26 Apr 2018

The ten behaviours of creative companies

When joining five remarkable creative cultures into one Superunion, it’s good to reflect on the qualities that make companies creative.

Uri Baruchin, Strategy Partner

As companies are first and foremost made of their people, an interesting way to consider this question is to look into the typical behaviours of creative people.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, famed for his ‘Mental Flow’ theory, explores the traits in his book Creativity : Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. And if flow is the state where people are creative, as well as productive and happy, what can it teach us about companies?

In the book, the traits are articulated as a series of ten paradoxes, and maybe it’s not surprising that all of them apply to creative companies and to innovation.

 

1.

Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest.

Creative companies balance a great capacity for doing and action with time for focus, reflection and a healthy work-life balance.

 

2.

Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time.

Creative companies retain a sense of wonder and innocence. This allows them to attempt the impossible even when “they should know better”. It sometimes results in great breakthroughs. (At Superunion, this is a part of what we call ‘Creative Optimism’)

 

3.

Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.

Creative companies realise fun and experimentation are just as important to the bottom line as budgets, KPI’s and deadlines. However, the truly creative appreciate all the work involved in making the idea a reality.

 

4.

Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality.

Creative companies continuously imagine, reinvent and plan their future, but they also acknowledge that “A goal is a dream with a deadline” and that “Vision without action is an hallucination”.

 

5.

Creative people trend to be both extroverted and introverted.

Creative companies look outside as well as inside. They tell stories and look for the limelight, but are also great listeners and willing to learn from anyone (and anything).

 

6.

Creative people are humble and proud at the same time.

Creative companies know their self-worth and don’t shy away from tooting their own horns, but they also keep their eye on the next challenge and know that their status should be continually justified. They acknowledge their debt to those who came before them, while not afraid to carry out their own vision.

 

7.

Creative people, to an extent, escape rigid gender role stereotyping.

Creative companies actively seek a healthy gender balance – in terms of both staff mix, leadership and cultural style. And, by the way, ‘balance’ shouldn’t be just between the two heteronormative genders.

 

8.

Creative people are both rebellious and conservative.

Most organisations will be either rebellious or conservative, but truly creative companies stay loyal to their values while challenging and often revolutionising their markets. A deep understanding of your business, requires you to be immersed in its history, principles and mechanics. And then you have to be able to challenge them and evolve your business mix and even your business models – a rare quality.

 

9.

Most creative people are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.

In a creative company, people passionately defend their work as they are expected to, but they are not ashamed to step down or make changes when someone has a better idea, because creative companies are “all about the work”, so when the work can be improved, there’s no reason for conflict.

 

10.

Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment.

Creative companies can be a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, but have the biggest potential to provide fulfilling work experiences (and, in turn, great customer experiences). In creative companies people are not afraid to be themselves, allowing themselves to show vulnerability (for more about the importance of vulnerability to creativity and happiness, see Brené Brown’s smash hit TED talk.)

Being at forefront of your business will expose you to a lot of criticism, unless you can handle it, your creativity will be squashed very early. In a truly creative company, the thought that things can be better and you’re not aspiring to make them so, is unbearable. This requires a certain sensitivity. Companies with a culture of compromise, rarely exhibit creative breakthroughs.

 

So here you go. It’s easy to see analogies between the behaviours of creative companies and the traits of creative people. Maybe because first and foremost creative companies need to stay human.

As Csikszentmihalyi says:

Of all human activities, creativity comes closest to providing the fulfilment we all hope to get in our lives. Call it full-blast living.

Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. Most of the things that are interesting, important, and human are the result of creativity.

What makes us different from apes–our language, values, artistic expression, scientific understanding, and technology–is the result of individual ingenuity that was recognised, rewarded, and transmitted through learning.

And who wouldn’t want to work hard for that ethos?