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 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 

Professional Leadership in Coaching

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