Why is this important?
As our western capitalist societies’ dependence shifts from manufacturing to information, from raw material to human creativity, our profit making organisations are on the look for new products and services to put out to the market.
We are becoming more aware that only those organisations capable of imagining new services, products, opportunities, and ways of recruiting work will prosper. Hence, organisations are looking for workers capable of taking initiative and being more creative.
So… Organisations are asking people to be more creative, but this change towards a more creative endeavour has to be a mutual one. An organisation cannot only demand its people to be ‘more’ creative. In fact, in some cases is the very organisational culture that acts as a dam to creativity, blocking its flow. And it might be the very organisational culture that is neglecting the wellsprings of creativity.
I think it is worth sharing how we at Togada make sure our company culture preserves its valuable asset. But first let me tell you more about this asset… what is it?
At Togada (pronounced Too-Ga-Da) we put our team’s imagination at the centre of our system. This means our team’s imagination is not caged in a pre-made mean-end structure: a tool employed only to create new products and services within a rationalised cage. Imagination is where everything starts, including Togada itself, as in institution. It’s is the source of all things: imagination creates our reality.
From Imagination to Creativity
Creativity, to me, is the way we act upon our imagination. Believe it or not, I have spent around two years of reading the subject before coming up with this meagre definition. This is because, I think, creativity resists being defined by its own very nature.
So rather then defining it, why don’t we just feel it? Like sunlight: you don’t necessarily know what chemical/physical reaction happens to enable the sun to transmit its warmth to the hearth. But you can feel it on your skin.
Every time I witness the results of human creativity, whether in a video, a poem, a theatre play, a new brand, a new type of clothes… I feel it. I am genuinely happy. I have the reasons I am looking for to keep doing what I do. I feel the sun shining on my skin.
The managing Director’s Role: keep the sun shining!
As Managing Director of a creative company, you got to look for, and work with, elements that could deviate your company culture closer to, or away from, a creative endeavour. The key is working for your team, as ideas come from people.
In many cases the problems to creativity in teams arise from managers not knowing what influences creativity and underestimating the most important aspect of the management role: people wellbeing. Sometimes it’s not about management not enabling a team to be ‘creative’ – it is about management not consenting a team to ‘be’.
So to be a manager in the creative industries you have to care about people. People. Not about: yourself, or your perceived hierarchical status, success, products, services, not about the process, money… but about people. Clear?
So, now that we know that creativity and ideas come from people, and we placed people at the centre of our company culture, let’s make sure we create the right ecosystem to allow them to work at their best.
Togada’s Creative Culture – Deviants
Ecosystem and Team Design
Your organisation should facilitate – but not impose – the organic creation of diverse, multidisciplinary, complex and interactive teams. Your teams should not be homogenous but should be characterised by diversity in terms of ideas, expertise and background. Within a creative culture, different views and areas of expertise are assets.
What brings your people together should be the shared excitement for the same goal, interdependent support of the work, the idea creation stage, and optimism in the future and their ability to change it.
In this way your organisation will work as an organically developed ecosystem, or community, by dynamically adapting to the needs of the individuals, external challenges and new ideas. This element, or metaphor, is very important as it enables other elements such as indeterminacy and nonconformity to come to surface.
Individuals will perceive the organisation as a community or an eco-system, in which every single person contributes to keep the balance in the environment towards a communal sense of purpose.
It is imperative (super important) that your people feel psychologically safe in your company’s environment. Therefore your organisation’s culture should be built on trust and openness. This way, when faced with failure, individuals will openly discuss it with the rest of the organisation, allowing your organisation to analyse the problems and learn from mistakes. This creates a culture that is constantly evolving though a trial and error approach. Hence individuals will have the courage to take risks and to experiment with new ways of performing, exploring and discovering.
A trial and error approach provides psychological safety, which fosters a constant learning process among individuals, in which people will be encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and led to discover. This creates a ‘gaming culture’ in which people will approach problems in a playful manner building their knowledge from their past failures. It is important that the managers and entrepreneurs are transparent and at all cost avoid secrecy. This will make all members feel that it is their right to know all the information related to the organisation. Further, you should watch out for, and engage with anything that produces fear, because a ‘gaming culture’ can only exist in a psychological safe environment.
Flow of ideas
The flow of ideas is one of the elements that naturally arise in a psychologically safe culture. Individuals should be careful not to be judgemental allowing for new ideas (favouring quantity over quality). This will favour a culture that will protect new ideas right after the ideation stage, when they are the most vulnerable. Also, the idea creation stage should be seen as additive and not competitive, as competition undermines psychological safety, making it detrimental to creativity.
For managers and entrepreneurs, this means that they should avoid criticising new ideas; a tendency that is widespread practice, as expressing criticism is a technique widely used to reinforce the social status of those who criticise. However, it is important to understand that criticism hinder the flow ideas, hence creativity.
