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Crafting a Culture of Creativity — San Francisco Design Week Panel

Crafting a Culture of Creativity — San Francisco Design Week Panel

Why expressing yourself is good for business

From seasoned executives to newcomers in the business world, panelists cleared the fog from the hazy topic of culture in our hosted panel during AIGASF Design Week, “Crafting a Culture of Creativity.”

This inspirational session left people with practical tips to create a culture they love at their workplace as well as a rosy vision of what’s possible. The session also filled attendees with breakfast and provided fun artifacts for them to take away — pencils with different culture-related questions and kaleidoscope-patterned pins that say “CULTIVATOR” to instill a sense of empowerment once back at their offices.

What’s the first step on this culture journey?

If you don’t like something, change it.

That’s where you have to start. And the environment around you is as important as anything. Malin Seijboldt, student and intern, demonstrated this with the example of the gray walls in her art school. Well, gray for now. Those walls will be colorful soon.

Peter McGrath, FreemanXP SVP of Creative, acknowledged that changing isn’t easy. To change, you have to envision something new, then create it. And “creation is the hardest thing to do. You have to go from a state of nothingness to a state of somethingness.”

But you can start small. As Rose Yount, communications designer for Atlassian pointed out, it’s easier to affect change in small places. Before targeting the overall culture, consider subcultures. Momentum is powerful.

Sometimes momentum builds in subtle ways. Visible examples of a creative culture can help move people across the bridge of belief to buying into the ideas.

As Andy Cunningham, the newest member of the Freeman Design Leadership Council, said of a sales-driven office, simply moving marketing and creative types into the hallways is valuable. Why? Creative types create a culture that people typically want to be a part of. You see the examples, you understand the vision, and you naturally gravitate towards the dream.

A lot of the discussion revolved around the importance of values. Every place has a culture. And culture is changeable. But the culture has to align with the values of the organization. Curate a creative culture in alignment, not opposition, to the values. Otherwise the change won’t happen. Or it won’t stick.

To sum it up, as an attendee it was great to hear the broad range of experience sharing. Andy and Peter both brought anecdotes from their past lives — Andy as the PR director for Steve Jobs during the launch of the Apple Computer and Peter as the executive of creative development for the Creative Studio of Walt Disney Imagineering. By contrast, Rose and Malin offered fresh perspectives from their experiences in start-ups and workplaces overseas.

Peter passed around a couple books his team at Imagineering created with fun non-work inspiration. It was fun to see poetry from someone in finance, or painting from an engineer. It put “everyone is a designer” into perspective and truly celebrated that culture of creativity.

Andy talked about Aaron Sorkin’s version of the Steve Jobs movie, particularly the scene where Steve insisted that the Apple would talk 20 minutes before the launch. Steve would push people to do the impossible. Andy would say “there’s no way,” but it would be done by the end of the day.

So what’s the big takeaway from the session?

Here’s how you become a culture curator: be kind, be collaborative, build atmosphere, give back, have goals, and be empowered.

Now go forth and cultivate a creative culture yourself!


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Katie O’Brien

VP, Experience Design

She is a creator who understands the power behind collaboration, a perfectionist with the highest of standards, but above all else, she's someone who appreciates living each day as its own. As a senior leader on our creative team in San Francisco, Katie works with strategy and production to bring...

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