How NOT to Manage Creative People

The Harvard Business Review recently published the blog post “Seven Rules for Managing Creative People” by professor Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic.  And wow, was it wrong! 

The professor starts by over-generalizing and negatively portraying creative people. Here’s how the blog post begins:

“Moody, erratic, eccentric, and arrogant? Perhaps — but you can’t just get rid of them.”

What a way to preframe the readers’ thoughts about creative people.  It continues…

“In fact, unless you learn to get the best out of your creative employees, you will sooner or later end up filing for bankruptcy. Conversely, if you just hire and promote people who are friendly and easy to manage, your firm will be mediocre at best.”

For someone who is an “international authority in personality profiling and psychometric testing,” it’s surprising that he hasn’t met the friendly, easy to manage, innovative, and award-winning creative types that I have worked with.  There are no two types of creatives – decent people verse innovative people.

I’ve worked with hundreds of creatives and if categories of creatives were to exist, the number of categories would be in the double digits.  A very small percentage may be “moody and arrogant,” but the majority are brilliant, kind people.  Many of which I call my friends.

The Harvard Business Review blog post feels like an attack on my friends, on my previous co-workers, on my clients, on the advertising and design industry as a whole, and on me personally.

Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic might be able to get away with writing something like this if it pertained to teenage private art school students (maybe), but this article is slamming professionals.

And does the professor not know that competition and deadlines push creative people to actually create?  Not only does he state, “The worst thing you can do to a creative employee is to force them to work with someone like them — they would compete for ideas, brainstorm eternally, or simply ignore each other,” but also he goes on to say that creatives shouldn’t have to follow processes or structures.  No competition and no accountability.

Then he advises to pay creative people poorly because the more you pay people to do what they love, the less they will love it.  WHAT?!  But while you’re paying them poorly, make them feeeel important.  And remember, that you should not let them manage others because creative people are rarely gifted with leadership skills.  WHO IS THIS GUY?!

More than 350 people have commented on the blog post asking the same thing.  My favorite comment is: Looking forward to your follow up “How To Survive Extraordinarily High Turnover.”  You see, because if this professor managed creatives hands on according to his tips, he would be fired based on the extremely high rate of creatives running from the building.

The scariest part is that Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is the co-founder of metaprofiling.com, a company that is designed to identify employees’ creative and entrepreneurial potential.  I’d hate to think of how he’d treat those who score the highest on metaprofiling’s creative scale.  As a “leading authority in talent management” according to the metaprofiling website, think of the advice he’s giving to the companies he’s consulting.

As for how to manage creative people (from someone who has managed creative people for years), here are my rebuttal tips – 

Eight Rules to Managing Creative People:

1.  Ask them what motivates them and then motivate them that way

2.  Create the best synergy possible by surrounding the best creatives with the best creatives and encourage competition as well as collaboration

3.  Don’t waste their time and talent on meaningless briefs

4.  Have real deadlines and accountability otherwise little will get created and/or you’ll lose their respect

5.  Pay creative people what they’re worth and then some knowing that creatives are in high demand and no two people are the same

6.  Make them feel important because they are

7.  Give them the opportunity to lead and encourage the growth of their leadership skills

8.  Treat Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s blog post as if it were written for The Onion 

Comments

  1. M. Capaldi says:

    Thank you for writing this! I read the other article and was disgusted and disheartened. This is a list I can agree with. We are not children who deserve low pay and mind-games. I particularly think #2 is very important; in my experience, the best creative ideas are grown in small circles of creative people rather than alone under helicopter-esque supervision.

  2. Kelli says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself!!

  3. Alex Johnson says:

    Amen

  4. Stephen Welch says:

    Well said.

  5. sherry says:

    What is that man thinking?! I am a creative person. I am highly motivated. I have been at my job for 5 years and every where I have ever worked I have attained a leadership position within months of being hired. I have a high productivity rate at my current job, but no leadership as I chose to work in a more cooperative environment because my company believes in “playing nice”. It is not working quite the way I envisioned but we aren’t bankrupt yet.
    There really are no two creative types. And while there is personal competition that can cause disharmony (office politics similar to what was seen in Working Girl or What Women Want), it is rare to find creative people backstabbing each other. There is far less of it than one might think.

    As to not letting us manage others: Empathy. Creative people have it more than others I have worked with. Creatives are NOT Sheldon Coopers. Creatives are in tune with their surroundings and the moods of the individuals in their immediate environment and make great leaders because they can make adjustments as needed. We also tend to have a better track record with telling people who SUCK at their job that they do in fact SUCK?!?! and that they suck to such a degree as should embarrass themselves and generations of their ancestors. But we can do it without belittling someone. Creatives take the time to find a strength and send the sucky person in the direction of that strength rather than making everyone suffer with the duties of a written in stone job description because some other kind of manager won’t think for themselves.

    Here Here…. relegate this man to The Onion!

  6. Typical professor. Those that cannot do, teach. Not in the real world. Have never met a professor yet who ran a business successfully. They just pontificate. As for creatives, I have worked with them for years in advertising as a copywriter. Together we have made some great stuff. Their work makes my words sing, and vice versa.

    Thanks for posting this. Oh by the way, several Harvard drop outs come to mind, those who didn’t toe the “professor’s” line – Gates, Zuckerberg, etc. Smart move on their part to not get caught up in the academic b.s. out there.

  7. Nancy Zeller says:

    This is a good article that demonstrates the lack of depth of the author.

  8. Nancy Zeller says:

    I must clarify that the lack of depth is from Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic.

  9. A large number of academic professors have sheltered and bias opinions, this will never change.

  10. You and I have great friends, don’t we? It’s part of what makes our creative careers so fun and rewarding. Thank you for your respectful reply to a not-well-thought-out article. :)

  11. Completely on point! Excellent follow-up to a horrible article. Thanks for helping defend the creatives who work so hard in this industry and really acknowledge (most of) our work ethic.

    THANK YOU!

  12. Perhaps the creatives he’s worked with are “moody, erratic, eccentric, and arrogant” because of the way he manages them.

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