The inherent complexity that underpins today’s digital products seems to have put an end to the age of the arrogant leader with the killer instinct. In past decades, it was this person who ruled so many creative businesses. During this time, there were only a few crafts that came together to make a magazine, an ad, a film or a product. There was time for the individual genius to conceive and perfect the work that would have her name on it and make her famous. But this command-and-control business culture has fallen out of fashion.
Lately, I am seeing that the individual star has been replaced by “the awesome team.” Recently I proposed that a company’s senior creative leader should aim to create work that would make him proud and famous. I was firmly told by talent management that the company might not be happy if he became famous. Are creative shops now playing whack-a-mole with their budding superstars?
With the multiple moving parts that even the simplest products require, there is little room for the private vision to be brought to life. So many components have to work together seamlessly and apparently effortlessly. Tens — even hundreds of specialists — have to function as a single creative organism. Unless this hive works together, the whole thing will come tumbling down.
Previously, ambitious creatives aspired to work for a star on their way to becoming one themselves by doing their own great work. That was their motivation. Now, everyone needs to be working together selflessly. A corporate culture provides the medium: an environment that guides our interactions, that rewards collaboration and mutual respect. It has to be based on transparency because each tiny step can have huge ramifications at some yet-to-be-discovered node in the process. Since we have taken away the platform for individual fame (unless you escape to start your own venture and eventually to create your own hive), companies have had to design a warm culture to keep everything running smoothly.
Here are a few real-world ideas to prompt your own solutions:
- Cast your team thoughtfully. Hire people who contrast and complement each other’s skills, personalities and styles. Then let the culture evolve from the mix of people you’ve chosen.
- Provide space. You are growing a business, not a social club. Set aside spaces and times, provide resources and let the team fill them. Your job as a leader is to provide the petri dish and see what emerges. Just because you like to skateboard, doesn’t mean all your employees want to. And your business culture is not going to be strong with just skateboarders. Let your team enjoy whatever makes them happiest in their spare time.
- Let the culture be productive. Don’t just think of corporate culture as massages or free sushi. Include opportunities for individuals or groups to develop their own projects. Give them times when they should be working on developing their own projects and sharing them if they want to. Be interested in what they are developing and encourage them. You can learn what excites them from seeing the kind of things they do on their own and who they partner with. This will give you ample information to guide the way you motivate their work for the company. This is culture.
Now let’s all go play ping-pong and drink beer, happy to be in it together.