What’s YOUR creative role?

Creattive Roles ColorsI’ve been developing a theory about the roles that people play within creative projects. While one person may be able to successfully play multiple roles within projects, I believe that each person is truly meant to play only one. If he or she has an opportunity to play that role on a team with others who are also well suited for their roles, then there is a much greater chance that everyone will enter a state of FLOW and find ultimate fulfillment and success within the project.

This theory began as a conversation with a good friend who was struggling with a project. He had found great success with a similar project a few years earlier and couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t replicate that success. We realized that his roles in the two projects were quite different from each other and that he was far more suited for his role in the earlier, more successful project.

We identified the following four roles. The names are meant to be generalizations and not tied to any particular creative discipline. Also, the roles aren’t part of a hierarchy; no one role is more important than another and all are needed to be well executed for a project to be successful.

The Artist

Artists come up with the fresh and innovative ideas for a creative project. They create from a place with no boundaries, no limits, and infinite possibilities. They are the playwrights who develop the most unexpected plot twist, the songwriter who can make a masterpiece out of two chords, or the painter who combines colors in magical ways on the canvas. Artists aren’t concerned about sales, expenses, or logistics. They can be unorganized and are often overwhelmed by all of the variables required to actually turn the idea into reality. The artists’ primary concern is the idea itself (the song, the script, the painting) and the magic that the idea can create.

The Producer

Producers, on the other hand, recognize the great ideas of the Artists, judge the feasibility of developing them into a project, and then gather the requirements needed to execute them or get them in front an audience. They seek answers to questions, such as, how much will it cost? what are the roadblocks? do we have a location? is there an audience? and how much is that audience willing to pay for the ticket, the book, or the collection of photographs. Unlike Artists, Producers are energized by the challenge of identifying and planning for all of the variables that exist within a creative project. As the project unfolds, Producers monitor progress and provide guidance and decision making to keep the project on time and within budget.

The Director

After the Producer creates a vision and framework for a project, the Director leads its execution. Directors receive the requirements from the Producer and are responsible for turning those requirements into a set of tasks to get the job done. Those tasks will either be fulfilled by the Directors themselves or delegated to other members of the creative team. Directors could be the actual Director in a theatre company, or they could be tour managers, stage managers, project managers, curators, committee chairs, etc. Whatever the actual title, they thrive on overcoming challenges and figuring out how to move the project forward, no matter what the obstacle. Directors can see and understand the big picture, but often struggle with defining it. They can figure out how to execute a task, but recognize that they may not be the best fit to actually do it and delegate as needed.

The Player

Players are experts at specific functions. They execute that function better than anyone on the team and their primary focus is being great. They are the world class musicians, the master carpenters, or the award winning actors. Players are focused and skilled and are always seeking to improve those skills. But they need everyone else on team to develop a framework in which to perform. An actor needs a great writer to a create the script, a producer who is willing to take a chance on a play, and a director with a vision to make the script come alive. A guitarist needs a great song, a stage on which to play, and an audience who is willing to pay to see the performance. All of these elements come from the other roles who are masterfully executing their part of the project.

Over the past year I have analyzed several creative projects and broken them down into these roles. By determining which projects had people well suited to perform their roles, and which projects didn’t, I began to see patterns. If someone played multiple roles, one area of the project often seemed to be stronger than others, pointing to that person’s strengths and perhaps the role to which they were truly aligned. If a project seemed to lack in an area, it was easy to identify where a role was simply not being fulfilled or when it was being played by someone obviously not suited for it. Of course, all of my evidence so far is anecdotal and speculative, but I’m looking to continue to build on this theory over time.

As I mentioned above, we creatives often have to play multiple roles within a project, and we can successfully do so. But even in those cases, I would argue that every creative craves a situation where he or she can focus completely his or her ideal role. When this happens, he or she has a much better chance of maximizing performance and entering a state of creative FLOW.

What is your ideal role? Do you find one role to be easier and more fulfilling than others?

  • Kevin Beerman

    This is such a great blog post. You’ve broken down and analyzed each role beautifully and accurately. I think you’ve really hit upon something which many of us struggle with – defining which hat we wear in a project. I for one know that it’s often difficult to play multiple roles with equal success. While I may pull it off, I’m usually left with a sense that I could have worked harder in the “other capacity.” This is so spot on, it’s refreshing to know that I am not alone. As for me, I think I’m most comfortable in a player or producer role, depending on the project I’m involved in at the time.

    • http://www.woodstovehouse.com/ Jason Mundok

      Thanks for checking in, Kevin. I wonder if one of those two roles get you more excited than another. Do you find yourself more excited in a project where you just get to focus on being the best player you can be, or do you get more excited when you get to take the high level reigns and really define the concept around a project?

      • Kevin Beerman

        This is a great question. I think it really depends on the setting. For instance, I LOVE the performance aspect of it all… Being with other great musicians, getting on stage, playing, feeding off the energy and watching the music unfold as the night goes on. It’s a feeling like no other to be able to share this experience with an audience. This could be why I have always especially loved playing jazz live, as the song could change drastically each and every night.
        However, when it’s not about the performance, and as much as I love playing my instrument(s) ad nauseam in order to achieve perfection, I feel that I get more excited about the creative process of developing a project. But while I may play drums for a particular song in the studio,or guitar and piano for another song as part of a project, I feel that my true focus shifts from worrying about playing the best as I can, to figuring out how to elevate a project or piece to its fullest potential both musically and conceptually.

        Ultimately, it comes down to how I like to work creatively. When it’s a spontaneous, organic setting such as a performance, I am most excited when I’m the player creating on the fly. When it’s a project setting, my excitement is fueled by the possibilities, inventions and discoveries that are ever present during new projects.

  • http://www.woodstovehouse.com/ Jason Mundok

    An important point of clarity that has really helped me put these concepts into practice is that the “role” is not a person’s title. I’ve seen bands where a member was a strong leader and played the producer role very well. In those cases, the band didn’t really need an outside manager, maybe just a booking agent. I’ve also seen bands where there was no “producer” and for them to be successful they required an outside manager to play that role.

    Roles can be played by different people who make up the creative team. The most important thing is to recognize which roles are lacking and go find people to fill the voids.

  • http://goo.gl/JikAHz Granger Whitelaw

    Granger Whitelaw is a well respected venture capitalist and entrepreneur. (by Granger Whitelaw)