Companies struggling to find a competitive edge in an increasingly commoditized marketplace are often exhorted to "unleash their creativity" and find ways to be more innovative. But nurturing creativity within an organization whose essential mission is to make money can be a real difficulty. Constantine Andriopoulos and Manto Gotsi, of the University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow, Scotland, decided to spend some time at Lunar Design, a leading Silicon Valley product development consultancy, exploring life at a company that makes creativity seem "easy." In the course of their research, they isolated four principles they believe contribute to Lunar's success.
#1: Start with a collaborative approach to management. How often are we told that successful companies find ways to help their employees "buy into" their companies' vision and objectives? At Lunar, say the authors, "the catalyst for success seems to be a democratic and participative leadership style that encourages the open exchange of ideas and priorities." The company holds bimonthly staff meetings in which its financial situation, current and potential clients, and new products are openly discussed, and every semester, there a day is spent updating everyone on the larger, strategic issues faced by the company.
#2: Create a "no-fear" climate. Not all creative endeavors are successful; mistakes are part of the process. A company that wishes to be more creative and innovative must foster an atmosphere in which failure is accepted as part of the journey, rather than a reason for criticism and punishment. This is, of course, easier than it sounds: Clients who are paying for a solution don't appreciate failures. That's why Lunar has a brainstorming program called Moonshine, in which designers work on projects that "leverage the development of new materials, processes, and technologies or address product categories that could benefit from thoughtful design and engineering." At the same time, Lunar is careful to identify elements that allowed a particular mistake to occur, and to explore how such failures could be avoided through developing new processes or changing systems.
#3: Encourage stretching beyond the comfort zone. Lunar tries to involve all its designers--even designers that have recently joined the company--in important and challenging projects that test their "comfort zones" and build their confidence. Because uncertainty is inherent in creative work, it's important for employees to develop self-reliance. "Organizations that don't encourage employees to stretch into unknown territory," say the authors, "can fall into the trap of pigeonholing people according to their expertise and past experience." Lunar even routinely involves its competitors in projects they lead and manage--which is not always popular with its designers, even though it tends to be very stimulating and quite productive.
#4: Celebrate individuality and encourage diversity. Because the individual insight of designers can add value, creative organizations must cherish diversity and promote nonconformism. Rather than creating conflict, this attitude minimizes it: "The more employees are exposed to co-workers with different backgrounds, skills, educations, and aesthetic preferences, the more they capitalize on each other's strengths rather than develop a 'them-and-us' attitude."
Creative behavior, say the authors, requires a culture of trust, and this article makes it clear that it's a two-way street: If you want your creative employees to feel valued and trusted, you will have to value and trust them equally, in their failures, as well as their successes.
Email this page to a colleague