Guys. It’s not a secret. Creatives are annoying. Everyone on my team (including and especially me) is super annoying and falls into one of several archetypes.
The Logician makes coherence of the conceptual.
They will be instrumental in identifying missing or fallacious components and charting a clear course toward the goal. They’ll ensure that you’ve missed no details, you are not building a strawman, and ultimately, you are not allowing any functional aspect left unaddressed.
Logicians excel at not letting the nature of the details confuse them, which is helpful when details are not yet salient. To a Logician, details become subservient to the actual structural aspects of an argument or approach.
Navigating uncertain territories where logical conclusions and use cases have not been worked through. He or she can become overly reliant on theoretical or structural consistency, often at the cost of what’s practical and relevant to the details.
Pair with a Pragmatist to counterbalance their overly theoretical approach. The Pragmatist will make sure the details make sense.
The Pragmatist translates creative language into business vernacular.
He or she doesn’t let “heads in the clouds” lose sight of real considerations: deadlines, scope, resourcing, etc. A people-shaker and a project-mover, this person keeps the team functioning as a cohesive unit and doesn’t lose sight of the goal.
The Pragmatist can be too practical for the nebulous nature of creative work. Many great ideas are impractical; to innovate, we have to imagine beyond what and how we’ve done things before. This process can be messy and hard to monitor in the tactical way that the Pragmatist tends to prefer.
Pair with a Visionary to audit idea generation against what’s practical.
Narcissists function well in situations where checked arrogance pays off, such as pitches or presentations. Because they genuinely believe they are the best, Narcissists present with extreme confidence and engender faith from your prospective client or audience. Narcissists are most effective either working completely in isolation (where their actions can only be a result of themselves) or in a larger, balanced group dynamic. Small, unbalanced teams should be avoided. If the Narcissist can’t be balanced or checked in the ways described, they should go.
Narcissists feel entitled to better treatment than everyone else, which leads to a certain level of excuse-making and why-me behavior. While they are arrogant and critical of others, they’re extraordinarily sensitive and generally don’t receive feedback well. Narcissists are rarely willing to admit when they are wrong, particularly if you are accusatory in your approach (compli-disses usually work well here). When a Narcissist stumbles, it’s almost always because they were put into a position that forced them to make a mistake or fail to deliver. It is never a Narcissist’s fault.
A broad, balanced team with at least one person who doesn’t take bullying—like a Pragmatist or a Logician.
Place the Narcissist into team dynamics that do not tolerate their errant behavior—where their behavior is largely disallowed by being ignored—and forces them to collaboratively work through problems. Then encourage the group to navigate their narcissistic tendencies. (HBR’s How to Manage a Narcissist provides helpful recommendations.)
Highly efficient and straightforward, The Droid will not overcomplicate rote tasks. They have a high threshold for monotony and being detail-oriented. Their sole mission is to find efficiencies in the repetitive workflow, always seeking to modify core functions to execute them more accurately and more rapidly.
The ambiguous creative process really has to be nimble in order to produce the best work. It requires key trigger points that depend on the project itself—not on an abstractable and replicable checklist.
The Droid becomes easily mired in details. He or she becomes completely debilitated without a replicable checklist with every single detail buttoned up. Unlike the Logician, the Droid has trouble understanding conceptual consistency if every last detail is not matched.
Pair with a Pragmatist whenever dealing with a Visionary or Logician. The Pragmatist will make sure the Droid knows whether they can start or not. The Pragmatist will also bluntly tell the Droid when they won’t receive every single cross to a “T” or dot to an “I”, and how to deal.
The Visionary can conceive abstract concepts and connect disparate ideas, then guide others who are less conceptual to understand how the vision ties to the execution. The Visionary, at his or her best, can bring the intangible to life.
The Visionary’s biggest flaw is the number of ideas they generate. This can sometimes overwhelm them and those around them. They can lack focus, leading to multitudinous directions and priorities. The downside to this ability to think conceptually is that those concepts can remain ambiguous, which is harder for literal-minded team members to create. Because they live in the world of aspiration, he or she can sometimes overcommit to unrealistic expectations.
Pair with a Logician to plan, then a Pragmatist to execute. Both will keep a Visionary on track.
Getting this person to create quality work is an uphill battle. More time is spent discussing why they can’t get the job done (it’s always someone else’s problem) over how they will get it done. As a strain on leadership, this person should probably just be let go.
WARNING: Some Droid behavior can seem like Evader behavior. The difference is that the Droid wants to produce work. The Evader does not.
The Unchecked Narcissist
So while we can continue to work on the flaws of the system through the people, we must ultimately recognize that the system needs to be fixed in order to make the most of these brilliant minds.
Creative Leadership Series
Creative leaders need to discuss the leadership aspects of our jobs more. Instead of learning from just our experiences, how can we cultivate conversations about the work as it pertains to the people? What methods are most effective?
For all of the tools centered around teaching technical skills, creative leaders often lack healthy models of creative leadership. Beyond a few resources (Harvard Business Review, FastCo, 99u, for example), creative leaders are left to learn (or not to learn) the soft skills to develop future creative leaders. On occasion, I’ve had enlightening discussions at events or heard profound speakers—unfortunately, these experiences are exceptions rather than the norm.
I’m not asserting that I am a single-handed expert on creative leadership, but I do hope my experiences and this series initiate more conversations about creative leadership.