In a conversation with illustrator Christoph Niemann a while back, he argued that nearly every creative conundrum can easily be dealt with using a sports metaphor. Considering some of our favorite books are by artist/athletes, we tend to agree. In honor of World Cup mania, we decided to examine different creative working styles through the lens of soccer positions – and the personas that go with them.
Forwards: The architects.
Leading the charge, forwards live for the glory of innovation – the big score. They are pro-risk, self-starters, who have little trouble making hard decisions. They’re not afraid to proceed full speed ahead, and risk everything for the sake of maximum return.
Typically, they will hone a specific skill set and become an expert in their field. Accordingly, forwards do best when empowered to use their full expertise and creativity to create something new and vital.
They are dynamic and mesmerizing, but often highly impatient. They don’t like to document the creation process, and they like even less being asked to repeat a star performance. Once a forward has solved a problem, his engagement drops off sharply. Change, new challenges, and a regular infusion of triumph (and the attendant praise) are what keep them going.
They are natural leaders, but cannot necessarily be counted on to stay around once the novelty of creating something new has worn off. Individuals of this type make great architects, creative directors, designers, developers, entrepreneurs, and “turnaround” CEOs.
Midfielders: The communicators.
Less interested in individual power and glory, the midfielder thrives on being in the thick of things. Midfielders act as information brokers and drive problem-solving through collaboration. They are excellent communicators with a versatile skill set that helps them easily move between and align different constituencies.
They are not usually trailblazers, but – once the way forward is clear – midfielders excel at developing workflow systems, pushing projects forward, and keeping them on track. They are particularly deft at managing numerous moving parts and the occasionally volatile emotions of a creative team.
Communicators that they are, midfielders can require a bit more face-time than either forwards or defenders. They are self-sustaining, but they do not like to work in isolation. Midfielders are also more risk-averse than forwards, and often need some prodding when it comes to taking an unorthodox or unpopular approach.
Midfielders typically make good producers, editors, curators, project managers, and strategists – or any other position that requires frequent back-and-forth and a flexible skill set.
Defenders: The maintainers.
This is the group that keeps things running smoothly. Whereas the forward likes invention and improvisation, defenders thrive in a regimented environment. Once a product or position has been created, defenders are great at slipping into a workflow and making sure that everything runs like clockwork.
Defenders love having a clear set of tasks that can be anticipated and managed. The weakness of this “routine” approach is that they can be baffled when a curveball comes their way. Clashes of opinion between out-of-the-box-thinking “forwards” and by-the-book-thinking “defenders” are a frequent occurrence in creative teams.
That said, maintenance can be a thankless job. While keeping the finances in order or ensuring that web content gets posted regularly is no small feat, it’s easy to overlook the accomplishments of the person tasked with making sure everything goes exactly as expected. Managers would do well to remember to praise defenders for their tireless work and reliability.
Defenders make excellent systems administrators, finance managers, production editors, copyeditors, and office managers.