Inside the Gated Community of Creative (Part I)

Michael Gough and George Clooney

Michael Gough and George Clooney (courtesy Yahoo)

Lately I’ve been working with a creative director whose background is predominantly “traditional” or “offline” (means: TV/Print/Radio/Out-of-Home and not digital).  It is through him that I found myself suddenly inside the gated community of offline creative and, turning back, found maybe there was no gate after all.  As Nedup would say, “Mind Bugs,” referencing a paranoia I once went through about bedbugs (we didn’t have any, thank goodness).

This creative director’s view is the will to collaborate must be present for gates not to exist.  In his case, he has that will and gamely went along with my rolling out an Agile-esque framework at least on the production of a campaign that had video, print, and digital executions (I was not involved in the ideation stage).

Although we didn’t use burn-down charts and velocity, we didn’t explicitly name a Product Owner, and otherwise did all sorts of horrific “Scrumbut” things, we all felt what we did was very successful.  When I say “we all” what I mean is “the team” because this was precisely the result of using Agile.  We all felt like a team and had that closeness.

Where this creative director and I have both been trying to sort is at the point in which we’re coming up with ideas – or a Big Idea – for a campaign.  On another client, we’d thought to see if we could use our new framework, but in traditional it is customary for the creative director to lead the troops and he instinctively went to that process, habituated to it and likely feeling comfortable and safe with it.

Then, I’m not sure at such a nascent stage of a campaign about the point at which Agile can really help and where it just breaks flow. I think of an example Dr. Jeff Sutherland used in a class of his that I took in which he talked about team issues – and one of those being the classical coder who does not want to attend scrum but just go off into his cube and get into flow “and just code.”

Lt. Gen. Russel Honore (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

Lt. Gen. Russel Honore (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

Then could it be that “flow” can lead to “distraction” and we really need a general?  I think of Hurricane Katrina and Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré.  In this situation, it seemed we did indeed need a general.  This is possibly an example of a really huge team in “spin-and-flounder” mode.  From Wikipedia:

In one widely played clip, Honore was seen on the streets of the city, barking orders to subordinates and, in one case, berating a soldier who displayed a weapon, telling him “We’re on a rescue mission damn it!” New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was quoted on a radio interview September 1, 2005, saying: “Now, I will tell you this — and I give the president some credit on this — he sent one John Wayne dude down here that can get some stuff done, and his name is Gen. Honoré. And he came off the doggone chopper, and he started cussing and people started moving. And he’s getting some stuff done.”

I’ve seen Chief Creative Officers and CEOs behave like this with teams, coming off the chopper, starting to “cuss,” and getting people moving. Breaking through team inertia.  I myself have been expected to do this, and even had a CEO at a previous company say to me “You need to yell at people more, Mary.”

On the other hand, maybe these generals need a butler.  So back to breaking out of feudalism, at what point does that coder need someone to keep track of where the socks are?  Someone to wash them and put them away so he can focus on the task at hand?  Does the coder have to wash his own socks?

The creative director, during an ideation stage that he ended up leading, originally asked me to “keep things moving” for a weekend of crunched creativity. I declined because it felt to me artificial, as if I’d be inserting myself into a process that maybe does not require (?) what could be horse beating.  Getting off the chopper and cussing and getting people moving.  Or could it have turned into facilitation?  Not sure.

I bring this up because there was someone, a digital executive creative director, who said to me once that he viewed Project Managers as very good butlers.  He clarified that he meant this in the way that Alfred is a great butler to Batman/Bruce Wayne, enabling the superhero to go out and fight crime because he doesn’t have to worry about where the socks are.  This person is much more towards hopping off the doggone chopper cussing, but his style is less cuss, more inspire.  He hops off the doggone chopper and the creatives want to follow him into battle because he makes it seem as if where we’re going is incredibly interesting.

Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day

Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day

But he feels he needs a butler. I know from visiting countries that still have the feudal habit of one human being serving another that it can be all too easy to fall into liking that service and of beginning to feel that oneself is somehow deserving of such service.  In the situation I was also tempted to think I was generating employment by letting people have the opportunity to serve me.  Very easy to enter into all sorts of rationalizations, when in fact could it not be that we are only steps away from enslavement of another person to serve our own great ego?  Or, as a master, do we deserve that? Does it help for us to demand that?

The question, then, finally threads it way back to Mastery.  Should one “serve the master” if one is not training to become a master?  Is there any case in which a butler is okay to have because it leaves one free to enter into flow and create?

I think of a company like Big Spaceship, that proclaims they have done away with the title “Creative” and question how they get stuff done.  Don’t they need someone to wash the socks?  And don’t they need a general to jump off the doggone chopper and start cussing so people move?

From reading Dr. Alistair Cockburn’s book, Agile Software Development: the Cooperative Game, more and more I conclude we really need a framework to analyze the situation on a case-by-case basis.  He talks about projects needing analysis to determine how heavy or light a process can work given the circumstances. To extend the thinking to this case, it may be that in some cases you need a general, in others plenty of butlers, and yet others, the team can take over.

Where we may be very evolutionary is if we can thread our way down the fractal to spot in which we actually do not need generals or butlers because the team just works that well together and just works that well with other teams.  My question remains, though.  Where’s the socks?

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One Response to “Inside the Gated Community of Creative (Part I)”

  1. What is Hyper Island and Do They Teach Agile? #agile « Says:

    […] day earlier this year, when I was reading articles trying to figure out how to get inside the Gated Creative Community and trying to sort the “Future of Advertising” for myself, I stumbled upon this article […]

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