When I became Group Creative Director at Chevrolet's ad agency in Detroit, the place went though a massive redecorating and renovation program in every department --- except the creative department.
I was shocked at the discrepancy between the bright new contemporary look for account management, research, media, and even accounting, and the dark, dentist-office quarters that we writers and art directors were laboring in. I went to the president's office to complain.
He was a nice, ruddy, man's-man kind of guy who always looked like he just rushed here from the gym without showering. He had been a top executive with Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh, and had a reputation for being an astute marketer.
"Harvey, I'm surprised you don't understand," he said. "After all, the great creative people in history, the great artists and poets, worked in humble, dark rooms. Their ateliers were sparse, unadorned. Creative people do their best in austere spaces," he added.
"Not by choice", I answered. "All this new decoration is making us look like poor relatives. The back room, the factory." I felt like Rodney Dangerfield.
Others expressed their feelings, too, and within months, work began on a new creative department. It was spacious, with built-ins for all our stuff, with indirect lighting and modern furniture. And the output of our department: it went up, as you knew all along.
When you study the history of business, you learn of an early research study done in a factory in Illinois. The researchers were trying to find out if productivity was related to the amount of light in the factory. The results amazed them. Yes, productivity went up with more light. But it also went up when the light was turned down. In fact, every change in the light resulted in more productivity. Why? Because the workers, like all of us, liked the idea that finally someone was paying attention to them.
Creative people are in an anonymous business and while we claim we crave being left alone to "do our thing", what we like even more is being noticed, appreciated, and sent a valentine from time to time.
Even for creative people, roses are red and violets are blue.