New Challenges For Creative Leaders in 2011: What's Your Take?

Some of the ingredients necessary for “making ideas happen” remain the same year over year – things like a bias to action, a penchant for prototyping, and (always, always) dogged persistence. Other ingredients change with the times. To take the pulse for 2011, we recently tapped a host of small business leaders and creatives for their personal thoughts on significant productivity and leadership challenges for the new year.

Based on the themes that emerged, we distilled a handful of leadership challenges worthy of consideration for creative minds across industries. Check our shortlist, and then share yours.

Challenge #1: Making Great Products That Also Do Good

Thanks to brands like Apple and IDEO, “design-thinking” trickled down to the mainstream last year, becoming a buzzword at companies worldwide. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs, developers, and designers on the leading edge are already discussing the next challenge: “sustainability-thinking.” Asking questions like: Who is this product helping? And, where will this product go when it dies?

We talked to Ji Lee, Creative Director of Google Creative Lab, about broadening his focus from “well-designed” to “designed for good”:

I’d like to help develop projects that connect technology to goodness. Google is constantly developing lots and lots of useful and free tools. One of the areas we’re focusing in 2011 is how to connect the dots between these tools and people in need. There are many small businesses, NGOs, charities, teachers, moms, and dads who are still struggling because of the recession and they can all benefit from these tools in different ways. Our challenge is HOW to present these tools to people and organizations in ways that they become relevant and easy to use.

Challenge #2: Hiring and Managing Remote Workers

The rise of the “remote worker” continues apace – especially with regard to small businesses and creative enterprises. A few key developments are contributing to this trend:

  1. Project teams are being assembled on the fly from a shortlist of “remote” freelancers based on the client’s needs.
  2. Individuals and agencies are sourcing these freelancers from all over the world as the Internet gives us new ways to discover talent.
  3. To extend their reach, many small businesses are setting up satellite “offices” – staffed by just 1 or 2 employees – in cities around the globe. All of these developments point to one thing: The increased need for skills related to hiring remote workers and managing them.

In a recent conversation, Tina Roth Eisenberg, founder of the Swissmiss design blog and a global events series called “CreativeMornings,” explained how this challenge is impacting her:

As I am planning on expanding CreativeMornings to more cities around the globe, I am faced with the challenge of finding the right people to run them. The LA and Zurich chapters are currently run by friends of mine. I now have to enter the territory of ‘interviewing’ people via video chats and following my instinct whether they would make a good chapter head.

I find it very hard to get a sense of people when not meeting them in person. I feel like there’s an element of human gut interaction missing. But I am not alone with this challenge; more and more a companies all around the globe are facing the same situation. People are often working remotely and no longer go to a central office. It seems as we have to sharpen our skills in ‘virtual meeting and understanding people.’

Challenge #3: Adapting to Content Shifting

Content shifting is another big challenge that’s just starting to rear its head. As Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson wrote recently, “With the proliferation of devices and content types, all connected to each other via the Internet, content shifting is becoming a huge deal and a real pain point. Some content shifting is pretty easy right now. Getting a web page onto a phone or tablet, like Instapaper does so well, does not require any magic tricks. Some content shifting is pretty hard. Getting a song from Sirius XMU to is not straightforward.”While Wilson looks at content shifting as a ripe opportunity for new business solutions, it’s also a present – and growing – challenge for content creators, who now need to create work that is more adaptable and transferable across mediums. Illustrator and beloved NY Times blogger, Christoph Niemann, recently described his challenge:

Though I still get mostly print commissions, the amount of work that has to function either partly or exclusively on the web/tablet is increasing drastically. Some of the challenges that this entails are purely annoying (making an illustration work so you can use it as a horizontal AND a vertical makes both versions look a little weak no matter how hard you try). One of the more interesting aspects is that you can break out of the size restrictions of print and start telling more involved stories (like what I do for my blog at the NYT).

Equally fun but maybe even tougher is the whole possibility for animation. For all the work I do for ‘WIRED’ these days (as well as a recent ‘New Yorker’ cover), I always have to add an animated version of the drawing. I am trying not to turn the drawing into a little animated cartoon, but it’s fun to try to add a little movement to make a still drawing come to life. It’s artistically difficult and the budgets for the additional work is limited, but I feel I have to wrestle with this new development whether I like it or not.

Challenge #4: Curating and Planning Live Events

For any business that deals in content generation and curation – or marketing in general – the “live event” is becoming a compelling part of the business offering. In our increasingly digital world, events that create a genuine connection with audiences have new value. Outside of Swissmiss’s event series (mentioned above) and our own 99U Conference, the list of businesses doing live events is endless: niche brands like New York magazine, PSFK, and Flavorpill, as well as big brands like Oracle, Microsoft, and SAP.

Chris Guillebeau, author of the popular blog The Art of Non-Conformity, recently entered the fray with his first event, the World Domination Summit. Explaining why he got into the events space, Guillebeau says:

During my Unconventional Book Tour, I realized that there was a lot of opportunity in bringing like-minded people together. I wanted to add some scale, so that it wouldn’t just be people from one city but from all over the world. Thus, the World Domination Summit was born – and now we have nearly 500 attendees from a dozen countries. The goal is to provide a structured, shared experience along with plenty of space for spontaneity as well.

Whatever your industry, physical gatherings may well become an important part of your business strategy going forward.

Challenge #5: Managing Workload Transparency

The need for workload transparency is nothing new – we discussed it with Pop!Tech curator Andrew Zolli years ago. That said, with remote working becoming par for the course, transparency will be that much more crucial in the future. As Miguel Senquiz, Head of Digital Strategy at Ghostly International, put it in a recent conversation:

Once you get past top-down management styles, workload transparency is important for a different reason: Not so a manager can see what you’re doing, but so everyone is aware of general status of projects AND aware of each others’ workload at a given time.

