The recipe for a creative corporate culture

Culture is a critical yet often overlooked component of corporate operations. It can affect everything from the success of executive search and recruitment to the productivity and satisfaction levels of workers.

Every company is unique, so it stands to reason that each organization will have a slightly different area of cultural focus. For instance, tech firms and other entities that want to stay at the cutting edge of their industries should cultivate a culture of innovation. Meanwhile, customer-facing companies would do well to prioritize creating and maintaining a culture of service.

For some organizations, creativity is a central tenet – but how can executives go about making creativity flourish among the workforce? Is this even possible?

In a blog post for insight community technology provider Vision Critical, Karis Leung argued that creativity doesn’t happen by accident, and there’s plenty companies can do to inject it into the workplace. Leung presented a three-step process for executives eager to encourage their employees to be more creative.

All work and no play

If you’re looking to spur creativity in the office, the first step is to stop cracking the whip. By trying to get people to buckle down, you may be doing more harm than good.

“The creative muscle is often exercised when people are away from the desk and moving about,” Leung noted. “Play can tear down psychological barriers among co-workers, allowing for a more collaborative and light-hearted atmosphere to spill over into the workplace. It allows an environment conducive to free-flowing idea sharing.”

Don’t stop there – expand the sense of freedom in the workplace in other ways, such as by implementing flexible work hours. Creativity can’t be turned on at 9 a.m. and turned off at quitting time, so employees whose job descriptions require them to be innovative and think outside the box should be afforded the ability to work when they’re feeling inspired, regardless of what time it is.

“If most people come up with their best ideas outside of work – in the shower, on vacation, in the car – perhaps companies that value creativity should consider a more relaxed work schedule that allows the space and freedom for creativity,” Leung posited.

Look outside the enterprise

Members of the public are likely most familiar with crowdsourcing in the context of websites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which offer a platform for people to raise money for creative projects by using crowd-sourced funding. However, this isn’t the model’s only application. As the IBM Center for the Business of Government noted, “there is growing interest in ‘engaging the crowd’ to identify or develop innovative solutions to public problems.”

Consider looking for innovation outside the enterprise by inviting people – including but not limited to members of the public, independent experts and executives from elsewhere in the industry – to present solutions or submit ideas. In an article for Harvard Business Review publication The Magazine, Kevin J. Boudreau and Karim R. Lakhani of London Business School and Harvard Business School, respectively, presented a couple of examples of successful corporate crowdsourcing efforts.

“Apple has turned to large numbers of users and developers distributed around the world to propel its growth by creating apps and podcasts that enhance its products,” the pair noted. “Biologists at the University of Washington used crowds of external contributors to map the structure of an AIDS-related virus that had stumped academic and industry experts for more than 15 years.”

Accept failure

Workers who are afraid to fail are unlikely to take risks, and this could prove disastrous in terms of innovation.

In an article for Forbes, contributor Josh Linkner pointed out that water-displacing spray WD-40 got its name from the fact that it took 40 attempts to find the perfect formula for the product. In other words, without 39 previous failures, WD-40’s creators would never have found the solution. Not every risk pays off, but that doesn’t mean the creative thinking behind failed initiatives isn’t still valuable.

While conducting research for his book, “Disciplined Dreaming,” Linkner spoke with a number of executives who had come up with novel ways to reward creativity and innovation, even those efforts that ultimately didn’t work out. One firm gives out a Failure of the Year Award at its annual event to acknowledge individuals whose ideas were inspired yet flawed, while another grants employees two “Get out of jail free” cards to cash in when they make mistakes.

If employees aren’t afraid to fail, they’ll take more risks, and risk is the backbone of innovation.

Three steps to creative success

“The creative power behind a company is its people,” pointed out Business Journals contributing writer Giannina Smith Bedford. “And while many businesses tout the desire for creative employees, not all organizations understand how to encourage a workplace of free-flowing ideas.”

Executives who promote flex hours and downtime in the office and encourage workers to take risks will likely see a significant boost in creativity within the workplace.

About Caldwell Partners

Caldwell Partners is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for more than 40 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America and in London, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.

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