How to Manage Creative Talent: Angela Ahrendts

All-linear thinking doesn't square at Burberry Photograph by Mary McCartney; Illustration by Caroline Andrieu

We’re all in creative businesses, so hiring and retaining great creative talent is a priority. The companies that hard-wire creative thinking into every aspect of how they operate will be the ones that outperform. Creative thinkers are not just for “creative” roles. We need executives who have a balance between right-brain inventiveness and left-brain analysis. I’ll often introduce an extreme right-brain candidate to a group of my most extreme left-brain executives, and vice versa. If they can’t relate to each other, chances are they won’t fit into our culture. It’s not that you can’t have extremes, but you have to build a team that respects the value that both sides bring to each new challenge.

We’ve learned that EQ is often more important than experience and IQ when working with creative thinkers. Watch how people speak to your assistant when visiting your office, or take a candidate to lunch and see how they treat the restaurant staff. Both will give you insights into someone’s character.

It’s important to build the right atmosphere for creativity to flourish. To encourage creativity, we value feeling as much as knowing. Of course, we try to confuse ourselves with relevant facts, but we always lead with intuition. After all, you can’t prove something will be successful if it’s never been done before.

The right physical environment also creates energy. Giving everyone free lunch at our London headquarters pays for itself many times over by bringing people together and encouraging communication beyond their team or their floor. Some of the best ideas we have start with these informal interactions.

Lastly, a younger workforce and a creative culture also tend to be highly empathetic. At Burberry, we’ve established an innovation council—chaired by our chief creative officer, Christopher Bailey—comprised of the brightest young minds in our company, and their remit is, simply, to dream. It allows young voices to be heard. It also helps enlighten our more seasoned executives.

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