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How do CEOs Manage A Creative Business?


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The CEOs of creatively-led companies have a series of fairly unique challenges.

Creativity cannot be bottled on a production line; it has to be coaxed from people’s imaginations. Creative employees generally work best under their own steam, but if provided with the right conditions, teamwork can still produce spectacular results.  Given the intangible nature of “results” in this area, creatives will fail more than most, but they often need unconditional support on their bumpy road to success. They may not respond well to working under pressure, and if they are not sufficiently stimulated, they may be quick to disengage.

Although we recruit on the general and financial management side within the creative sectors (CEO, CFO, MD,FD) it is still fascinating to observe and hear about how creative leaders maintain the balance between the purity of the idea and the health of the bottom line. These two things are not mutually exclusive, but they take some skilful management.

Here are five observations on how creative managers achieve success in this area – developed from working with creative leaders over the last 10 years;

They leverage the skills of the individuals but make the team accountable. It is understandable that the creative drive comes from specific individuals within any team, but for projects to take off, there will be a whole host of people with many other roles. When the team is accountable for the result, there is less finger pointing about the creative getting it “wrong” and more crucial input (and interest) from the wider collective. Individuals don’t always work best in a vacuum.

They are sufficiently “hands on.” If you are not in tune with the creative mind set of your people, it is difficult if not impossible to understand why they are making certain decisions. Creative leaders ensure that they don’t dominate the process (there is nothing worse that feeling that you have to go along with the boss!), but they remain involved enough to step in and provide guidance if required.

They don’t insist on process. In every business, there has to be a common process in the background to let everyone know what is expected of them. In a creative environment, if this process is too rigorous, creativity is easily stifled. A leader that expects creativity to march to the beat of a corporate drum is a leader with a frustrated and under utilised team.

They allow ideas to incubate. Creativity takes time, and sometimes it requires a “time out.” If people are involved on the same project 24/7, ideas can quickly get stale. It is best to retain an atmosphere of healthy confusion, keeping people busy on different projects to allow the best ideas time to formulate in their heads. It usually takes doing a totally different activity for the real genius to find its way to the surface.

They get rid of the “my idea” culture. In an environment, where people are naturally passionate about their ideas, it is vital to turn “my idea” into “our idea” as soon as possible. Ideas will be rejected, they will be criticised, and they will be morphed into something else entirely. When the idea is a collective idea, the originator will take that process far less personally and they will also defend the idea far less rigorously. When the idea turns out great, the wider team can rightfully take their part of the credit.