Creativity begins with a good story. Stories have a pattern and the person who understands the pattern has the ability to motivate people, lead them and foster their growth. To have a creative workplace you need to create the story that the company values and appreciates it’s creative people and will provide a safe container in which they can thrive.
Mistakes need to be redefined as unintended consequences and faced with curiosity. They may form the negative space that defines the positive space you are searching for. Unusual combinations of things may have the seed of a great idea. Negative consequences for unintended results make people feel unsafe and kills creativity. The key is for Leadership to create the container where mistakes cannot be damaging. Make small mistakes and make them often.
You also need the scenery for a good story. The environment sends important symbolic messages about how you value your people. Run-down, outdated equipment and furniture sends the message that things are on the decline. People are not safe or valued. Cubicles that isolate people from the elites and discourage conversations and drab colors in cold industrial designs kill creativity. The message is we don’t value you as a person, we’d like you to be more like a working machine. Problem is machines are incapable of creativity.
When the Home Shopping Network got a new COO the first thing she did was bring in dumpsters and told everyone to toss everything that was broken or ugly. Then she gave everything a fresh coat of paint and bought everyone a good chair. Within a year, workplace satisfaction sky-rocketed, and the company successfully moved in a new creative direction (HBR).
Creativity is the act of taking in the world with your senses, translating what you find into to something tangible, and offering it to the world. Every painting, every dance, every poem is unique because of this process. It begins with self-care and autonomy. People need to have space to practice self-care because this connection to self is the root of creativity. Customizing their workspace, dressing according to their own style, and designing their use of time to include play and rest, all strengthen the creative ability of people.
To foster creativity you need to offer gifts. This is in contrast to how Heroes are inspired which involves challenges, competition, personal deprivation until the final pay-off – the reward. This is the story for providing, protecting, and preserving what is of value.
If you want to first generate something of value, create something that did not exist before, you need to nurture the Virgin story. Gifts tell a person she/he is of intrinsic value. They attach people to their unique talents or ways of being. Gifts form the raw materials that awakens the personal interpretations that lead to innovation. Dancers need shoes and painters need paints. Don’t hold out with a reward in the end. You’ll never see what your creative people can do.
Leaders need to see themselves as the container. They create the boundaries within which people are free to be creative. Time, resources, and autonomy within the boundaries of the container are the responsibility of a good leader.