Managing Chaos (Sounds Like An Oxymoron)

Husband and wife team, Jack and Suzy Welch, writing in BusinessWeek suggest that creatives must be respected but controlled, if they’re going to add to the firm’s bottom line.

Leading people who often don’t think of themselves as employees of anyone or anything, let alone followers embedded in an organization consisting of levels, layers, and moving parts, is about as far from Management 101 as you can get. In fact, it’s an art, drawing on all sorts of soft skills, like empathy, an ability to nurture, and ad hoc psychological counseling. But what a mistake if you lead creative people from your heart and stop there. Managing creative people also requires—it even demands—a measure of authority. Nothing heavy-handed, of course. You don’t want your resident out-of-the-box thinkers running for the exits. With their fresh ideas and unique perspectives, they can be, and often are, the reason for breakthrough products and new ways of working, and even the impetus for whole new businesses. Still, creative people must know that boundaries and values exist, and they have to respect them. Because if they don’t, creative people have a way of going off the rails—and taking the workaday core of the company with them.

Since many AdPulpians manage creatives, I wonder what the reaction to this so-called Velvet Hammer approach is.
The passage above fails to consider what happens when creative people (who often don’t think of themselves as employees) become bosses. When that happens, as it does everyday in advertising, the inmates run the asylum.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Creative commando says:

    Let’s not go overboard in perpetuating the “crazy creative” stereotype. There are lots of outstanding creatives who are also extremely organized and responsible.
    There are also account-types who have to have their hand held 24/7/365 and traffic/production folks who can’t organize their feet into socks and shoes.
    Though there are for sure many creatives who could be more responsible, creative department craziness is also caused by skeleton-crew staffing, unproductive/unrealistic client demands, and the jiggling blobs of jelly that tend to get account executive positions.

  2. @Creative commando: Well said.
    As for the inmates running the asylum, I can dream.