Successfully leading a group of creative people takes a special blend of skills. Doing it for nearly 30 years takes some kind of sorcery. At least that’s what we thought before talking to CID’s Executive Creative Director, Jim Taugher. It turns out it’s got a lot more to do with having a curious attitude, open mind, and willingness to take risks. In this interview, Jim talks about his creative process and what he’s learned leading an agency in Milwaukee’s creative community.
Q: Let’s start with an “easy” one. How do you define creativity?
JT: To me creativity equals possibility. It requires a near-spiritual availability and intentionality to be present to the opportunity at hand, whether it’s a story to tell, a problem to unravel, or a process flow that needs to be improved. I believe it’s an invitation to affect outcomes.
I think of it like the property of inertia — the idea that something stuck in its current state will stay in its state until something else gets it moving differently. Creativity — creative people — can be the “something else” that changes the trajectory of the path a little or a lot.
Q: A big part of leading a team is, naturally, finding team members. How do you recognize creativity in others?
JT: When I see someone who is trying something out, whether that’s playing around with a certain typeface for a logo treatment or looking for a way to share information in an unexpected or better way, I see someone being creative. It’s the act of applying play to work.
They have the willingness to figure something out and be excited that we have the privilege to play in this space. People with the ability to do that are exercising their creative muscles and a lot of them have found their place at CID.
Q: What do you most enjoy about leading a creative team?
JT: I always love being part of a creative brainstorming meeting with other creative individuals. There’s an energy in that back-and-forth that is so unique to this industry. That alchemy that happens when a smart group of people are trying to create something totally new.
As a leader of that group, it’s great to be able to take a moment and watch the thinking unfold and just know that a lot of the people in the room are feeling the same way I did when I was starting out. I get to provide a growth path for young designers and communicators and support them as they find their own creative voice in their disciplines. Now I get to be the mentor.
Q: What do you find challenging about leading a creative team?
JT: I think what makes it hard — design or communication work in general — is that you can come at the challenge as objectively as you want, as creatively as you want, but your client is a human or a group of humans with their own subjective opinions, likes, and dislikes. You can work out of a place of emotion. You can work out of a real practical place of problem-solving and still hit a dead end. It happens. It's all part of this career. It can be frustrating at times, but we are a resilient bunch in this business. I think we can have that moment or even that day of frustration but we jump back in and try again with new eyes and a new perspective on the work.
Q: How do you encourage creativity on your team?
JT: First, recognizing that there’s not a right way to be creative. But also understanding that it might not look like what you expect. The creative process starts right there in the client meeting. It's not when you get back and when you get to draw or brainstorm on a whiteboard. But, it's literally right there when you're meeting with the person that has come to you with something that they can't see a solution for.
Q: Follow-up question: We heard there are sometimes field trips?
JT: There are. We’ve gone out to a local printing shop for an afternoon to do some artmaking together. That was a lot of fun. And we talk about things that inspire us all the time. That happens across the whole company.
Q: How has your approach to leading and working with other creative people changed and evolved since you first started CID?
JT: I feel a little healthy tension, honestly, right now with my role as both CEO and Executive Creative Director. On the best days, I realize that they're the same role. That to be in the business side of it and work on the business itself uses a lot of the same brain muscles as being a creative director. They’re both about really trying to make things fit, find and connect the dots, and let those be sustainable solutions.
The evolution from the beginning of the company to leading the team we have today really has been an unveiling, and a learning of myself. That natural wiring to draw or communicate really also was a bit of a natural wiring to want to be a connector of ideas and people. For clients, but also very much internally. To see that there were others who had hopes and dreams and a career something like mine, and that I could help them connect with their aspirations.
What is a little surprising when I look back isn't so much that I step aside from the hands-on artistry to allow others to be in their craft, but that I find it just as artistic to build the teams and the solutions for clients with those teams that make up CID.
Q: What makes you feel successful as a leader of a creative team?
JT: A client that has been with us for about 20 years paid us a compliment about 15 years ago that I’ll never forget. He was referring us to another potential client who was asking "Who should we use as our marketing firm?" He said, "I want you to call CID, and here's why. They get it."
I know that seems like a little too simplified version of why you'd refer somebody, but I accept the compliment, and I love it to this day.
I'm proud to say that we get our client's situation. If it's that marketing director in her position, we want to help her along. We want to help understand what success looks like to the individuals on our client's side, as well as that whole company interaction.
So, for someone to pay us the compliment of “CID gets it,” tells me there's a whole lot of trust put in us. It's saying that whatever it is, CID is going to be responsible for what they say they're going to do, that they're listening all the time. That they have the creative mindset it takes to solve all kinds of different challenges.
All of that is true. Being able to bring our creative minds together to build something — to lead that group that can earn that kind of compliment — it’s a privilege.
For more insights, you can connect with Jim on LinkedIn, or contact CID to find out what it’s like to work with our team of creative thinkers and do-ers.