How To Build A Creative Culture In Government Communication
“My team is not creative enough.”
“I don’t have the skills to be creative”
Most people think that creativity is a divine intervention, that it is bestowed on the few, and appears as a flash of genius. That is simply not true.
Creativity is a culture that can be nurtured in any organisation, if the right factors exist to help it grow. These factors can come in the form of personal and team mindsets, processes and your environment.
During my time at global creative agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, I’ve had the fortune of working with some of the world’s leading creative brands like IKEA and Nike. Here are some of the values and lessons I’ve learned about creative cultures:
#1: Don’t limit your thinking
Do you often hear “no, that idea’s not going to work” “no, so-and-so won’t like that” in communication meetings?
SHUT. THAT. BEHAVIOUR. DOWN.
Too many no’s kill creativity.
No is the enemy of creativity.
Ideas are like a staircase, you want to build on each step. Encourage people to say “Yes, and” instead.
This is a common technique used in improv comedy. Tina Fey outlines the rules of improv:
Always say “YES, AND…” meaning, always agree and add something to the discussion. For example, in an improvised scene with a partner, never say no. If you’re in a boat rowing down the river, you don’t say, “No, we’re folding laundry.” You say, “Yes, and we could really use a paddle instead of my arm.” It adds to the scene, humour can develop and trust is established between scene partners.
Your best ideas can come from the silliest of ideas. Create an environment where people know they can share ideas without fear of being shot down.
#2: Collaborative working
Seems like a no-brainer. Stick two people in a room and get them to talk.
Collaboration, much like creativity, needs to be cultivated.
One way to identify if your environment is one that stimulates collaboration is the silence test.
How quiet is your office?
Quiet kills effective communication.
It fosters a lack of spontaneity and an environment of self-conscious conversations.
Your team will not be able to organically exchange meaningful ideas, knowledge share or brainstorm a problem if talking is the exception instead of the rule.
Open communication is an important first step in collaborative working.
At every company-wide meeting, Airbnb brings up elephants, dead fish and vomit. Not literally of course. Elephants are the big topics in the room that need to be addressed but no one dares to bring up. Dead fish are things that have occurred in the past, but the stench prevents people from letting go of them. And vomit, these are things that people need to get off their chest or vent about.
By confronting uncomfortable topics in a transparent manner, leaders at Airbnb demonstrate open communication, allowing them to earn a place as one of the top companies to work for in the world.
#3: Build empathy
As budget cuts shift organisations into bottom-line thinking, this very important company value often gets left out in the workplace. Empathy.
Automation and online services have made connecting with your audience more efficient, more convenient and… more impersonal than ever.
Empathy in the workplace matters because organisations at its core, are a collection of people making decisions based on feeling. Imagine the type of decisions these people will make if they had an impaired ability to intellectually and emotionally connect with other people?
McDonald’s has an infamous policy where everyone in their business must spend some time each year, as a fry cook or front-line staff – regardless of their seniority.
Creative minds are interested in other people. I don’t mean asking your colleagues how their day was, or what they did over the weekend. I mean, truly seeking emotional resonance and a desire to see the world through someone else’s eyes.
As a leader, ask yourself challenging questions, like “How diverse is my working environment”, “How exposed am I to how my team works, am I stuck in my corner office” “What are my prejudices and biases?” Be curious. Listen actively. Share lessons you’ve learned. Empathy will help you become a better storyteller.
Remember “It’s not personal, it’s just business” does not exist. Business is always personal when it concerns people.
#4 Embrace vulnerability (and failure)
“Vulnerability is not weakness. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” ― Brene Brown
Innovation. Ideas. A vision.
Creating something new will always carry an element of risk and uncertainty.
The fear of failure, shame from being wrong or judged, inhibits our ability to dream and think big. To develop a creative culture, people need to feel that they are able to try – and fail.
That’s not to imply that we should take unnecessary risks, but it is important to remember that failure is not an end. Failure is an input to the creative process.
3M’s Post-it notes were created when Spencer Silver was trying to develop a super strong adhesive. When it was showcased as an internal seminar (3M encourages people to step outside their departments to see what others were doing), his colleague Art Fry had an idea. He used the weak glue to stop the bookmarks from falling out of his hymn book, and thus from failure, a best-selling and loved product was born. True story.
#5 Be brave and aim for greatness
What does creative excellence mean for your organisation? To find out, don’t just look within your industry.
Look outside of it.
The Singapore government’s Health Promotion Board public awareness campaign on dementia looked beyond traditional mediums like education booklets and posters, to entertain audiences with a 60 min emotional drama. The film created an opportunity to tell the nuanced story of pain, struggle and grace of living with dementia, that no digital banner or print advertising ever could.
Encourage your team to identify and share inspiration.
Create forums for discussion on creative work.
Most importantly, have the courage to say, “This creative work is not quite great yet”.
It is easy to settle for average, but it takes bravery to steer a team to keep on going.
When you eventually get to great, defend your work to layers of bureaucracy who might mould it back to mediocre.
Be confident of your team’s expertise, passion and their pursuit for excellence.
Surround yourself with others who share the same values as you because ultimately, your people will shape your culture.
Want some tips you can implement today? Read our blog on making space for creativity for ideas.
Our masterclasses are a great opportunity to bring new ideas back to your team combining the principles of project management and strategic communication.
For more information and to register, view our Eventbrite page.
Also published on Medium.