I believe ‘Creativity’ is one of the most misunderstood and misused words in common circulation in workplace circles, and further afield. Its been doing the rounds again recently on twitter and in workplace related blogs. It’s as commonplace on twitter as it’s mystical more pragmatic twin ‘Collaboration’. The prevailing wisdom is that organisations need to be more ‘Creative’ in order to ‘Innovate’ and thrive in the new digitally connected workplace paradigm. Perhaps so, but how?
It’s recently become the pet marketing project of the folks who sell on behalf of ‘Design & Build’ and ‘Fit-out’ contractors. One could almost say there is a rolling bandwagon, which many can’t resist. After all it’s sure moving quickly and it seems to be going where everyone else is looking. Why stop, think and challenge? If you’re a marketing manager and you see numerous articles which state that organisations need to encourage greater ‘Creativity’ in order to innovate, then that’s what you do, no thinking required. Get the graphs and data out; issue an e-Survey, tappety tap tap on Google and ‘Bobs your uncle’, you too can be making highly ‘credible’ assertions about the power of ‘Creativity’, and how its going to be the panacea that makes everything better. Forget the fact that you’ve actually got no idea what you’re talking about or whether it matters or not. It’s what everyone else is talking about. Right?
However, 26% of respondents in your survey indicated more social spaces would boost creativity, and 18% say better coffee would do it, or 24% point to temperature control. 22% go for better food and drink, and 21% want better quality furnishings to help them be more creative (Comfier cushions?). Eh! Hold on a second! Isn’t that a total of 111%. Oh never mind, nobody really adds it all up anyway, it’s just a few statistics to draw the traffic to your online door. A bit of harmless brand boosting. After all you have to say something, and if folks actually knew what you really did to get that healthy profit margin, they wouldn’t believe a word you said on any subject, and certainly not pronouncements on ‘Creativity’.
The building contractors and manufacturers, who sell ‘Creativity’ to the commercial office community, do so in the same fashion as breakfast cereal companies sell vitamins and minerals at the breakfast table. It’s a marketing necessity to justify the expense of a mass produced product that both rots your teeth and makes you fat. We gobble up tasty breakfast cereals because of the sugary content, making it taste so good. We don’t truthfully care about the added vitamins that justify the purchase. Any marketing focussed on minor nutritional benefits we accept, but it’s not why we buy. If cereal firms (Metaphorically, Design & Build and Fitout) valued vitamins and minerals so highly perhaps they’d go into the fruit and veg business (Architecture & Interior Design), or perhaps that’s not so profitable?
In the meantime, please read the fine print on the packaging:
Crunchy Creative Clusters: Typical Values Per Serving;
(Served with 100 Semi Skimmed Tweets);
Verifiable Facts: 8.7g
of which Creativity: 14.0g
of which Statistics 3.3g
Social Media Content: 0.05g
Contains 111% RDA Vitamin (C)reativity.
(May contain nuts)
The irony is that I’m pretty sure the Property Managers, FM’s and bona fide Interior Designers know the truth, but nobody will speak up and say, what on earth are you talking about? What does a creative workplace really look like? Presumably for fear of appearing to ask a dumb question, when so many apparent experts have so many answers (Or is that questions?). Well don’t be fearful, speak up and debate the issue. You may end up being right and taking the workplace agenda in an entirely sensible direction, focussed upon designing beautiful functional spaces. Good ‘Interior Designers’ and ‘Workplace Consultants’ have always listened carefully to occupiers needs and employed their skills, and best practice to provide a solution to match occupier needs.
Good professional designers don’t invent marketing column inches quoting stats that they can’t justify. They just don’t need to, because they know what matters and what is important, and indeed always design specifically for unique circumstances. ‘Creativity’ may be the last thing you want to encourage in your business. Non-PC but true. What most people want is some challenge and responsibility, they want to be valued by their peers, they want choices in their career, and they want some degree of income security. Most folks honestly don’t care if they work in the office or from home, if fundamental needs are met. Given the choice of being valued by peers or working from home, most folks will gladly schlep their way into the office five days a week. Besides it’s life affirming and often just good fun. Getting a sense of proportion, we’re not talking about palliative nursing care on an oncology ward, sweeping the streets at 5am in the rain or dodging IED’s in far-flung lands. The office is the soft underbelly of this thing we call work.
Sales and marketing professionals talk and write apocryphal multisyllabic guff as a matter of course. It’s a well-known fallacy that to sound clever you need to use big words, and speak with earnest conviction. The ‘Marketeers’ seldom if ever know how to make the product, or provide the service their selling. It’s a sad irony. They pick up some of the language of workplace design, especially online and think with a little knowledge they know what the issues are for occupiers, and can point to the solutions. A sure fire giveaway of the experienced marketing executive is the avoidance at all costs of plain language. It risks exposure. The truth is that the average call centre operative, accountant, lawyer or office worker of any description wouldn’t recognise ‘Creativity’ or ‘Innovation’ in any form whatsoever. They do however react positively when they see a well-considered, beautifully designed office with comfortable furniture provided for every eventuality, from focused work to large meetings. It’s space, simplicity, comfort, light and aspect, with pleasing shapes, lines and materials that make us feel good in the office, and make us happy to be there.
However, the point needs to be made that ‘Creativity’ is an activity brought about by an inspired thought or vision. The perceived wisdom is that the more this can be encouraged in the workplace, the better the outcome for the organisation and its customers, and perhaps even society as a whole. But I’m not the first person to say; nobody has their best ideas at the office. Ever! It consistently tends to happen elsewhere. The reason being ‘Creativity’ is the opposite of a commercial imperative and defies rational analysis. You can’t in reality make provision for ‘Creativity’ and ‘Innovation’ in the workplace beyond what is already provided as a matter of course.
Namely, space to work intently, space to meet and space to relax. Sure, you can improve proximities and sight lines but you can’t force ‘Creativity’. Contrary to an ever increasing popular myth, you can’t make ‘Creativity’ occur simply because you provide a grouping of chairs shaped like a polo mint, the colour of lime.
Any original ‘Creative’ thought which might precipitate activity and wider industry, only appears when your not looking for it. It can’t be forced, encouraged or cajoled into existence. There’s a good reason for this. It’s not a lost thought pattern hiding in the neurons only to be found through analysis or stimulating conversation. ‘Creativity’ occurs in the moments between the thoughts wherein lies quiet and calm. Stillness. It occurs by surprise because you were thinking about something else entirely or in fact nothing at all. Some people will never be ‘Creative’ or ‘Innovative’ at all, and that’s fine because ‘Creativity’ is also an instinct to produce, an instinct to self-motivated activity. Not everyone is motivated or required to care about creating stuff. You could say ‘If you aint got it, you ain’t gonna do it’.
In reality, original ‘Creativity’ is more commonly found where there is a background of genuine difficulty in a challenging situation. This isn’t often found in a comfy ‘Social space’ in a shiny new air-conditioned office in London WC1 or downtown Manhattan. Consider the creative circumstances of a youthful George Orwell, Joe Strummer, Jackson Pollock or even the brilliant ingenuity of the tunnelling escapees from Stalag Luft III in ‘The Great Escape’ during World War II. One could easily argue that genuine ‘Creativity’ is the result of a powerful need over adversity.
This also then raises the question of a further dilemma that I asked David Bowie in 1999; ‘Art’ versus ‘Craft’, is your next album ‘Craft’ or ‘Art’? Lets leave that particularly provocative topic for a later post.