So you’ve decided to get a creative. Congratulations! Creatives can be a fun, fulfilling, and stimulating addition to any office environment. They’re full of surprises, open to adventure, and often wonderful with animals.
However, staffing a creative is not a decision to be made lightly. They can also be moody, destructive, irrational, and altogether poisonous when not cared for properly. Although they may appear shy and unassuming, you’d be astonished by the level of depravity often displayed in their private Slack channels. For every creative who’s brought glory upon his or her company through an award-winning ad campaign, there are four who seem to have taken up permanent residence at the foosball table.
If you’re serious about bringing one of these endearingly complex creatures on board, there are a number of things you can do to ensure your relationship will be productive and rewarding to all involved.
Make Them Feel Comfortable
Before bringing a creative home, take some time to make sure the environment is welcoming. It’s a common misperception that the only things creatives need to feel comfortable are a desk and a computer. Many modern companies have even gone so far as to adopt an “open office” plan, a layout that presumes employees are eager to have every moment of their waking lives scrutinized and evaluated by their coworkers.
Surprisingly, the open office plan has become especially prevalent at companies whose primary product is creativity, where they really should fucking know better. Walk into many offices today and you’ll note a preponderance of employees wearing headphones. They’re not doing this because they need music blasting in their ears all day to function; they’re doing it because they’re desperate to create some semblance of a private space, a sense of humanity and independence in the midst of perpetual observation.
While indeed there may be some exhibitionist creatives who thrive in this type of environment, many others feel more productive in enclosed, private spaces where they can think, talk, and develop ideas in peace. If you’re afraid that allowing workers their personal space may encourage them to indulge in the more dangerous impediments to productivity available in our modern online world, be aware that studies show the average creative is actually far less likely to watch pornography at work than the average CEO.
Give Them Guidance
The joy of having creatives in the office is you never know where their imaginations will take you. Be warned, however: if you don’t give them any indication of where you want to go, you may end up someplace far away from where you need to be. While many creatives are highly intuitive, reports that they actually have the power to read minds have proven inconclusive, at best.
For best results, do not rely on your new creative to guess what is in your head. Today’s work ecosystem offers a myriad of opportunities for communication, from text to email to good old-fashioned paper. If you convey the information that is in your head to your creative via some form of person-to-person communication, the likelihood of them articulating your message in a way that pleases you will increase significantly.
Validate Their Efforts
Creatives tend to be sensitive creatures who are highly attuned to their emotions, their environment, and social dynamics. While this quality may seem disadvantageous in our cutthroat, winner-take-all capitalist economy, it is in fact their sensitivity that makes creatives capable of creating emotionally impactful work.
This sensitivity, however, does not come without a price. Most creatives you meet are on their backup plans, because creatives who are not on their backup plans do not need to be hired by you. No offense. Coupled with their innate sensitivity, this yearning for a different life path results in an awkward combination of immense ego and incredible fragility. They are simultaneously too good for what they’re doing yet clearly not good enough because what they’re doing is this.
Don’t panic; it is not your job to compensate for your creative’s insecurities, and any creative worth his or her salt should be used to receiving less than optimal responses to their work. If you truly want your creative to feel like a member of the family, though, you should learn how to give feedback that doesn’t totally suck ass.
Start with the positive. Every piece of creative work, no matter how off-the-mark, has redeeming qualities. You may not like the imagery they chose, but is the composition interesting? Do you dislike the words but like the thinking? Did they do a great job printing it out? Find the positive and start there. Your creative is not just showing you a thing they did; they’re showing you a piece of their soul. Do not open the conversation by calling their soul ugly. It puts the creative in a defensive mindset that hampers their ability to make quality work and eventually may lead to them abandoning you for another company or, even worse, moving to the client side where they will be ten times more negative to you than you could ever imagine.
Yes, And. The rule of thumb in improv acting is “Yes, And,” meaning agree with what your partner has said and add to it. If your partner says, “there is a giant flying pig attacking the city,” your response should be “yes, and it’s spitting birthday cake.” That’s fun!
The opposite of “Yes, And” is “No, But.” If you say, “no, that isn’t a pig, it’s a donkey,” then you’ve just completely invalidated your partner’s idea and wasted everyone’s time. You’ve turned an opportunity to build a wonderful pig together into an incitement for resentment out of a selfish desire to put your idea above your partner’s. That is not fun.
What works in improv is also very useful in the creative process. Greeting your creative’s ideas with “yes, and” will prove much more fruitful than “no, but”. This doesn’t mean you have to automatically agree with every idea your creative has. But you should be able to find the kernel of yes within the idea and encourage your creative to follow that path—otherwise they’ll just remain stalled at square one with a flying donkey nobody wants.
Be decisive. To create is to build. If you are building a house and can’t decide where to put the door, you are going to end up with a dumb-looking house that no one can get into. Decisions are parameters, and creatives do their best work within parameters. “I don’t know, I just don’t like it” is not a decision. It’s barely even a reaction. Besides, none of this stuff really matters and you’re getting WAY too hung up on a stock photo. No, there isn’t an option that looks less “stage-y.” It’s a stock photo. Just make a decision and let’s move on.
Give Them Space
When true creatives get excited about an idea, they go all in. Stopping points are arbitrary; they’re thinking about work on the way home, in the shower, as they drift off to sleep, while playing with their children. They may be off-the-clock and off-the-box, but they’re still working out problems in their head constantly, trying to find a new solution, a clever spin, an exciting idea. This dedication to their craft makes creatives a fantastic investment. You’re paying for 40 hours of their time but getting so much more.
Recognizing the incredible value you’re getting from the complete takeover of your creative’s mental landscape, you’d be wise to trust in your creative’s self-management abilities and let them roam when they need to. Some mornings, your creative may have a difficult time getting out of bed. Some afternoons, he or she may want to check out early. Don’t force them to come up with some bullshit excuse for why they have regular human needs and don’t want to succumb to your artificial time constraints. Union labor is decimated and the 9-to-5 workday is dead. Don’t be that jerk who takes advantage of your employees just because you’ve gotten the thumbs up from an unjust, anti-labor corporate culture propped up by a government filled with inhuman greedmongers who exploit human suffering for their own personal financial gain at the expense of our health, our sanity, and our planet. K thx.
Buy us some snacks, ya’ cheapskate.
Every creative is different, so please see this guide as suggestions rather than a strict set of rules. If you encounter any situations outside the scope of this guide and are unsure of how to proceed, you can always just ask your creative directly how he or she would like to be treated. Gone are the days when creatives spoke only in monosyllabic grunts; many of today’s creatives are capable of speaking in full, human sentences and articulating their needs without the use of an interpreter.
But if you do find yourself with an uncommunicative creative and need to know what’s going on in their head, it shouldn’t be that difficult—simply read their private communications when they’re not looking. Chances are you can see their computer screen right now.