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Herding Cats - Managing Creativity

By The Drum | Administrator

March 15, 2002 | 7 min read

So, how does one manage creativity - is it possible to manage the creative process or is it more a case of managing the person, rather than their creativity?

This was the topic under discussion at Herding Cats, a one day conference, organised by The Drum and Scottish Enterprise Glasgow at The Lighthouse, which included presentations by Martin Hoenle of IDEO Product Design, Keith Brownlie of Wilkinson Eyre Architects, Paul Cilia la Corte of Lewis Moberly, film-maker Murray Grigor, Jonathan Sands of Elmwood and Kenny Harris of Headsurf.

Bruce Haines, chairman of the IPA, also took the chairman's role for the day and kicked off the discussion playing devil's advocate: "We are secretly a nation of anarchists," he said, and added that to manage people, let alone the breed of "creative" that stands alone, is near impossible.

Haines, a former account manager, the suit to the baggy trousers of a creative, maintained that both elements are of importance.

He believes there must be respect in the account manager/creative relationship, a realisation by both parties of exactly what each other brings to the table. An account manager, Haines believes, should be there to help ease the strain of the partnership, assisting the creative with any problems that might come along with the brief.

And, whilst Haines realises that there is ego in this business, he also believes that a degree of "ego co-ordination" results in the job being done well. If account managers can manage their own egos, then it will ultimately help them manage the creatives' egos. As he maintains: "The creative's job is more painful than yours, the account manager."

Creativity is thinking about different possibilities and other areas, not just design. Paul Cilia la Corte of Lewis Moberly believes that in terms of creativity this is essential, stating: "If we generally want to improve our standards we have to think outside the box and look at other industries," he says.

This is an idea that is shared by Martin Hoenle of IDEO Product Design. IDEO don't have account managers, instead they have project managers who liaise with the clients and the creative department. IDEO, which could be seen as slightly new age in its way of thinking, likes to observe people in their everyday life and take ideas from the banality of life. Like market research, except Hoenle maintains, it's not. He believes that the industry should: "Defer judgement and build on the idea of others and focus on the topic." To him it is not the idea of managing creativity, but instead managing the person, a theme that was echoed throughout the conference. Hoenle commented that creativity is in every part of life and designers should embrace this, not bowing down to the account managers and other suits who believe that it is all about the business and financial rewards. IDEO is based upon a non-hierarchical structure, no Fat Cats reaping all the rewards. Instead the company structure is based around different sized cats, just as people are of all different shapes and sizes, who all work together on an equal and flat level. Hoenle maintained that this understanding encourages creativity in the workplace.

Jonathan Sands, chairman of Elmwood, believes this too - putting his money where his mouth is: "Every single person is a shareholder in our company - even our tea lady." How refreshing. He also believes that: "Creativity is about making the complicated simple."

Both he and Hoenle maintain that there should be simplicity in the way a creative team works. Both pointed out that their offices are open plan, Sands calling it a "nursery" where they embrace all things that are unique.

But how do you massage an ego or quell the tantrums of a designer? The answer is simple - let them get on with the work.

Sands realises times are changing, that clients' needs are now based primarily on the purse strings and keeping the budget as small as possible.

"Clients these days are demanding more and more, but don't want to pay for it, and they will therefore try to get the cheapest option," he says.

This might infringe on the designers and therefore their creativity must be nurtured to the fullest.

Whilst the smaller accounts that companies may handle don't bring with them the big financial rewards, Cilia la Corte believes that they are still as important as the larger accounts: "I think that the little jobs are sometimes the ones that bring the creative rewards. You have to make people (the creative team) feel that they are very valued as you don't know where the ideas are going to come from."

Sands added to this, commenting that everyone is creative in their own right, yet it has been pushed out of us from a young age. Every single person in the world is creative, all we need to do is give some people a tool to be creative."

Kenny Harris of Headsurf maintained that logical thinking gets in the way of creativity: "Your brain is the enemy of creativity - do everything you can to get in its way. If you can visualise the end results you want then you can take the steps you need to get you there."

Harris' company, which was launched at the beginning of the year, helps firms with the creative process, and he believes that people must take stock of the way they think and the way they come up with ideas.

Brainstorming for him holds great importance in the way design and advertising agencies deal with certain accounts. Yet he commented that sometimes it can be done in the wrong way: "It's not enough to get half-a-dozen people in a room and say 'Any ideas'. That's just not a brainstorm."

To him an agency must look at the way they think and react to it. Ideas must be recognised as the most important function and they should be acted upon as soon as possible.

Keith Brownlie of Wilkinson Eyre Architects reiterated this point, believing that: "The idea is king, success is measured in influence, creativity is all."

The debate as to how to manage creativity was something that was intensely argued. Yet each speaker believed that it was something that was intuitive to one person - something that can't be taught and must be nurtured.

Harris believes that ideas work in the same way as humour and, being a former stand-up comedian, he probably knows a thing or two about that.

All the speakers agreed that to manage creativity would be wrong, yet there must be an element of management within the creative workplace.

Account managers must be able to appreciate the creative's ideas and fully understand the entire creative process. Haines summed up the general theme that emerged from the day's proceedings: "There is a type of management which controls the creative process. And this is where it goes wrong. Good management is about leadership and direction." Haines then brought the day-long conference to an end: "Cats can't be herded but they can be controlled and managed - hopefully, creatives aren't too different a breed."

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