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Which Wins, Creative or Finance?

The two sides of the coin are very different and equally vital.

I am a fan of the inherent, ever-present conflict between the creative side and the operations/finance side of any business.

In a sports analogy, I think of it as the offensive and defensive sides of the company. They have very different mindsets, very different drivers and very different motivations, but both are necessary. Psychologists call it creative tension.

When we experience personal creative tension, our minds will naturally go about reconciling that tension to find a comfortable, equitable solution. That’s how you manage the interactions between the offense and the defense, who both have fair claim on the same resources. In a company it’s between the creative minds who have a fair claim to do something and the operations and finance teams who, fairly, want to keep the company profitable.

To achieve that comfortable, equitable solution, you seek not necessarily common ground or a compromise, but for a better solution, with all due consideration for how the different mindsets work. You’ve got “right brain” and “left brain” companies and organizations, as well as people. Both need to do the hard work of reconciling whatever side they work on.

Reconcile intuition with data, and conclusions with feelings.

These are things necessary to make the ultimate solution better if you allow the inherent discussion, tension and yes, even conflict, to play out. A good manager allows that debate to continue. A good manager, when speaking with the creatives, speaks respectfully of the ops and finance people. A good manager, when speaking with the operations and finance people, is respectful of the creatives. A good manager respects both mindsets and works hard to bring them together in forming a Gestalt, a singular whole. That is always a better solution than one side always dominating the other.

As a case in point, I can think of two particular companies that are much too biased, in my opinion, toward one direction or the other. One is a very well-run corporation, operationally and financially. They make above-average margins in their industry, and their returns for shareholders are impressive. But you could not pay me enough to work there, even as a financial operations person. It is a soul-destroying place to work because there is no intuition, there is no creativity, there is no drive to “get ahead.” It’s all about the bottom line. It’s all about the return to shareholders. It’s all about the margin.

Consequently, they are foregoing their upside, they are losing the culture that a company needs to have a business grow and be vibrant. My concern is that because they’re operating for the return now, they aren’t investing for the return tomorrow. Tomorrow’s return requires applying creative or observational genius to the success today.

And so, therefore, their returns will be short term, and finite. In fact, I think I’m already beginning to see that trend occurring for them. I feel for them. I feel for their shareholders. They’ve had a great season, but the time is coming unless they change.

The other company is driven by the creative process. They’re almost dismissive of the operational issues and financial prudence that needs to be part of any successful business model. It’s the unfortunate style of the industry they’re in, but they’re disregarding the disciplines that are a natural and necessary part of a business. They are making below-average margins, there’s always a crisis de jour, there is a huge turnover in the creative team.

What I’ve learned, particularly in the creative space, is that even “creatives” appreciate, understand the discipline, the structure, the accountability that comes from good operations and strong financial discipline. They know where they stand and they can, in turn, do better creative work. They’re not worrying about when the direction will shift or how the work they’ve just done will be blown up by someone else with a crazy idea.

There’s no discipline in the creative process. That sounds oxymoronic, but it’s not. There needs to be discipline in the creative process, no matter where you work. There needs to be creativity in the disciplined process. There needs to be process.

Again, I have an appreciation for both sides of that coin. I am a classically-trained finance guy. I get numbers. I understand the need for that discipline and prudence and adult behavior. But I operate in the creative space, in strategy and creative and digital and so on. I love that it gets my creative juices flowing, but I don’t get so carried away with one or the other. Personally, I strive to find the balance, and find that same balance in the organizations that I’m involved with.

That is the secret. The teams that make a great creative widget, are operationally and financially sound, and plan for the future are the ones that go on and own their space.

Aaron Webber is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Webber Investments LLC, as well as a Managing Partner at Madison Wall Agencies.

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Aaron Webber

Aaron Webber


Chairman and CEO, Webber Investments. Partner at Idea Booth/BGO.