Managers Thrive in Meetings; Creatives Flourish Outside Them

In the bustling landscape of the modern workplace, two distinct species coexist: managers, who thrive in the structured confines of meetings, and creatives, who flourish in the expansive wilderness outside them.

This dichotomy, however, presents a paradox. As a leader, you might believe you’re fostering innovation, but the conventional manager’s schedule could be suffocating your team’s creative spirit.

This article explores this tension and offers solutions for leaders seeking to foster a more creative and innovative environment.

In my years as a creative leader, I’ve navigated the challenging terrain between two worlds. On the one hand, I’m a maker, a creator, thriving in the solitude of my thoughts, where ideas blossom into innovative solutions. On the other hand, I’m a manager juggling meetings, deadlines, and the constant demands of leadership.

I recall a week when I was working on a crucial project. My calendar, filled with back-to-back meetings, left me with fragmented pockets of time insufficient for deep, creative thinking. The mounting pressure was extinguishing my creative spark. Then, I realized the stark contrast between the Maker’s Schedule and the Manager’s Schedule, as Paul Graham describes in his insightful essay.

My solution was introducing a new role within my team – a generalist creative leader who could bridge the gap between the makers and the managers. This person, understanding the sanctity of the Maker’s Schedule, protected the creative team’s space, enabling them to enter a flow state. This transformative change allowed our creative team to work in large, uninterrupted blocks of time, fostering an environment where innovation thrived.

Renowned author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss echoes this sentiment: “Large, uninterrupted blocks of time—3-5 hours minimum—create the space needed to find and connect the dots.” This perspective underscores the importance of respecting the sanctity of the Maker’s Schedule in fostering creativity.

However, the challenge arises when these two schedules intersect, especially in large organizations. As the Harvard Business Review article “Creativity and the Role of the Leader” suggests, “Leaders can’t directly manage creativity, but they can create conditions that encourage it.” This involves a delicate balance of fostering a culture of creativity while maintaining the necessary managerial structures.

Leaders should not be the sole source of ideas but should encourage and champion ideas from all ranks within the organization. Ferriss notes, “As Brad Feld and many others have observed, great creative work isn’t possible if you’re trying to piece together 30 minutes here and 45 minutes there.” This highlights the importance of creating an environment where ideas can bubble up from the ranks and leaders can champion these ideas.

Moreover, leaders should facilitate creative collaboration and encourage diverse perspectives. As the HBR article states, “Leaders must tap the imagination of employees at all ranks and ask inspiring questions. They must also help their organizations incorporate diverse perspectives, which spur creative insights.”

Let’s consider Amazon’s ‘Institutional Yes’ policy. This guiding principle defaults to ‘YES,’ placing the onus on the naysayers to demonstrate why an idea won’t work, not on the innovators to prove why it will. One of the outcomes of this policy: The birth of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon’s highly successful cloud computing platform, is now a standard in the tech industry.

The secret sauce for fostering relentless innovation is giving creativity space allowing flow state to happen, and inviting new ideas by saying ‘yes’ more often.

While essential in certain stages of work, process management should be applied thoughtfully. It’s not appropriate in all phases of creative work. As the HBR article suggests, “The leader’s job is to map out the stages of innovation and recognize the different processes, skill sets, and technology support that each requires.”

In conclusion, the symphony of creativity requires careful orchestration of the Maker’s and Manager’s schedules and saying ‘yes’ more often. Leaders must foster an environment that encourages ideas from all ranks, facilitates creative collaboration, and thoughtfully applies process management.

Doing so can create a harmonious rhythm that nurtures innovation and creativity. As Paul Graham wisely notes, “Each type of schedule works fine. Problems arise when they meet.” Recognizing and respecting these different rhythms is the key to unlocking the full creative potential of an organization.

By Paul Syng

Paul Syng is a multi-disciplinary designer based in Toronto. He focuses on a problem-seeking, systems thinking approach that can take any form or function.