On Wednesday 8th July we explored ideas, techniques and approaches that can foster creativity within workplaces — hearing from two experts in the field, Emma Sexton and James Allen.
Whether it’s lunch roulettes at Warby Parker or Google’s 20 per cent time, more companies are seeking to create working environments that are conducive to creativity. But barriers to success abound, and are compounded by the busying creep of technology and inherent challenges of growth. Our best ideas come through when we're relaxed and at ease – but where do businesses begin when it comes to culture change? On July 8th, we invited two entrepreneurs well-versed in this field to share their learnings and insights with YCN Members, all keen to examine and evaluate new ideas and opportunities.
Emma Sexton is a creative thinker, design consultant and regular speaker on the subjects of 'redesigning business as usual’ and rethinking the way we work. She is the founder and creative director of Make Your Words Work — a design studio specialising in crafting meaningful communication — and in addition has set up projects such as A Hetero Approach and A Herd to Run With. Joining her was James Allen, founder of Creative Huddle, an organisation that develops learning programmes and workshops to help businesses – such as Tesco, Excel London and the Barbican – to build creative capacity and culture.
The evening was moderated by YCN’s Jennie Webber, with the audience invited to join the conversation with their own questions, experiences and observations.
Six things we learned:
1. Treat people like adults
As obvious as this statement may seem, many working environments bear far too many similarities to schools – telling people when to arrive, have lunch, take breaks and go home. We need more self-directed environments, says James, where people are given the freedom to make their own decisions about how, where and when they work. The basic structure of our workplaces hasn’t changed in a century, said Emma, but our lifestyles have and businesses need to offer more flexibility if they are to avoid losing their best talent to newer, more agile-minded companies. Make Your Words Work is built on a culture of trust. Emma’s team are given unlimited holiday, which they self-manage, and can work wherever and whenever they like – whether that’s all together at Shoreditch House, or separately from different corners of the world – all she asks is that they meet their targets and deadlines, and have periodic ‘face time’ with each other.
2. Honesty really is the best policy
Of course, getting this right isn’t always straightforward – and as it’s such a new arena for so many businesses, there will always be creases to iron out. However, the key to success lies in the way we communicate with each other. Both James and Emma – and everyone in the audience – agreed that a big part of treating people like adults involves operating a policy of honesty and openness, to combat any fears of unfairness and instil a culture of mutual trust.
3. Optimise your talent
Creativity is 80% learned and acquired, pointed out James. It’s not just about talent – it’s a way of operating. As well as skills and motivation, people also need the right social environment and affective state to be creative, come up with great ideas and do their best work. James stressed the importance of helping people reach their full potential – citing Google and Netflix as just some of the companies that have arranged their working practices to accommodate precisely that. Meanwhile, Adobe’s Kickbox initiative is all about giving employees the funds and freedom to explore the potential of their new ideas.
4. Take a measured approach
Markers of success tend to revolve around facts and figures, generating profits and boosting sales. While these are undoubtedly important, success also needs to be measured according to the happiness and well-being of the people that work for you. Similarly, assessing productivity shouldn’t be a numbers game – the value isn’t in the number of hours spent at your desk, but in the quality of the work produced.
5. Collaboration over competition
There’s a tendency in most businesses, says Emma, to always be sizing yourself up against the competition. While a little competitiveness can sometimes be motivating, the pressure it creates can be a creativity killer. Collaboration, she argues, can have the opposite effect. When two companies work together, playing to their strengths and placing focus on creating great work rather than out-doing each other, the end result will always be better – and can make both businesses stronger. James agreed, stressing the importance of networking as an opportunity to meet people and share learnings and ideas from other businesses, for mutual benefit.
6. Make the effort
As many people in the audience have found, it’s not always easy to inspire and influence these culture changes in the workplace. It’s not something that can happen overnight, stressed James. While many people and companies acknowledge the importance of getting it right, it’s not often prioritised. We need to make time for it, and to clearly communicate the benefits of new working practices to everyone involved.
We'd like to say a huge thank you to Emma and James for sharing their insights and experiences with us, and to Sam Bush for photography.
Location:72 Rivington St,
London, EC2A 3AY,
Start:8th July, 2015 at 6:30pm
End:8th July, 2015 at 8:30pm