Basic rules for getting the most from a creative media mind

Types of thinkers

Some people think in words (word-thinkers), and some people think in images (image-thinkers). Francis Galton and Jean Martin Charcot established these differences with their defining studies of how the mind worked. Charcot (1875), a neurologist, approached his work from a clinical perspective, while Galton (1880), a eugenicist, studied the subject from a humanistic perspective. Later Riding and Rayner (1998: 155) found that different learning preferences influenced students’ selection and styles of “expression” (of themselves and their knowledge). For the creative media mind, expression takes the form of a creative work such as a fictional novel, a painting, a voice-over, a web page graphic, or perhaps a video production.

With a large volume of studies on thinking, learning, and expression (see Paivio, 1971), we may suggest with some certainty—although scholars have incessantly bickered back and forth about the details for decades now—that people think and work differently. But one should not approach the topic as a superior versus inferior proposition or word-thinkers versus image-thinkers. In fact, it is only the shortsighted elitist who understands the world around them from their very limited, and often unique, point of view. Creatives (image-thinkers) see and hear, work, handle stress, and solve problems differently than non-creatives (word-thinkers). And recent research of best practices suggests that creative media minds need a different atmosphere to flourish with their boundless imaginations. If you have one or more working for you, you do well to understand the different ways people think and work to better leverage their talents and skills to your best advantage.

Word-thinkers work at a steady flow using a methodical step by step process, whereas, the creative media mind may have many stops and starts and zig-zags along the way. Creatives know the starting point and the end goal, but getting from point A to point B requires a journey for them that isn’t always a linear process. This can be frustrating to a manager or client who wants to gauge the progress of a project but lacks the understanding of this creative process. Nonetheless, there are ways to avoid a push and pull environment that stifles a creative’s abilities and frustrates the rest of the team.

Rule Number One. Know what you or your client wants. Its common sense, but this scenario happens too often. The boss says, “You know what I like. Just come up with something “creative.” I don’t know about you, but I still see a blank in my mind with that sort of direction. But I have personally heard this phrase uttered hundreds of times in my career. Instead of ambiguous generalities, share the look and feel of what you want. Stress the goals of the project. Say something that indicates direction. Word pictures are good too! In this way, the creative media minded person will begin seeing images that may later become “just what you were looking for.”

Rule Number Two. When you set deadlines, pad them a bit. What you do with deadlines depends on the complexity of the project involved. Allow more time for involved projects with many team players—say a week or two at least. For smaller projects, adding a few days should work fine. This will allow the creative time to explore their world of possibilities without missing deadlines. But I don’t suggest for a minute that you should by any means allow a creative to take all the time they want. Not at all. Realistically set measurable and attainable goals, and with a bit of padding there should be fewer missed deadlines.

Another way to approach solving the problem of missed deadlines is to have your creative develop preliminary roughs. This helps with meeting deadlines in two ways. First, if they missed the mark by a mile, you can quickly get them corrected in the right direction without having wasted too much time. And second, you as their manager can better understand their ideas and what it will take to produce the work. At that preliminary stage, you can decide to scale up their work or scale it back without wasting additional time and resources. To that end, it’s never a good idea to wait until the very end of the deadline to get your first look at their work. If you do, you’re likely to have constant fireworks in your firm.

Rule Number Three. Give them physical and mental room to work, preferably in a distraction free zone. Don’t lord over them constantly. There’s nothing more annoying to a creative media mind than to have the boss—arms crossed, tapping his toe—at the door every other hour. Once you’ve given them the details and the deadline, let them do their “thing” without distractions. And the environment they are most comfortable with may not be sitting at a desk all day. If you’re from an older generation, your way of thinking has probably been trained to measure “effort” by desk time. Get with post-industrialism already! You’ll never get your best from a creative with thinking like that, so don’t chain your creative to a desk or a cubical if you really want to see what they can do.

These three rules could certainly be expanded into large volumes, but in my experience they correct the most common mistakes made by those managing creatives. Don’t forget, working with creatives does not require that you lose your sense of control; however, when creatives are treated appropriately as a valuable team player, they’ll respond with respect for respect. And when you treat them in a way that allows them room to grow creatively, you’ll have someone who will be loyal and eager to please you.


Charcot, JM, 1875, Sur les localizations cerebrales. Comptes-Rendus des Seances et Memoires de la Societe de Biologie, 24, pp. 400-404.

Galton, F, 1880, Statistics of mental imagery, Mind, 5(19), pp. 301-318.

Paivio, A, 1971, Imagery and verbal processes, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York.

Riding, R. J., & Rayner, S. (1998). Cognitive styles and learning strategies: understanding style differences in learning and behaviour. London: D. Fulton.

Types of thinkers



About the Author:

Dr. John Weidert is an independent educator, communicator, and practitioner of educational and organizational leadership, communication, and media studies.