Book of the week; A dispassionate look at managing creative minds

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The Independent Online
Tantrums and Talent

By Winston Fletcher

(Admap, pounds 25)

THIS BOOK is about creativity and how, if you are a manager, you can squeeze golden eggs from creative people to make your business more successful. It is a tough undertaking to write about how relationships can flourish between people who think they are creative and people who think they aren't.

The nature of these relationships is even more complex when it is between people who own or manage businesses and people who create ideas for them. All sorts of issues around hierarchy, editorial control, and authorship are involved. From my own experience, these relationships are so volatile and hard to describe that they would be better revealed and illuminated through the deeper medium of a novel or a drama. I don't think this book with its lashings of soundbites does more than skate magnificently on the surface of its subject.

I remember, in the Eighties, thinking Winston Fletcher's book Creative People was a well-written and thorough book, although I thought it patronising. I think today's completely updated edition remains very relevant, but it still feels out of touch with its subject. It deals with self-expression and talent, subjects rich with passions and emotions, but does so in a way that lacks intimacy. It is as if it is written at arm's length.

is, however, a thorough and informative book. Full of statistics and definitions, it is short, brisk and provocative. It describes how all-pervading creativity has become in business. It is a witty and energetic book about creativity itself.

But as far as its insights into creative people go, it is superficial and condescending. It is mainly about "cultured pearl" creativity - the synthetic creativity of marketing and design with all their plagiarism and repetition. Although names like Mozart and Picasso appear on its pages, this book is not about the awesome and mysterious creativity of real pearls.

Many of the businesses whose leaders pontificate in the book deal in "cultured pearl" creativity. Their creativity is focused on making impressions and kindling desire. They are cynical about what they still call consumers or viewers. Their work is often seductively fresh and appealing but more and more people can see through to the lack of valuable substance behind it. Like cultured pearls, they only give a fleeting illusion of the real thing.

Usually, advertising campaigns, design schemes, marketing strategies and TV programmes have to be managed. Managed creativity can be successful. Like cultured pearls, the creations gleam convincingly and get bought. Somehow though, they are intrinsically different from the real thing. A real pearl, a real creative act, like real life, just happens. There is a good quote from Stephen Bayley, the design historian: "Creativity is one of those things that is much easier to detect than to define."

Winston Fletcher (a partner at Delaney, Fletcher Bozell and a past chairman of the Advertising Association) goes into what creativity is, how it works, how you encourage it or stifle it, how you research its effectiveness and so on. And, as if to give it more authority, he stands the quality of his own creation, his own point of view, on the shoulders or soundbites of a bunch of successful British celebrities from the worlds of marketing and the media.

His use of quotes from these "influential men" who lead, or have led, successful enterprises, seems to be a crude distillation of their views. It makes them sound trite, arrogant and vain - the very qualities the book implicitly attributes to the weirdly-dressed, tantrum-throwing golden battery geese that these managers set out to nurture.

By contrasting Fletcher's stereotypical caricatures of creative people with the managers, you can't help creating stereotypical caricatures of these successful businessmen as conventional suit-wearing grownups, exemplifying all the petulant qualities that they attribute to the creative people they hire.

For instance, Tim Bell, the PR guru, says about creative people: "You have to flatter their egos. It is an enormous process of charming them, persuading them, treating them a bit like naughty schoolchildren. Of course, I could mention creators who are not like that, but even in those there is still a little touch of the petulant ego."

Wally Olins says: "You have to have an attitude which is like a parent to an adolescent. You've got to be nice, and you've got to keep on explaining. It's very trying on the nerves." Or Chris Jones, who says: "They are childlike - not childish - in nature. And like children they seek endless approval." Jeremy Isaacs says: "You endlessly have to cheer them up, to reassure and flatter them, and to establish a relationship of trust and encouragement, which is sometimes necessary to put them to work."

The quotes sound as if they have been taken out of context. They seem like the remarks ignorant and immature men would have made about women a generation or two ago. Any discerning person would assume they tell you more about the people saying them than the people about whom they are said. They all reveal a simplistic and exploitative attitude that is long out of date. They sound inauthentic and I doubt very much if these particular four successful and sophisticated gentlemen would seriously stand behind them. They are really more belittling than motivating. It is a great shame these quotes are in this book because they diminish it.

The best way to get the essence of Winston Fletcher's book is to read the summaries at the end of each chapter. These are valuable and succinct. If you run a business managing the production of "cultured pearls" then you are sure to find some useful things that you will want to do.

But if you are a cultured pearl yourself and work for any of the celebrities quoted you may find the attitudes of some of these great "suits of the Eighties" arrogant and patronising - and the book itself a valid reason for a minor tantrum.

The reviewer is a former president of the Chartered Society of Designers, and co-founded Wolff-Olins in 1965. He is also a founder of The Fourth Room, an innovative consultancy company