One of my most memorable moments working at MTV Networks was Tom Freston’s last day at 1515 Broadway. I was working in VH1’s programming planning department in the days just before Celebreality was born. My team spent many hours intensely hovering over schedules and glued to computer screens.
But when the email spread through the company calling for us to meet in the lobby to send Tom off, we quickly left our desks behind to be apart of television history.
My only encounter with Tom was our regular town hall meetings. Still, I knew he was the creative champion of MTVN. Our protection against the corporate boogeymen. The father of the movement that defined a generation. Because of his presence, his vision, MTV was the place to work—a creative epicenter, a media pioneer.
As the Tom struggled to make his way through the throngs of people cheering in the lobby, one curious thought came to mind. “Judy McGrath’s job safer than it has ever been.” I reasoned that with Tom’s unfortunate departure, brought about by corporate collateral damage departure (learn more here), the next creative executive in line would be kept at the company if only to retain the creative culture that made MTV a household name.
Fast forward to 2011. Judy McGrath is out. I saw the headlines. Surprise, doubt, sadness filled me. Even though I left 1515 six months before this startling news (see my back story here), I felt a loss.
Sure, ever since the split from CBS the company has been different. The corporate vibe had been crouching at every corner. Then the economy collapsed and we joined every media company in raising efficiency as the new god of the day. Bottom-line thinking was praised. Lay-offs became a regular occurrence. Risk-taking was only mentioned in the context of conversations about the “good old days” between beleaguered veterans.
But at least we still had Judy. She was a direct descendant of those “good old days.” Every time she walked into the building, I felt like one day—when the economy was rebounding or when we stumbled on a great hit or when one of the many companies we bought revealed a new digital model—she would usher in a new era of inventive freedom at MTVN.
Did that dream leave when Judy walked out the door? What do you do if you work in a media company that has excused all the creative executives out the door?
I’ve spent the last six months on my own creative journey in order to shake off some corporate tendencies and return to the creative artistic executive I imagined I would be as a high school student. For the record, I’ve been blessed with some of the best supervisors in the business and learned so much at Lifetime, VH1 and Nickelodeon Networks over the last 10 years.
Still, I saw how my superiors were handicapped by mandates from the senior executives of the company. I couldn’t see how my position at MTVN would get me to writing and producing scripted dramas. That’s why I left. But no matter where you are, if you feel as though your artistic self is being suffocated, I have a few choice words for you to live up to your creative potential despite your non-creative environment.
I began Creatives Culture to share my creative journey with others. And I hoped it would inspire others. But after Judy’s “resignation”, I knew I had to do more. A militant spirit rose up in me. A militant is defined as a “somebody aggressively supporting a cause.” My cause is the protection of creative executives, their ideas and workspaces. It involves the assembling of creative militias and the provision of resources to fight those who wish to see the spirit of innovation or risk-taking eliminated in favor of asserting bottom-line thinking as the primary principle of a corporation.
Does that sound crazy? Ridiculous? Over zealous? It shouldn’t. We praise companies like Google and Pixar for their fierce advocacy of creative environments. We idolize executives like Steve Jobs who defy conventional thinking. We build altars for start-ups that claim success outside of the system. Even the president has repeatedly called for America to return to a spirit of innovation.
If you want to read funny anecdotes or see pretty pictures, this blog is no longer for you. If you want to revive a spirit of original thinking in your company, if you want to fight the typical and mundane ideas, then stay tuned.
The next five posts will lay out a tactical plan to transform yourself into a creative militant and your environment into a creative culture. If you are a creative militant surviving at a media company, please share the strategies; tactics and resources have worked in your sector.