Alastair Pearce continues his series on creatives, this time looking at the ‘artiste’.
Artiste is your colleague and you’re her manager. She’s creative and produces good work that helps the innovative drive of your company. Oh, but you so wish she was easier to work with!
‘The main problem with Artiste is she just can’t take criticism – even the most constructive. Her face just creases up and I know she’s turned off her audio input. And my comments weren’t insensitive or wounding. So why?
‘She’s actually rather good in teams, enjoys talking about her latest project. She’ll go on about it for ever actually!
‘Not so hot watching focus groups though, gets really twitchy when they’re judging her work. But when its praised she’s a different person, I’d swear she actually glows! I know everybody likes that reaction, but for Artiste it’s as if her life depends on it, sort of oxygen for her.
‘And there’s one final thing about Artiste: she can’t let a project go. Even after she’s done all the initial creative stuff and the implementation people are working out the nuts and bolts, she still demands to be involved. It’s now way beyond her skill set, she should let it go and get on with the next creative project, but she just can’t.’
So that’s what you, her fictional manager, think of Artiste. But have you met her in your real life company? Or perhaps beyond your organisation? The primary school gate is a likely place. Here you’ll see parents bristling at any criticism of their children, and beatifically smiling if another parent compliments them on what a lovely child they have.
There will be parents itching to talk about their children’s latest achievement and eager to escort him or her right into the classroom despite the school’s plea to say goodbye at the gate.
Artiste at work / parent at school gate: resenting criticism; desperate for praise; eager to display and reluctant to let go. For Artiste her work is her child, the tangible expression of her own creative DNA. No surprise then she should guard, nurture and promote it in the way she does. But how might this understanding help you as her manager?
Unfortunately the obvious way forward is probably not available to you, for treating her as you would another parent at the school gate is impractical. You cannot reconcile the needs of your company with the parental tactic of: say nothing critical to another parent; just smile and listen to their stories and agree it’s a silly rule about saying goodbye at the school gate.
No, your company’s legitimate needs of quality, commercial viability, timescales and efficiency mean you the manager, must be more assertive than you the parent. But remembering, as you roll up your sleeves, that you’re working with a person deeply in love with the fragile and vulnerable idea she has just delivered, will guide you in your management of Artiste. Three ideas:
First, before facilitating any structured review of Artiste’s work, the wise manager will arrange a one-to-one coffee with Artiste.
The manager should start with some self-criticism of a project he / she is currently working on, a project nothing to do with Artiste, but on which she may well wish to comment. (Parent readers will here recognise the ‘Coffee after drop-off and my child’s a real worry at the moment’ tactic to allow another parent to open up.)
Second, delay formal, criticism of Artiste’s work until it’s strong enough to take it. This in practice may mean a lengthened period between the birth of Artiste’s idea and its first public outing in front of peers.
When this does eventually take place avoid both a focus group with its tendency to premature conclusions and groupthink, as well as brainstorming Artiste’s idea in potentially brutal competition with others. A more low-key Artiste-led SWOT analysis might be more useful.
Third, after Artiste’s work on the project has ended, facilitate her keeping in touch with its progress out in the world. This might include her being informed of results it’s generating, and could also prompt her being invited – for comments – to review meetings discussing modifications in its deployment.
Your company hired Artiste for her creativity not her easy management. As her manager, you agree she can be frustrating, but, at the same time, you can’t help but sympathise with, even respect, her attitude to her work.
Perhaps you’re a bit Artiste?
N.B. This introductory caricature has drawn ‘Artiste’ as female, the previous piece for Training Journal saw ‘Solo’ as male. Both were random assignments simply employed to avoid the tedious ‘he/she’. There is no association between any form of creativity and any particular gender.
About the author
Alastair Pearce is director of Working With Creatives