Seven Rules For Pissing Off Artists

Last week, comment sections across the creative community were set ablaze by the Harvard Business Review’s article “Seven Rules for Managing Creative People”, a list of instructions that described the general personality of creative employees with such choice words as “arrogant,” “bipolar” and “psychopathic.”

The article inspired so much vitriol from the online creative community that HBR has since changed its title to “Seven Rules For Managing Creative-But-Difficult People,” clarifying that, “Its intent is to discuss a small subset of people who happen to be both creative and difficult to work with; not to imply that all creative people are difficult.”

For those managers out there too busy corralling their unruly ‘creatives’ to read the entire piece, here are the original 7 rules in a nutshell (if you are a creative, please avert your eyes):

  1. Spoil them and let them fail
  2. Surround them by semi-boring people
  3. Only involve them in meaningful work
  4. Don’t pressure them
  5. Pay them Poorly
  6. Surprise Them
  7. Make them feel important

Along with updating the article title, HBR has also amended what is arguably the most egregious of the rules to: “#5. Don’t Overpay Them,” which seems especially scandalous considering the amount of creative individuals working through freelance and contract positions without benefits and health insurance. The author of the piece (pictured left), Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic (@DrTCP) has also attempted to elaborate on this subject via Twitter: Save for a few tweets like the one above and one that states “…it represents my professional opinion, which is informed by science and practice,” Dr. Chamorro has, perhaps wisely, said little about the article since it was published. Cartoon Brew reached out to him for comment, but at the time of this writing, he had not responded to our interview requests.

The rest of the Internet has been anything but silent though, and there have been a multitude of responses to the article that raise some well thought out conclusions for the disenfranchised creative individual.

For those seeking to maintain the “us” vs. “them” divide, there’s Lancer Creative Services eye-for-an-eye response, “Seven Rules or Putting up with Management”, which includes advice like “Accept that they don’t get us” and “Remember that Money is everything to them”.

Stevie Moore of Studiospectre takes a more empowered stance, seeing the mere knowledge of the directives as just another tool in the creative professional’s arsenal:

“I think this is a good example of how, of the internet and social networking’s double edge can actually work in our favor. By publishing that, the author is just arming us with knowledge and evidence to ensure a future where creatives have equal roles in the industry, which I dare say all of us here feel is best.”

Cennydd Bowles of AListApart.com finds a more egalitarian view that benefits more than just “creatives” and “non-creatives”:

“The premise that underpins this and many similar articles is that creativity is a binary property: some people are blessed (or cursed) with it, others aren’t…Thankfully, the premise is flawed. Creativity is not a binary ability but a muscle that needs exercise… everyone has creative capacity.”

And indie filmmaker David O’Reilly, who recently directed an episode of Adventure Time, provides a painfully succinct response to the entire editorial debacle, aimed directly at the author himself:

However, there are still a couple of fundamental questions getting buried beneath all of the hurt feelings and defensive misunderstandings that make up a lion’s share of the response. Questions like: In today’s professional landscape, what defines a “creative”? And where exactly would these suggestions even be considered by management as viable options rather than ignored for potential risks to the bottom line?

(Typical artist photo via Shutterstock)


  • http://animationanomaly.com/ Charles Kenny

    Seeing as he’s a business psychologist and academic, it would certainly not surprise me that he’s currently observing the fallout as part of his research.

  • http://twitter.com/somethingsavage Daniel Savage

    its link bait, dr tom is a professional troll, ignore him. the more we talk about it the more money they get from banner ads.

  • http://twitter.com/jordanreichek Jordan Reichek

    ……….AND THEY’RE OFF!!

  • Rufus

    Typical small-minded executive. I bet a LOT of his employees loathe him. Especially right now.

    It’s a good thing they can ostracize themselves from people publicly like this.

  • David Nethery

    ‘Don’t Overpay Them’ doesn’t really seem to be a problem right now. I think he tipped his hand in the first version when he wrote “Pay Them Poorly” (more money left over for hiring more Human Resource Managers , right ?)

  • z-k

    #2 should be amended to: “Separate, isolate, and play them off against other departments, especially the non-art production wing. The less collating, processing, and phone calls an employee makes, the more suspect they are.”

    #4: “Imply that something needs to be done by so-and-such date, knowing full well that overtime will be needed, regardless of whether it’s paid or not. Passive-aggressiveness is paramount. Hover over the employee until they come up with the right answer; never state the term “Overtime” or the phrase “over the weekend” until absolutely necessary – simply play on their work ethic and good will to obtain “favor”, “for the production” or “for the team”. Promptly forget favor and repeat next scheduling crisis.”

    Adding a #8: “Never trust. Always assume that they’re not doing their job. They’re a financial hemorrhage that needs constant pressure applied to.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/jsidhom Jonah Sidhom

    Love David OReilly’s response.

