Three ways to foster a creative environment where ideas are vital
"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." Albert Einstein
Symphonies are not like jazz bands. This may seem like an obvious statement, but I am referring to the creative environment of a symphony. Most of the symphonies that exist in the world today have been around for many years. How do they stay relevant, fresh, and therefore funded?
The conductor and the board have to consider these questions every year when they develop a symphony season. They have to anticipate what the donors and audiences desire. The conductor has to listen to other orchestras, contemplate new music and maybe work with composers to commission new pieces.
On the other hand a jazz band has much more flexibility in its repertoire, unlike a symphony, where the conductor and board members decide the music for the musicians to perform. A jazz ensemble is much more like a self-organizing agile team that has to develop its repertoire, select venues to perform in and build a following based on its marketing efforts. They base their actions on feedback directly from the audience and foster a creative environment to flourish. To strive, jazz musicians must become much more entrepreneurial, imaginative and foster a creative environment to play jazz for a living.
Three ways to foster a creative environment
• Be clear about your organization's and team's purpose.
• Leverage innovative ideas from other industries and experiment.
• Change conditions in the environment and collaborate.
1. Be clear about your organization's or team's purpose
An organization's purpose is like values and best practices; they have to be lived and baked into an organization's DNA, systems, policies, processes and procedures. Purpose requires buy-in. For the organization's purpose to work, people in the organization need to believe and buy in the organization's mission, vision, values and purpose.
When an organization's purpose is believed and is bought into, then team members will be much more intrinsically motivated. They will have a fire in their belly that motivates them to work on their personal and professional goals because they are fueled by purpose.
According to the University of Berkeley "extrinsic motivators and constraints of many different kinds undermine creativity because they undermine the intrinsic Motivation to create for its own sake, for the love of it. Our studies revealed that intrinsic Motivation drives creativity; people are most creative when they're motivated primarily by the interest, enjoyment, satisfaction and personal challenge of the work itself—and not by extrinsic motivators.”
Creativity should be based on team members’ interest that is aligned with the organization's purpose.
2. Leverage innovative ideas from other industries and experiment
Jazz musicians are consistently looking for musical ideas from other genres of music such as classical, folk, blues and R&B. In the same way we need to build creative work environments by encouraging team members to share ideas from previous work experience. Especially those ideas that come from other industries. They should share why those ideas worked and how they could be applied in your industry. When you have multiple ideas to select from, try conducting small experiments on three or four ideas and monitor their progress. Select the idea that adds the most business value and has buy-in from the team and leadership.
To build a creative work environment that is vital to your organization's success, try out this seven step recipe.
i. Conduct a brainstorming exercise where knowledge and previous experiences are shared
ii. Encourage team members to develop a collaborative community
iii. Set an example for being competent in your craft. Every member of a jazz band has spent years developing their skills on their particular instrument
iv. Build diversity in the group. Imagine a jazz band where everyone played the same instrument, no drums, no bass and no guitar. Yikes!
v. Create a culture of trust and respect (Visibility, Progress, Goals, Experimentation)
vi. Remain curious
vii. Keep the group small with no more than 12 people.
3. Change conditions in the work environment and collaborate across silos
One of the things I love about being a jazz musician is that you never play the same song the same way every time. Although the melody may be the same and the band members you're performing with are the same; however, most of the time the venue that you're performing in is different and the audience is different. Changing the environment creates a different vibe and inspires you to play old songs and new ways. Now, although we can't change our work venues or office locations every night as if we're playing in a jazz band, we can mix things up and have different activities or give people intellectually challenging work that will add variety to their workday. This change-up will allow them to work on different challenges, even within their current work assignments or project, which will get their creative juices flowing.
We should also ensure that our team members have the sufficient resources that they need, which will:
• Encourage innovation and experimentation
• Allow workgroups to be supportive and open to new ideas
• encourage team members to journal their progress and allow them to share their insights with their teammates. This will further reinforce the creative process and increase their intrinsic motivation.
The message for leaders is forthright: Give careful thought to what your team members need to make progress in their creative work, let them know what matters most and provide the support they need — provide clear goals, flexibility to accomplish their goals and sufficient resources and time to keep them moving forward to foster a creative work environment that works.
A professional bassist, Gerald J Leonard, pictured below, is the CEO of Principles of Execution (POE) and author of Culture Is The Bass: 7 Steps to Creating High Performing Teams and Workplace Jazz: How to Improvise