Earlier this year I published my new year's resolution to invest more time in my professional development/personal enrichment by reading six books related to our industry or business in general--below is the second book review in the series. In each of the books I read, I am listening for principles or lessons we can apply to our roles as creative leaders

  • Book Review 1: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Book Review 2: The Corporate Creative by Andy Epstein


Andy Epstein[1], author of "The Corporate Creative," identifies three "basic problem areas that almost every corporate creative team must grapple with[2]:"

  • high turnover,
  • poor physical workspace, and
  • a restrictive client and corporate culture.

I would argue with the first point--based on our 2012 In-House Industry Report (to be released mid-April), attrition is at less than 10% for almost 80% of the in-house teams who responded. Less than 10 percent is pretty fantastic--though, low attrition can have some drawbacks as well (salaries that grow beyond market rate, a lack of freshness in the team). But I wholeheartedly agree that few creative teams have an appropriate physical environment and often the intangible environment can be challenging as well (for example, I know of an in-house creative in which the designers need to wear suits!)

Alternatives to the Cube

Andy writes "nothing hinders communication, personal space and self expression more effectively than 'the cube'."[3] He encourages pushing the corporate boundaries as far as you can when it comes to space as it's an effective way to bridge the corporate world and the creative world. To be most effective designers and writers needs to be in space that allows them to feel creative. One of Cella's clients recently had the opportunity to completely redesign his team's space; his opportunity was certainly unique, but one we should also look to as our goal. Three of the four walls in the studio are painted different colors, new desks were brought in with very low walls on two sides and no walls on the other two sides, monitors now hang from each of the desk area walls (their desk areas cannot be called "cubes") allows for maximum desk space and a more appropriate ergonomic environment, when you walk into the studio three monitors are affixed to the wall displaying the team's work, and on the wall outside of the studio is a huge (think 30 feet wide) sign announcing the team. It's amazing--and not always possible, but you don't know unless you try. If you even incorporated half of those items into your team's studio, your team would probably be pretty encouraged and excited. Some of our previous blogs have addressed ways to encourage creativity through your physical space:

  • Creativity in a Cubicle
  • CreativeExecs Spaces: Developing New Space for the Olympus Creative Team

Finally--Someone Has Said It Out Loud

There are so many more components to being a successful designer in-house than design skills alone. "Who you are and how you choose to perceive your working environment--and then behave in it--is more important to your in-house professional success than your design skills."[4] The two pages Andy writes on this topic are dead-on and should probably be provided to all seniors in college pursuing in-house design and writing jobs. He speaks about the need for in-house creatives to have interpersonal and business communications skills, project management expertise and infinite patience. He also coaches that if your priorities are "freedom, peer recognition, money and flexibility" that an external agency or freelance design job may be more satisfying than an in-house role. But if you enjoy working on multi-disciplinary teams, financial stability, work-life balance, and contributing to "significant but incremental changes to an organization," in-house is a good fit.

Good Guidance

Andy also offers readers "37 Sure Ways to Get Fired."[5] Doing just one of these things in an isolated manner likely won't get you fired--but doing any one regularly or doing several of the them, will. It's another good handout for college seniors...and perhaps some required reading for some members of your team.

Andy also identifies 13 stands worth taking.[6] Regardless of how long you've been a creative leader--read these five pages. Sometimes the longer we're in a role, the more likely we are to "let things go" or "pick our battles"--this list serves as a good reminder about which battles are worth fighting.

While I think most creative leaders and their leadership teams would benefit from reading this book, I am going to highly recommend it for three specific groups:

  • Creative Services managers/leaders who were never designers or editors themselves and/or are new to the Creative Services field
  • New Creative Services managers looking to build their business skills--Andy does a nice job of framing challenges and pointing to solutions
  • Creative Services team members (management or otherwise) that are from the external agency world and struggling with the challenges of in-house.

[2] Epstein, Andy. "The Corporate Creative," p. 36.

[3] P. 39

[4] p. 104

[5] p. 112

[6] p. 121