Leadership in Creative Industries

Historically, creativity and industry were rarely words uttered in the same breath. Creativity has even been seen as the antithesis to industry. In the 21st century, however, the concepts of the “creative class,” “creative economy” and “creative industries”—in large part due to the influence of business leaders, like Richard Florida and Richard E. Caves—continue to gain currency both in and outside the business world. While some members of the so-called “creative class” are artists in the traditional sense, many others are people whose work is simply contingent on being creative thinkers and in this respect, creative industry workers include everyone from designers to engineers to educators. But with the rise of creative industries and the creative class, leadership models are also evolving.

Leadership in Creative Industries

Defining Creative Industries

Creative industries, also known as culture industries, most often refer to those parts of the economy concerned with advertising, art, architecture, design, fashion, film, media and the performing arts. Some economists also group some public services, such as education, under the creative industry label, and many economists consider specific parts of the high-tech industry to be part of the creative industry. While definitions of the creative industry vary, what is clear is that in the 21st century, there is a growing conviction that creativity is the ultimate economic resource. In other words, whether you’re making art or building a global manufacturing enterprise, it is imperative to harness the energy, intelligence and creativity of workers.

Leading the Creative Class

While leadership in creative industries builds on tried and true leadership models, creative industries and their workers often present new and surprising challenges. People who see themselves as part of the creative class are typically young or younger workers, and many members of the creative class are accustomed to working remotely and/or working on a freelance basis for multiple companies. Even creative workers who hold positions with a single organization often work in multifaceted positions. Individual agency, flexibility (e.g., in terms of workflow and scheduling), variety (e.g., in terms of work related duties) and transparency are highly valued by the vast majority of creative workers. So how can leaders respond to the needs of the creative class and even foster their growth on the job?

1. Rethink Organizational Hierarchies

Traditional organizational hierarchies, especially those designed to keep leaders out of sight, rarely work well with creative industry workers who value transparency and crave agency. For this reason, leadership in creative industries often means rethinking organizational hierarchies. In some cases, it means transforming communication lines, so industry leaders can speak directly to workers at all levels of the organization. Increasingly, it means restructuring the workplace itself (e.g., moving from a closed to open workspace).

2. Recognize that Ideas and Solutions are Everywhere

Years ago, the Japanese car manufacturer Toyota recognized that sometimes, the best ideas and solutions are found among workers on the factory floor. Today, creative companies around the world are embracing a similar philosophy. Rather than assume that creative ideas and solutions are necessarily the domain of employees hired to develop new products or concepts, creative industry leaders appreciate that ideas and solutions may originate anywhere in an organization. When all workers are free to think and share their ideas, organizations benefit from the creativity of their entire workforce and not simply those employees hired in creative positions.

3. Model Creativity

Recruiting, training and retaining creative workers requires leaders who are recognized as exemplary models of creativity on their own accord. This means that creative industry leaders need to welcome and even share the values of their workers. While some creative industry leaders, like the late Steve Jobs, may lead one to believe that this necessarily means swapping a business suit for a pair of jeans and a turtleneck sweater, in reality, exemplifying creativity has little to do with one’s wardrobe. It means leading in a way that demonstrates the short- and long-term value of collaboration, innovation and creativity in all aspects of one’s work. It also means that the most effective creative industry leaders are those most willing to be open about their successes and failures. In short, successful creative industry leaders are typically leaders who are willing to be transparent about their process and to invite feedback every step of the way.

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