I was recently asked to weigh in on how to support the creative worker. It's a broad, almost-impossible question: how does one even begin to categorize such a person? So I chose to respond by focusing on the elements of the workplace which enable creativity, both culturally and structurally, to support the rise of good ideas and ease for those bringing good ideas to light.
Good ideas arise when people are given space to truly explore, in-depth, a particular train of thought. Susan Cain's recently-released Quiet details the challenge of introspection in the modern work environment. As she describes it, the prevailing concepts of what's best in the workplace are premised on the often-incorrect theory that group discussion and constant collaboration are the best way to solve problems. Instead, she suggests that we consider the extensive research which shows that better-quality ideas—especially those related to complex problems involving a lot of variables—require time and nuance to develop.
Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From also supports this claim, discrediting the myth that "Aha! Eureka!" moments are how we were graced with gems like the theory of natural selection. He points to example after example of the months, years or even decades it took for ideas to find traction.
From our practical experience and research, there are a number of predictors of the patterns supporting creatives through the process of idea generation and implementation, and we've listed them at the bottom of this entry. First, though, it's important to have some context:
Teams of misfits, creatives or other out-of-the-mould types need a number of supports to be successful:
- A balance between introvert- and extrovert-friendly workspaces and projects, and where possible, the room to move between them at will
- Clear measures for success to make progress towards more-nebulous outcomes like 'increasing innovation' feasible, rather than nerve-wracking
- Understanding of where they may improvise (and fail) and to what degree, as we explore in "Autonomy, and Acceptable Failure: Need for Doctrine"
- Support translating between larger organizational goals and their own projects, needs and interests, which explore in "Healing the Wounds of the Assembly Line…"
- Room for nuanced, deep focus and mastery (not just short-term responses)
The important thing to note in this article is that this incomplete list of predictors for success, is, of course, actually a list of ingredients for successful teams everywhere—but applying them to 'creatives,' 'innovators' and others expected to produce breakthrough results is all the more important, because, unlike other elements of an organization, such team members can barely function almost at all without such supports.