Entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity to shape a company’s culture from the get-go. Simply putting a business plan together, hoping to employ the right people, and letting the culture emerge as a byproduct of the talent you’ve hired is not enough. In fact, that’s reactive -- not proactive. Instead, a high-performing culture necessitates the same attention and improvement plan as any other piece of the startup puzzle, and to do so, a leader must plant the creative roots.
Creativity is born out of an imaginative vision. There must be mental space in one’s mind for new ideas to emerge if one is to try and assemble those ideas into an applicable context before trying to innovate a new product or service. Innovation is what happens after one has had time to think outside the norm, away from routine. If you want more creativity, then you first need to lay the groundwork for inventiveness to occur.
Creativity must be seen as a daily practice rather than a byproduct of a talented few. Having said this, what you don't want to do as a leader is create so much purpose that creativity becomes an overwhelming demand rather than a way of entrepreneurial life. In other words, you don’t want to impose such creative stresses to the extent that people feel they must generate genius every day, or else.
Here are four ways an entrepreneur can foster a culture of creativity:
1. Create purpose. Creativity is oftentimes considered innate talent, an “either/or” ability, or one of those “things we should do,” rather than a skill to practice similar to writing or playing guitar.
Business leaders know that to stay afloat, their company must generate new products or services that resonate with customer needs, and so they slam down a heavy fist and demand “More creativity!” then go back to the hierarchical line-and-block chart that immediately closes all creative doors. If creativity is to be part of the culture, then it must follow the company’s purpose, and that purpose must say, “This is why we’re here. Make it happen.”
2. Create the system. This is where instituting the left and right boundaries of the organization come into play, because as a leader you can take away resources, but not resourcefulness. Once you set the organizational guardrails in place, step back. Let people bounce around between them. Doing so allows originality to build on itself while still working within the confines of performance metrics.
3. Create space. If you want to generate new ideas, you must allow space for new ideas to emerge. In other words, there must be physical space to think. Chad Silverstein, CEO of Choice Recovery, a financial collection company in Columbus, Ohio, offers rooms where employees can go to check Facebook, surf the internet, or do anything else besides work (but only for about 10 percent of the day). Doing so gives peoples’ minds a rest from the daily processes that breed monotony. Similar to other muscles in the body, the brain becomes stronger in its awareness, focus and memory -- after rest.
4. Create the example. This is where the rubber meets the road. It takes courage, self and social awareness, and a willingness to trust your employees. To lead a creative culture is to set the company’s vision, values and purpose on a unique course where individuality and new ideas are valued more than anything else. A culture where status and rank do not play on the same field and where open communication is the flavor of the day -- every day.
Companies that build their people discover a reciprocal effect -- that their people, in turn, build the company.