Teams sharing ideas and solving problems in an open environment tend to be more creative.
Some companies have actually built creativity into their culture DNA. For example, Pixar/Disney Animation Studios. How does Pixar do it? Twenty animated movies and not one dud? Pixar has achieved legendary levels of creativity not only by hiring great people but also in the way it designs and runs its teams. Entrepreneurs and leaders worry about innovation. This is true of almost every executive in any industry. But you can’t force innovation. While much has been written on various innovators’ dilemmas and how to overcome them, one essential component frequently gets short shrift.
Creativity is often seen as the work of a solitary genius, and we tend to emphasize the importance of a flash of insight. However, an original idea is only the beginning of the creative process. How ideas are executed is far more important to creating truly disruptive innovations than an initial idea. A team that’s able to work together is essential if you want to build innovative solutions to complex problems. Not only do you need a diverse set of perspectives and skills, but you also need multiple flashes of insight that refine, or even completely reinvent, the idea along the way. I read an article by Pixar animation pioneer Ed Catmull on collective creativity and was immediately struck by how it points the way to solving problems and sparking innovation in almost any industry.
Within the article, Ed shares insights on how to build a creative team. Here are three of the most important:
Regularly Share Unfinished Work. “At Pixar, daily animation work is shown in an incomplete state to the whole crew. This process helps people get over any embarrassment about sharing unfinished work, so they become even more creative.” Teams that are dedicated to creativity and problem solving must share their work with each other and welcome feedback. Building a habit of showing unfinished work to each other discourages a culture of perfectionism, which is death to disruptive ideas, and makes receiving feedback a normal experience. This creates a deeper sense of play and safety which in turn encourages more creativity.
Break Down Silos. “Within Pixar, members of any department can approach anyone in another department to solve problems, without having to go through ‘proper’ channels.” The insistence that all work happens within a rigid process and/or only within a set of people who share the same hierarchical reporting relationship is a sign that your organization has become more important than the work. Great work happens in a dynamic network and requires that people take the initiative to eliminate obstacles and chase down solutions. If your people are afraid to get “out of line” or feel they have to escalate everything to their boss, they’ll be stuck, slow, and uncreative.
Empower Teams and Embrace Constraints. “There are really two leaders: the director and the producer. They form a strong partnership. They not only strive to make a great movie but also operate within time, budget, and people constraints.” Pixar creates small teams and empowers them to develop ideas that convince leadership of a film’s potential. Once executive confidence is established, a movie can be funded and the team will grow. Creative teams are not given unlimited free reign, though. They are striving for maximum creativity but are also aware that they are creating a commercial product that must make money. True creativity thrives on such constraints. An empowered team on a mission creates a sense of freedom, and well-defined project parameters with tough deadlines create a dynamic tension that unlocks rather than constrains creativity.
Creating a great team environment requires that, even when a team gets in trouble, the leaders must work hard not to undermine their authority. If you want more innovation in your organization you need to hire “growth mindset” people and then help them build an environment and team dynamic that encourages creativity, risk-taking, and embraces the deadlines of shipping product to customers. Instead of hiring solitary geniuses look instead for people who have the temperament to work with others and are not afraid of being challenged. And then get out of their way.