• John Bowie

Turn 'em Loose! #1

As businesses transition from the information age into the design age, rapid innovation is essential to success. In-house creative teams with their deep knowledge of customers and comprehensive understanding of the company’s business domain are poised to drive innovation, but their potential is often squandered by outmoded management attitudes, leadership styles, R&D methods, and HR policies. Managing creatives as you would other functional roles is a formula for slow death in today’s dynamic marketplace. The solution? Turn your creative teams loose to visualize your company’s vision and invent fresh solutions to wicked-hard design problems that fulfill customers’ big unmet needs.


To do this, we need to rethink creative team leadership. Running a company’s creative team requires an approach that is vastly different from managing other teams. Unlike other professions in which processes and deliverables are clearly defined, creative people conjure their deliverables out of the ether using processes that even they don’t fully understand. Managing them as you would other employees will only stifle their creativity, reduce their capacity for innovation, and ultimately lead to high turnover and a loss of valuable institutional knowledge.


I’ve led creative teams (and they have led me) for over two decades. In this series of “Turn ‘em Loose” posts, I’ll share insights into the distinct characteristics that make leading creative teams different from other management roles and share effective ways to craft a culture in which creatives can contribute to their full potential. Some of the strategies will be obvious. Others will be counterintuitive. Still others will be downright dangerous, especially if you work in a company that believes employees must sit in a cubicle staring at a screen for eight hours a day in order to earn their salary.


Future topics in this series will include:

  • The Demise of the Mockup Factory

  • Celebrating the Creative Mind

  • Crafting a Creative Micro-Culture

  • Attracting and Retaining Creative Employees

  • Macro-Managing Creatives

  • Managing the Work

  • Defending and Protecting Your Team

  • Marketing Creative Services from the Inside Out

  • Leading the Design-Driven Enterprise


If you choose to adopt these principles of creative leadership, you will need to be prepared to embrace Gifford Pinchot III’s “Intrapreneur’s 10 Commandments”:

  1. Come to work each day ready to be fired.

  2. Circumvent any orders aimed at stopping your dream.

  3. Do any job needed to make your project work, regardless of your job description.

  4. Find people to help you.

  5. Follow your intuition about the people you choose and work only with the best.

  6. Work underground as long as you can–publicity triggers the corporate immune system.

  7. Never bet on a race unless you're running it.

  8. Remember, it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

  9. Be true to your goals but be realistic about the ways to achieve them.

  10. Honor your sponsors.

--Gifford Pinchot III, Intrapreneuring, Harper & Row, 1985


Stay tuned….

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