Autonomy and freedom
In order to encourage creativity, your organisation should allow individuals autonomy and freedom to make an independent judgement on how to execute a particular task giving them plenty of room for personal expression.
Allowing individuals to tackle tasks in an autonomous way will result in a culture where nonconformity will substitute standardisation, as every member of the organisation will undertake tasks in different and unusual ways.
In order to benefit from nonconformity, the goals of the organisation should be flexible and shaped by the creative process itself. Indeterminacy is a sign of a healthy creative culture because it shows that the organisation’s priority is the individual’s creative endeavour encouraging new approaches and creative efforts. Indeterminacy means also that the organisation will have to have a high degree of flexibility in order to adapt to those new approaches, breakthroughs that are valuable. This is very important as it allows the individuals to be the organisation’s drivers, and will feel a stronger sense of ownership over their work and the organisation as a whole.
Challenge and Mastery
The organisation should challenge individuals’ on fields related to their passions and skills, to motivate them further and help their talents to develop to their fullest.
Meaning and Purpose
Allowing the members of the organisation to engage with what they consider meaningful will allow them to work on what they are passionate about, making them more intrinsically motivated. Moreover, the members should be able to share and influence the organisation’s purpose.
Clear goals and clear deadlines
Redefining the managerial role allows individuals to benefit from freedom and independent decision-making. A creative endeavour will have a more powerful effect if intrinsically motivated.
However, this can cause lack of coordination, making the organisation appear unreliable to the external culture in which it functions. Further, it can also slow down the work process and create uncertainty, being potentially detrimental for creativity. In order to offer a firm ground on which the organisation’s individuals can build upon, it is important to provide clear goals – detailed information on the importance and the direction of the work– and clear deadlines.
Time is classified as a resource. As we have discussed above, clear deadlines should be provided. These deadlines should not be too short, as they could cause unnecessary stress within the organisation, making individuals unhappy and unmotivated. Also, a deadline, which is too tight, means that individuals will not be encouraged to explore (a fundamental aspect of creative cultures). On the other hand, providing too much time can also be damaging as it makes the tasks unchallenging and diminishes intrinsic motivation. It is worth mentioning that, at times, organisations like IDEO and Pixar manage to produce creative work under high time pressure. This mental state is defined, as being on a mission and it is incredibly fruitful if dosed carefully, but can lead to burnout if used recurrently.
Also, there are material resources. Material resources are not only limited to economical ones. They extend also to tools, equipment, information and personnel. It is important to note that neither extensive nor limited resources lead to a more creative culture. An organisation should be able to balance material resources in the same way that it balances time resources. In terms of money, there should be enough to allow individuals to focus on the projects at hand. By providing resources promptly, the organisation shows to their members that they are highly valued.
Feedback, communication and connection
Regular meetings are important to keep individuals informed on the organisation’s direction. As long as it is honest, welcoming, and directed at a particular problem and not a single individual, spirited debate is also beneficial. Overall, the entire organisation should make communication among all departments easy.
In the same way, regular feedback is also fundamental to allow learning and improvement directed towards the performance and not the person. It is important to direct such feedback at the performance to help the individuals feel secure thus allowing the flow and creativity to flow within the organisation.
Lastly, the organisation should encourage relationships with the environment in which the organisation functions, allowing members to benefit from new acquaintances, opportunities and inspiration. This in turn also benefits the organisation’s culture and creativity.
Your organisation should encourage members to shape their work environment as they please, designing it in a way that facilitates communication among all members but also provides space in which members are able to retreat alone to concentrate when needed. Constructing the work environment so the individuals can playfully engage with their own imagination.
For a culture to foster creativity, individuals should interact as equals regardless of their job roles. Hierarchy has to be annulled, minimised, or at least suspended to favour the idea creation stages. Instead of being the ‘heads’ of an organisation, managers need to become the facilitators, those allowing individuals to develop their talents allowing them to be the driving forces of the organisation.
The managers need to support the work but also nourish the personal lives of those working in the organisation. Managers should also be open to feedback, embracing the idea that their model might be wrong or incomplete and allow for the views of others.
Management should be also attentive enough to recognise creative achievement before it acquires commercial value. Also, if not well thought out, reward might have a negative effect on creativity.
It is important that the managers are respectful, encouraging and that they provide emotional support. They should avoid controlling the work processes (as this limits autonomy), and the time frame (a residue of the industrial production era). It is also crucial to avoid surveillance, as this will make individuals feel observed, hence self-conscious.
Progress on Work
Progress was found to be the strongest influencer of all. It comprises of small daily personal victories, breakthroughs and the completion of the task at hand. When individuals are helped by the organisation to continuously progress in their work and have an overall sense of improvement their Inner work life, and hence creative performance is greatly enhanced. Similarly, when these small events hinder work and act as setbacks, they impede progress and negatively affect an individual’s perceptions, emotions and motivation.