A checklist for creative management: from theory to practice

For years, academics and practitioners alike have been exploring the best way to ‘manage creativity’.  The two words in themselves seem like opposites– by its very nature creativity is chaotic, whereas management strives for order and efficiency (I first wrote about this in two posts a few months ago – The Messiness of Creativity and Working with Creative Chaos).  Finding a balance between the two can be tricky.

The discipline of “Creative Management” gained particular prominence in the early noughties, with Jane Henry’s publication of the same name in 2001.  The book was a collection of articles by leading thinkers, including Teresa Amabile and her paper “How to Kill Creativity” (a pdf version of the article published in 2006).  In the same year John Howkins published “The Creative Economy: how people make money from ideas”, closely followed by Richard Florida’s “The Rise of The Creative Class” in 2002.  Florida also co-wrote a later piece  – Managing for Creativity – for Harvard Business Review in 2005.

Although written over a decade ago, the theories still ring true for today’s creative teams. The themes that emerged showed that particular conditions encourage creativity – those that enable individuals to manage themselves and their own time, allow for a high amount of autonomy, foster trust, provide the right amount of challenge, encourage communication and collaboration, promote equality and are not-over-managed.

But what does this mean in practice for those that are responsible for providing the right environment for a creative team to do their work? For this post in our “Doing, not talking” series – I’ve developed a practical checklist combining some of the research of Amabile, Howkins and Florida to help you ensure you’re on the right tracks.



Creative teams thrive on intrinsic rewards (e.g. peer recognition and challenge) rather than extrinsic rewards (e.g. bonuses).  Do you have:

  • CheckboxGood information and knowledge about each team members’ attributes to suitably match them to the right project, tasks and challenges
  • An effective process for gathering/capturing new ideas and constructively evaluating them
  • The opportunity for team members to gain peer recognition and/or the opportunity to work with talented peers
  • A project which is shaped around the talents and expertise of the team
  • Well-defined tasks, with each team member clear on their specific role



Individuals in creative teams want the flexibility to manage themselves, with a light framework provided. Do you have:

  • CheckboxA clear definition of the end goal, but with the flexibility for team members to define how they get there
  • The environment for team members to work autonomously, managing their own time to complete tasks within the time-frame set
  • An understanding that team members are likely to be working on a portfolio of other projects



Teams need the right resources to enable them to effectively carry out their work without unnecessary distractions. Do you have:

  • CheckboxA realistic deadline which incorporates time for creative exploration
  • A project which is as ‘lean’ as possible – i.e. stripping out any processes which distract the team from being able to concentrate on their creative work
  • Processes in place for regularly recognising and celebrating creative work
  • A space, place or time where team members can think or work individually
  • Methods for bringing the team together to network, socialise and share information



Creative teams work best when a strong ethic of collaboration is in place. Have you ensured that:

  • CheckboxThe team members have a diverse set of skills, perspectives and backgrounds
  • Team members are aware of other team members’ skills and expertise and are supportive of others’ work
  •  There are processes for easily sharing information within the team
  • The project leader actively demonstrates collaborative working themselves, leading by example
  • Any conflict that occurs is task-focussed (productive), not people-focussed (a distraction)


Do you agree with the concept of ‘creative management’? What techniques have you used that have worked?

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