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Cooking up creativity: How creative leaders can harness the potential of diverse talent

Cooking up creativity: How creative leaders can harness the potential of diverse talent

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Having truly diverse creative teams is like running a professional kitchen, it’s exciting, surprising and it always delivers on its promise to entertain. However, much like a top chef, creative leaders need to have the right skills so that these teams can reach their potential and produce the best work for clients. But the proof is in the pudding.

Our team in China crafted a global campaign to celebrate realme’s milestone of 100 million. They set out to champion the new generation’s daring pursuit of their individual and collective truths. To truly capture the diversities of people's experiences across the different markets, they assembled talents from Shanghai, Singapore and Buenos Aires. Diverse talents bring authenticity. And authenticity drives results.

Team Diversity

Co-Founder. Designer. Art director. Creative director. These are some designations I’ve collected throughout my career thus far. But I’d also love to earn titles like: Senior Plant Dad, Associate Watch Aficionado, Midweight Cook, or Junior Boxer. 

Passion projects may seem unrelated to our daily work but there are lessons I’ve found beneficial to my work as a leader of diverse creative teams. Investing in understanding my team’s passions and motivators, helps me connect as a leader.

On another level, professional backgrounds in non-creative roles and industries can often help people thrive in a creative space. In our Singapore office, we have an office manager turned copywriter. She also majored in animal biology. The best people I’ve worked with came from seemingly unrelated fields of study or work.

So, on the flip side, if someone is currently a midweight cook or a junior boxer, there’s also a future awaiting them in the creative field.

Diversity as culture

A creative team often comprises people who think and act very differently, including introverts, extroverts, ambiverts - the list goes on. We have all been in rooms where the loudest often gets heard. It’s the job of the creative leader to ask the right questions to ensure the quieter talents in the room are given an equal voice. They are often our deepest thinkers.

I like to bring my learnings as a cooking enthusiast directly to my work and it has led to ‘flavourful dishes’ in the form of project success and client satisfaction. When you start casting projects or building teams for clients, think of it like this: each of the creatives brings their unique “flavours” forward - from their cultural background and personal experiences. This will always lead to more successful work that’s more relevant to real people and culture.

For this to seem authentic, however, embracing differences needs to be baked (yes, pun intended) into the culture of the organization. An example of this in action is the Punk.Monks initiative, which was created to showcase and celebrate the range of talented Monks and their creative endeavors, side gigs, businesses, charities, and hustles.

Rather than serving these differences as different courses, or even different meals, agencies need to start looking at how these flavours enhance one another. *chef’s kiss*

Diversity drives empathy

There are soft skills that allow all of these things to happen on a day-to-day basis too. Leaders need to come into the room with the mantra that ‘I’m here to learn from you as much as you have to learn from me’. Egos need to be cast aside, which isn’t always easy for creatives.

In practice, this means leaders should observe when to be the driver of the conversations or brainstorming sessions, and when to sit back. There is a time to be the navigator and a time to be a passenger. 

In order to be a more empathetic creative leader, honesty is key. This involves being honest in asking about what drives the individuals in the team and observing non-verbal cues. You’ll need to ask yourself (and the team) questions, such as: “Is this person striving for excellence in craft? Does this individual want to lead? Is this a person that is an idea builder or idea generator?”

Having truly diverse teams, with genuinely wide ranges of interests, backgrounds, ways of thinking and beyond, isn’t easy and it takes leaders that are committed to changing too. Cooking up a creative storm can be a wild ride, but as long as you are adaptable and empathetic, you can become a top chef.

The writer is Mustapha Zainal, creative director, APAC, Media.Monks

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