The latest iteration of transparency here at Behance involves a series of “hitlists” for our internal teams – design, development, etc. The “hitlist” is a shared Google Doc that gives a snapshot of our collective priorities and workload (i.e. projects underway, person in charge of the task, expected deadlines, etc), which everyone on the Behance team can view at any time.

As team members and leaders, we must constantly readjust our priorities on the fly: Being able to see what everyone is working on in a single glance gives you the information you need to do it.–

What’s Your Take?

This list represents just a small set of challenges on the horizon, which is why we want to hear from you in the comments.

What challenges are top of mind for you in 2011?

More insights on: Hiring, Innovation, Leadership

Jocelyn K. Glei

more posts →
A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with understanding how work gives our lives meaning. She has authored three books about work, creativity, and business, including the Amazon bestsellers Manage Your Day-to-Day and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.
load comments (18)
  • ppov

    I would add “developing” and “retaining” remote employees to #2. Engagement is critical for remote success. Your remote talent may be your best talent and they are often self-managing, driven and very productive to begin with – but that can’t be the end of it. Find ways to keep them connected. I recommend video conferencing where possible, even if Skype or Gchat with video is your only option.

  • MVB

    As a creative leader, I think it is important to shelve the title of “manage(r)” from the vocabulary. It gives the sense of a hierarchy that can be demeaning or overlording. Perhaps a better word for being a creative leader is steward: helping others become their best in the service of one common goal.

  • jkglei

    I think that’s a great idea, MVB. I’m going to take you up on it in future.

  • Alan Bucknam

    Being a creative that runs his own business, my main challenge is being able to focus on “creative work” when it’s needed, and to set it aside to do “business work” (filing, phone calls, project management) when it must be done. And, failing that self-imposed discipline, there’s the challenge of managing my time and tasks so that when I’m inspired and creating “off-schedule”, I can circle back to do what I was “supposed” to be doing.

  • Rick Wheatley

    How about creative leader? I think stewardship fits well as one of the many roles a leader has?

  • NicoleYeary

    THIS may be my favorite, and the most relative post planning ahead for 2011 businesses & entrepreneurs. Thank you

  • Hezza

    Right up my alley, and now I can use these buzz words to amaze the mass business leaders. They love ‘buzzwords’

  • Jeff Goins

    Good call. My staff is decentralized and it takes work to keep us all feeling like a team.

  • Erika Block

    I think it’s both amazing and exciting, they way technology has changed business. And fast — just a short decade ago we were without all these capabilities, and working remotely was something few companies were progressive enough to embrace.

  • Traveling bags

    Nice review ! I like your article and i will definitely look again……………………………………

  • GraphicDesignBoss

    As a graphic designer of 18 years I would say that the newest challenge is delivering good design that translates across the different communication mediums such as mobile, web, app, print, environmental …. breatheeeeee

    so many different devices and communication channels it is a huge challenge to get it right.

    Good design will translate across the different mediums and channels, but you need to have the right design framework thinking in place when you start. If you don’t you can end up with a a massive design headache

  • Jaclyn Mullen

    I think an exciting opportunity in 2011 is uncovering new niche market opportunities. I don’t want to rehash a social media strategy that’s proven to be successful; I want to experiment with different mediums and create new and innovative ideas that expand upon existing rules of thumb. I also think learning to really value our time in this technological day in age is HUGE! Because of our devices and accessibility, 30 minutes can go by VERY quickly. Our time is everything; free time/down time allow us to recharge and be creative. While it’s great to be “on”, now more than ever we have to turn off and relax too.

  • Marek

    With the advent of iPad2 with 2 x cameras, I foresee every designer and developer will be heading down the AR path. The possibilities are huge. The technology is what drives UX in the app world.

    Saying this, the online interfaces are very much user centered and results driven. No results.. no reward. A lot of designs will need to do a lot more Usability testing of online and offline apps to gain maximum results, having a great and memorable experience in the process.

    Those designers and UX peeps who find that balance and invest the time and effort will stand out from the crowd.

  • Kellyannart | Just released my Spring Collection for the global art market. The work is on exhibition, lined up with representatives in the public art arena & working with several limited edition opportunities. Each year brings a process to follow | concept, art & design study, production, articulation, exhibition, marketing to the global art market.

    It’s May, musing now on 2012 collection | Beauty’s Reflection | How we see beauty in ourselves & How others see beauty in us.

    A commitment to practice art collection production, brings a broader global audience each year. Love what you do, work to articulate your unique vision & you will find your collector market.


  • mac

    Devices are agnostic.

    The real challenge is not the continuous development in communication platforms, but in mindset.

    For many small businesses and professionals they are ‘expert’ in whatever it was they trained to do.

    Nobody taught them how to market. Either with digital tech. or without. They struggle.

    The challenge is in many business men and women thinking abou their market. Tech. is secondary.

    Mac at

  • Anna Roberts

    I agree! I’m very interested in how the structure of creative firms is changing. But while we talk a lot about structure, I see very little discussion on how the role and skills of manager/leaders will need to change to support these new models. 

  • NGO website development

    Content of different web pages of a website should be linked with each other to that people get a connection between the information you are sharing with them. When a visitor is convinced with the content you have posted, they would further go for making any purchase action on your website. You can put up FAQ section to answer back the queries of the target customers. Also they can be kept updated with latest happenings and offerings by your company through the medium of articles or blogs.

  • NGO website development

    Concentrate on the overall appearance of the website to the common people. Preference of color, presentation and style of websites varies from person to person. Therefore it’s not possible to satisfy every person and make them happy about your website no matter what efforts you put in it. So in such situation plan the website design that is appealing to most of your target customers.

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