Despite the myopic values portrayed on the Apprentice TV Series, I like watching how the teams work, or more often, don’t work together! During one show, I was appalled at how these very successful people could be so clueless about how to manage talent and in particular, how to facilitate the creative process in groups. I was compelled to jump up and get a pad to take down some serious notes, anticipating an article in the making.
Each team on this particular show is blessed with a creative artist, who in this case happen to both be in the music business. They are Bret Michaels and Cyndi Lauper. In previous weeks, these artists have garnered reputations as being out of control or out of touch with the task at hand and have to be “managed” or sidelined so as not to waste time and foul up the task.
During this particular episode the teams were tasked to present an advertorial concept for an internet and personal security product bundle. The project managers assigned on each team were what I would refer to as “linear thinkers”. Yet like most tasks, this one had both creative design and performing elements. So they thought, let’s put our performers in a closet for this one…Hello!!!
The teams are so pressed for time that they have developed the habit of avoiding any divergent creative thinking and actually sideline their creative experts, Brett and Cindy so that they can “stay on task.” Yet while the project is underway, Bret and Cyndi both try to chime in with very relevant insights that would help the teams better respond to stated needs, but lo, they are trouble makers so it’s better to just keep them quiet or otherwise sequestered where they can’t make a fuss.
Now, even if you’ve never watched or heard of the Apprentice TV show, doesn’t this all sound vaguely familiar? Managing the tension between creativity and production, between divergent and convergent thinking is challenging, especially under tight time constraints. But isn’t there a better way to get the job done without marginalizing creative resources? Let’s take a look.
How to Accommodate Creative Input
Here are some tips and perspectives to help include creative personalities and creative thinking into your time-strapped projects.
Allow a bounded window for divergent thinking. All new projects can benefit from a period of divergent creative thinking. One process we commonly use that you are all familiar with is called brainstorming. This process may be applied first to help define and/or scope a problem if it isn’t already clear, and then to generate a number of creative ideas. Group members need to be instructed in the rules of brainstorming and the process that follows. A time boundary needs to be set and enforced as well. Then ideas are distilled to come up with the best approach moving forward.
Apprentice Action. It seems this process was skipped entirely and the burden for creating a vision and plan fell on the shoulders of the project managers alone. This essentially discounted the contributions and experience available from the group. I assume this happened because they didn’t know how to facilitate a brainstorming session and were unaware that you can allocate windows of time to conduct various phases of the design process.
Provide a process to capture creative input. Set up a whiteboard or flip chart to visibly capture ideas and concerns that naturally come up along with way. This offers a channel for emerging creative expression throughout the project. A process can be defined for the use of this system. For example, post two blank pages labeled Ideas and Concerns. Ask team members to post relevant ideas and concerns as they occur to them. And ask them to look at postings periodically for inputs that might affect and/or improve their progress and quality of their tasks.
Apprentice Action. Once the production began, project managers weren’t open to hearing creative inputs or suggestions for improvement, particularly from creative members. They didn’t want to be bothered so as not to lose focus. Ironically, the creatives on both sides had specific “street wise” inputs that would have improved their team’s chances of winning the competition.
Assign a Creativity Ombudsman. Assign a team member to be a conduit through which creative ideas are passes once the project is underway. This person should be someone with the ability to communicate concisely and who can translate ideas and their potential impact to the project manager during implementation.
Apprentice Action. Creatives were muzzled during implementation; assigned linear tasks or sent out to do menial work so as not to be pests.
Respect crazy creatives for their strengths. Creative artists can be a pain to work with on time sensitive projects. They are often easily distracted, unconscious of time, and often ramble incessantly off topic. And on the flip side, their unique, non-linear, heartfelt, often big-picture view of the world can bring ingenious insights to the fold. So don’t disrespect them just because their communication style may be inconvenient at times. Respect their input, let them know when you can and can’t be open to creative ideas during a project execution, and help them communicate concisely. This might mean that you ask them to go away for awhile to distill their input in writing, drawing, song, or dance.
Apprentice Action. Project managers were openly disrespectful of creatives, quit listening to their inputs, and charged off blindly on their narrow little paths.
What do you do to manage creative inputs? OK, your turn. Be creative and tell me what you’ve seen work or think might work in making space for creativity and innovation in a pressure cooker.
How might you implement one of these ideas or perspectives in your work as a group leader or facilitator? Please share your thoughts, stories, and experiences on this in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you!