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The Side Dish

5 Questions I Ask Myself Daily to Foster a Creative Culture

Shanley Jue, Creative Director / 8.31.2017

The most satisfying part of the creative industry is the moment the work gets out there, from commercials and billboards to social media. Because they are tangible outcomes, it’s easy for many of us to respond. If we imagine a 3-layered pyramid, where the tangible outcomes are at the top, the middle section would comprise of the creative process and all the semi-transparent steps and skills needed to create. At the very bottom, the foundation, is creative culture, the most intangible item in this pyramid.

Building creative culture requires intuition of human nature, leadership, empathy and self-awareness. To stay grounded, I often ask myself these five questions:

1) “Why am I doing this?”

With every new project there is, most always, a volatile mix of enthusiasm and deep-seated fear. These feelings may not be so unique, and I’ve never been able to shake them, but I think there is good reason. The enthusiasm comes from the chance of a fresh new canvas, with boundless potential; and like any blank canvas, fear overtakes as I wonder, “What am I going to do?” But the point here is not about managing these conflicting feelings. It’s about ensuring that they are both present. I need to be excited about what I am doing, and, I need to be pushed a little bit beyond my comfort level to grow. When enthusiasm and fear live together, I know I’ve got a great project in front of me and have found my bliss. If either of them are missing, I then ask this question and adjust.

2) “Who are you?”

Every team is comprised of people with varying skills and specialties. As a leader, my most important objective is to get our “aces-in-their-places.” I’ve been a part of many teams. Some functioned synchronously like the Navy Seals, while others behaved like a herd of cats, each doing their own thing. I’ve learned that a foundation for great teams is an understanding of what people want to do and why, and balancing that with what the team needs. Great teams are founded on “being understood.” It takes deliberate nurturing over time, collaborating with the team to learn about who they are, what they love doing and to see their passions in-action on the tasks at hand. Answering this question, a little bit every day, builds great relationships and close-knit teams.

3) “Am I being clear?”

This question is not about giving directions and expecting an execution that is exactly what I said (which I loathe). It’s about transparency, consistency and predictability. The things that are important to me should be easily seen in action and in words, every day, to everyone. An often under-rated quality for leadership, being clear creates stability for people to understand you. They will know how to approach you with anything and they’ll be able to predict pretty much what the outcome and reactions will be. The perfect teams comprise those that can finish one another’s sentences. Unless it’s a birthday party, I think most people don’t like surprises, so I govern my actions and words by asking this question often and making sure there are no surprises from me.

4) “Are you feeling what I’m feeling?”

There are times when I have really strong feelings about a creative output, whatever it may be. It’s definitely a product of all the baggage I have collected over the years. Knowing that, I’ve learned to wait before acting, and to see if anyone else brings up the same thing I’m feeling. If it’s really important, I’ll wait longer to see if more people speak up. If the team feels what I’m feeling, before I say anything (that’s key), then I am more confident moving forward one way or the other. Having experienced many projects where I’ve witnessed decision-making from the obvious to the opaque, I’ve learned that a good north-star is to gauge the temperature of the team, and it starts with knowing how they are feeling about the project.

5) “Am I making this better?”

When performing a scientific experiment, sometimes observing can affect the results. For instance, in quantum mechanics, when under observation, electrons can be forced to behave like particles and not like waves. So, the mere act of observation affects the experimental findings. It’s the same with developing creative. How much influence is needed from me, and how much should I step away? Over the years, I’ve learned that there is no magic-bullet answer for this one. But, it’s important to keep asking it. To me, the most magical moment in the creative process is when an idea comes to be from seemingly nothing, and is a result of each circuitous, meandering, sometimes tortuous step along the way. Many hearts and minds came together and the result is exponentially more than any one person could create alone. This delicate process requires a light touch with a firm trust in your team, and this question always present in the back of your mind.

Empathizing and being self-aware opens yourself to asking the right questions, which is a cornerstone of building creative cultures that lead to great results, for everyone. Our team practices these principles every day and some of the results can be found here: https://bigyam.com/capabilities/creative/

This five-question process enables our team at BIG YAM to maintain a thoughtful creative culture that leads to great results for our clients.