Company culture: command and control gives way to the age of humility


Mass sharing and the inherent complexity of today’s digital products and 24/7 data driven communications are serving to put an end to the arrogant creative leader with the killer instinct who has ruled creative businesses in recent decades; and to the command and control business culture that she/he enjoyed.

When there was time for a creative idea to gestate – when there was time for an execution to be finessed and polished – when there were only a few crafts that came together to make a magazine or an ad or a film or a product – then there was time for the individual genius to make a showing. This was the game – conceive and perfect the work that will have your name on it and make you famous. Get famous and get power.  Get power and wield it over the next lot.  Quite primal.

But now the individual star has been replaced by “the awesomest team.” Just last week I had proposed that a company’s senior creative leader should be aiming to create work that would make him proud and famous.  I was firmly told that the company might not be happy if he got famous and perhaps I should cut that word.  So are creative shops now playing whack-a-mole with their budding superstars?

With the interconnectedness, mass scale and multiple moving parts that even the simplest apps products and executions require, there is little room for the private vision to be brought lovingly to life and to the public. All the components have to work together seamlessly and apparently effortlessly.  Tens even hundreds of specialists in the specialized technologies and expertises have to function as a single creative organism. Unless this hive works together like – well – a hive – then the whole pack of cards will come tumbling down.  And anyway the data says whether its working, whether people like it, whether they are sharing it and so on. So what one visionary creator thinks doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world – unless it is validated by the data.

This has all led to companies thinking really hard about their culture.  Used to be who cared from culture?  It was what it was – and how it got that way was usually a mystery. Ambitious creatives aspired to work for a star and then to become one.  By doing great work: their own work.  Work they could put their name on.  That was the driver:  “Look what I did.”

But now everyone needs to be working together selflessly – in a team – in the hive. So a corporate culture is required to provide the medium – the agar.  A culture that guides our interactions and constrains our flights of fancy.  That rewards collaboration and mutual respect.  It has to be based on transparency because each tiny step can have huge ramifications at some yet to be discovered node in the process – so everyone has to see everything.

And so since we have taken away the platform for individual fame, we have had to design a warm bath of culture to keep the hive humming.

(Wait a minute – this can’t be right.  Would someone please set me straight on this.)


Footnote on startups:

Yes if you don’t have what it takes to be a happy and humble cog, you can be the entrepreneur with the vision. and start your own venture. The startup world is where many creative minds go to escape. And when you are successful you get to create your own hive.  Though by the time you are successful you have probably had to pivot from your original idea.  In fact the ability to change your vision at the demand of the market/investment community is seen as a virtue – unlike the pig headed stick-to-it-iveness of the single-minded creator of the past.