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Leading Creativity – How To Capitalize On Creativity And Drive Innovation (Part II)


By Nigel Collin, LeadingCreatives

Creating Zoos – Culture

You also need to provide your creatives with the right environment that will support and stimulate their creativity. You need to create the Zoo.

A good Creative Zoo is a place where creative people love to hang out. It’s where they feel they belong and can interact with other creative people. It’s a place where they feel inspired and are free to try new things, explore possibilities.

A good creative environment is a place where people can take creative risks, make mistakes, and put ideas on the table without fear of ridicule.

A really good creative environment is not just about providing your team with the resources they need, but about giving them the permission they need to do what they do best: be creative.

How do you do that? Is there a standard template or design for the Zoo? Not really. It will vary for everyone. But certain attributes have to be in place to make it work.


Your physical environment greatly affects your mindset, so having the right physical space is vital. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need surreal rooms full of beanbags; it does mean you need a space conducive to being creative. You need to have a place that welcomes being creative.


Let’s face it: the creative process doesn’t work 9 to 5. It needs time to do its thing. So leaders need to harness its potential by providing environments that let their creative people be flexible with time. Am I saying come and go as you please? No, but there needs to be a certain amount of flexibility to harness time to your creative advantage.


Whatever you do, you need to have the right tools. Providing your creative teams with the right resources is vital. As Robyn Munro, Marketing Director of Atlassian, points out, ‘We give them (creatives) awesome resources to do their jobs with -­ fast computers, large monitors, comfy Aeron chairs.’


You also need to allow your creatives to explore and be open to new possibilities, because from possibilities come great ideas. Alan Fletcher talks about the need to be like helicopters – about seeing the terrain of a problem from many different angles, hovering over details but soaring high to see the whole picture. Allow your creatives to be helicopters by building them heliports.

Creative Risk

One of the biggest frustrations creatives have, believe it or not, is working for organizations that are risk-­averse and have a low tolerance for failure. To be creative and explore possibilities, you need to step out and take creative risks. Again, this is something that Atlassian understands well, according to Robyn Munro: ‘We try to create an environment where it’s okay to try something and fail.’

Creating the Zoo is about building the right environment to allow them to thrive, not about caging your creatives up and restricting their abilities.

Shooting Ducks – Process

Lastly, you need a process in place where coming up with ideas is like shooting ducks at a carnival. Because, when you think about it, there’s no shortage of ducks. They just keep on coming. The trick – the art – is knowing how to hit the ducks, and even more importantly, hit the ducks that will pay you the really big prize.

As a young lad, I wanted to be a filmmaker. I remember attending a seminar with film producer Michael Weiss (of Dirty Dancing fame, among others) and he was talking about how to get a project up.

He said that you need to keep talking about your ideas, partner with others, just keep banging away. Someone then asked, ‘What happens if someone steals your idea?’

His answer was brilliant; it summed up a very real issue about being creative. He said (and I paraphrase, because this was a long time ago) ‘Firstly, you should be very happy you’ve had an idea worth stealing. And secondly, go find another one, because the world is full of ideas.’

I just love that. I love it so much, because it is true. The world is full of ideas. Ideas are everywhere and it isn’t actually hard to come up with them – you can find people who do that brilliantly, you can teach your people to do it better still, you can even pay someone else to do it for you.

The issue is not coming up with ideas, it’s coming up with ideas that make a difference. That’s another matter altogether. Yes, you need to set the ducks in motion, but the real talent lies in hiring the right ones and hiring them consistently.

To do that, you need to have the right processes in place. Alarmingly, most organizations don’t! When asked in our survey, ‘Does your organization have a process in place to harness and direct creativity?’ 47% answered no and only 31% answered yes.

This is partly because so much about creativity is intangible. It simply isn’t black and white; it’s full of contradiction and paradox. The very notion of locking into a ‘process’ is often seen as restrictive. And indeed, if you adopt a cookie-­cutter step-­by-­step approach it can be.

But creativity thrives on structure. So you need to have a process that knows when to turn the creative controls on and off. A process that allows your creative people to explore and play, to think intangibly in order to find possibilities – but which then funnels and steers those possibilities towards tangible ideas and solutions.

Hitting the Creative Sweet Spot

Here’s the exciting bit. If you get each of those three things working together and in harmony, what you’ll discover is a beautiful, creative sweet spot. When you hit the sweet spot, everything just clicks and works synchronistically.

This is where everything falls into place. Where being creative, seeing possibilities, and coming up with really good ideas is simply part of what you do. Where everyone, on all levels, works together and understands each other’s role and value. I know that to a certain extent it’s a utopian ideal, but it’s worth striving for. And even if you get close, this is where creativity really rocks.

This is where being a creative organization pays really big dividends. This is where you outpace your competitors and become a market and industry leader.

And that is very, very, sexy.

This is Part II of Collin’s article. You can read Part I here.

Nigel Collin will be speaking on “Enterprising Creativity To Drive Digital Innovation And Obtain Commercial Results” at the upcoming ad:tech Singapore 2011 on Jun 16-17.

Nigel Collin runs LeadingCreatives, providing coaching for businesses and their leaders. He also helps companies gain valuable insight into their strengths and find any missed opportunities to use the talents of their creative people better, with a unique 360 assessment service ‘LeadingCreatives360’.