A few weeks ago, I reported on the launching of a creative environment survey at the organization where I’m doing a systems’ view exploration of creativity. The results are in.
Before discussing them, let me step back a bit and frame the context. The organization in question is one where creativity is the process and the product. The company is hired for its ability to translate learning and messaging content and objectives into engaging products and events. Clients come seeking strong creative ideas with robust, often highly time-sensitive implementation. This organization provides both the ideas and the execution. The projects are widely variable—in content, scope, media, and audience. There is a core team of creatives who have been associated with the organization for about ten years. This organization also pulls in other contract workers to supplement the specific needs of each project. During the development and implementation phase, long hours are not unusual. After a big push to production, there is often a lull to regroup or wait for the next big project.
Got a picture in your mind? Have something of a feel of what the environment might be like for creativity here?
Ok, so how might we try to actually measure the creative environment of this organization? Of the various organizational measures of creativity (such as KEYS, available through the Center for Creative Leadership), I used one which is currently in development. I’ll call it Survey X (highly creative term, I know…). Survey X measures employee’s perceptions of sixteen dimensions which contribute to the creative environment. The results offer a snapshot in time of these perceptions. Two things to note here: perceptions are not reality, but are a reflection of or reaction to individual experiences, and can shine a light on important organizational dynamics, issues, successes and challenges. Second: it reflects a moment in time, which means that the implementation of changes can produce new results relatively quickly. As, of course, can the decision to not implement change…
The dimensions include such aspects as Idea Time, Dynamism, Synergy, Resources, Idea Support, etc.
The results from the survey data for this organization indicated the possible existence of two sets of opposing characteristics (all of the dimensions interrelate, of course; but these two pairings seemed particularly strong). The first: a high level of Dynamism, energy, project variety on one hand appears to be in a state of creative tension with a reported lack of Idea Time. How might the dynamic pace (stimulating to creativity) be reflected in or related to the lack of time available for the development of creative ideas? What happens when dynamism runs amok?
Secondly, the very strong sense of esprit de corps (reflected in the dimensions of Trust, Leadership, Sense of Belonging, and Synergy) appears to be in opposition to the low scores on Resources. This is an organization where resources are highly variable. How might the low scores on Resources be related to the high sense of esprit de corps? Might it be that intrinsic motivators are picking up the slack for the variable resource support? Does this pose a risk? Or does it speak to the strong internal value of the creative dynamic and sense of belonging here? Or both?
The lovely thing about Survey X is that it uses a framework of Appreciative Inquiry to explore these dynamics. One fundamental precept of AI is that we can learn as much if not more through our successes, no matter how small they may seem, as we can through focusing on “problems.” By asking “when was there a situation when there was plenty of Idea Time and the Resources were fully supporting the team?” a chain of reflective thought is engaged. Stories emerge of times of success and positive experiences. This informs how to move toward having more of these moments, instead of focusing on their lack or absence.
In this case, the stories led to the identification of elements which had not been immediately apparent in the data: communication, feedback and mentoring.
By increasing the attention on these three elements, we expect to build in more Idea Time, through clearer communication and building up skills in understanding client perspectives, which will ideally lead to fewer false starts in idea development.
The Resources dimension is a bit harder to resolve purely internally, as it is impacted by project flow. However, communication comes in again, in terms of acknowledging and supporting the value of the esprit de corps. This is one of the company’s strongest assets, and gives it the flexibility to staff up with trained, highly skilled talent on demand. By communicating the value clearly, we expect to be able to honor the individual contributions which contribute to the esprit de corps, hopefully helping the organization to continue to maintain stamina and loyalty in the face of fluctuating resources.
In a nutshell, the results of this survey point to implementing some key internal communications strategies, along with coaching and mentoring to strengthen client communication and understanding. Costs should be minimal, and the benefits will including making more efficient use of Idea Time, thereby building in a margin for incubation and idea testing; and reinforcing to the team the value of their contributions in creating a workplace with strong intrinsic motivators.
The next step will be to consider how the results of the creative environment survey connect with the team FourSight profile, and how the process tools of Creative Problem Solving might be used to move the desired changes forward.