4.01.2017

From our CEO: The most creative businesses have one thing in common

Just about every organization today wants to be more creative. But just like “innovation”, the word “creativity” means something different for every organization.

For example, when you look at incredibly creative companies like Pixar or IDEO, you can see a lot of differences in their creative processes and outcomes. They go about creativity in very different ways. But what they have in common is a culture where creativity is both expected and rewarded.

Fundamentally, creativity is about being Culture First; it's about creating a very intentional way of being that leads to the creative result.

Can everyone be creative?

Many people make the mistake of thinking that certain individuals – some call them right-brain people – are creative, and others are not. Of course there are some immensely talented people, the types we all envy, who can paint a masterpiece or compose a symphony, but they are the outliers.

The truth is, creativity comes from everywhere, and the most creative organizations are ones that tap into all their people - not just a subset. Programmers need to be creative; the Board certainly should be. There may even be creativity in the conduct of an audit (though I’m not suggesting “creative accounting” in a cooking-the-books way!)

Creativity is not some sort of unbounded open thing that just happens with no specific thought or effort. Any artist or writer will tell you if you sit around waiting for inspiration to strike, no brush strokes will hit the canvas, nor words ever make it to the page. The most creative people and organizations are often the most disciplined. Creativity comes as an output of work and you have to work at your craft, no matter what that craft may be.

Great things come from creativity – increases in efficiency, innovative processes or new and improved products or services. Creativity allows a business to grow and adapt to the challenges of an ever-changing world.

We have to work on reframing people's opinion on what creativity is. In the corporate world, creativity is the process of recognizing a problem and working at it until you come up with a better solution.

So how do you create an environment that nurtures and amplifies our natural desire to problem solve? The answer is culture. What your organization cares about sets the parameters for how creative it will be.

The most important question: "Are you allowed to take risks?"

One of the best parameters for determining a company’s appetite for creativity (and consequently innovation) is the answer to the question “Are you allowed to take risks?”

One of the fundamental requirements for being creative is the ability to take some sort of risk; whether it's an emotional risk – “this might seem silly” – or investing in something that may not work from a profit or product point of view.

A good company has a tolerance for a certain amount of risk – how much will depend on the type of organization. A great company allows its people to talk truth to power, even when that truth is unpalatable.

Creativity is increasingly important in building successful organizations, and, fundamentally, creativity is about being culture-first; it's about creating a way of doing things that consistently delivers a creative result. So, creativity and Culture First go hand-in-hand.

5 tips for a creative culture:

  1. Recognize that creativity comes in many forms and from all types of people
  2. Encourage people to take risks and allow them to fail
  3. Emphasize constraint – it is very difficult to have unbounded creativity
  4. Determine what the company wants to achieve and set parameters and risk tolerance accordingly
  5. Foster a culture of collaboration and sharing both successes and failures

Didier Elzinga is a People Geek and CEO/Co-Founder of Culture Amp. You can follow Didier on MediumTwitter or LinkedIn.

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