Career Creative — 28 April 2011
Excelling as a creative within a corporate environment can be a real challenge

Want a ‘fish out of water’ moment? Picture a ‘capital C’ creative trying to find their way within a corporate environment!

If you close your eyes you can almost see the corporate’s finance or HR team members huddled around the water cooler or in their pods, whispering in hushed tones, ‘those creatives are hatching another campaign for world domination in a round-table brainstorming session; is that what we pay them for?’

‘Those creatives insist on working on a Mac platform; are they too good for PCs? What makes them so special?’

‘I just don’t get those creatives’.

This third comment gets bandied about a lot, but I’m sure many creatives could similarly remark that they don’t get many other professionals!

But that’s the thing about many creatives, or indeed many accountants, doctors or marketers; some are different. Many creatives I know wear other people’s misunderstandings of their creative lives and motivations as badges of honour to great personal and professional success.

The point being made (yes, there is one!) is that excelling as a creative within a corporate environment can be a real challenge. Designers are just one cog (and a small one at that in many companies) in a large wheel of operations that must toe the company line. For many creatives jumping ship from a design studio to a corporate design role, the realities of such a switch can often be at odds with how it’s sold at interview, or indeed what the applicant wants it to be from the outset.

Some are used to life in a creative agency, where business is won or lost on the strength of a single idea and its well-strategised evolution from off-the-cuff remark to tangible product or campaign. In these environments, ideas are the cornerstone of creative work and are, quite literally, king.

But these same ideas can often be stifled at corporate level by the need for consistency, an adherence to rigid corporate identity guidelines and reluctance by management to ‘not go too far’ and instead ‘play it safe’.

That great campaign you came up with at midnight last night could indeed work, but are management going to buy in? And what are you staying up until midnight for anyway? Kooky creative!

The disconnect often evident between creatives’ clear articulation of ideas and management’s inability – or unwillingness – to give them serious consideration can lead to many creatives criss-crossing between corporate and more creative environments, endlessly searching for the position where their ideas – hell, all of them – are taken on board and implemented.

But this is of course unrealistic; any position, whether you’re a designer or an accountant, has trade-offs:
‘It’s good money, but it’s boring work.’
‘It’s stimulating work, but it’s bad money.’
‘I get great perks, but the office is an hour from my house.’

Despite many of us searching for that perfect job, the truth is it’s not there, or at least not in the first instance. A rewarding and satisfying role doesn’t start on day one; it can begin to be shaped from day one with the right attitude and approach.

For creatives wanting to bring their gifts to more rigid corporate environments, being able to compromise – and being persistent – is paramount. Credibility isn’t a right but a privilege, and while creativity cannot be stymied, it was Picasso who admitted “The chief enemy of creativity is “good” sense.” All too often in corporate environments, the positive contribution of creatives’ work is overlooked or undervalued. Remember what happened to in-house design departments during the GFC?

So when you see the design team of your company holed up in a meeting room feverishly scrawling notes and diagrams on an A-frame while wildly gesticulating to one another, don’t snigger; there’s probably some great work going on.

Oh, you’re not a creative? You wouldn’t understand.

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(3) Readers Comments

  1. Interesting piece Carolyn. I consider myself a “creative” (for want of a better word) and I have worked in environments where I have been one of the quieter, less eccentric personalities around the table, and organisations where I may as well have had two heads on my shoulders.

    At the end of the day, the job is only ever as good as the culture it sits in. If the organisation has an inclusive, innovative culture, it’s hard to feel misunderstood and underappreciated, no matter what function you perform and what industry it sits in – creative or corporate.

    I would agree with your statement that “the perfect job doesn’t exist – at least not in the first instance.” Good creatives, indeed good employees, have the ability to shape a role, utilising and leveraging their strengths to make the job fit better, and enabling them to do more of what they enjoy while providing more value to the organisation by leveraging what they’re really good at.

    This, of course, takes time and trust to establish but most importantly, it requires an accommodating culture. That’s where true job satisfaction comes from. (in my opinion)

    • Hi Erryn. You make a good point. It really is up to the management of the organisation to ensure that their workplace culture is one where ALL employees, no matter what their area of expertise is, are made to feel part of the team and valued for what they bring to the party.

  2. Great Article :) Interesting.

    I have struggled with this concept my whole career, i dont feel like, act like or look like a typical creative. I dont fit in with the whole design agency thing. I work on pc, my work is quite corporate yet always functional. I love business, i love marketing, i get and love how that all works yet i dont fit into a catergory there as where do we put her? I bring to the table not just design and visual but other all the other stuff as well. I felt like i have always not fitted in a “Slot” so to speak.
    Interesting how we have think that people fit into moulds but thats human nature :)
    Thanks for the post :)

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