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When to Kill and Release the Creativity Of Others

rickwarrenlornemichaelsDo you identify more with Lorne Michaels… or Rick Warren?

The former is the long-tenured producer and mind behind Saturday Night Live. For almost forty years, Lorne Michaels has not just kept his up-and-down-in-the-ratings variety show on the air, but has more recently found much of the creative talent for late night TV. Clearly, he knows when he’s doing – even when he hasn’t known what he’s doing.

The latter is the well-known megachurch pastor, ministry coach, global activist and best-selling author. Rick Warren has connected with the average person in need of purpose and given ministers a strategy that has turned many congregations (and youth groups) around. He’s led a church where his staff and volunteers can grow into their S.H.A.P.E. for ministry.

So… which one of them is right when it comes to dealing with creative people?

In her best-selling book “Bossypants,” Tina Fey spoke about how Lorne Michaels taught her that “Producing is about discouraging creativity”:


“A TV show comprises many departments — Costumes, Props, Talent, Graphics, Set Dressing, Transportation. Everyone in every department wants to show off their skills and contribute creatively to the show, which is a blessing. You’re grateful to work with people who are talented and enthusiastic about their jobs.

You would think that as a producer, your job would be to churn up creativity, but mostly your job is to police enthusiasm. You may have an occasion where the script calls for a bran muffin on a white plate and the Props Department shows up with a bran cake in the shape of Santa Claus sitting on a silver platter that says “Welcome to Denmark.”

“We just thought it would be funny.”

And you have to find a polite way to explain that the character is Jewish, so her eating Santa’s face might have negative connotations, and the silver tray, while beautiful, is giving a weird glare on camera and maybe let’s go with the bran muffin on the white plate.

And then sometimes Actors have what they call “ideas.” Usually it involves them talking more, or, in the case of more experienced actors, sitting more. When Actors have ideas it’s very important to get to the core reason behind their idea. Is there something you’re asking them to do that is making them uncomfortable… is there someone in the room the actor is trying to impress?”

Rick Warren, on the other hand, has explained that we should delegate to creative people even if we fear the wildfire:


The key to motivating creative people to lead ministry effectively is granting ownership. At Saddleback, as much as possible, each ministry makes its own decisions without a lot of oversight from the staff. We believe that the implementers should be the decision makers. When everything has to be passed by a committee or board, we tend to ask “why?” about every decision. But our initial response to the ideas of creative people should actually be “why not?”

Warren adds that the three things to focus on include:

  • Give them a challenge: Jesus took a dozen average guys and challenged them to go tell the gospel to the entire world… something they could do over time as the church expanded under their leadership.
  • Give them control: Growth happens in an atmosphere of freedom where leaders are encouraged to dream, to try, to experiment, and even to fail and move forward. Burnout happens when we squash every new idea with a skeptical attitude.
  • Give them credit: Affirm and encourage those who serve. Point out successes, provide guidance and comfort through failure, and remind people of their calling and giftedness in Christ.

brain_gears_iStock_000013485370Small1Who do you identify with more?

Which one is your style?

Which style are you serving under?

What have you learned along the way?

9 thoughts on “When to Kill and Release the Creativity Of Others

  1. Dan Brownson

    Key difference: Lorne Michaels is not trying to grow the size of Saturday Night Live staff. He is just trying to create a consistent experience. Rick Warren is focusing on growing his church. Saddleback church has 200 different ministries in 10 different locations and serves 20000 members per week.

    My take away is if your goal is a consistent experience then it is a good idea to reign in creativity, but if your goal is to grow and multiply then releasing creativity and decentralizing ownership is required.

  2. It’s interesting the two leaders have different perspectives on creativity, when on the outside looking in I would call SNL the more creative of the two organizations. I think you need both approaches when it comes to the church. I think if the two leaders were in the room in many ways they are saying the same thing. There is a leader “in charge” seeing the larger picture and what it will take to get there. So Lorne isn’t saying you can’t be creative he is saying there is a larger goal to reach. If you look at the way Rick Warren leads there is a clear structure and goal. So he might say you don’t reign in creatives however he does. He puts up a fence and let’s leaders go within the confines of the fence. But let’s not misbelieve there is no guidance.

    Both leaders care about growth. Lorne has created longevity as has Rick Warren. Both care for growth – and both are needed at different times.

    • Dan Brownson

      I agree both leaders care about growth, but we need to ask the question about what type of growth are they trying to achieve? Are they trying to fill seats or wash feet?

  3. Dan, I wonder if it isn’t a both/and? I would consider the team leaders in my church plant to have both roles, weighted one way or the other dependent upon their team’s role in the overall picture. For example, the service AV/tech teams often need to be creative problem solvers on the fly, play a role in the creative production of the pieces of a Sunday service, for example, but there is a certain degree of “we need simply [this]” that is more along the lines of what Lorne Michaels was saying. Then, there are the teams whose members are part of the creative element development process – teaching team, creative planning, communications, connections, first impressions – who we NEED to innovate, but also need to be clear that every idea may not be the right one. But, we are committed to struggling through the both/and together, coaching and encouraging team leaders and members equally to keep engaging their roles fully. Just a thought.

  4. Darren Sutton

    I actually don’t think either of these men are truly fostering or smothering creativity. I think they’re merely taking differing approaches to vision casting. They see the end – they take differing roads to get there. So at the end of the day, it’s up to the person being led to choose the road they resonate with most profoundly…rather than to change the course.

  5. Great thoughts Leneita and Patti.

    In a church & business setting, I agree that both types of leadership are needed when it comes to creativity. Lorne’s approach helps reel in people who are creative, but who think they’re more creative than they actually are. Where Rick’s approach helps free people to be creative who haven’t really had a chance to do so, or who are often limited by others.

    It’s a both/and approach that’s needed.

  6. Dan Brownson

    Lets ask Tony’s question a different way. Would Lorne’s approach work if he needed to create a SNL for Kids, a SNL for Tweens, a SNL for Young Adults, a SNL for new members, along with SNL for Small Groups. Also instead of paid staff the majority of the production people are just volunteers. In addition the production takes place in 4 different studios throughout the country? The only funding SNL would receive would be through direct contributions from people who watched this show. Ontop of everything, he would need to put on this show 52 times a year (verses 20 times a year).

    Does Loren’s current model of leadership (Command and Control) scale up to something that would work in this situation?

    • I’m not sure I follow your restatement completely, Dan. But, in my post above, ALL of those people are volunteers and are among the donors who make everything go, as well. We hit heavy on the priesthood of all believers model, so staff in our scenario aren’t the only leaders. I’m staff, but I’m on two teams with volunteer area leaders; I’m leading a different team with both staff and volunteer membership. The metaphor breaks down (as they all do) when you try to customize it too much for a particular point. But, no, I don’t think one of these approaches is exclusively the best – there are good and bad points of each as applied.

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When to Kill and Release the Creativi...

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