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SXSW Panel: 10 Tips for Managing a Creative Environment


Bryan Mason & Sarah B. Nelson (both of Adaptive Path)

(Based tips upon conversations with organizations ranging from Neo Futurists to restaurant kitchen work to Avenue Q.)

  1. Cross-Train the Entire Team. People can specialize in different areas, but give them experience in all. Like Neo Futurists get people who can write, direct, act, do tech, manual labor, etc. People can slip easily from one role to another. “If someone gets hit by a bus they can still do a show Friday night.” Also makes group more cohesive, as people gain empathy for one another.
  2. Rotate Creative Leadership.
  3. Actively Turn the Corner. Point between divergence–creative and open thinking–to convergence–work towards production. It’s a problem when you have people in one phase who think they’re in another. “What if” is as bad in convergence as is “we can’t do that” during divergent part.
  4. Know Your Roles. Important in convergence phase. Everyone should know exactly what they’re doing once a poject has turned the corner. Everyone in a kitchen may love to talk about food, but when in service everyone has one exact thing that they’re doing–and depending on everyone else doing the same.
  5. Practice, Practice, Practice. Not just about improving individual skills but performance as an entire unit. It’s important to bring in new people at the right time — don’t bring new people into the kitchen on a Saturday night. Internal projects and R&D can be good opportunities to do that.
  6. Make Your Mission Explicit to the Whole Team. If all team members don’t understand what you’re trying to do, chance of success are very low. There is a problem with people not understanding each other… You must make things explicity, but you also need to make them actionable.
  7. Killing Your Darlings. Remove anything that doesn’t advance you towards the goal, including anything that you love. A systemic, reliable and respectful way of doing this is necessary. Ave. Q says “we’ll put that song in our TV show”, even though there wasn’t one, or a chef can say to an underling “when you open your restaurant you can put that on your menu.”
  8. Leadership is a Service. It’s a support positon for the creatives.
  9. Generate Projects Around the Group’s Creative Interests. Make sure you find things you’re engaged in, because if you’re not its going to cost you one way or another.
  10. Remember Your Audience.
  11. Celebrate Failure. It’s a necessary bi-product of the creative process. Make sure everyone knows that failure is OK… And when a project is over, make sure everyone can talk about it (like in a post-mortem) even if the overall project went really well. You learn more from the failures than the successes. Allow people to be constructive… Not “you screwed this up” but “this could have been done better.” Encourages people to take risks and be inventive. Without failure, you’re doomed to repeat the same things.

~ ~ ~

Audience comment: People to be cross-trained, but its important to only have one role when the project is rolling. People should know their roles, and not have to do everything.

Q: How can people who are not in management roles bring some of these ideas to their organization. A: Start like minds where you work and start converting. Also, if you’re in a creative environment that doesn’t let you throw up ideas, a good idea would be to quit.

Q: We don’t provide time to do throw-away work without thinking. A: May be better to build that play time into the regular work and development. Allow repeated throws at a real problem, rather than on working on something that will only be thrown away.

Posted in SXSW,SXSW Panels at 4:34 pm

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