When large organizations bring in creative people they often want the outputs or the products of creative people, but are intolerant of the way the creative people operate.
So they will complain: “They can’t prove anything. They’ve got all these wild ideas. They expect us to try things that we don’t know for sure will succeed. What the hell are they doing?”
The answer is they’re trying to invent the future and the reason that these companies tend to bring in creative people is because they’ve gotten frustrated with their own lack of success in inventing the future.
So I think the first and most important thing in managing creative people is to simply recognize that this is managerial challenge. Don’t assume that there is no challenge, that all you have to do is bring them in and everything will be fine. Do it in a rigorous, analytical way. Assume that they won’t do it in a rigorous and analytical way, not because they don’t want to. It’s because that would destroy what you want from them.
So if there is a recognition of that upfront and then you take it as a managerial challenge and you say “How can we manage this?” Well one way you can manage it is to encourage their experimentation. Recognize that you cannot prove their ideas in advance. You’ve got to let them try the idea.
Now if you’re a good manager you won’t let them try an idea that is likely to sink the ship. You don’t want to take a hit below the waterline, but if you have to throw one million, ten million, a hundred million, depending on how big your company is at trying something so that you can generate proof because the bad news about the next six months is it is in the future and you don’t know what is going to happen. The good thing about the next six months is six months from now it’s in the past and you can analyze it. So the job of the managers in a company that wants to take advantage of creative talent is to give them chances to prove to you that their ideas are good and that means trying them. That’s why prototyping is really important. Make a little, sell a little. You have to give them a chance to prove to you that their ideas are great.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.
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