If you’re a creative professional—particularly if you work in a corporation—you should get to know Andy Epstein if you don’t already. Andy is the prolific author and editor of the InHOWse Designer Blog, a terrific collaborator and a tireless advocate for in-house designers. He’s once again on the agenda for the InHOWse Managers Conference in Chicago, June 24–27, and he’s the author of The Corporate Creative. HOW asked Andy about all the glory (and the gory) that comes with being a creative person in a corporate workplace. Here’s a snippet of that interview; you can read the full story here.
When did you realize that being a Corporate Creative was for you? On a certain level, I figured this out when I won the election for junior class president in high school. I had known I was a creative and a bit of an outsider since I was in kindergarten. But, I also discovered that I could work well socially and in organized groups and that I enjoyed it. Once I found myself in a corporation after freelancing for a number of years, the same skills and aptitudes kicked in and it’s been one heck of a ride ever since.
Are some creatives’ personalities better fit to adapting to a corporate culture than others? Yes. There are some creatives who are just so “out there” in terms of their lifestyle and behaviors that they would wither and die in a corporate world that is pretty intolerant of individualism and self-expression.
Designers who are what I’d call “closet creatives” fare better in companies where conformity (at least on the surface) is valued. These designers are innovative and rebellious on the inside but conservative on the outside. Dyana Valentine uses a term I think is pretty accurate; she calls them “shape-shifters.” They’re adaptive, good communicators, even better listeners and have an ability to remain objective and in control of their emotions in spite of trying circumstances. They also are patient and defer instant gratification for more incremental successes. And they definitely have a good sense of humor.
Corporate environments—love it or hate it (be honest)? I could try to duck this question and say I have a love-hate relationship with corporate culture but I’ll attempt to give a straight answer. As much as it surprises even me, I’d say it’s primarily a love affair—but not all for positive reasons.
Most obviously, I like the opportunity to execute projects on a global scale and really impact an organization in fundamental ways. The benefits and salary don’t hurt either. I’d add that corporations often provide their employees with great resources and opportunities for training and professional growth, which I’ve always taken advantage of.
On the flip side, corporations can be pretty dysfunctional, political, petty, malicious and downright stupid. But I like the challenges and adversaries many corporate cultures provide in abundance so it’s fun for me to righteously rage (hopefully in a functional way) against the machine. Looking at this from a more positive perspective, I get a chance to have a constructive impact on the culture beyond providing great design. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit on that front.