9 Unique Abilities of the Creative Organization

By Ann Zeller
Published on: August 4, 2017

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Our dear friend Ann Zeller passed away last week. She was funny, generous, a ferocious supporter of the arts, and a brilliant businesswoman. This is a re-post of her article that appeared several months ago. We will miss her dearly.

As consumer technology is pressured at all ends through the popularity of many new entrants into the marketplace and with greater consolidation, a company has to innovate in order to survive.  Creativity has become one of the most important sources of competitive advantage.

But what type of leadership and organizational structure inspires and results in the greatest creativity in companies today?  What is unique among leaders of the most innovative companies?   Here are unique abilities that creative organizations have in common:

The Environment: For Pixar Disney Animation Studios, an example of a creative organization, the physical environment itself is crucial for inspiring creativity in the workplace.   Doors to collaboration and ways to break down the borders between work and play are sought.  It’s about looking at something and doing it differently.

Pixar’s headquarters is on a 15-acre campus, just over the San Francisco Bay Bridge.  Designed throughout by Steve Jobs, the campus was set up to enhance the ability to collaborate.  There are well thought out patterns of entry and exit that encourage people to meet, mingle and communicate.

The Leader: The creative organization begins with the leader who must embrace creativity.  The most effective leaders in creating a creative organization are leaders who inspire the thoughts of employees by acting as a role model to gain respect, admiration and loyalty.  This in turn leads to a certain collectivity among followers.  The leader also exhibits great concern for the needs of each follower.  They have a vision for the future, helping employees realize they can do it and they work hard to make the resources available.

This leadership style results in a supportive creative climate as it focuses more on people, and less on tasks.  An autocratic style would not unlock the potential of the organization because it would produce employees who are not empowered and thus less creative.   To be creative, an organization must benefit from the creativity of all of its members.

The Culture: The culture of a creative organization is one of inclusivity.  Creative organizations stay away from inflexible structures, hierarchies, and titles.

Motivation: For the creative organization, motivation for employees comes from feeling part of a larger vision, part of a successful team.  Although money is important, it’s not the primary motivator.  Self-motivation is key with recognition going much further than monetary rewards.

Finding the Right Talent and Building Trust: At creative organizations employees come first, even before customers.  Designing an innovative operation involves first finding the right talent.  This means finding the right people with the right chemistry to collaborate and complement each other. Ideas are not singular.  They are the result of thousands of decisions, made by many people.  It is not about creating stars. By finding the right talent and spending time with them, a mutual understanding and ultimate trust is formed.  It is that trust which is key.   Leaders must prove their trustworthiness over time through their actions, and many times how they react to failure.  Trust leads to a secure and supportive climate which in turn encourages employees to act in non-conventional ways to gain customer value and come up with new ideas.

Collaboration with Partners: Collaboration with external partners is one of the most important aspects of creative organizations.  Leaders of creative organizations seek partnerships with all stakeholders from suppliers, customers, and academics to even competitors.  Collaboration allows for diversity in thinking.  Innovation is more likely when people of different disciplines, backgrounds and areas of expertise share their thinking.

Supportive Creative Climate: Part of creating a supportive creative environment is enhancing the self-efficiency of the staff.  Self-efficiency can be defined as one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task. This can be done through training and coaching.

Critical Thinking: To maintain originality over time, leaders must keep fighting the pressures against it.  In many creative organizations, a “think tank” group is created to continually push the limits.

The Necessity of Failure: And finally, for creative organizations, failure is a necessary part of the process as well.  The key to effective creative leadership is not the failure itself, but how you respond to that failure.  Leaders of creative organizations must decrease the fear of failure.  The goal for creative organizations is to experiment constantly, fail early and often, and learn as much as possible in the process.  Leaders must create an environment where people won’t be punished or humiliated if they fail.

In Conclusion:  Three out of four global executives believe that an innovation strategy is critical to their company’s success, yet fewer than half are creating an organizational climate fostering creative thinking.

Leaders cannot just pay lip service to creativity in order to create a creative organization.  Leaders must embrace creativity and make it part of the DNA of the organizational culture.  Leaders act as the catalyst for creativity.  The leader must engender trust which results in a secure environment which results in the growth of new ideas.  Failure is not punished but is seen as a necessary ingredient to creativity.  Organizational structures tend to be less hierarchical, empowering employees at all levels to make decisions and take action.  Employees are seen as the most important stakeholders and the leader’s role is to ensure that they receive the resources they need to reach their goals, that they understand the vision, that they are aligned with the vision, and that they are empowered and motivated to continually move toward that vision.  Different perspectives are encouraged.  Ultimately what sets creative organizations apart is that they don’t manage creativity, they manage for creativity.

Ann Zeller

Ann Zeller

Ann Zeller is the founder and executive director of Zeworks, a brand consulting firm based in NYC. With over thirty years of marketing experience, she focuses on creating, building and managing some of the world’s most valued brands. Ann holds an M.B.A. from Fordham University, a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University, and a B.A. in Russian Studies from Colgate University.

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