasn’t equipped to support her sweeping changes. The vice president tried to do too much too quickly without bringing the organization and team along with her, so her efforts fell short in improving the company.

If you want to embrace creativity and get employees on board with changes, consider these tips:

  • Encourage interaction between potential candidates and team members during the hiring process. Include people new hires will report to, potential peers, and people who will report to them. Gather feedback from those interactions.
  • Recognize that creativity thrives on the tension between the freedom to explore and the constraints of business demands. Use that thinking to strike a balance when hiring.
  • Remember there are other personality preferences and traits beyond the labels of “creative” and “procedural.” Hire for culture fit, and consider a candidate’s knowledge, skills, and experience.
  • Focus your attention on setting clear expectations at the start to unify the intended output from team members. Encourage your diverse team to focus on external goals rather than individual needs, and its efforts will come together effectively.
  • Don’t dictate how you want work accomplished. Set targets, and let teams determine the best way to achieve their goals. Organizing the workload is one way diverse team members learn to appreciate one another’s unique skills and expertise.

If you follow the anti-creative movement, then play it safe, copy proven strategies, and your organization will probably do well — for a short time.

But if you want to be capable of adapting to changes in the market, accomplish something beyond business hygiene, and experience growth, you’re going to need those creatives. Shut out that foolish babble and build a diverse team that can help you achieve productive innovation that leads to real growth.


image from Buffalo State Univ.


8 Comments on “Don’t Listen to the Naysayers — You Do Need Creatives

  1. This seems highly anecdotal and features no data or supporting evidence when, in fact, creative hiring has actually accelerated significantly. Who are these “naysayers” you reference in the intro? Because I think if they’re not just there for the aphorism, most companies already agree with you.

    1. Matt, this was written in direct response to another article (cited as link in the opening paragraph) and conversations I have had with two separate organization’s leadership teams. I agree that most organizations are aligned around the perspective I present, that said, I’m concerned that there is any movement to move away from hiring in a diverse manner.

  2. I find this irrelevant. While creatives might work differently than other types, at the end of the day their job still boils down to a deliverable, a time frame, and a quality standard. Hiring and managing them to those standards is all that’s required. If personality conflicts between Creatives and Type As – both of which I’ve found are polite euphemisms for flakes and boors respectively – tell them both to get their #$%^ together and act like adults and learn to work with others.

    1. As for management boiling down to a focus on the deliverable, a timeframe, and a quality standard—as much as that might be desired it strikes me as naive to think that is what happens in the workplace. Work environments are complex and changing systems and telling anyone how to behave usually produces unintended consequences.

      1. I don’t think most people manage this way, and that’s the problem with ‘creatives’. That is in fact the problem I see with almost all modern managers. They concern themselves with everything about the employee – how they dress, how they speak, how they write, their social media presence, etc. – and their actual results are secondary, or sometimes not even considered, even if they were lucky enough to have them be defined beforehand. This happens because it’s the shield of the incompetent manager; Joey isn’t on time all the time, therefore, there is a problem! Meanwhile, if Joey is getting his job done as well or better than everyone else, perhaps that’s an indicator that coming in at 8 AM on the dot everyday isn’t necessary to that end. But, try telling that to a jackass manager with the typical punch in punch out factory worker view of their workforce.

        If you realize work is about results, about deliverables and time frames and quality, then managing becomes a hell of a lot easier.

        1. Completely agree with you provided that Joey is an individual contributor and does not need to work in collaboration with others. If all he (or she) is doing is outputting) all power to them if they deliver results. The challenge becomes the integration. I don’t want to be anyone’s minder. And it seems neither do you. I like your mindset

          The trouble is we broadly operate under an antiquated model where control is considered performance management. Output (should) rule. Getting that output is not so simple when you add more than two people together in a work stream.

          1. Notice, I didn’t mention whether he was or not. Because either way, if he’s doing his job, what’s the difference? Now, if Joey works with Lisa, and Lisa has legitimate complaints about his performance hindering hers, then either Joey accepts that and changes, or Joey finds himself a new position.

            The best example of this I can think of was a company I worked at a while ago. The owners were screaming lunatics, the CFO was a decent guy trying to get some positive changes in. One was flex time. I got to try it, as did a few other people. We loved it; stay a little late here, leave a little early there, no worry about punching in or out a few minutes late or early. My, and everyone else’s, average hours worked went up dramatically. The owner came down on the policy like an anvil, because F@ck you, that’s why. The manager of the marketing department was a long time family friend of the owners and so could essentially do what he wanted. He kept the flex hours running, it worked as well as before, and even better as time went on. The own eventually had to admit in private that he made a mistake. Then when someone proposed the flex time policy come back, he cut loose on them and had a fit, so it didn’t.

            To your point, I can’t imagine a department that’s more reliant on team work and collaboration than a typical marketing department, and the flex hours didn’t seem to hinder them at all. In fact, their output boosted quite a bit. However, the owners were typically horrendously incompetent managers, so a policy which could have offset at least some of the BS they made their employees deal with on a daily basis was ditched in favor of traditionally ineffective, one size fits all ‘management.’

            So, my point being, don’t be so quick to assume that just because a job requires interacting with people that all of a sudden it becomes more complex. In my experience that’s more often than not just another excuse to apply the easy to follow but archaic and ineffective old management practices, and the reality is it can still be boiled down to deliverables.

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