How to Create a More Creative Staff

by Dean Rieck

I have to wonder about some creative directors and managers. They claim to want creativity from their staff, but the environment they create is often full of stress, fear, and confusion. I'm not talking about tyrants yelling and screaming. I'm talking about hiring creative people and then not letting them be creative.

It could be subtle things like asking for some fresh ideas on a marketing campaign, then when fresh ideas are suggested, rejecting them in favor of old ideas you've used a dozen times before. Or assigning a rush project without providing background information and then asking for extensive changes when the final product doesn't measure up to your expectations.

Such behavior sends a clear message to your staff that you do not respect or value their skills. And over time, this trains your staff to expend the bulk of their energy trying to make you happy — or avoid your criticism — instead of doing the job you supposedly hired them for.

If you're in a management position, you are largely responsible for your staff's output. And they can only be as creative as you allow them to be. Are you an anal-retentive control freak? Are you overbearing and threatening? Do you constantly criticize ideas that don't agree with your own? Are you indecisive, saying one thing and doing another? Do you feel threatened by the creativity of your staff?

This sort of introspection is hard stuff. But if you're serious about helping your staff do better work, start your improvement program where it will make the most difference — with YOU. Here are a few pointers:

Don't expect instant success with these ideas. Creating a work environment that encourages productive creativity takes months — or years. Don't try to overhaul everything overnight. You'll just create confusion and fear. Start small and introduce changes gradually, one-by-one. Ask your staff about changes they would like to make. Try out some of their ideas, even if you think they won't work. You might be surprised.

In our final session, we'll tackle a special creative process that everyone thinks they understand, but which few do well: Brainstorming. It's more than sitting around a table and hashing out two or three ideas. And done properly, it just might generate that big, breakthrough idea you've been looking for.

Copyright © 1999 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
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