Lead Effectively: Three Tips for Creatives

Posted on Posted in Creative Leadership

Note: This post on how to Lead Effectively expands upon my original post,  The 5 Essential Qualities of a Creative Director, and is part of a series that include modified excerpts from my book, Directing Video Games: 101 Tips for Creative Leaders.

To lead effectively, a creative director walks the line between being a decisive leader and someone who fosters creative collaboration.

The director can’t come up with all the ideas alone. The best games tend to come from a passionate team of creators riffing off of each other’s ideas. It’s quite the balancing act to support concepts that evolve and grow organically from the team, yet know when to be firm if an idea begins to fall outside the vision.

Directors need to have strong interpersonal skills and easily relate with team members to smooth over issues that naturally arise when people work together. They must resolve disagreements, explain the rationale behind tough decisions, and empower team members to tackle problems on their own. The director communicates, inspires, and gives confidence to everyone, letting them know that the game is on the right path.

Tip #1: Creative Collaboration

The number one question I’ve received over the many years of working on the Ratchet & Clank games has been “Who comes up with all those crazy weapon ideas?” My answer is always the same: “It’s a team effort.”

Insomniac Games has a collaborative culture, and everyone is encouraged to contribute to any part of the game. To come up with weapon ideas, we’d get the whole team in a room to brainstorm. No idea was considered too ridiculous, and often the craziest ideas would lead to something unique and unexpected…not to mention fill the room with much laughter!

It’s the director’s job to foster an environment where the team feels empowered and believe that great ideas can come from anywhere. When people embrace this notion, they will offer more ideas, and there’s a greater chance for the most original ideas to surface.

Tip #2: Be a Role Model

The team looks to the director not only for creative direction but as a role model. It’s common for team members to unconsciously model their behavior off of the director and other senior members.

The director’s personality and attitude can set the tone for the project and can have a huge impact on both the team and the game. They show how to treat and respect fellow team members and how to solve problems. They also demonstrate the level of dedication needed to succeed.

People will look up to directors who are strong leaders with patience under pressure. Team members will not only respect such leader’s drive for excellence, they will try to emulate them.

Tip #3: Be Decisive, yet “Sleep on” the Big Decisions

The director is expected to be decisive and to keep the project momentum going. This reassures the team that the leader has a clear vision and is confident about the game’s direction. Yet for some of the thornier issues, it’s best not to respond immediately. Otherwise, you may give a hasty answer and have bigger problems to solve later.

It’s often best to sleep on a problem for a few days and discuss it with team members before arriving at a conclusion. The unconscious mind tends to work on problems while we’re focused on other tasks, offering new insights and epiphanies.

Easy and low-risk decisions should be made quickly. That keeps the project momentum going, and these types of decisions are easier to rectify if the wrong call is made. The bigger and riskier ones require time for some thoughtful consideration.

Tip of the Iceberg

These tips are just the beginning of becoming an effective leader. It takes years of experience and much personal development. Strong leaders do not need to bully or demonstrate their power. Instead, they earn respect through their actions and inspire people to follow them.

Talented leaders embrace the creative process. They support its organic and chaotic nature, and despite all the unexpected turns, have faith in creative collaboration. They also know when to pull in the reigns, if a project strays too far from the vision.

In the final post of this series, Know Production, I’ll share how creative directors work within constraints to make the best creative decisions.

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Check out the book on directing video games.

101 illustrated tips to improve your creative leadership skills.


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