HOW TO DRAW DARTH VADER
There is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
—H. L. Mencken
Southern heat will make you do crazy things. In this case, the sweltering locale was Disney World, and the act of crazy was ducking into a gift shop to catch a break from the sun. I don't know about you, but I tend to avoid gift shops at all cost. I believe that they are designed solely for the purpose of grabbing me by the ankles and shaking me upside down to claim what's left in my pockets, after I've already spent the equivalent of the price of a nice compact car just to get into the park.
My family strolled the aisles, and I discreetly slid to the side of the store to get out of the way. I found myself standing directly beneath an air conditioning duct, and as I basked in my personal igloo, my eyes were drawn to a bright red T-shirt a few feet away. At the top of the shirt were the words "How to Draw Darth Vader," and underneath were step-by-step directions for sketching the Sith Lord. (If you'd like to see it, go to toddhenry.com/darth.)
Panel one: "Start with a head and body." (Above was an illustration of a crude body and a simple trapezoid for the head.)
Panel two: "Add a cape." (Again, a crude illustration of Darth Vader's cape.)
Panel three: "Draw the face, gloves, and boots." (A third crude, cartoonish illustration showing the rough outlines of these things.)
Then, the final step.
Panel four: "Add details and some shading. FINISHED!"
Above these words was a 'perfectly' photo-realistic drawing of Darth Vader, light-years (ha!) more sophisticated than the previous three panels. I still laugh to this day when I think about it.
I find the T-shirt funny not just because of the surprise ending, but because it is a great analogy for how leadership advice is often dispensed:
"Have a clear vision!"
"Hire talented people!"
"Listen more than you speak!"
And voila! Brilliant work pops out the other side, no?
Well, no. The 'actual' mechanics of leading creative work are way more complex than our neat, plausible cliches can handle. There is very little black and white, or even shades of gray. Challenges to leaders of creative teams appear in shades of brown—a blending of multiple colors to the point that it's difficult to discern what the original colors even were. Creative work must be figured out as you go, and the most sought-after people are those who can shape the chaos into form, meaning, and value. There are no "easy steps" or "magic principles." The "magic" happens between panels three and four, and it's really just the result of a lot of hard work by super-talented team members (who make it look easy).
If you've picked up this book, chances are that you are responsible for leading the kind of work I just described. You have talented, creative people on your team, with all the extreme highs and (occasional) frustrations that accompany them. You spend much of your day figuring out how to harness their collective focus, energy, and creativity to produce value for your organization and your clients. When everything is going well, you love your job, but when the work starts going off the rails, you start wondering whether you should look for a more sanity-friendly line of work. ("I wonder if the post office is hiring? Or the DMV?")
You've probably heard it said that leading creative people is like herding cats. I 'strongly' disagree, and I find the analogy demeaning. If you've hired brilliant, driven people, it's more like herding tigers, powerful beings who cannot be corralled but must be carefully, individually, and strategically led. However, many creative leaders I encounter don't have a clear framework for how to do this. They are promoted from within their organizations and suddenly find themselves leading people who were once their peers. Their only example of how to lead is 'their' former manager, who was a total jerk (or a pushover, or a brown noser, or if they were lucky 'maybe' was a great leader). So regardless of how talented they might have been as team members, once promoted into a leadership role they find themselves asking: "Now what?"
This book strives to answer that question.