Why Creatives Aren’t Thriving At Your Organization

M y lasting memory of camp is my Dad’s army cot. All of the other kids had lightweight, space-age aluminum cots. Mine was an army green, wooden behometh. To finish constructing it you had to stretch the thick canvas to pop the wooden cross piece into place. I crushed my finger every time.

I thought of the dreaded Army cot last Sunday morning. I was helping one of our AV folks put together a mobile set up for a class, and was tasked with snapping a nine foot tall projection screen onto a frame. And I crushed my finger.

To be clear, lugging around AV equipment is not what I signed up for. But, sometimes it’s necessary – in this case, I was down deep in the weeds of my ministry, getting my hands dirty and learning the fine details of how things get done.

Creating awesome, or affecting change, requires a comprehensive vantage point – from bottom to top, a full picture of where things are and where they need to go.

One of the biggest challenges of leadership is to intimately know the current culture while at the same time not letting the current culture dictate decisions. Living in the tension between the now and the future is the space every good leader must occupy.

Whenever you see amazing storytelling, it is likely because there’s a good system in place behind it. While there are certainly great one-offs, consistent and sustained output only happens when propelled by an organized effort. Rock stars need good managers. Athletes need good coaches and front offices. Creatives need order and planning. If you don’t have the necessary systems in place, you won’t get awesome.

Most of the time, though, organizations are full of chaos and a lack of planning. What great creatives need are people who are willing to get their hands dirty to create an atmosphere for great art to thrive.

This has always been my calling. I am part engineer and part artist. The artist part of me would love nothing more than to retreat to my world of words and images, finding beautiful ways to express truth. But no one has ever offered me protected space to create art. I have discovered, in fact, it is rare. Instead, I find myself having to build the space.

That’s what I am doing now and it’s dang hard work.

Some days I model the art, either directly or through other leaders; some days I search for and strategize improved workflows; some days I devote my energy to finding the right people. Other days I help a tech guy put a screen up, or create a Google calendar to track classroom screen needs, or teach and vision cast a producer to ensure the right images are getting to the screen in the first place.

Crushing your fingers is part of the job of creating awesome.

If you are a creative, or a leader of creatives, and you wonder why you don’t have sustained and great output, look first to your systems. What systemic piece is missing that prevents good art from flourishing?


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).