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

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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.
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