The Key to Managing Creatives: Flexibilty

Let no one think that flexibility and a predisposition to compromise is a sign of weakness or a sell-out. - Paul Kagame

After many years of working on creative projects, I’ve learned the secret to dealing with creative people as a whole. Flexibility. It is the key to not getting frustrated, reaching important goals and getting great results.

The problem that most managers have is that to be a manager requires a love of organization and order. To some degree, managers are creative, but to manage effectively require great skill at organizing money, people and projects. This skill tends to work against the manager when dealing with creatives because generally creative people aren’t organized and their idea of order can make your head spin. Creatives know the destination and the time they need to get there but usually don’t have a clue on the route – and that’s a good thing.

Let me say it again. Creatives know the destination and the time to get there but usually don’t have a clue on the route – and that’s a good thing.

Look, you hired this person to bring creativity to your company not to add another layer of rigidness. Creativity is the skill of taking nothing and making it into something. The really good creatives are able to make something extraordinary ( and I hope that’s what you have working for you ) but either way their process is going to seem random and confused from the outside looking.

Here are some tips to working with creative people.

  1. Keep the rules to a minimum: Give your creatives deadlines and very little else. You’re running a business and therefore things have to be done on time, but after that let them do their thing. Micromanaging them will create tension that works against creativity.
  2. Respect their emotional attachment to their work: Creativity requires putting a part of yourself into the work. So with that in mind critique a creative’s work with a little bit of a softer hand. Don’t baby them but remember it’s not like telling your accountant their numbers suck.
  3. Give them room – literally: Granted this isn’t possible for most small businesses but creatives usually work better with space. This is true for most people since tight spaces are uncomfortable and constricting, but for creatives it usually leads to sub-par work as well.

In the end, don’t feel like you are compromising your business, leadership or management styles because you deal with your creative differently from others. It’s just smart management to understand that how to get the best out of your people.

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  • Eben C

    You can't manage creativity--that's an oxymoron. Like controlling freedom. What you're talking about is managing designers--which is managing people who have already managed their own creativity. Design is a craft, not an art, though I'm sure it looks like art to an accountant.

    Design is an intangible, creativity is an untangible. The best busineses have mastered design like the smartest scientists have mastered electricity (both intangibles). The last 100 years have been all about intangibles (before that it was all tangibles).

    True creativity is an untangible--like dark energy--and like science, business knows nothing about it but that it exists. Though it will become the most profitable and powerful force on the planet in the next ten years.

    Let me re-phrase that--untangibles have always been the most powerful force in the universe (scientists estimate that dark energy comprises at least 96% of the universe)--within the next five years, we humans will begin to understand and exploit this fact. More at