“Todd, are you bored?”
I was 3 months into my new job. In that time, the majority of my “work” revolved around reading the 63 corporate policy documents. When she asked me this question, I remember being propped up in my chair studying a book:
“The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation.”
I guess that book is not notorious for being a page-turner.
Here’s how a company is born:
- A business is created by one or three wildly creative people. They have a vision to change the world.
- Due to the diligence of the artist, that idea comes to fruition. How beautiful! A thought manifests in reality.
- Eventually, someone convinces the artist to scale the business. Why impact the lives of a mere 10 people when you could reach 10 million? Surely if a little money is good, a lot is better.
- People are added, structure is built,
- Then, the killer — processes are made. The business has to be bulletproof! If every founder dies in a plane crash, money needs to keep rolling in.
But you already know all this. You see it every day. The artist brings the revolution, but the businessman brings the cash.
Process, by definition, resists creativity.
Revolution, by definition, is fueled by it.
So where’s the balance?
THE PILLARS OF CORPORATE CREATIVITY
Say to the average man “make a list of 10 things in the world,” and he will likely struggle. The parameters are too large. What things? Are people things? Are states things? Are concepts things?
Yet, if you say “make a list of 10 things found in a garage,” he will soar.
Are there more things in a garage than in the entire world? Of course not. But creativity often comes from constraints, not unlimited options.
In a corporate environment, you aren’t really looking for unwieldy creativity. You are looking for targeted creativity.
Educate, educate, educate. Turns out people are pretty smart. Even employed ones. The more they know about the problems of the business, the more solutions they will generate.
Valve is a software company which specializes in computer games. They are notoriously guarded about their sales metrics, so I can’t give you a number to wow you. I can only tell you they have been dominating the digital games market for the last 13 years or so.
I can also tell you one other thing. In their handbook, a line reads:
“Mistakes, even expensive mistakes, or once which result in a very public failure, are generally looked at as opportunities to learn.”
How much room for error is there at your job? Slim? None? Valve has dominated and continues to dominate a market which piracy reigns for several reasons, but the two I see are:
- The company embraces its employees new ideas even at risk of loss.
- They continue to do this even after they have found success.
Many companies claim
“We all innovate!”
What they often mean is:
“The 8 white people in our executive suite are empowered to make decisions!”
A company who can trust the average employee to create can better walk the line between art and business.
It’s not enough to allow mistakes, it’s creating the culture to allow those mistakes in the first place.
Imagine for a moment what your world would look like if you assumed everyone was acting with best intentions. What if your boss wasn’t trying to hold you down, but truly thought your idea wasn’t a good fit for the culture. How would that change how you go about your business?
9 times out of 10, other people can fulfill any expectation you have of them — many times without your exceptional wisdom, expansive knowledge, and constant micromanaging.
(Not the same as space.)
Margin is time. Free time. Ping pong time. Nap time. Whatever.
Humans need time to dream, if you don’t give them margin for it in the office, they’ll build it in anyway — except they’ll dream about what else they could be doing instead of how else to improve the company.
Creative people don’t need more dollars to buy new paints and watercolors. They don’t need new toys or the best equipment (necessarily).
They need the attention and the people to test a thought at scale.
Without resources, even the best ideas get stuck in a filing cabinet and forgotten.
To talk to anyone.
To speak new ideas.
To follow a spark of inspiration.
To color outside the lines.
To break the rules.
To put things in the wrong order just to see what happens.
Here is the unavoidable question which accompanies innovation:
“What if I work myself out of a job?”
It’s understandable, isn’t it? Imagine a company where Employee A is hired to do Job A, and Employee B to do Job B.
In this scenario, what incentive does Employee A have to eliminate or simplify Job A, even if a solution is obvious?
For that matter, what incentive does Employee have to eliminate Job B? Who wants to screw over their friends on behalf of Mean Ol’ Mr. Company?
Instead, creative corporations send a common message:
“Take care of the company, and the company will take care of you.”
The business must walk, talk, eat, drink, and breathe this mantra.
Here is where I give myself away — I am an artist first and a businessman second.
Businessmen often forget hope — the catalyst to any creative success.
Hope — that your genius will be heard by a manager.
Hope — that something you thought up can be born into reality.
Hope — that your cultural beliefs are more than just words.
Hope — that an idea, if it’s the right idea, can do more than change a company.
It can change the world.
If you liked this, you will see a lot like it on my YouTube channel starting next week.