5 rules to get the most from creative people

Posted on Feb 23, 2013

You have an important project.

So you’ve hired an architect (or choreographer, designer, sculptor, chef, composer) and want the best outcome. Of course.

This could be a subject for an entire book, but let’s confine ourselves to 5 rules that will help you optimize results. (Below* we’ll ask you to add your own.)

1. If you hire Picasso, don’t tell him what colors to use.

Micromanaging stifles creativity, leads to conflict and ends up in downtown Ordinary. By the by, if you know you must manage the colors, the person you hired ain’t Picasso.

2. Yes, let tactics surprise you – but set a strategy first.binocs3672559_s
Zero restrictions on creativity doesn’t ignite an artist’s imagination nearly as well as a challenging problem to solve. You should agree on a shared vision before you unleash the creative process.

3. Only hacks hate rules.
Sonnets have 14 lines, a prescribed meter, a strict rhyme scheme. Genuine poets are never stifled by that – those limits have inspired greatness for centuries. It’s not an intolerable burden if “the painting must be rectangular” or “the wedding cake must be gluten-free” or “the logo redesign must still be blue.” Find a balance: clarify all the practical restrictions (“no, you can’t build a skyscraper in Washington, D.C.”) without handcuffing the artist.

4. Agree on a deadline.
Creative freedom is valuable, but never unlimited. Unless you’re a noble patron of the arts, you’re doing a commercial transaction. Be businesslike. Even if you are a parton of the arts, you should still establish a timetable, but be flexible. That Sistine Chapel may take a bit longer than anticipated.

5. Use the right measuring stick.
When you evaluate the finished product, forget what you “expected.” Judge it by this crucial criterion: does it match the strategy and vision you previously agreed to? Every really effective creative end product is found at the intersection of Surprise and Delight (a neighborhood we should visit more often). To have it turn out just as you “expected” means it missed out on the Surprise vector.

*Those are the first 5 guidelines. From your experience, what would you add, or subtract, or modify? We’d like to hear from practitioners and patrons, clients and collaborators.

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