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Creative and Effective Leadership in Design Environments (Sarah B. Nelson)


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A search on Amazon shows 62,000+ books on leadership but almost nothing to help creative team leaders build and sustain a creative environment. Creativity and innovation can be delicate and emotionally fraught processes. Leadership theories are helpful, but what do you do when your star designer suddenly starts mailing it in? Or a project team is frozen in infighting? Or one of your designers just can't find their footing in a new project? When you got your big promotion for being an amazing designer, no one told you that you needed an entirely new skill set. Sink or swim, baby. For this session, Sarah B. Nelson gets practical on the topic of creative leadership. From vision development to team alignment, from bottom-up empowerment to top-down intervention, Sarah will inspire you with practical ideas to motivate your team and rouse them to greatness. She will draw on her extensive experience leading creative teams at Adaptive Path and Hot Studio—and inform the discussion with research and interviews from organizational psychologists, experienced managers, and successful creative leaders.

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Creative and Effective Leadership in Design Environments (Sarah B. Nelson)

  1. 1. creative and effective leadershipin design environmentsSarah B. Nelson, Hot Studio
  2. 2. effective creative leadershipSarah B. Nelson, Hot Studio
  3. 3. on being “creative”
  4. 4. “The frightening and most difficult thing aboutbeing what someone calls a ‘creative person’ isthat you have absolutely no idea where any ofyour thoughts come from, and you have no ideawhere they’re going to come from tomorrow.”— from Art and Copy
  5. 5. what’s your job?
  6. 6. “The bosss unstated job is to go and get the pizza for his/her people.” — John Maeda, Twitter, Feb 24th, 2011
  7. 7. to start, something concrete
  8. 8. Sean creative lead Kristy PM John UX LEadGoals Goals Goals1 1 12 2 23 3 3FEARS FEARS FEARS1 1 12 2 23 3 3EXPECTATIONS EXPECTATIONS EXPECTATIONS1 1 12 2 23 3 3
  9. 9. Sean creative leadGoals1 Add a new e-commerce piece to my portfolio2 To increase our experience with research projects3 Try out a new analysis technique for our researchFEARS1 That I won’t be able to spend enough time with the team2 that the client’s expectations are unreasonable3 That the project is underscopedEXPECTATIONS1 Of Sarah: That she is as accessible as possible2 of the team: That people communicate honestly with each other3 of SaRAH: that she has the team’s back
  10. 10. just because you wrote it on the boarddoesn’t mean its true
  11. 11. emotional literacy
  12. 12. “Emotional Literacy is made up of ‘the ability tounderstand your emotions, the ability to listen toothers and empathise with their emotions, andthe ability to express emotions productively. To beemotionally literate is to be able to handleemotions in a way that improves your personalpower and improves the quality of life aroundyou. Emotional literacy improves relationships,creates loving possibilities between people, makesco-operative work possible, and facilitates thefeeling of community.”— Charles Steiner
  13. 13. 1. Self-awareness – the ability to read onesemotions and recognize their impact while usinggut feelings to guide decisions.2. Self-management – involves controlling onesemotions and impulses and adapting to changingcircumstances.3. Social awareness – the ability to sense,understand, and react to others emotions whilecomprehending social networks.4. Relationship management – the ability toinspire, influence, and develop others whilemanaging conflict.— Daniel Goleman
  14. 14. know yourself
  15. 15. Fear
  16. 16. HungryAngryLonelyTired
  17. 17. now, some common situationskilling an conflictattitude adjustmentleading with question
  18. 18. killing an idea...
  19. 19. Imagine you have a designer who has an idea thatshe is really attached to. Shes been talking aboutthe idea, sharing it with everyone. She stayed upall night working on it. Shes passionate andengaged - just what you want! The trouble is, youare pretty sure that the idea just isnt going to flywith the client or key stakeholder. The rest of yourteam knows it, too. How would you handle thissituation?
  20. 20. “I would try to advocate for the designer ifpossible. Depending on the situation, I would seeif there was a way we could a) pitch it to the clientin addition to other more viable options or b) doan internal design critique and refine the idea as alearning experience and a means to deliver a moreviable option to the client.”— creative leader survey participant
  21. 21. “I would want that leader to be completelyhonest. I dont want to get smoke blown up myyou-know-what. If it isnt working I want to knowwhy, and if parts of that thinking could be re-purposed into something else.”— practitioner survey participant
  22. 22. “I think its worthwhile to let someone sell whytheir idea is so awesome. But if the team/leadership doesnt buy into it the idea probablywont be successful for the team. You need somedegree of team buy-in.”— practitioner survey participant
  23. 23. team conflict...
  24. 24. Now, imagine you have two brilliant people, anengineer and a designer, who are constantly atodds. Each are talented, each have done greatwork in the past, but together their work isgrinding to a standstill. The whole project is atrisk. Assuming you have no other people tosubstitute, how would you handle this situation?
  25. 25. “Talk to them separately and try to understandthe root cause of the issue. If that doesnt workthen I would bring them into a room togethercall-out the issue and ask them what they feelcould be done to get the project back on trackand moving forward.”— creative leader survey participant
  26. 26. “I would want the creative leader to acknowledgeit openly (in the internal team) and honestly. Noside conversations, we should be broughttogether to hash it out, with the lead as asupportive mediator, and ultimately, the decider.”— practitioner survey participant
  27. 27. “Take us out for drinks.”— practitioner survey participant
  28. 28. “The creative leader in this situation should helpthe team make a decision. This decision will likelymean that someone isnt happy, but if the entireteam makes a decision together, its much harderto hold a grudge against a particular person.”— practitioner survey participant
  29. 29. adjusting an attitude...
  30. 30. What excited you When this project is When this project is about this project? finished, it will... finished, I will...The chance change the to learn way the Have a new something client does piece for my new business portfolio Establish a Have triedWorking with new model prototyping John and for e- with Kristy commerce Fireworks An Bring in opportunity more have helped to work on interesting launch aa project w/ work for us new product Impact
  31. 31. one last *awesome* technique...
  32. 32. leading with questions
  33. 33. why?what were you thinking here?tell me more about that...say it again but use different wordshow can I help you?what do you need from me?
  34. 34. your questions?