If you’ve produced anything, you know that creative decision making is challenging. If a project is big, (for example a website or a record release) then the number of people involved increases and the stakes are higher to make good decisions.
But the world’s best creative works very rarely come from teams. They’re the product of a single artist, musician, author or inventor. In my experience, the bigger the team, the harder it is to make the right decisions.
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I’ve worked as a band manager, A&R consultant and web entrepreneur and I’ve struggled to make great creative choices every time. Through managing bands, we created brands for the artists involving the selection of record producers and songs, cover artwork, band photographs, music video ideas and directors, websites, merchandise and live touring themes.
As the manager I’d sometimes work with a huge number of people to create the band’s brand – the record company, publisher, touring agent, our own management team, band girlfriends and family members and, of course, the artist themselves!
Now I have Posse and we have to make creative decisions every day: big stuff like what should the town and store designs look like, what kind of font should we use; and then hundreds of little decisions about the style and content of copy, shape of buttons, how dialogues close, whether we should have straight corners or curved corners!
There are more decisions than you’d imagine and now we have a big team it seems like everyone has a different opinion.
The music industry is a wild training ground because there’s no formal system to anything. In my nine years in the business, I led the release of twelve major label albums in ten countries and not once did I create a framework for making creative decisions for an artist.
Too often, decisions about the next single or the right video were made by committee. These represented everyone involved: the group with the loudest voice or the biggest cheque often won out. At a record company, these people were usually men aged 40-plus, completely out of the artist’s target market. As decision-making processes go, that was as bad as it gets.
Some of the creative my management company produced was truly great, and some was truly terrible. Most of the great stuff tended to be made under quite different circumstances from the bad stuff. With hindsight, I can take what I’ve learned in music and create a framework for making functional, creative decisions at Posse.
Here are my views on the process:
1. Define your values
At Posse, I’m lucky to have an amazing set of investors. Early on, one of them, James Scollay, ran a session with me to define Posse’s brand values.
To start, he asked me to dream about the kind of company I wanted to build. In five years’ time, what would we be known for? What would the site feel like to use? What would Posse be like to work at?
He suggested that I come up with up to five core values that, when combined, could govern the brand and company. My answers haven’t changed. They are: ‘Everyone Wins’, ‘Delightful’, ‘Greatness’, ‘Revolutionary’ and ‘Integrity’.
Even through all of our iterations, the bases for making decisions about our brand, user experience and company culture have remained constant. Values are often a reflection of the entrepreneur and their dreams, but when there’s a team, they become the team’s values as well.
Recently, I’ve been through this process with Evermore in the lead up to their next album release. I don’t manage the band anymore but we’re still great friends and, earlier this year, I was hanging out at their farm near Melbourne. I shared Posse’s values with them and we pulled out a whiteboard and decided to define what they stood for.
It was so easy.
They knew exactly what their brand should say, and the process of refining it to five or so brand values was incredibly helpful. I wish we’d done it ten years ago as it would have made making the right decisions so much easier!
Great creativity is the vision of one exceptionally talented person, so it’s vital to choose this person carefully and then trust them. Don’t try to second-guess their decisions or you’ll encourage them to play safe, then they’ll make boring and wrong decisions. Note that safe creative decisions and disastrous creative decisions tend to be the same thing!
In music, I was lucky enough to find a few brilliant video directors, artwork and website creators whom I trusted on several occasions. They always delivered great work for me because they knew I trusted them. So they took risks, tried different things and we always got amazing results.