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Creative Career Advice: Working in a creative department is a shared experience – you are part of a team. Like it or not.
Working in a creative department is a shared experience – and as employee or employer.
Entering in to a creative department as you begin your career can often feel like an out of body experience. There is nothing quite like it. A mix of new things to learn, misunderstand, fear and get excited about. Mix into that your coworkers – who when it comes to creative disciplines are often a mixed bag of talents, characters, opinions and experience levels – all pushing each other harder to be have the best idea. It can be thrilling, stressful, exhausting, amazing, destructive, blur…I’ve seen it make people better and I’ve seen it make people worse. But what a ride.
If you haven’t been on a creative team or department it can be hard to understand what kind of urge to create leads you to sleep at your desk…sacrifice your personal life…laugh with tears in your eyes at 3 a.m. in a near empty office with your fellow idea-warriors about the kind of jokes that only come from exhaustion and no super vision (and would likely get you lashed by the HR department). The trade-off to the burnout is the work that comes out of it and the bonds that are forged. We often don’t realize how good the journey was when it is filled with trials until we get to the end and start to crave the chaos again. That is a hard thing to describe to anyone looking in from outside or to anyone who believes in a structured 9-5 traditional employment balance. And when it’s your first experience it can easily overwhelm you. I have been been there. We have all been there.
But when you are fresh faced and wide eyed and have that drive to get to a more senior team level you may also be wondering how to act. Or what is expected of you. Now that I’ve had quiet a few years managing small teams and now entire departments I also see the power and danger of young ego. Your drive is what helps you succeed – don’t loose it. However that same drive if misdirected, over zealous or unearned can also cause a lot of damage to your potential.
Here are some thoughts from someone who has now spent almost half his life living through it.
Some of the MOST DANGEROUS things you CAN DO (IE: DON’t Do them….) early in your career:
DON’T STOP THINKING…Your first idea is NOT the best and only one you will have.
DON’T HIDE…By not speaking up when you disagree or don’t understand you are NOT doing yourself or your client or your employer any favours.
DON’T IGNORE…Don’t think that listening to advice of those more experienced is somehow detrimental to your growth and understanding of your craft even if it seems dated or not directly applicable. You may know better what a younger audience will react to – harness that knowledge. But also don’t neglect the wisdom of people who have done this countless times before you.
DON’T SHRUG OFF DIRECTION…Ignoring creative direction will NOT positively benefit your career as you move through it. The job of those you work with is to help you expand your horizons and produce better work. And those who create a reputation of being difficult to work with end up with less and less opportunities.
Some of the most valuable things you can do at the beginning of you creative career is to:
DO MORE…Try as many options as you can fit in to the time given. Asking for more time to create better work may result in a ‘no’ – but always ask.
DO OPEN UP…Speaking up when you are unclear, disagree when you don’t think it’s right, but also still listening and thinking about what others suggest. Real listening, not just nodding while thinking about your rebuttal, or with the intent of discarding as soon as the speaker finishes talking.
DO PROVE IT…if you disagree – prepare your alternate solution or ask for the time to prepare it. No creative likes to hear a boss or client say say “change it because I don’t like that colour”. Equally, no boss wants to hear “I don’t know, I just like this one more.” or “It looked better.” Tell me why it looks better and the reasons it is the right choice, and a lot of the time I will agree with you.
DO BE CURIOUS…Be interested in every opinion, critique and guidance of others. It doesn’t mean you need to follow or go blindly with what they suggest, but you should generally be interested in peoples points of view.
DO FEEL…Empathize. Or you might as well get out before you are found out.
Now if you have been in the game a while or for a long time… IT ALL STILL APPLIES.
We all need to constantly remind ourselves about the team effort and the greater good. Even the head of a company is ultimately directed by their client when push comes to shove – and clients by their audience or customers. Compromise happens and it is a positive thing. Too often we see direction and critique or changes to our hard work as a personal attack on our abilities or ourselves. Especially when you can easily invest your heart into every project. This will always lead to becoming disenfranchised or bitter. That’s human nature. However working with a team and growing with a team to ultimately feel better about the work and results once all that extra effort is spent – can make you feel more empowered and proud in the long run.
If you have your own – I’d love to hear you own list of dos and don’ts.