How NOT to Manage Creative People

The Harvard Business Review 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, 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 

To This Day Project – Animated Video with a Heart-Centered Message

When artists, designers, animators, and all the talented people who choose to work in advertising and graphic design come together to produce something like this…there aren’t words…

It’s human.  It’s real.  It’s beautiful.

To This Day Project

Spoken Word Poem by Shane Koyczan

Animation by Giant Ant

Full Credits



It’s All In How You Look At It

Past group coaching client, Ian, describing one of his commissioned paintings.

A Client’s Presentation

This last weekend I drove up to wine country to support one of my past group coaching clients, Ian, a professional illustrator.  Ian was speaking on “The Power of Story in Art.”

As he spoke on symbolism, perspective and sharing a story through art, he showed examples from Leonardo da Vinci, Norman Rockwell, Ernest Hemingway (yes, the writer) as well as examples of his own personal pieces.  The audience enjoyed his presentation so much they asked for an encore.  Ian was flexible and able to pull together a second presentation in a matter of minutes.

It’s an incredible feeling to watch a client succeed.  To soar.


Reflecting on Ian’s presentation (the prepared one), I can close my eyes and see the lines he drew on a da Vinci painting to explain perspective.  The perspective draws viewers in and directs their focus.

Let’s take that thought – that perspective directs focus – and apply it to our own lives.

Work Feedback

I am an advocate of the 360-degree employee review.  As an advertising creative, your growth may depend on what not only your Creative Directors think of your work but also how the Account Directors like working with you, how receptive you are to the Planners’ recommendations, how much other creatives like partnering up with you, whether or not clients like you and so on.  Without the different perspectives, you don’t know where to improve, where to focus.

Life Feedback

Outside of work, others’ perspectives can help you see blind spots too.  How does your family perceive you?  What do your friends think are your strengths?  What is your reputation in the community?  What do others constantly wish you would do but you are clueless about?

Why not ask?

Ask your network – your brother, best friend, neighbor, the waitor you see weekly, your kids’ babysitter – what they think about you.

    • What are your best skills?
    • What are your talents?
    • How would they describe your personality?
    • What do they admire about you?
    • How would they like to see you change and grow?
    • What do they think you would really love to try doing?
    • What would they like to say to you but haven’t before?

You can come up with scales for different qualities that are important to you.

For instance, on a scale from 1 to 10 how ______ are you?  Where the blank can be filled with:

    •  Confident
    • Patient
    • Open
    • Fair
    • Accepting
    • Creative
    • Fun
    • Loving
    • Thoughtful
    • Giving
    • Dedicated

But can you really ask for perspective?

Yes.  But asking people you know to tell you how they view you can seem scary.  So the question becomes: Which is stronger – your desire to grow and be better OR your fear?  You can always ask via e-mail or ask them to submit their thoughts in a sealed envelope to a third party (e.g., your significant other, a friend, your mailbox, your doorstep).

People who are willing to give you honest feedback, will; those who aren’t, won’t.  There’s no harm in asking.  And you’ll never know unless you ask.

Imagine if you found out something that could save you time, energy, money, etc.  Maybe your friends would rather connect over Skype than at fancy dinners.  Maybe you find out that your nephew really wants to spend one afternoon a month with you.  Maybe it’s revealed that the many hours you work are causing your relationships to suffer.  Maybe whatever you’re doing isn’t working and you don’t even know it.  Maybe whatever you’re doing is working but you’re too close to it to see the effects.

Maybe this exercise is exactly what you need to create a more satisfying life.

Use perspective to guide your focus.


Creativity shows up when you invite it

CreativityRecently I wrote an article around claiming your creativity.  As I wrote I could feel passion bubbling up inside of me.  I am creative (one notch more creative than business-like in the left-brain/right-brain test), and I am my happiest when I am surrounded by creative people.  “Who are creative people?” you may ask. Years ago I would explain the answer with specific examples of graphic designers, art directors, writers, painters, musicians and so on.  Now I tend to simply say, “Creative people are those who say they are creative.”  Notice, it’s not enough to know you are creative, you must admit it.  You must say it outloud.  You must claim your creativity.

Several weeks ago I connected with a creative group on  Please understand that I am the type of person who only joins a group when I am confident that not only I want to commit to it but also that I have the time, energy, resources, etc. to jump right in.  So after being an assistant organizer of a music-related Meetup group for close to a year, I joined the creative group.  As I read the group’s description, a book that is on my to-read list was showcased.  The book The Artist’s Way has come up three times in a matter of weeks, so I took that as a sign to join the group (and bump the book up to the top of my list). After filling out my bio in which I first said,

“While I love art, design, music, and specifically singing and playing the ukulele, my real passion is coaching & consulting creative people so they finally feel satisfied even when they have previously felt stuck,”

I found out that the organizer of the group is also a coach!  Yesterday, we met for tea (for her) and coffee (for me) where we must have sounded like giggling teenagers with a crush (only we were discussing coaching, business, marketing, and creativity).  Stories were spilling out of me almost faster than I could say the words, and I was absorbing her experiences as if I were watching a movie trailer.  As with many times throughout this last year, the fact that career coaching is what I am meant to do was blindingly evident.  Her passion for helping others find or reignite their creativity was refreshing, and I couldn’t help but think about the final line in my article, “When you claim your creativity, you are powerful.”

The more I focus on my career coaching business’s niche market of graphic designers and advertising creatives, the more creative my thinking around my business has become.  It’s no coincidence that as I invited creativity to take center stage in one of my articles that it has begun to show up more and more in my work and life.

With that, I encourage you not only to claim your creativity but also invite it to be a part of every aspect of your life.  If you’re like me, you’ll feel more fulfilled than you even thought possible.