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Five ways to build a creative culture

A regular question seems to crop up at the moment: “How do you keep an agency creative for so long?” In my case, 16 years. So, in response, I usually say something around constant evolution, never standing still – and always delivering.

But the truth is actually more complicated. That’s because whilst it’s easy to talk creative, it’s much harder to deliver it, year in year out. And to do this either for established clients or for new ones, to meet challenging briefs or (much worse) to deliver on no brief at all. The expectation is you always will, though. Here are five things that I believe drive a creative culture:

First, define your agency values, clearly. Make them as broad and lateral and liberating as you can. But be clear, let everyone know the space, the expectation – what the business values – and doesn’t. Celebrate the successes within that, as well as the failures and never be afraid to fail. I know it’s become something of a cliché these days and everyone says it, but it’s true. Some of our best creative work happens when we have no fear of failure. Zip. And in many ways, the more established you get, the harder that can be. So, giving something a go, if it’s aligned to commercial goals, is key.  

Second, pay attention to the spaces in between – and be happy with silence. Of course, you have to set clear goals, lead by example, be ethical, have good processes in place and find hundreds of ways to encourage, motivate, and develop people. But most of all watch carefully how everyone interacts with each other creatively. Listen and listen and then leave room for silence. I’ve always said silence is a critical part of any creative culture. That way you develop your antennae and teach others how to develop theirs for that most under-valued element in any office or team: the spirit and culture of mutual interest, support – and creative spark.

Third, be consistent. Always. One of the key qualities of leadership is resilience and the example you set in stormy times that, in effect, tells your team that storms are a great thing to enjoy and a chance to practise higher-level sailing skills. But you need to be creatively consistent too. And show by example that getting “negative” feedback is welcome – and vital – for doing excellent work. Avoid perfectionism, for although you can certainly get from good enough to great via some mistakes and wrong turnings, you can never get there via perfect. The team needs to be like a great basketball team, always in motion, always taking the shot. Not hanging around in their own half worrying about exposing themselves if they go for it.

Fourth, constantly nurture. A creative heartbeat is something that needs attending to with real love and lots of care. Let it out in the sun for too long without any water and you’ll have a genuine problem. Encourage it, motivate it, change it, think about it obsessively, never let it wilt. Because once it starts, it’s quite hard to stop. We’ve all seen that.

And finally, celebrate success. I admit, one of the things I found personally difficult in the first few years or so was celebrating success. And I regret that (not that we should have regrets, etc, but I do with that one.) I am much better at it now, but in the earlier years I used to be pretty terrible, because I was always impatient for the next big thing, the next win, the next client, the next idea. Maybe that’s what drives me. But I have mellowed with age and understand that celebrating success is a critical part of the creative process – and the creative culture. It needs to be shared around with love and generosity, when it’s deserved. And when it’s not deserved, don’t.

Article written by Johnny Pitt, founder of integrated agency Launch

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