Business Environment for Creativity

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Creativity demands space that must be defended. Whether an individual carving a few quiet moments from a demanding family or a businessperson resisting the tyranny of the instant message, escape for clear thinking is essential. But it gets harder to find. Interruptions increase with every technological advance. The era of continuous partial attention pulls focus away from depth.

Defending the space for creativity to bloom has predictable prerequisites. It is remarkable how many business people don’t know how to use one of their greatest assets: the approach of new ideas. Consider these business practices as techniques guaranteed to increase the creative environment of any business:

tools of the trade Learn communication preferences of those you work with. No one uses media the same. I prefer e-mail. Most of my clients, however, prefer the phone. I monitor the calls, especially before and after I work for a few hours on creative assignments.

tools of the trade  Remove yourself. It is impossible to focus in the middle of a chaotic atmosphere unless you are blessed with a phenomenal capacity to concentrate. If I’m not being addressed directly, I can concentrate anywhere. It can be noisy and active, but an island of quiet can be formed if not interrupted. However, when distracted by activity, it is impossible to generate ideas beyond the obvious. So removing yourself physically is the only solution. I like coffee shops to write and edit. There is activity, but it doesn’t concern me, and I find the energy of action inspires.

tools of the trade  Creativity benefits, always, from marinating. Often schedules are compressed towards the front-end, the ideas stage, when the concept is the most important part. A great idea produced fast with a low budget is better than a hasty okay idea done really well with a large budget. Didn’t Drucker say it is better to do the right things poorly than the wrong things well?
ß Shake people up in the right ways. The more politically sensitive an idea, the more it should be examined. Emotional reactions are always the most memorable, whether positive or negative. The negative ideas need to be evaluated in terms of their opposite. If there is a negative perception in the marketplace of a product or service, ignoring it won’t make it go away. Confronting it and flipping it around is the best policy, the most creative, and will turn around perceptions.

tools of the trade Mix tact with creative solutions. For those presenting an idea bound to get people talking, the how is as important as the idea itself. Many great ideas get squashed because there was no sensitivity to the political climate when introduced. Upsetting the status quo is generally going to be met with reluctance—and rightfully so. Most ideas need to be edited harshly because only a few are worth pursing. Expecting to be challenged should make presenters better prepared.

tools of the trade Test the idea. Always believing in my “critics corner,” before presenting design concepts to clients, I gather an impartial (but articulate) audience who know nothing about the project. Priming them with the parameters, I invite them to view the ideas and choose which they think best fits the assignment. And why. It helps me prepare and solve any weak points. For the client to test the idea means showing it to those qualified to make an assessment.

tools of the trade Have the right people in the presentation where ideas are discussed and development decisions made. Nothing derails a project faster than unknown parameters or surprise decision-makers. It isn’t productive to drag decisions into serial reviews. With technology as sophisticated as it has become, remote locations of decision-makers can be accommodated.

tools of the trade Don’t spill the beans too soon. A new idea is so exciting, it is hard to keep it secret. The better the idea, the more excitement you may want to stir up. Since the Internet has made the world smaller, exposing an idea too early is dangerous on many levels. Before a new direction has legs, it is difficult to know how to sustain. Perhaps the concept may be easy to copy by someone who can do it faster. It may make assumptions that become obsolete. There may be too many or too few parameters considered. Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. The better the idea is prepared, the greater the chance of its survival by the fires of reality.

tools of the trade Make business case. This is the most important part of selling a new idea. The plan is to put legs under the idea, elevating it above the level of vanity. The project begins to take on a life of its own, gathering contributors who are excited to become part of the development team. When this happens, the idea has the best chance of making a difference.

tools of the trade Pick battles carefully. It is creativity’s job to stir people up—the desire is to do it positively. If it misses and doesn’t get the hoped for reaction, either alter it so it addresses the objections and try again, or move on and find a worthier concept to explore.

In running the weekly Idea Incubatorcolumn here in this blog, the focus is on the individual’s creativity. But for a company to gain the best from creative thinking, I hope that these ideas inspire.

Liane Sebastian, illustrator, designer, writer, and publishing pioneer

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