Managing Creatives is Tricky...

Photo courtesy of Robert Huffstutter

Photo courtesy of Robert Huffstutter

Creative people can be a hard lot to manage. And I say that as a creative person who has also had to manage other creatives. Part of the problem is that most of us tend to assume that other people are like us. So, if you’re a left-brained analytical person, you tend to assume that everyone else is similar. As such, walking into the tech booth and saying, “It’s too loud,” or, “Can we kill the haze,” or “I don’t like that background for the second song,” seems like a perfectly logical and non-offensive thing to do. And it would be; if your tech booth was populated by left-brained analytical people. But it’s not. So your words have far more meaning than you think they do.

I was reading an article in Fast Company a few weeks ago. They were doing a feature story on the head of J. Crew. Now, even though I’m normally pretty fashionable in my tech standard-issue black t-shirt and blue jeans, I normally don’t pay much mind to J. Crew. But the article caught my eye so I started reading. One quote from the young president, Jenna Lyons, really resonated with what we do in the technical arts. She says:

“When someone creates something and puts it in front of you, that thing came from inside them, and if you make them feel bad, it’s going to be hard to fix, because you’ve actually crushed them.” 

This simple, run-on sentence really helps clarify why we feel so hurt by a simple, “It’s too loud” comment. I think it perfectly illustrates the disconnect between most church leaders and their technical staff. Leadership tends to think that the tech people are left-brained analytical people who just happen to understand technology better and know how to push the right buttons at the right time.

To be sure, some of us are like that. But the best technical artists I know are just that; artists. Mixing a worship set isn’t just bring up the faders to unity and turning the pastor’s mic off. There is as much artistry going on behind the mixer as there is on the stage (sometimes more; but that’s another post). The best lighting guys don’t just turn on lights—they carefully choose colors, angles and intensity to appropriately convey the mood of the song. The presentation tech picks backgrounds that go with the lights and the song. It’s all art; varying degrees, but still art. 

So what the left-brained person thinks is a totally neutral, fact-based comment is actually much more. Walking into the booth and saying, “It’s too loud,” or “Can you turn the guitar down?” and leaving is not at all unlike throwing a hand grenade into the booth, then leaving. You thought it was a statement of fact, but it’s more like tearing up your 4-year old’s painting in front of her.

Now to be sure, we artists need to develop thicker skin. We are in a service business and ultimately we need to serve our leadership and their vision of the church and service. It’s important for us to recognize that our leaders aren’t intending to crush us with their comments. They are pointing out a problem that they see needs to be solved. And as problem-solvers, we should be good at this. 

But somehow, we need to develop better methods of communication between the artists and thinkers. Church leaders need to understand that we’re not picking values at random—a lot of our hearts and soul goes into whatever we’re doing. At least it should. The danger comes when the artist gets so beaten down that they give up and fall back to, “Whatever you want” mode. 

And while the left-brained types think it would be much better for everyone if they didn’t have to deal with those “out there artists,” the reality is, they don’t want that. Because a purely intellectual expression of the Gospel is an incompletely expression. The church needs artists, desperately. God himself is the ultimate artist, and when we as artists express what is in us, we are all better off for it. 

Somehow, we need to figure out how to get along, and how to better communicate with each other. Only then will the church be all it can be.