  • http://twitter.com/mikescottiskiff Mike Scott

    Well, I guess my rule of thumb for working with people with this kind of mindset is: 1. If I can help it, do not work with a Dr. Tomas kind of person. Because – pain. Radar starts beeping.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1220104679 Mike Milo

    What an @$$hole. As long as we are the people who create and they are the ones who do not, they will try to lord over us so they feel superior.

  • JodyMorgan

    Given the recent wave of layoffs and bankruptcies, does management really even have any interest in working with creatives?

  • http://www.facebook.com/luiz.couri Luiz Couri

    HBR should be ashamed

  • Toonio

    Coming from an institute where cheaters have been more the rule than the exception. I wouldn’t be surprised by the poor quality of their publications.

  • z-k

    “…where exactly would these suggestions even be considered by management as viable options rather than ignored for potential risks to the bottom line?”

    The banking industry; not towards its employees so much as its customers.

    Account deposits are essentially banks promising to hold onto – and to give you back – your money at any time. But given “Too Big To Fail”, and beyond the FDIC backstops to prevent bank runs (and which only range so far… and for the moment), a bank can loan that pool of monies whenever and to whomever they please, whether it’s someone well connected politically; trading in toxic/fraudulent inter-bank derivatives; providing and levying over home loans that are not only questionable in terms of the type of loan (option ARMs, sub-prime) but also lack the properly notarized paperwork to claim loan ownership (wire fraud). Or, as recently was the case with (IIRC) Wells Fargo and possibly Wachovia, assisting in money laundering from drug cartels or terrorist organizations (and in these specific cases, there seem to be federal guidelines that exclude FDIC coverage – if your bank goes bust from these shady dealings, then sorry depositor.)

    Add to this the monthly fees and surcharges for having an open account, a person’s essentially paying for the privilege of making a loan towards a fairly unaccountable entity, which can wheel and deal with that money as fast and loose as they please.

  • Scott550

    AND: Questions like: In today’s professional landscape, WHO defines a “creative”?

    Sadly, at most animation companies, it’s most often lame managers who only a year earlier was operating a coffee machine. They protect their jobs by labeling “creative types” for lazy identification. The best thing companies can do to stomp this out is get rid of HR employees altogether, and limit management to not more than 2% of the entire staff. Managers, in particular managers who “manage” artists, need to learn that they work for the ARTIST, not the other way around.

  • Bob Harper

    I wonder how Walt Disney, Jim Henson and Hanna & Barbera would’ve thought about this article, or for that matter John Lasseter.

    • Jessica

      Or the Looney Tunes crew back in the day. One of the reasons they were so successful is because their bosses mostly left them alone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jpcassidy John Paul Cassidy

    You left one out:
    -Look over an artist’s shoulder and ask him a stupid question. (Just ask Richard Williams!) :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessie.k.patterson Jessie Kate Patterson

    Seeing as this article offends so many of the group he claims to know how to handle so well….yeeah…and you’d think he’d have passed this by some actual artists before publication to better inform his “science”.

  • http://twitter.com/bombsfall Scott Benson

    We certainly had a lot of fun with this article last week.

  • canimal

    i suppose he didn’t realize that creative people have access to the internet? Maybe he thought we spent our free time sitting around outside like hippies.

  • James Reitano

    Has the ‘Doctor’ ever had an actual job?

    • http://profiles.google.com/ecpaulsen Eric Paulsen

      Well, I find that doctors tend to be self aggrandizing, bloviating know-it-alls and it is best to just nod passively in agreement to avoid offending their massive egos by not automatically deferring to their opinion when they deign to pass it down to us from on high. He does have a job in a sense, he judges everyone else and finds them wanting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Sullivan/100001833542564 Matt Sullivan

    Business people have and will always do everything they can to get what they want from artists without paying them what they’re worth. As Ken Bruce once demonstrated by bending over and simulating suit-to-ass rape “Artists never stand up for their rights”

  • http://www.facebook.com/gmelissa.grazianohumphrey G Melissa Graziano-Humphrey

    I wish Don Hahn would write a REAL list for working with creatives.

  • Natalie Belton

    People aren’t products!

  • CG_Animator

    “Moody, erratic, eccentric, and arrogant? Perhaps — but you can’t just get rid of them.”

    That sounds like a lot of the uncreative (and proud of it) management personelle I have to work with.

    Or worse… the uncreative management personelle I’ve had to work with who are under the delusion that they are creative and “help” you by sticking their big fat noses into your work and micromanaging everything you do.

  • Kilted Animator

    I definitely don’t like being referred to as a creative. I think it implies that those who work as artists are naturally creative and those who work as other types of employees are naturally NOT creative. It’s a shallow black and white view of the work environment, and cuts off potential, I believe, to allowing your engineers, accountants, etc to exercise their creative abilities in their fields, and refers to the ‘creative’ as something other than what they are, a /professional/ artist.

  • caricaturist

    If you don’t motivate me with actual money, then you need to call somebody else…