How to Cultivate a High-Creativity Workplace Culture

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Culture Code" by Daniel Coyle. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the key attributes of high-creativity workplace cultures? What can you, as a leader, do to create an environment that fosters creativity but that doesn’t get people off track?

A high-creativity workplace culture would have both space and conditions that enable workers to innovate and parse through large quantities of concepts. Leaders of creativity-oriented workplaces need to develop processes to give teams honest feedback and set deadlines to ensure that projects stay on task.

Read about the key attributes of high-creativity workplace culture, its benefits, and how to make it work for your organization.

The Key Attributes of a High-Creativity Workplace

Environments in which failure is a necessary component to development require a high level of creativity. Think of a design company or a movie studio. The process of creation requires a degree of failure as the improvement of a new concept develops through trial and error.

The purpose of a high-creativity workplace is to create a space in which artists and creative people can discover their work for themselves.

Creative control stays in the hands of the creators. Teams need the freedom to make decisions and explore new avenues without the constant fear and frustration of losing control of their project.

The goal of a leader in a high-creativity workplace is to lead the team into the unknown by giving them the tools to explore without hindering their journey. 

The Benefits of a High-Creativity Workplace Culture

In high-creativity workplace environments, purpose gets people to develop new works more efficiently. Even if 90% percent of the discussed concepts end up failing, the 10% that work can lead to incredible discoveries or advancements.

Pixar’s Process

Ed Catmull (president of Pixar) has created a space in which artists have developed some of the greatest animated films in cinematic history. However, by his own admission, most projects at Pixar start out as disasters.

How does Catmull bring a project from failure to acclaim? He acts in accordance with the central purpose of Pixar’s existence: to create an environment in which artists feel they have ownership of their creations while receiving guidance and feedback to help them grow.

He uses a series of routine meetings and activities through which artists can develop their projects and allows creators to choose their own projects. When giving feedback, he rarely makes any creative decisions. He says that the creators know their projects better than he does and that his suggestions would likely only be followed because he’s in a position of power, not because it’s the best creative choice for the project.

Catmull’s process allows creative teams to maintain control of their projects while accessing the collective intellect of the company as a whole to improve the product and guide the process.

Developing a Highly Creative Corporate Culture

Pay close attention to team interaction. Creativity relies on collaboration. When a team works well together, new ideas and concepts can be generated at a high rate. When a team does not work well together, incoherence can destroy the creative processes. If this occurs, step in and attempt to problem-solve. You may need to change the group makeup, adjust the focus of the team or change the roles of the team members.

Safeguard creative freedom and self-sufficiency. Autonomy is essential to the creative process. Without it, teams feel as though they have no ownership over their projects. Give teams a framework to work in and the resources they need to succeed, but try to avoid taking direct control.

Embrace failure and promote feedback. Failure will occur, and, when it does, be prepared to have a conversation about what that failure taught the group. Create activities and environments in which feedback can be given routinely and honestly. Schedule daily, weekly, and/or monthly meetings in which you can openly discuss projects and give direction.

Praise initiative, especially when it arises without prompting. When a team takes the initiative and moves forward on an idea, applaud them—even if that route ends in failure. This action will make your team want to explore and will increase the volume of ideas they can sift through on their search for the “right” one.

How to Cultivate a High-Creativity Workplace Culture

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  • Why safety, vulnerability, and purpose are at the heart of a healthy group culture
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  • How one of the largest unsanctioned cease fires came one Christmas Eve during WWI

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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