Books - Cuddling the creatives - Flatter, reprimand and cajole Winston Fletcher's canny advice on how to channel unpredictable talent is indispensable, says David Bell.
Tantrums and Talent
Admap Publications £25
There are very few senior managers today who are not haunted by the critical importance of a magic ingredient most often called creativity.
But what exactly is this precious metal? And how are we to manage its alchemists, the 'creatives'?
Winston Fletcher's new version of his well-known Creative People has a new title in recognition of the way this issue has shot up the agendas of managers everywhere. A successful lifetime in advertising gives him a huge advantage: he has managed more than enough creatives himself to have clear ideas about how (and how not) to get the best out of them.
But in this book (subtitled 'how to get the best from creative people') he ranges skilfully far beyond advertising, though perhaps not quite far enough.
The precise source of this creative 'magic' eludes him as it does everyone else. Even Mozart confessed that he had no idea where the melodies that sprang into his head came from.
But the creative type is rather less hard to define. The adjectives tumble onto the page: stubborn, imaginative, inconsistent, insecure, unpredictable, driven and so on. Most managers can ruefully add a few of their own.
This is no doubt because most of us are not very good at getting the best out of this unstable cocktail. Fletcher believes that managers should see themselves as enablers, conductors, facilitators, talent spotters and - very often - enforcers. He calls in aid a clutch of gurus who appeared in his original book - from Denis Forman to Paul Hamlyn and Jeremy Isaacs. But he has added some new ones like Chris Jones, who runs J Walter Thompson in New York. Fletcher's style is to quote from them at length and it mostly works well. Isaacs, for example, is unfailingly wise, delightfully suspicious of 'management on paper' and clear that good hiring is everything. 'In inviting someone to do a job,' he says, 'you've made your creative decision.' All agree on the overriding importance of 'cuddles', flattery, and patient impatience. 'You don't have to like them,' says one sage, 'you have to like their work.'
Fletcher is canny and resolutely practical. The most precious metal is as scarce as ever - 'few creative people have as much diversity of talent as they think they have'. Managers will never win respect by prevaricating or being too easily dazzled. Nor will they lose it by insisting on deadlines whose importance was well enough appreciated by the likes of Mozart, Balzac and Dickens. Even the best ideas need burnishing, the rest should be swiftly consigned to oblivion.
Managers won't lose the regard of creatives by complaining that their work is insufficiently creative or original. That's the language the best of them understand. But in praising or reprimanding or cajoling it's vital to be specific. Fletcher's nine simple rules for managing creative people deserve a wide audience as does his succinct definition of what a good brief must always contain (but often doesn't).
From the outset Fletcher is clear that he is not writing about the process of scientific creativity. Fair enough. But in the end I think he can afford to widen his definition of a 'creative' beyond the myriad wordsmiths and musicians who are his staple.
He rightly defines creativity as 'imaginative activity that yields an original or novel outcome'. The great 'industrial creatives' - from Rockefeller to Gates - would sign up to this and they share more than a few of the classic creative personality traits. There is tantrum and talent in abundance here too and it would have been good to read more of Fletcher on this kind of creativity as well.
That said, this is a most valuable primer for anyone who has to manage creatives. Even the alchemists themselves might understand their own plight differently after an evening with it. Perhaps most valuable of all, though, is Fletcher's wry, sympathetic and on occasion flinty wisdom. He knows that so much is changing and yet so little.