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5 keys to a creative culture, by William Childs

I would have thought by now; more business leaders would be using the transformative capability of creativity to invigorate their companies. Instead, creativity remains widely misunderstood, and I’m not sure why.

Column by William Childs
Uninspired leaders may think that buying a couple of bean bag chairs or a foosball table for the company break room qualifies as a creative culture. Fortunately, creativity doesn’t work that way. I guess since creativity doesn’t follow a predictable formula, it can cause trepidation and an unwillingness to embrace its influence.

It all starts at the top. A inspired leader will set the tone for the company, which ultimately affects the culture. If the culture is one of collaboration, trust, patience, mutual respect where everyone has a clear idea of the mission they signed on for, then creativity is more likely to make its presence felt. The best leaders know that for creativity to work, certain conditions must be in place if they want to see trackable results. A note of caution. If the sole reason for setting up a creative culture is to just make more money, it’ll fail pretty fast. Money is an outcome, not a strategy. Yes, I realize that money is essential to maintain and grow a business, but it shouldn’t drive every decision.

Here are five essential elements that go into setting up a creative culture. They all work together to set the conditions for creativity to flourish.

1. Authenticity. I believe it’s the one element that must be present inside the people leading the company if there’s any hope at all of creating a culture where innovation can thrive. If management is constantly reminding people how they are not living up to their potential or that everyone needs to work harder, or spends their day making people feel uncomfortable, the business will struggle to survive. That approach may have worked during the height of the industrial revolution, but not anymore. People today want to work for companies who value their commitment and dedication they bring to their career.

2. Vulnerability. There’s nothing worse than a boss who thinks they have to have all the answers. The best leaders empower others to find solutions. Leaders that trust the people they hire will be amazed at how those individuals will rise up to solve the businesses challenges. Author Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who writes and lectures on the topic of vulnerability, said this, “To declare oneself “not vulnerable” would be inauthentic and would leave a leader living in a perpetual state of denial and stress. So it’s better and more courageous for every leader to acknowledge the fact that vulnerability is there.” When you embrace vulnerability, you shouldn’t be surprised when members of your team, immediately step up to offer their help and assistance.”

3. Risk. One of the absolute worst things a leader can do is stigmatize mistakes. Everyone make mistakes. It’s a part of the process of coming up with big ideas. Not everything you try is going to work, and that’s okay. Success and failure are not opposites, they are two sides of the same coin. Some of the world’s most significant discoveries happened due to unintended outcomes. The wheel, the printing press, post-it notes, the microwave oven, penicillin, teflon, play-doh, were all created by accident while their inventors were working on solving a different problem. Creativity will not prosper in any organization if everyone is terrified of making a mistake. British Comedy legend and Monty Python member John Cleese agrees. “Nothing will stop you being creative more effectively as the fear of making mistakes.” A leader who allows people to risk being wrong, is one who understands that mistakes can often be a stimulus to a better idea.

4. Flexibility. A crucial element in creating the right conditions in a creative culture, flexibility allows managers to be open to trying new approaches. Flexibility breeds innovation and a sense of excitement within the organization. People do their best when they are empowered and encouraged to seek out new alternatives to issues and challenges without fear of reprisals. In any worthwhile business endeavor, it’s important to remain steadfast in the mission, but flexible in the approach. Business author and management consultant Tom Peters sums up flexibility like this, “Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else.”

5. Diversity. Our differences will always make us unique. If everyone is looking at a problem from the same perspective, more than likely no new insights will emerge. In problem-solving, it’s important to know that ideas can come from anyone. A diverse environment will go along way in helping people look at problems from multiple angles. Try not to put people in silos. Value everyone’s opinion, because the more input, the increase the odds solving the challenge. Stephen Covey, author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, said this, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”

While this may seem like common sense advice, too many business leaders are not willing to invest in the creative health of their employees. My hope is that in the coming years, that will start to change.

In 2014, Forrester Consulting was asked by Adobe® to quantify and qualify just how creativity impacts business results. The study was surprised to discover that companies that embrace a creative culture outperform peers and competitors on many key business performance indicators, including revenue growth, market share, and talent acquisition.

I’ve outlined just five of the elements that go in to building a healthy, creative culture. In the best companies I’ve worked in, all five elements were present. Yes, it’s a process that requires everyone’s full participation, but one where the benefits far outweigh the risks.


WILLIAM CHILDS | Creative Director | Brand Storyteller | Columnist | Optimist

Bill is an accomplished creative leader with a history of delivering award-winning campaigns for a variety of businesses. Relentlessly dedicated to the skillful and creative translation of strategic business objectives, he’s known as a collaborative mentor and champion of fearless creativity. With a career spanning three decades, Childs knows how to take an acceptable idea and turn it into an exceptional one. His reputation of setting high creative standards while helping to create a culture of genuine collaboration and engagement is one of things he’s most proud of across his career. Recognizing and mentoring talent, and building high-performing, cohesive teams is one of his passions. Email. Website. Twitter. LinkedIn.


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