Why is it that certain places produce explosions of creativity at moments in time? Nearly 20 years ago, London’s East End was the birthplace for grime music, with Wiley and Dizzee Rascal setting the pace for a cultural movement now led by artists like Stormzy.
Pop art, punk, disco and hip-hop all exploded out of New York in the mid-70s. Manchester in the 80s produced Joy Division, New Order, Tony Wilson’s Factory and the acid house hub, The Hacienda.
The mother of creative scenes has to be Paris in the 20s. During Les Années Folles (the crazy years), artists like Dali, Picasso and Matisse drank, argued with American writers including Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and tapped their feet to a new musical form called jazz.
Great ideas have always exploded out of small groups in relatively small places. And it doesn’t just happen in the arts. Taking creativity in the widest sense, the UK is home to innovative tech hubs in cities like Manchester, Cambridge, and London, while its media sector is dynamic, risk-taking, and open to cultural diversity – Channel 4 is to move to Leeds, and MediaCityUK is in Salford.
In a world where every innovation can be replicated, creativity is the last source of competitive advantage. It takes creativity to come up with market disrupting ideas. It is not efficiency that drives growth – it is ideas. And it is ideas that create new markets.
Big corporate cultures often struggle to be creative. There is too much hierarchy and politics, and the decision-making process is too convoluted. The best ideas are killed, often before they are ever seen by the real decision-makers.
A creative constitution
At brand experience agency VMLY&R, we want creativity to drive processes, and we’re determined to create an environment where everyone can do their best work. We’ve identified practices that underpin how we approach recruitment, analyse problems and develop solutions.
Working small is one of them – 22 people in a meeting is not creative. There is no room for egos, and no one should attend just because they feel they should. The best work comes from small teams of threes and fours – bring in relevant expertise when necessary.
It’s also important to move away from unnecessary hierarchy – people should be confident enough to run projects themselves. Multiple sign-offs and stakeholder approvals slow things down and lead to decision paralysis.
Tolerance of oddballs and mavericks is beneficial to creativity: if you want boring, then hire boring. And vice versa. Diverse teams bring diverse viewpoints that can question the so-called norm and spark fresh ideas.
For creativity to thrive you need to encourage mutual appreciation and celebration. New work should be shared with the whole team, and all successes celebrated.
Rapid exchange of knowledge strengthens creative environments. We have smart people keeping abreast of innovation to ensure that we know the potential of all the “bright shiny new things”.
Random conversations are another thing that can result in sparks – creativity is the unexpected meeting of two thoughts, so we try to encourage opportunities for these to happen.
Creativity should always drive the process, never the other way around. This point may be the hardest principle to stick to and to get the C-suite to buy into, but it is essential.
It’s possible to identify the ingredients for creativity and develop the right environment, but the spark will come from people and the work they do. The best advice to managers is to recognise when a “scene” is happening – and get out of the way.