Thoughts about Creative Work Culture Creatives in their not-so-natural habitat

One of my jobs at Infor is to lead and nurture a team of creatives who have been hired to question the way enterprise software works. Knowing what we know about existing systems—how clunky and unattractive they can be—we often start from square one to recreate the user experience so it engages and even delights business users. That’s why creative minds are the ones making it happen—curiosity is in our nature. The tenacity of creative personalities is exactly what the industry needs to reimagine something where strict models have existed for so long.

Since it’s our natural inclination to constantly reexamine how things work, creative minds keep methods from stagnating. This isn’t exclusive to enterprise software—lateral thinking can shed new light on any process, whether it’s building a sales strategy or managing an assembly line. Creative minds take risks and question the status quo, which is what gives an edge to corporations that value creativity. Initiative is never at a standstill and change isn’t a threat but a natural part of the process. Creative minds are both reflective and projective, and embracing this way of thinking creates a culture that replenishes itself with fresh ideas and a relentless drive to succeed.

“Creative minds take risks and question the status quo, which is what gives an edge to corporations that value creativity.”

Nurturing creative personalities takes a different approach—one that empowers imaginative and unpredictable thinking. It’s about encouraging ideas to come from anywhere—from the experienced minds of leadership teams to the fresh perspective of new hires. Personality is paramount, collaboration is key, and approachability is essential to a creative office culture. For me, it comes down to three things: the physical space, the people we hire, and the way we work together.

Reinventing space

I think most people agree that a barricade of grey cubicles just isn’t inspiring. What can an office do to facilitate a stream of creativity? The space needs to be considerate of how people work. With so many personalities, there needs to be breathing room and enough opportunities for alternative perspectives. It’s a no-brainer when you imagine how all the creative people you’ve ever known have their individual MO and their own way of looking at the world. A space that tries to spark collaboration between such eclecticism needs to leave room for individual styles and tastes.

Our office is one big space where no one has his or her own office and everyone’s input is always welcome—an idea can come from anywhere, remember? We know the open floor plan has had its critics, but we’re convinced that it works well in the right context. Having worked in open offices for years, it’s clear to me that they’re the best way to foster creativity and keep ideas fresh. The opportunity to switch locations throughout the day—to spend a half hour on your feet—keeps the blood flowing and the mind working. Projects are out in the open and our huddle rooms are perfect for spontaneous meetings. A whiteboard or a flip chart is always within reach—despite the endgame being beautiful software, our space is all about putting pen to paper in order to capture an idea as soon as it appears. This is something that creatives seem to have in common: we like our pencils and our Field Notes, and a quick sketch is a great way to share our thoughts.

Field notes

Small things make the biggest difference. What is it about the spaces you feel comfortable in? How do they inspire? When you surround your team with fuel for thought and opportunities to express themselves, you add color to an otherwise restrictive environment. It really can be as simple as playing music or experimenting with décor because they change the mood—constantly altering perspectives.

Reimagining the players

Candidates without traditional experience are often the best people to question existing models and share new perspectives. Credentials can’t be forgotten, but sometimes it does take a leap of faith and the belief that certain things can be taught. Potential is often in the mindset of the candidate and resourcefulness can be just as important as the right qualifications.

When we add to our team, we want to know what your interests are and what you think about when you ride the subway. Do you paint? Who’s your favorite writer? We’re curious about your Instagram feed, who you follow, and what you tweet. Our team is full of fantastic talents and our extra curricular interests reflect our passions. By celebrating our intricacies, we’ve ended up with a team capable of endless possibilities, and that’s just how we like it. We have an enthusiastic dodgeball team and a book club, and we organize events such as a casual “sketch-and-snack” for the artists of the group. Our office hosts developer meetups where various personalities present their work, both from in and outside of Infor. We built our space with all of this in mind—to host the expansive and passionate creative community in and around us, which makes our industry what it is.

Third floor office shot

Rethinking collaboration

Creatives have a wonderful way of feeding off each other’s enthusiasm, and there are so many great opportunities that come from the snowballing of creative interaction. Collaboration is the key, and when our team of creatives works together, it really is where the greatest successes are born.

One of the ways we keep fresh ideas in the mix is through an exercise we call “Sounding Board,” where designers from different areas of the group are paired at random every week to discuss their work. The idea came from within our team to create more cross-project collaboration.

Sounding board

Sounding Board has been a huge success so far, as it keeps things interesting and avoids polarization of styles across different developments. Every employee and every department will always have its own style—stimulating collaboration through Sounding Board creates a dynamic culture with a shared aesthetic.

Sharing individual projects with a wider audience can be helpful to any business—maybe someone on the other side of the office has the answer to your week-long debate over your new customer relationship strategy or how to integrate 3D printing into your manufacturing operations. Beyond one-off and immediate successes, Sounding Board gradually encourages a more unified consciousness across an entire organization. A solution to one problem can be reinvented to solve another because everyone is thinking about how things can work differently. This isn’t about brainstorming—that’s for a later post. It’s about creative problem solving, which is hugely productive no matter which industry you’re talking about.