This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while (and I wrote it on Saturday which is a bonus - see the Sunday dreads post). One of the things I feel like all creatives experience at some point is an environment that becomes stale, arbitrary and oppressive. I've found with creatives this is a common complaint, and as a result I’ve been thinking about the difference between inspiring people, or purely managing them.
Some brief definitions I lifted from google.
Inspiration - the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.
Management - the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.
I definitely consider myself someone who thrives on being ‘inspired’ and has a distrust of being ‘managed ’and whilst this has developed over time from my personal experience, I think to most people at face value the each words has different expectations. I think managers can indeed inspire employees, but so can those who don’t manage. My personal experience is that people ready themselves to grow into a more senior, management-focused role which is more about exerting control and maintaining processes than doing great work and inspiring others to do great work. That's a toughie as helping others do great work can mean putting them first; an act of selflessness.
The dreaded development plan...
I really fucking dislike development plans and they are a common method to promote growth. They’re full of unrealistic expectations (even if these are self-motivated), arbitrary hard-to-prove behaviours or boring activities that people don’t want to actually do. The ones’ I’ve had assigned to me have always been uninspiring, difficult to read with their awful word-processor-tabular-layout and underwhelming even if everything was a success.
I feel even if the development points can be proved the actual value of those improvements is difficult to discern. Particularly from a creative standpoint not everything is data driven but so rarely do development points focus on improved mastery within a given discipline, program or even on simply showcasing that you know the basics (kerning vs leading anyone?).
Development plans are shit because it’s not a creative document and there are no intelligent ideas behind its construction.
You also never get time to actually develop (my personal experience in creative roles). And common advice is to make the development plans full of easy and actionable objectives because deep down everyone knows you’ve more chance of going to Mars than having time during working hours to improve yourself. Uninspiring much.
Why I'm wary of managers, especially in the creative space
I’ve found being managed can be restrictive, especially if referring to the aforementioned development document. Imagine two creatives trying to discern actionable steps from a buggy tabular structure that prints over several pages and is full of corporate spam. It’s difficult. It’s hard for an uninspiring document to lead development or a development meeting.
Where does the document live? Well good question. They’re so useless and unwanted that it can take ages to find where it was saved. It could be just me that finds development plans are seldom revisited; but I've had many others I've worked with experience the same issues. I've also found that managers (even creatives) tend to shape a focus which is mostly on level, pay or hierarchy when it comes to discussing development rather than challenging someone to excel in a given mastery or discipline. Rather than focusing on vague actions like "contribute more to meetings"; employees should feel inspired to come back to a manager and say "I know I need to improve my confidence and public speaking, I'd really like to host a mini-conference as a way to work on that".
Too often being managed feels like wading through a morass of “gotcha” moments.
Gotcha! - you sent one email that was a little sloppy and missed some background info
Gotcha! - you let a spelling error from a brief you didn’t write sneak into a design.
Gotcha! - you asked for holiday under the recommended notice period
Yes we want to be at our best. But from what I have seen, managers are often too focused on the smallest missteps which don’t really contribute to true improvement. Why not encourage someone to find a unique discipline to own (giving someone with a illustrated flair briefs that can forward that skill for example).
My personal take on inspiration
Inspiration works on the basis that creativity is never used up. The more you use, the more you have. Being inspired and feeling that desire to dip your toe out of the comfort zone is great. I also feel that it can be contagious. If you convince people to make the first step, then they can go really far. I’ve always felt strongly that if you want to be really good, or get better quicker, you must explore that skill or passion outside of working hours. It’s the best way to develop, and it benefits a person first, and a company as a secondary point.
I heard at a small talk the concept of ‘uptime’. A senior designer spoke about how he set junior members time-insensitive creative tasks that they would work on in any downtime. It was structured as a larger project which was built up of lots of smaller tasks. Progress could be tracked as tasks where ticked off and the designs were able to explore and improve disciplines they really wanted to. I love the idea of turning downtime into uptime. It’s certainly not possible in very many jobs; but if you inspire someone to do better I feel most people will seize that opportunity even if that may mean making time outside of work to create something they’ll really enjoy creating.
I’ve tried a few methods to inspire myself and others, but it’s a work in progress as are most things; I'm content I've been doing my best to keep myself fighting fit and enjoying the process. I’m a creative working in creative industries, so the following may not be relevant to all.
Set up a regular drink and draw event; it’s creativity and skill improvement disguised as socialising - brilliant!
Work on a joint creative challenge with someone - I started a photo-a-day project with a friend, and a 365 day challenge with anyone on the team who wanted to join in. It’s so much easier keeping momentum when you know you’re not doing it alone. Feels great being able to chat with someone about the progression as well.
Start an after school club - One day a week I stay late at work with a friend and we work on coding/animation. The best thing is that it doesn’t feel like work most of the time.
I hope this has provided some interest or entertainment. I’m planning to work on another post which will explore more actionable ideas around ways to inspire folk in the workplace. But I had a lot of thoughts to get out.
Hope you’re weekend is ace!