Managing Creativity: Help People Be Great

We’ve established that individual creativity is tied to internal motivation and creative thinking. Whether you’re a project manager or a creative director, there are easy ways to tap these elements to help people do their best work. We’ll start with how you let people work individually, and then move on to teams and organizations in future posts.


I talked in a previous post about how creativity is like a maze. Everyone has their own process for exploring that maze and as long as they know the end goal they’ll get there (with creative thought in tow). So, provide clear direction/goals and then give each person autonomy over their own process, with just a bit of guidance if they need it.

Letting go of control can be uncomfortable, but your creative projects will benefit from giving people the opportunity to amaze you. One project manager I interviewed described it like this:

His college soccer coach would never participate in their games, instead letting the team coach itself. His philosophy: if he had done a good job of coaching during practice, everyone would know what to do once they got on the field.


Effectively challenging people means giving your people projects that stretch their abilities just a bit, but not terribly so. That challenge will continuously engage people and keep them from getting bored. Mathematically it might look like this:

boredom  <  sufficiently stretched  >  overwhelmed

Budgets and schedules can sometimes provide these challenges, helping people tap their problem solving capabilities. However, when time or money is too limited people will refocus their energy on finding additional resources rather than on the project. No good. Strike a careful balance and people will thrive.

Matching People and Assignments

In a project-based, deadline-driven world I know this is hard to schedule, but it’s worth it when you can. Matching people and assignments means not only matching people with what they do well, but also with what they love to do (which may not always be what they’re best at).  You’ll reinvigorate their interest and excitement and provide them with opportunities to excel and grow professionally.

The Good News: Gen X

According to both academic literature and my interviews for this project, Gen X seems to have a natural propensity toward working this way. (Yay you!) Whether described as giving people enough rope to hang themselves, putting younger staff in front of clients early, or playing coach rather than manager, a strong common thread has been letting people do things their own way, pushing them outside of their comfort zone so that they could grow and letting them do what they do well.

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