Creating a Corporate Culture of Creativity

I’ve had many discussions about the concept of leadership over the past few years with colleagues around the world; many of whom come from a range of backgrounds, experiences, and cultures that value different ideas about what it means to be an effective leader.

Alla Zollers recommended that I read the book Linchpins, Seth Godin’s latest book, noting the central ideas shared by Mr. Godin were the cornerstone of many of the things I have been writing, interviewing, and debating about within the UX community for the past several years.

As Seth Godin notes:

Do you remember the old American Dream? It struck a chord with millions of people (in the United States and in the rest of the world, too.) Here’s how it goes: Keep your head down. Follow instructions. Show up on time. Work hard. Suck it up. …you will be rewarded.

As we’ve seen the dream is over. The new American Dream, though, the one that markets around the world are embracing as fast as they can, is this: Be remarkable. Be generous. Create art. Make judgment calls. Connect people and ideas…and we have no choice but to reward you.

In short, be indispensable!

I’d like to offer a framework comprised of five central ideas I have used in a leadership position in every environment I’ve worked in for over a decade; while drawing a direct correlation to the five points shared by Mr. Godin.

* Everyone experiences a sense of individuality and self expression (Connect people and ideas.) – Ensure all team members understand their role and how they are contributing value to each project. Creativity is not born from a Groupthink. Differing ideas and passionate debate amongst team members should be encouraged.

* There is a capacity to express compassion to develop close relationships (Be generous.) – We are social animals. We need one another and rely on the respect and encouragement from our peers to stay motivated, ensuring we feel like a valued member of the team. Encourage the team to lean on one another and offer support whenever possible.

* A way of reacting with spontaneity, integrity, and integration exists. (Make judgment calls.) – Imagine a workplace where people could act on inspiration with team members who respect differing ideas with the ultimate goal of integrating the best of the best into new product or service offerings?

Policy and procedure is fine for coding and documenting; even a necessity one could argue. But how many innovative products or designs can you point to that came from following the exact same process again and again?

* There is a drive towards self-expression and creative experiences (Create art.) – Though it has been written about many times, we tend to lose the artist in each of us as we grow into adults. Yet children have this creative capacity in spades! As Ken Robinson outlined in one of the most popular TED talks ever given:

I heard a great story recently of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson, she was six…the teacher said she hardly ever paid attention but in this drawing lesson she did. The teacher was facinated so she went over to her. The teacher said “What are you drawing?” The little girl said “I’m drawing a picture of God!” The teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” The little girl said, “They will in a minute!”

Dave Gray and Dan Roam have noted several times at conferences around the world that you don’t need to be an artist to draw, whether you can paint like Van Gogh or not.

* There is an ability to reason and exchange ideas with others (Be remarkable.) – This idea is remarkable as many corporate cultures make it incredibly difficult to reason and exchange ideas with others.

Are you in an open office environment or is it “closed off” by cubicles? Does sending an email equate to being accountable in clearly communicating ideas or next steps in a project? Is there a respect amongst all team members, regardless of title, for ideas generated when solving problems?

Your physical work environment; relying on technology to communicate effectively; and a general lack of respect for others’ experiences and insights are three of the greatest barriers to be able to reason and exchange ideas with others, in my experience.

Would you rather work for a company that insists on creating a corporate culture of control and limited creative thinking…

Keep your head down. Follow instructions. Show up on time. Work hard. Suck it up.

…or would you prefer to wake up every day driven to create, inspire, and lead by modeling the behavior of…

Be remarkable. Be generous. Create art. Make judgment calls. Connect people and ideas.

It’s your choice.