On Managing “Creatives”

by | April 18th, 2013

Last week, Mike Montiero shared a Harvard Business Review article that sparked considerable backlash. The article, titled “Seven Rules for Managing Creative-But-Difficult People” (title has been changed from the original “Seven Rules for Managing Creative People”) has amassed over 700 comments. It’s currently the most read and commented article on HBR in the past 30 days.

Montiero, author of Design is a Job and respected voice among the design community didn’t hold back when he found the article. In fact he expressed as much disappointment in HBR as he did at the author.

I recommend reading the post to fully understand Montiero’s disgust, but here are a few of the highlights from the list:

1. Spoil them and let them fail: Like parents who celebrate their children’s mess…

2. Surround them by semi-boring people:

5. Pay them poorly Don’t overpay them: There is a longstanding debate about the relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation… The moral of the story?

… the list goes on.

A Missed Opportunity for Healthy Discussion

I can see how the post may offend, but I also see the points that author Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic was trying to make. Unless his intent was to incite a flame war — in which case he probably exceeded all expectations — I’d argue that the post can teach us a lesson in the power of poorly communicated thoughts.

If you look beneath the surface of the author’s claims, he dances around some important and valid points concerning motivation, the creative thought process and managing teams.

I think the author erred in two simple ways:

  1. He singled out and stereotyped “creatives” as some knowable “other” (read more: “Hellish Other People” by Cennydd Bowles).
  2. He not only uses a demeaning voice in his post, he promotes demeaning management tactics.

Rather than harp on miscommunication, I’d like to divert attention to somebody who I’d say tells a similar story in a less confrontational way.

Dan Pink: The Puzzle of Motivation

If you line up the HBR post and Pink’s TED talk side-by-side, they actually touch on many of the same points. But Pink does two things differently:

  1. He doesn’t single out people, he singles out types of tasks.
  2. He doesn’t tell the audience how to interpret or employ the research, he simply makes a case and lets his audience apply the research to their team.

Please share other positive articles and videos relating to motivation, management and creativity in the comments below.


  • Serina

    Great post. Calling them “creative people” really is the first thing I flinched at, and very much along the same lines as the awful stereotyping that goes on in the world these days.

    It’s important to remember that people are complex creatures, and though we all have inclinations towards certain tendencies (eg: creative vs. technical, logical vs. emotional, the list goes on) it still works on a spectrum that is constantly evolving. Being as such, focusing on tasks (as part of the process) and goals (as the means to an end) feels much more tangible and I feel speaks to different personalities because it is outside of them.

  • Great piece and I think you hit the nail on the head with the line “If you look beneath the surface of the author’s claims, he dances around some important and valid points concerning motivation, the creative thought process and managing teams.”

    My real question is: was the goal of the article to show how to MANAGE creative people or was it provide ideas for how to get the best work out of your creative (design) team? From the tone, it seems like the goal was to explain how to manage people, but more in the way that a warden may manage inmates. Rather than applying a condecending tone to an (for lack of a better term) advice column, it might have been more beneficial to speak in a positive manner about how to bring about positive change within your company or organization. The article feels demeaning and really could have been a chance to discuss how to better communicate with “creative minded people,” or motivate them to do their best work, etc., but instead it just incited a flame war.