Commentary By Curtis Symonds OK, I admit it. I’m not one to go seeking out the Harvard Business Review. And it’s not like I have the latest issue on hand for extended bathroom reading. But thanks to the New York Times, I did stumble upon a recent series of articles in the HBR that piqued my interest. They were packaged under the umbrella name, "Leading Creative People" and dealt with the unique challenges of effectively managing people who are, most likely, more creative than their bosses. And while I didn’t read the pieces in their entirety, and indeed only saw excerpts, they really did get me thinking. After all, ours is an industry built on creativity, especially on the content side, and I wondered just how many of our managers are capable of the deft touch required to get the most out of such people. That’s a compelling issue in this age of impermanence when companies, and even entire industries, can dry up because some revolutionary idea rendered them obsolete. With the stakes so high, the marketplace so dynamic and the workplace so volatile, how do you manage the people capable of producing breakthrough ideas; people whose value to the company can be, at times, immeasurable? I found one of the articles particularly interesting in that it involved exhaustive interviews with a number of creative people. Written by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, "Leading Clever People" makes no bones about the difficulty of the task. As they write, "If clever people have one defining characteristic, it is that they do not want to be led." And make no mistake: Many employees consider themselves creative. Indeed, I might argue, just as Thoreau wrote, that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. And my sense is most men, even the most plodding, also think of themselves as creative. But in truth, only a handful of employees have the unique collection of skills, wisdom and out-of-the-box thinking capable of creating revolutionary value for a company. And while this article has a lot of obvious, wash-behind-your-ears and brush-your-teeth-everyday type of stuff, it also offers some unique perspectives. Such as this nugget: when you manage creative people well, they’ll not even know you’re doing it. And even if they do recognize your leadership, they’ll most likely not acknowledge it, and they’ll never thank you for your role in their success. "Remember," the authors write, "these creative individuals feel that they don’t need to be led." Now, as I said earlier, the ability to manage creative people is important on the content side of this industry. That’s a given. But as I was reading I found myself thinking more about our MSO companies. Our programmers and vendors have always faced dog-eat-dog competition; they’re used to someone plotting their destruction. Ho-hum, another day, another competitor. But for the MSOs, this is a fairly new reality. Because, while DBS and the telcos have been trying to get subscription TV right for a generation or so, only recently has their institutional knowledge and technical prowess started to match their financial muscle. Not only that, but as digital products increase the demands on both the MSO networks and their bandwidth capability, their need for creative thinking is now greater than ever. Throw in the fact that more and more MSOs are becoming national programmers (welcome to the club, Cox) and you could make a strong case that for the first time in the history of this industry, there is a greater need for creative types on the distribution side of the business than on the content side. I offer no advice, other than perhaps to go online, pay the 17 bucks and download these 3 articles. Because, especially if you’re an MSO, Symonds says it may just be time to upgrade the quality of your bathroom reading. Curtis Symonds can be reached at

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