The corporate world is inherently square: compartmentalized, rigid and distant. Conventional corporate policies tend to box people into a certain stereotype and set teams at odds with each other and clients, with overly safe, bureaucratic procedures. Work is centered around information organized in squares to be viewed in squares. It’s an approach rooted in limiting thought process and stifling creativity. I’m not saying that convention is wrong—some people are perfectly happy living and working in this safe environment—as a creative-minded person, it was just never going to work for me and it’s not the best environment for creativity to thrive.
So how can creative-minded people transcend this square mentality?
One of the worst aspects of traditional corporate policies is distrust. Nothing kills creativity like showing people you don’t trust them. And nothing burns us out like managers who don’t see effort or understand what the people who work for them do.
Let me give you an example. A friend of mine recently had a short-lived job where he needed to call in sick shortly after getting hired. He was informed that he should show up if he wanted to “remain in the good graces” of the CEO. If this company didn’t even trust him to say when he was sick, how was he ever going to get good work done there? This is what happens when you put competition over collaboration, distrust over trust.
Managers need to see the potential in their creative team and give them the freedom to exercise it. Trust is an essential principle—during our growth process, we wanted to try new things without asking someone if it was OK. Above all, we just wanted to focus on being creative instead of filling out timesheets and going to meetings.
This is a big one for me. One of the things I constantly harp on here is to steer clear of an “us versus them” mentality. “This particular part of the work would’ve been better if [insert another team here] would’ve done better.” You’re on the same team, and if you are going to do your best work, you have to get good at working together. That means transcending customary workplace drama sometimes.
In short, no matter who you’re working with, it’s not you in a box over here and them in a box over there throwing stuff back and forth. It’s always you and them working together to create something meaningful and awesome.
Communicate early, communicate often. When people talk, they feel like their ideas are being heard and they feel invested in the project or idea. Communicating often keeps everyone on the same page, flexible to changes and always produces a better result.
There was a time early on when communication during our creative process was so poor that we would have a short meeting at the beginning of a huge project and then all broke off into our own silos before coming back together. As a result, when we started taking on bigger projects, we would end up redoing a lot of work. We learned from that mistake. This drives how we approach communication to this day and our understanding that, to build the best stuff, you need to be free from prescribed limitations and egos.
Open and honest communication is also key with selling your work. Help people understand your creative decisions, the actual business of design. You might have the coolest creative ideas, but if you don’t communicate how they will meet a client’s goals, they won’t see the light of day.
Even the day-to-day in a creative company can become monotonous and uninspiring. Creatives also get burnt out. Having a creative process is important, but it’s also important to have the confidence to break out of that when necessary.
It’s also crucial to know how to help the people who work for you get inspired. Encourage them to travel, celebrate success, decompress and go do what they love to do. It may sound counterintuitive because we’re still in the business of design, but that’s what leads to better opportunities. So, focus on things like creativity, attention to detail and culture more than money and business plans.
Giving back produces a unique sense of purpose and, yes, it can really inspire you. Support your community every time, even when it seems like there isn’t a business reason to do it. You will see it returned in a time of need.
We are in the business of design, but design and creativity are not like any other business. Creative-minded people are often unconventional people that need to be motivated in different ways. In order to stay relevant, we need to not only embrace changes but also promote change by taking risks—in either case, change is constant. And this constant evolution cannot be contained by conventional, corporate processes. Transcend the square, gleam the cube.