Are You Fostering Creativity or Faking It?

The recently released movie “The Internship” has been touted as a film that stars the Google complex as much as it showcases actors Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. And why not? Companies like Google, Zappos and Starbucks are frequently held up by the media as innovative employers that introduced us to employee-friendly concepts such as free lunches, collaborative work spaces and employer-sponsored humanitarian projects.

But these things don’t make a creative environment; they come out of one that already exists, states Justin Brady in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece. Brady is the owner of Test of Time Design, a Des Moines, Iowa-based graphic design agency.

“The process of real creativity is messy, chaotic, sometimes even disgusting, and it reeks of failure, experimentation and disorganization. Because of this, most leaders don’t actually want creativity, they just want the results of it,” Brady states.

In working closely with both small businesses and Fortune 500 companies, Brady says he has observed that some leaders inspire creativity and others don’t, but the hiring of individuals known for their creativity, the education or experience of their teams, or the company’s size or pay scale have nothing to do with it.

He argues that creative environments are cultivated by leaders who exhibit three facets:

1.  Listen – Listening is much different than hearing. When you are listening, you keep eye contact and you make the person who is talking feel valued. When you listen, you discover insights that weren’t obvious before.

2.  Empathize – People who truly empathize not only try to put themselves in the other person’s shoes, but they also make it a priority to find truth in their words.

3.  Trust – Listening and empathizing are useless if you can’t trust another individual. Some ideas or concepts won’t make sense to anyone but the innovator. That’s what makes them innovators. Trusting is the final step of the creative process.

Just as legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, “doers make mistakes,” Brady emphasizes that creative teams will fail. “In a creative culture, however, failure and experimentation are normal and viewed as learning opportunities. If you don’t want that type of culture, you don’t want creativity.”