Insights on Management

Lead with inspiration—A few ideas on inspiring creative teams


The stereotypes associated with in-house creative groups are abundant.

Most are more annoying than true. But hold on; there’s one that may have a touch of truth behind it. And some of the most cherished benefits of landing an in-house gig may be the key cause of it. The one in-house stereotype I hate hearing about is a client not believing inspirational results are possible from an in-house creative team. This makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

The perception is based on the assumption that the in-house creative path provides a steady gig, a regular paycheck, health benefits, and regular dinners with the family. This is what makes in-house careers so attractive to many designers. However, does that mean it also breeds a complacent stagnation of creativity? Personally, I’ve experienced many nights of nuked food at the dinner table alone. But honestly, I have seen complacency and what it can do to the work overtime. Who is
accountable for this?

First, let’s understand the nature of the design industry. Our status as professionals is based on a combination of innate talent, our specialized education, the development of our skills and our recognized mindset as a group—not unlike other
professions. Before working anywhere, it’s the commitment to develop these attributes that define us personally. And a certain amount of that development is our own professional responsibility. It drives our personal brand. A key component of this is inspiration. Creative people know what inspires them. They should reach for that inspiration at every opportunity.

In hiring us, the employer owns a certain amount of responsibility to develop us as well. It’s an investment toward better quality, production, and, ultimately, their bottom line. Employers want to increase our value, not necessarily personally, but
to the company. If that sounds like making us a commodity, well, we’ll need to get over it. In fact, take advantage of that.

As creative leaders, part of our job is to inspire our people.

Most creative leaders didn’t become leaders because they suck. We have experience. If you’ve been there–done–that and bought the shirt, share your experiences. It’s a way to give back to the profession and enhance the value of your people to the company. Lead by example. When you’re inspired, spread the love. Create a repository of creative inspiration available to your entire team. Have each of them contribute. Maybe schedule occasional review sessions to talk about the latest additions. Be involved in your team’s work to the point of frequent critique sessions with other teammates—with the intent to review project progress and to gain immediate feedback from other creatives. However, teach others not to rip into what’s wrong with a project right away, like many of our professors did to some of us back in the day. Remember?

We’ve all had those heartbreaking moments when our favorite concepts were rejected by a client. In fact, easily 65 percent of the best work I’ve done never saw the light of day. Each of our team members is sure to have experienced that same heartbreak. Give your creative staff a chance to bring those projects back to life. Hold scheduled “Living Dead” share sessions with your teams. The team will have an appreciation for the work well beyond what the client could ever articulate. Mentoring is another inspiration tickler. Have interns and new hires shadow your top talent for a time. Don’t rely on them merely observing. The experienced talent should have the next generation do the work, just under their meticulous eye. That usually makes learnings easier to remember—and in my experience, the mentors learn almost as much as the mentees.

I am a huge fan of road trips. Be involved in the local creative scene. Look for opportunities (e.g., gallery showings, studio tours, speaker events) that your team can attend together. In fact, encourage your team to come up with their own road
trip suggestions.

As an attendee of many design conferences, I know how inspiring they can be. Developing a plan to get your team to design conferences is a huge shot in an inspirational vein.

These are just a few suggestions to kill complacent stagnation and drive inspired creativity into your clients’ projects. Kill that stereotype!

I know what you’re thinking … the organization has a budget. Budgets truly can be inspiration killers. Try and work as much of the above ideas into your budget, or at least as much as you can get away with. Argue that the return is the increased value of your team to the company. True, that value is intangible, but the ROI will show when your team’s work directly affects company sales in positive ways—but that’s another story.

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