Serious Play

How to become more creative in 2010

Judgment is the antithesis of creativity.

When we fear rejection, ridicule, or even outright dismissal — losing our job — we will not be as creative as we can be.

I’ve written about this theme before, because so much of what I hear on radio, see on TV, and read in magazines is the same old formulaic crap recycled over and over.

When’s the last time you heard anything so innovative on your radio station that it scared you to death? The last really innovative concept I’ve seen on American TV was The Simpsons. How long ago was it’s first season — 20 years??

This post is not designed to point fingers at any one company or person for the problem.

This post is designed to help you acknowledge that you have a problem with creativity, and to point you to the ways to fix it.

I believe we all start out with lots of creativity.

Little kids, like dogs, are totally unselfconscious, which is the very reason they can learn so quickly. They don’t stop walking with the first fall, terrified that they’ll be laughed at if they fall again. And no parent would ever ridicule their toddler’s failures.

But over time, judgment by others takes its toll. Few of us escape childhood without quashing most of our creativity. By high school, most of us just want to be like everyone else.

In fact, tomorrow I will reprint something I’ve shared with many of you privately or as clients over the years, entitled: The Little Boy.

It’s a piece you won’t want to miss.

So, what specific actions can you take to make your work environment more creative?

1. Reward failure and do it publicly.

Seems counter-intuitive, but when you actually reward that weird idea that didn’t work, you show everyone in your organization that there is value in risk.

2. Keep corporate VPs away from your people.

This is not a slam on corporate VPs, but I can almost guarantee that your organization promoted these people to these VP titles because they were great political players, not great creative resources.

Most corporations don’t like super-creatives, because…let’s face it…they’re pretty weird. They are not easily managed. They don’t hit deadlines. They’re always late for meetings. They’re not organized. They tend to go over budget.

If your VP/Programming is really interested in winning, in creating remarkable content, he or she will understand why you don’t want him/her inside your building all that often.

3. Make your work space fun.

Times have been so tight for so long, that very few media operations are centered around having fun anymore — unless you count GOOGLE as a media operation.

There are many ways to make your work environment more fun without hurting productivity. My friend, April Thayer, who runs a media buying service in Denver, paints each person’s office in bright, unusual colors, and lets her team personalize their work space any way they want. She used to let them bring their dogs to work until the building management made her stop. How fun is that? You can’t be in her offices without feeling happier. And her agency is very creative!

One client bought a popcorn cart, and the smell of fresh popcorn wafted throughout the offices, bringing employees from different departments together in continual interaction.

Once before, I shared a TED talk with you, from the CEO of IDEO, a firm that teaches major corporations, like 3M and GOOGLE, how to foster creativity. It’s 27 minutes, and if you want to watch it again, here it is:


4. Curiosity is the trait you want to see in employees.

As parents, we’ve all been through the “Why?” stage with our kids — endless questions about why things are the way they are, seeking novelty which leads to even more questions.

Some of us retain this curiosity as adults. It may be even more irritating then than when we’re 4, which leads to #5…

5. Clearly, some people are just more creative than others. Consider it part of your job to find, hire, and retain these people.

As I frequently tell clients, you don’t earn that money by managing the self-motivated, left-brain, organized employee; you earn it by integrating and motivating the ones other organizations can’t attract, can’t put up with or don’t value.

As Steve Jobs once famously remarked, “Why join the navy when you can be a pirate.”

Is your organization more like Microsoft or Apple?

The answer really is in your hands.