8 Statements about Creative Work: ”Manager, Give Plenty of Autonomy to Creative Professionals”

Reetta Räty

Marco Mäkinen, experienced advertising agency executive, and Virpi Haavisto, professional coach specializing in managing creative organizations, sat down after leading a training session at Aalto EE. Their discussion pinpointed eight thoughts on creative work – read on!

1. Creative work isn’t just for advertising agencies

Work shouldn’t be divided into creative or non-creative. Creativity is important in all types of work. It’s an attitude. “Creative work means thinking about how to do something in a better way,” defines Marco Mäkinen. “Creativity is situational sensitivity,” says Virpi Haavisto. “When arriving at a scene, a firefighter engages in creative work. The same goes for anyone making situation-specific decisions.”

2. Creative work requires passion and a mission

According to Mäkinen and Haavisto, creativity is a proactive attitude. It’s a willingness to do something about an issue - change it. Creative work requires passion, which results in a mission. Recently, Mäkinen observed a group of people with bad experiences at school: “It had been awful.” This type of negative experience is like a strict conviction: these people wanted to change things and renew the system. Their passion resulted in a mission.

3. You don’t have to leave a workplace that’s stuck in its ways – you can change it

Especially in large organizations, work is governed by set ways and practices, which can make employees feel restricted. But according to Mäkinen, there’s an alternative to switching jobs. “At some point, I realized I couldn’t just keep running away from positions that didn’t leave me space to fulfill myself. I had to start changing things around myself.”

“It feels empowering. You realize that you don’t have to set up a start-up, but you can begin a countermovement at your workplace instead and draw others along.”

Changing things from the inside takes self-confidence and motivation, while a successful change boosts self-confidence and motivation. This creates a positive cycle. The culture at work changes, and there’s more room for creativity.

4. Manager, take a risk: give more power and responsibility to employees

Creative organizations need to tolerate uncertainty and be ready to take risks. According to Virpi Haavisto, employees need to be given autonomy. “It increases motivation.” During bad times, more space should be given instead of tightening the grip. “When employees understand the company’s overall situation, they want to give their best to improve matters and work to go on. Autonomy and responsibility can lead to innovation that brings the company back from the brink.”

Involving employees in solving problems and creating solutions makes them more committed. Commitment to top-down dictated solutions is considerably weaker.

5. Employee, take a risk: look in the mirror

Marco Mäkinen encourages employees to take a look in the mirror and ask themselves the following questions: Who are you? What do you want? Is this possible in this workplace? How? According to Mäkinen, employees can create the right conditions for creative work themselves. “People may fear they’ll be shown the door, if they do this or that. Usually it’s the opposite: brave risk-takers are valued.”

Blaming managers for all of the company’s problems is a common occurrence, coined as a “management problem”. But Mäkinen suggests considering whether a problem might be down to people not taking responsibility for their work.

“A manager’s duty is to create a safe atmosphere that allows employees to be independent, creative and daring,” says Virpi Haavisto.

But can anyone be made feel safe in such tough economic times?

“Good interaction is the only solution; everyone knowing where things stand and the manager daring to openly clarify the situation. That way problems can be solved together.”

An organization easily begins to close in during weaker times: communication is reduced, fear gets a grip. “It should be the opposite,” says Haavisto. “People are ready to work for a company that cares and trusts enough to openly communicate where things are at.”

6. Save yourself from overworking

Marco Mäkinen describes a common problem among creative professionals: “If you’re any good at what you do, you are soon in a situation where you can’t finish everything.” Too much to do, too little time, long days – followed by a burn out.

Self-management means taking responsibility to look after oneself. Diligent boffins should be taking charge of their time and wellbeing in the same way that they are ready to take on extra work.

 “This is something that isn’t talked about or taught enough – the whole discussion is still in its early stages,” says Mäkinen. He feels the situation is alarming. “This extra work is carried out during non-working hours outside of the office. Managers can’t get hold of each situation.”

But a manager can spread the word: “You must take care of yourselves, protect yourselves, you’re excellent, this is enough, no need to do anything extra, keep an eye out on each other to avoid exhaustion,” says Mäkinen.
“Looking after yourself is the most important aspect in creative industries, where people are highly self-critical and want to give their best and work intensely. The same goes for top executives,” Haavisto adds.

7. Examine where your time goes

Virpi Haavisto coaches managers who feel they never have time for what matters and are constantly busy. How can you make more time?

This is where Haavisto would begin: Turn the problem into a concrete goal to make time for what matters. This way the issue is dealt with in a solution-oriented way.

Mäkinen has a simple piece of advice: “You don’t have to take care of everything; you can say no.” He recommends applying the following: “I, too, have been under the impression that all I do is work. A closer examination revealed it wasn’t exactly so. When you understand where your time goes, you can begin to cut down on areas that rob your time, such as time spent commuting from one place to another. Your also learn to say no to certain things.”

8. An individual with a passion can change any company

Change may not be quick and easy, but it isn’t impossible.

Aalto EE's alumnus Marco Mäkinen, is Vice President of TBWA Helsinki. He has an extensive career in the advertising industry and management. Virpi Haavisto, Leadership Coach, founder and CEO of Avantage Oy, has done research on creative work e.g. in Finland, the U.S. and Great Britain.

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