Today's guest blog is by Sandy Thompson, CEO Coach at Cultural Enterprise Scotland, which offers business support to Scotland's creative sector. 


sandy thomson4I have been a creative maker all my life. I run an international Story Machine - Poorboy - that makes narratives for stages, pages, places, games, comics, film and businesses. With Poorboy’s Associate Director and our Ensemble I make creative works across the world - and doing this involves just as many business skills as creative and it always has.

I wrote and directed my first play aged 10. It was a massive critical success, my fellow Primary 6 colleagues were stunned by my Space Explorer/Adventure/Whodunnit/Romance and were even more impressed that they got the afternoon off Maths to come and watch it in the gym hall.

If you’re wondering why this little anecdote appears in a blog about business and creative skills then here’s the whole story behind that fantastically Instagram-able moment...

MB+WebThe Friday one week before the show was due to happen, I had arranged to take my script to the School Secretary at the end of the day to get it photocopied. This would allow my squad of 9 and 10 year old actors to get their copies and learn their lines over the weekend and through the week so we could perform the following Thursday. However, on the Friday morning, whilst I am up at 7am, and still writing the script I realise I just am not going to be ready. Writing a script was much harder than I anticipated and I am getting on very slowly. I am going to miss the deadline.

Luckily I was brought up in a creative business environment. My dad was a design engineer working in the oil industry. His company started on our kitchen table and grew to be really sizeable. All the way through its development I watch my parents run this business using skills that were directly relatable to the mechanics of the creative practice I was just beginning to realise was ‘my thing’.

So my dad talked to me about responsibility to those who had committed to the project. He told me to come clean about the fact that I wasn’t ready. He made me a flow chart of the things that would be affected by it (He was an engineer, there were a lot of flow charts in our house) and we made a task list.  My Mum talked me through what I now know is ‘win win’ negotiating skills but at the time I just though of as ‘I don’t want to get into trouble and I still want to do my play at school’.

Screen+Shot+2017 06 05+at+18.29.11I considered just getting the script copied on the Monday and telling the actors to learn the lines faster - because I badly wanted to avoid all these other tricky conversations - but the flow chart of what would happen if the actors couldn’t learn the lines that fast was pretty bad. If they forget what they were saying in the middle of the play it would be ruined and all this effort would have been for nothing.

So first thing on Friday morning I take my courage in both hands and go to my teacher. I  tell him I won’t be ready with the script by the end of the day. He’s surprised and clearly disappointed but I soldier on. I asked him to put the performance time back a whole week. I point out the pluses of the rescheduled time for the actors and for the class who will be my audience. I give him a list of times when the gym hall is free that the School Secretary gave me and show him when we could rehearse and perform and point out we will be missing less class time this way.  He agrees to move it.

Then I tell my actors that we are rescheduling, I have to recast one of the parts because one girl isn’t going to be in school on the new performance day. She is angry with me that she is being dropped from the performance and decides she isn’t my friend any more. I offer to write in a song she can rehearse on her own and we can record it and play it during the play. It’s not perfect but it’s the best fix I have. 

Then - having wrangled the logistics of cast, audience, gym hall and photocopying - I sit down at the weekend at my kitchen table and write the rest of the script. It takes me much longer than any writing I’ve ever done before, but it’s ready by Monday morning and it goes to the School Secretary for copying…. the show goes on.

4+copyI want to remind you at this point that I am 10 years old in this story. And on this, my very first creative endeavour, I immediately crash right into missed deadlines, organising schedules, managing staff, balancing expectations, wrangling admin and venue contacts and working out how to get Sharon Robertson to still be friends with me.

Naming is helpful

Growing up as a creative in a business environment I was lucky enough to have people around me that could point out and name what I was doing. When I worked around a missed deadline they told me about stakeholders and managing expectations, when I was organising a cast they talked about resources and staff. It was very helpful because creative people do, in fact, have business skills but often write them off as the common sense things they just take on to get the work where it needs to be.

Creative and Business skills have commonalities

It’s a common assumption that ‘creative’ and ‘business’ are very different things and a person is likely to be one and not the other. It’s simply not the case. My experience suggests that the same core skills are at work.

Creatives practice discernment and decision making as part of their making process. Makers of every kind are confident, empowered, informed decision makers when it’s about what goes into the work. They have practice with decisions. And that’s great because decision making is one of the most important business skills.

Then there’s the process of review and adaptation that goes into making great work. Essentially this is an exercise in review and evaluation - again, vital to business.

Creatives assess resources, make a space and create a work - their project management skills are often highly developed.

Taking these skills into the business arena requires just a little jump of imagination and luckily artists and creatives also have that  - in abundance. 


The Famous Grouse Ideas Centre Accelerator powered by Elevator will immerse your creative or design business in expert support and guidance to help you flourish. Applications are open now (closing date 15th January 2018). For more information and to apply now, click here.

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