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Big Ideas

Don’t Get Promoted to Micromanager-in-Chief: Lessons From Mighty Oak’s Animator-Turned-Creative Director

The 2018 99U Conference theme is about overcoming creative challenges, so we’re asking our speakers and breakout session leaders to reflect on a pivotal pressure-cooker moment and share how they navigated it.

The fanciful stop-motion animations of the studio Mighty Oak have bedazzled bows, bells, and confetti on clients like Bon Appétit, T Brand Studio, and Netflix. Mighty Oak will be hosting a breakout session at the 10th Annual 99U Conference taking place May 9-11 in New York City. Since our 2018 conference is all about overcoming creative challenges, we asked Mighty Oak’s Creative Director and Partner, Emily Collins to reflect on a creative hurdle and share how she navigated it.

“The most daunting challenge I’ve faced as a creative director has been learning to step away from the process of making. I am instinctively drawn to making things with my hands. As a kid, I drew and invented characters inspired by people with crazy shoes, dogs, and wild patterns. Mighty Oak focuses on hand-made work, so the temptation to create is abundant! At first, it was very difficult to pull myself away from executing on my own.

“The first time I stepped out of the weeds was for a project for Don Julio Tequila and the New York Times. It was the biggest team I had directed and I had to focus my energy on working with people and hearing their ideas. Our work is innately collaborative and needs a combined set of skills and hands. By reminding myself that we hire people for a reason and that I can not physically do all jobs helps keep micromanaging inclinations to a low for me (or at least I try!).

Mighty-Oak, Don-Julio-Tequila, 99u-conference, interview, handmade, animation

Project by Mighty Oak for Don Julio Tequila.

“Once a task is someone else’s responsibility, I let them work it out and do check-ins regularly to make sure we’re on the same page. I fight the inclination to micromanage by highlighting my most important duties for the day—and doing them well—before I consider meddling with someone else’s. If my duties include checking in with people I schedule a couple of check-ins, but I don’t do their jobs for them.

“I’ve found outlets to make things with my hands on my own time. Often just drawing at home at night quenches my desire to work with my hands and keeps me feeling fresh. I discover a lot of new ideas by opening up a drawing pad after 9 p.m. and seeing where my hand takes me.

“My advice to those facing a similar situation would be to embrace the idea of collaboration. A multitude of artists can create much more work than a single maker, and that work is often enhanced by the collaborative process. Remember to be clear with your ideas while communicating with a team—have notes, sketches and examples ready to share. I’ve found joy in working with a group of amazing artists, and seeing so many of our ideas coming to life simultaneously.”


See Mighty Oak along with more creative leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists, at the 10th Annual 99U Conference.

More Posts by Emily Ludolph

Emily Ludolph is a director at West Wing Writers. She has published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Artsy, Airmail, Eye on Design, JSTOR Daily, Quartz, Narratively, TED Online and Design Observer. 

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