Managing Creativity

I’m reading The Brand Bubble, which they gave out at Search Engine Strategries, NY. I have mixed feelings on the book so far, but I agree with his key points on creativity. He quotes FDR:

“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”

He argues that we’re in an age of increasing cynicism and that people need things to believe in.

“At its most primal level, creativity promises happiness, honesty, and hope. Creativity counteracts the lack of meaning … Creative people and innovative ideas are inspirational. Creativity subliminally signals numerous benefits to our well-being, qualities like youthfulness, immortality, confidence, truth, freedom, and self-determination.”

The authors go on to discuss branding issues, but I’d like to focus on the management level. People need to be creative. Let your people create and you’re a wonderful person, and probably a very successful one. Sure, the context has to be right, the people have to be right, etc. But if you can pull it off, and let people be creative for you, it’s the ultimate win-win.

Now in contrast imagine the ideal Father Knows Best paternal manager. He likes his people. He cares about their families. He’s cordial and by any reasonable definition would be considered nice. But he knows best. And he hogs the creativity. He has the best ideas. He needs to dominate discussions. Sure, he’ll ask your opinion. But you’ll feel his impatience as he tries to get back to convincing you of his point.

Ladies and gentlemen, maybe that worked in the 50s. But if you want to manage today, for heaven’s sake find creative people and let them create.  Guide them. Help them. Support them. Let them run. Yes, sometimes you need to force your view but it better be a good two-way street where your people feel creative, empowered, trusted, appreciated, and even admired. Otherwise they’ll know that you’re sapping their “youthfulness, immortality, confidence, truth, freedom, and self-determination.” And they’ll hate you for it. And you’ll have sabotaged yourself and your company.

Quick lesson from Steve Jobs, probably the paradigmatic entrepreneur/designer/creator of our generation. After great successes, and at age 29, he was fired from Apple, the company he founded. The book Egonomics: Our Greatest Asset (or Our Most Expensive Liability) attributes Jobs’ fall to his failure to help others grow. His triumphant return is credited to his learning how to be a better team player. Whether the book’s interpretation is true or not (and I bet it mostly is), the ability to help others create is a necessity, not a luxury, for today’s managers. So find some other place that’s all yours, where you can vent and create (a blog, for example). And then go to your office and play your role in helping your team do great things. Steve Jobs really was as brilliant as he thought he was. He really did have the talent and vision to change the world. But only when he really committed to helping others grow and create could he fulfill his own potential.