3 Habits of Great Creative Directors

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This is a guest post by Eddie Newquist, chief creative officer at Global Experience Specialists.

If you think creativity is the most important quality of a creative director, you’re wrong. And let me tell you why.

Creativity and design skills are, no doubt, essential, but neither is what being a director is all about. The most important quality a creative director can possess is curiosity. And I don’t mean casual curiosity — it’s about passionate curiosity that fuels everything you do.

Curiosity is what feeds your work and your best projects. You can delight your clients and produce great work by harnessing your curiosity to connect and engage with your clients, brainstorm, and educate yourself about the business aspects of your project.

Here are three things you can do to supercharge your creative direction.

1. Commit to engaging with your clients.

Clients rarely know exactly what they want. More often than not, they come to you with a general idea of a project, and it’s up to you to help them envision the complete experience. But unless you walk together through the process to actually make that idea come true, you’ll be relegated to being an art gallery, and your clients will be making critical decisions based solely on pretty pictures.

The only way to succeed as a creative director is by communicating effectively and building a relationship that engages your clients in the creative process. This starts with being a good listener and establishing trust. You’re not just helping your clients articulate what they want; you’re a trusted partner who must act responsibly in regard to their time and money. Both parties need to engage to achieve success.

2. Focus on brainstorming.

Brainstorming with your creative team is crucial. It’s where your most dynamic ideas will take shape. You’ve got to be the leader in terms of having confidence in your ideas, sharing them, and getting feedback. There’s no room for fear of failure or rejection in brainstorming.

You can’t build a successful project without brainstorming with your clients, too. Invite them to a brainstorming session with you and your key team members. Ask them to commit three to six hours to creativity exercises, games, and other brainstorming practices.

Let this be a fun, pressure-free commitment for everyone. Ignore deadlines and budgets during this effort, and just focus on ideas. The more you can involve your clients in this process from the start, the less likely you are to have problems down the road.

For some extra help on effective brainstorming, take a look at Grace McGartland’s “Thunderbolt Thinking: Electrifying Ideas for Building an Innovative Workplace” and Ed Catmull’s “Creativity, Inc.both helped me immensely.

3. Be the “pro” in project management.

You should have a good grasp of the business side of your project. This doesn’t mean you need to micromanage or take total ownership of those ideas — that’s why you have a team that includes finance and project directors. But you should still know enough about the business side that you’re not coming up with a $20 million idea for a $2 million job.

I like to think of this in terms of dollars, dates, and deliverables. If you want to be a successful creative director you must understand these “three Ds.” The creative side is indisputably tied to all the other aspects of the project, so your participation is vital to the client’s satisfaction.

Don’t be intimidated by project management. If you’ve balanced your bank account or taken care of your car, you’ve already managed your personal projects. Apply common-sense financial and practical knowledge to your project, and don’t be afraid to ask questions of the project manager or accountant.

You can fuel your creativity in all facets of life if you actively exercise your curiosity. For example, I read the Harvard Business Review, Scientific American, and a variety of entertainment magazines regularly. The subjects don’t have to be related to my field or to design trends. But my curiosity always pays off, and I typically find inspiration for my creative projects in those pages month after month.

Success as a creative director is dependent on your commitment to the creative process — to engaging clients, brainstorming religiously, and understanding every aspect of the project. All of this boils down to building your curiosity. Feeding that need to know and learn more is what will take your creativity to the next level.

Eddie Newquist has more than 25 years of experience creating and producing a wide range of events, exhibitions, attractions, and tours for Hollywood brands and studios such as Warner Bros., Disney, Pixar, Fox, and Universal. Over the past eight years, he has led the GES entertainment team in a variety of events, promotional tours, holiday experiences, and touring museum exhibitions.

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