Leading a team is never an easy task, but leading a team of creatives comes with its own additional set of unique challenges. Chris de Abreu has been tackling those challenges since 2009 in his role as Creative Director. When asked how he landed in this specific role, Chris explained: “I was not aiming to be a creative director per se, but I was drawn to the idea of being able to show inspiration and be a mentor. It’s almost like a football game: If the game is good, you don’t notice the referee, you notice the game. I want to be like the referee: It’s not about me, it’s about the people and about creating cultures.”
Chris believes that being a successful team leader comes from ensuring the happiness of your team. A study published in the Harvard Business Review (1) reinforces Chris’ belief that a happy team is better at what they do and produces higher quality work. The study found that “people are more creative and productive when their inner work lives are positive– when they feel happy, are intrinsically motivated by the work itself, and have positive perceptions of their colleagues and the organization. Moreover, in those positive states, people are more committed to the work and more collegial toward those around them.”
Chris de Abreu agrees. “It’s been proven that when people are happy, they work in the best way possible. We want to encourage people with different perspectives to give their input. Inspiration comes from exchanging ideas and being open, and my job is really to ensure that whatever happens, it’s always a sunny-blue-sky kind of day. That way my team can be happy and create beautiful things.”
When it comes to keeping his team happy, Chris puts an emphasis on using communication to drive inspiration and ensure creative excellence. He believes the creative department extends far beyond the individuals in the company who have “creative” or “design” descriptors in their job titles. “Everybody can be part of the creative process because we are all creative in one way or another,” Chris explains. “It could be the way we cook, the way we dress, how we pick the colour of our clothes, our hair, etcetera. For me, it’s really about ensuring everyone communicates and exchanges ideas. I’m a big champion of serendipity.”
Serendipity is the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way (2) , and workplaces are increasingly being designed to encourage spontaneous creative collaboration across disciplines. One now-famous example of this was when Steve Jobs designed Pixar’s headquarters with centrally-located bathrooms so that people from every department would cross paths and interact throughout the day.
“Serendipitous situations are also intentionally encouraged from within a company’s hierarchy and structure. “A significant trend now in creative collaboration is the flattening of hierarchies, both inside and across organizations,” says Forbes writer Benjamin Wolff in ‘The Future Of Work Is Creative Collaboration’ (3). “Giving power back to the curious individual to self-select and ‘opt-in’ often leads to unexpected contributions that would never happen otherwise.”
Chris’ team takes these concepts to heart. “I really like when everybody feels entitled to have an opinion about a creative idea because anybody can have the answer,” explains Chris. “We run a really flat structure: Everybody has a voice. We want to encourage people from different perspectives to give their input.”
So how does Chris define creative bravery for his team? In his opinion, it’s definitely not about being creative for the sake of being creative. Real creative bravery pushes boundaries to create something unexpected, Chris says, as he alludes to artists like Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock; artists who redefined the very rules of their industries.
“Ultimately, whatever the brief is, it’s always an opportunity,” Chris explains. “We always try to look at the brief as an opportunity to create something extra. I think creative bravery is really about understanding where a client is at right then, understanding the context, and seeing how you can help them push the envelope. It’s like they say,” he added with a smile, “only by understanding the rules can you can break them.”
For more insights about creativity and how to unleash one’s inner creative, check out our Blue Sofa Series episode with Creative Evangelist Jeremy Tai Abbett, and stay tuned for future episodes of ‘The Blue Sofa Series’ right here on MCH Global Insights.
1. “The Power of Small Wins,” by Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer, Harvard Business Review, May 2011, Harvard Business Publishing (Link)
2. Definition of Serendipity, Oxford University Press Dictionary (Link)
3. “The Future Of Work Is Creative Collaboration” by Benjamin Wolff, Forbes.com, (Link)