How to Create and Inspire a Creative Culture

Last week, we had Bob Baxley come into Tradecraft to talk.  He is the Head of Product Design at Pinterest and formerly had senior level leadership roles for Apple’s retail and e-commerce design teams.  He had a lot of unique insights to share about how to be creative, manage the creative process, and enable a creative culture.  Here are some take-aways and commentary.

Design:

  1. Great design is iterative.  At Apple and Pinterest, the design teams went through countless iterations to get to the best design.  Rather than design in one round, the designs were constantly modified to get to the end.
  2. A process helps.  At Pinterest he explains that all new product features go through a set process.  From Insight –> Idea –> Explore –> Build –> Go –> Launch –> Pinners community.  During the initial Explore phase, the team is given resources to try an idea out and then if it meets the criteria after the Go review, it is launched into the community.
  3. Power of constraints– great design happens under a little stress.  These can be time, money, physical, materials, or team size constraints.  Foe example, with the original Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, the team developed the XP-80 jet to fight in WWII in only 143 days.  An incredibly fast development cycle with a small team.  Lockheed Martin Skunk Works’ motto of “quick, quiet, and quality” has been proven successful many times over with the XP-80, U2, SR-71, and F117. That’s the power of constraints.

How to Inspire a Creative Culture:

  1. Change the environment– Pinterest does many off-sites for the employees.  Creativity is all about connecting things and if you have more things to connect, people become more creative.  Apple too does a retreat yearly for 100 senior level staff to set the direction of the company for the next year.  This is an excellent opportunity to get away from the office, open your mind up to new ideas and possibilities, and collaborate to keep the company strong.  Many other organizations do this as well.
  2. Speakers– Pinterest has many people come in to give talks.  Learning from other fields is a great way to boost your knowledge and creativity too.  This oftentimes leads to the best business ideas.  For example, the Google founders came from academia and used the standard for ranking a academic paper and applied it to Google’s search algorithm.  In academia, a good paper is one that is referenced by many authors and Google ranks a website by the number and quality of links that reference it.
  3. Continuous education– there are many classes that Pinterest offers to employees to help them stay current in their field as well as to explore interests in completely different fields.
  4. Hack weeks– in tech, this has been increasingly popular from big companies like Facebook to start-ups.  Hack week is nothing more than people getting together to iterate quickly on ideas.  Collaboration from diverse backgrounds and skills with iteration and fun is a great recipe for break-out ideas.  In the book, Innovators by Walter Isaacson, he describes how the biggest breakthroughs in tech came from creativity and collaboration.
  5. Exchange programs– at Pinterest, they do exchange programs for designers to go see how design is done at other countries.  This too is a great way for people to learn from peers and bring ideas and best-practices into the organization.  The Air Force does an excellent job at this with exchange programs with other military services, government agencies like the CIA / NSA, industry, and other countries.  I took part in an exchange program to India and this was intensely valuable to learn about the culture and customs.
  6. Physical environment– at Pinterest, the company eats lunch at a set time each day in one spot.  This is a great way to exchange ideas and meet people from other departments.  And at a place like Pixar as described in Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull, Steve Jobs created the building with a large atrium and bathrooms in the middle so that people will have to run into each other.  This increases communication, promotes cross pollination of ideas, and promotes a close knit culture.

As ideas become the currency in the 21st century, how is your organization promoting creativity and collaboration?  What is your design process like?  What does your physical space look like?

 

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