When I graduated from art school and jumped into a corporate job, the concept of company politics seems distant. My belief was that politics happened at boring companies where employees wear ties and filled out Excel sheets. It became clear this plagues various companies, especially brands. Overtime I recognised its negative effect on capable, creative individuals and began to dig deeper.
Company structure is more important than ever to coordinate and synergise efforts, both in and outside of the company. For brands, structure is way to combat today’s market shifts, while keeping on target with their greater vision. As structure can be a mix of old process and new needs, it doesn’t always sync perfectly. This is where ‘politics’ fills in the missing gaps.
Anyone who’s worked at a brand knows ‘politics’ makes everything slower and more difficult than it needs to be. The term is catch all for workplace strife, where any issue can be attributed to politics. When we boil politics down to a more tangible topic, it’s the process of making decisions within a company. It determines team dynamics, decision-making hierarchy and measurements of success. Once you understand its construct, it’s more bearable - though never easy.
Because of this, employees learn to survive and thrive in a company’s political culture, while lessening disappointment and effort. This efficiency, if you could all it that, can stall or dampen creativity. It doesn’t mean brands hired the wrong people - it’s that these people lose their ability to think of new ways or approaches. This is why even when brands have the team, they look to outside sources for new ideas.
Watching good ideas die, be ‘vanilla’d’ or disregarded as ‘not possible’ affects many creatives. Slowly we realise the ideas that get to market aren’t always the best, but the most resilient to withstand the brand’s political structure. Now you might say, ‘Then that idea will be resilient within the market’. For some brands this is true, but when a company structure has obvious, outdated constructs and beliefs, these ideas can become irrelevant and opinionless.
Creatives want to create for the better. We have visions we believe in due to market insights, creative intuition and experimental iterations. And it’s not just one vision, but many. Company politics, stagnant creativity and watered down ideas can demotivate creatives. I’ve seen it happen before in myself and others. Often I had to remind myself keep trying, talk to new people, find another way, it’s possible. Working at a brand as a creative requires patience, stamina and downright determination.
Much like learning the social constructs of a playground or a school system’s idea of success, companies have their own particular realities. It took me years to learn how to deal with company politics, as it was not taught in art school. If I were to teach a class at art or design school, it would be called ‘Selling your Vision without Selling your Soul’. Whether working at a company or freelancing, us creatives need to translate our concepts into business-speak to get either buy-in or funding.
‘Politics’ is not all bad. Having a maze makes you think beyond your immediate perspective. Politics forced me to take a broader look at the brand and build cross-functional relationship in order to contextualise my idea within a greater goal. Getting an idea through likened to a strategic video game. So if you are a creative or a non-creative with company politics getting you down, see it as an opportunity and find some good colleagues along the way to talk through the frustration.