We’re full bore into the knowledge economy. Thirty years ago, intellectual property and other intangible assets accounted for only 32% of the market value of S&P 500 companies. As of last year, they constitute 84% of their value. From a valuation perspective, there is no more distinction between creativity and business.
Creative efforts – disruptive business models, warp speed advances in technology, design, user experience, brand image — they are “the business.” They’re the important differentiators in crowded markets. But creatives don’t bring these innovations to market or execute them in profitable ways on their own.
Both teams need each other. The tension flowing between business and creative teams often results in valuable innovation. And other times, it’s just tension.
As leaders and managers, we want to create a culture and atmosphere where both types thrive and make their needed contributions. We can set examples ad nauseum. But really, the most important thing we, as leaders can do, is help them respect and appreciate each other.
What the Business Folks Need to Understand about Creatives
Creatives feel: Creatives don’t like slavish devotion to plans. They’re not trying to be difficult. They just feel stifled by excessive formality and process. They see your eye-rolls when they talk about their creative process, which often makes them feel patronized or unheard. The less they feel valued, the more they’ll shut down.
This helps them thrive: Clear direction and actionable feedback. Don’t tell them how to do their jobs. Instead, get everyone to agree on what has to be delivered and when. Creatives get the business doesn’t exist so they can ruminate and iterate endlessly. They want to produce work that meets a project’s objectives — that adds value. People from both sides should work together to set strategic goals and realistic project plans. Then set your creatives loose to work within those parameters.
It’s also common for creatives to have an emotional investment in what they’ve created. That doesn’t mean you have to support everything they do. Criticism is a natural, necessary part of the creative process — they’re big boys and girls and have been through it before. Focus on the specifics where you think the work isn’t advancing the project’s goal.
Don’t sweat it when… You see a bunch of them in a room tossing a ball around, or whenever it looks like they’re doing anything but actually working. They are. Creativity doesn’t flourish with people working quietly at their desks. They’re tossing around ideas and thoughts just like that ball. Don’t sweat it when a creative wants to be left alone either. There always comes a point when she just wants to hunker down and get the idea down in fixed form.
What the Creative Folks Need to Understand about the Business Folks
The business folks feel: Yes, they feel. They worry. They worry about wasted time, money, and resources. They worry that another creative thought, no matter how terrific, is going to result in more iterations, delaying projects or taking the firm far afield from the project’s original purpose. They worry that you don’t appreciate the business impact when you want to “just try something out.”
What helps them thrive: When you can help them understand, in business terms, why you’ve made the choices you have. Amorphous, emotional language won’t communicate business value. Ground your updates and explanations with how creative decisions fulfill project objectives. Build business folks’ confidence in you by meeting agreed-upon milestones. Get to a place where your business folks have had input into the project plan, so they’re not making you sweat by constantly looking over your shoulder and second-guessing you. And always respect the agreed-upon timelines and budgets. If you sincerely feel major changes are required to either, then it’s time for a larger confab before you go rogue.
You don’t sweat it when… They talk about project plans, budgets, legal issues, or the other stuff they worry about. They’re not trying to stifle you. They just want to make sure the creative investments provide good return to the company. The more you respect milestones and business objectives, the more you’ll be left to do your thing.
Provide Room for Understanding
Respectful familiarity breeds understanding. We don’t all need to (nor should we) get in the middle of how other teams are working, but it’s valuable when we can see what others are doing. New modes of working, and the collaboration tools we use, provide mutual visibility into the conversations we’re having and the small steps we’re taking as we all contribute to the business.
And that’s the start and end point – both business and creative teams make needed contributions to the business. When everyone respects and appreciates that, creatives can let their freak flag fly, and business folks will provide the needed structure that transforms creativity into revenue and profit. And everyone can appreciate that.