High-Impact Entrepreneurship

Building a culture of creativity: what companies can learn from Ferrari, art, and jazz

Reprinted from Wamda. Original article here.

By Oubai Elkerdi

Dynamic teams made of passionate, curious, and talented self-starters produce exceptional outcomes.

But building a highly dynamic team is easier said than done. It’s crucial to nurture individual curiosity, develop skills, and create opportunities for personal growth, while designing a workspace that fosters collective ideation, experimentation and improvisation.

Few employers are currently willing to really invest in creating thoughtful institution for growth, but smart companies understand that a focus on team culture is essential to sustainability and success. This is why, a few years ago, Ferrari launched a program that is entirely geared toward employee training and development.

In an HBR article, director of human resources and organization Mario Almondo was asked how Ferrari trains its employees to be creative, to which he responded:

“You can’t methodically teach creativity. But you can provide an environment that nurtures it. Several times a year, we run a program called Creativity Club that is designed to get employees’ creative juices flowing. We have six events at which employees meet various types of artists. We’ve had painters, sculptors, a jazz musician, a writer, a radio DJ, a photographer, a chef, an actor, an orchestra conductor, and others. The goal is for our employees to learn about how artists generate ideas and solutions.”

Ferrari isn’t the only company that cares about the personal growth of its employees. At Pixar University, 110 courses on everything from improv to self defense are taught to all employees. The point of this in-house education “is to push Pixar employees to try new things, work together better and test new ideas.”

In his book Innovate the Pixar Way, dean of Pixar University Randy Nelson says “the skills we develop are skills we need everywhere in the organization. Why teach drawing to accountants? Because drawing class doesn’t just teach people to draw. It teaches them to be more observant. There’s no company on earth that wouldn’t benefit from having people become more observant.”

At IDEO, employees are introduced to new ideas on a weekly basis. Tom Kelley writes, “nearly every Thursday evening, a world-class thinker shows up to share their thoughts with us.” This “Know How” speaker series is not only educational; it also stirs all kinds of fresh conversations and insights.

Environments that stimulate and engage problem-solvers in provocative learning experiences are more likely to give birth to innovative solutions.

Jazz as a first step

But how do we create environments that promote vibrant interplay? Especially when building lean startups?

It turns out there is much to learn from jazz, especially when it comes to mastering the art of improvisation.

A jazz improviser assumes that a melody can be molded out of a chaotic rhythm, so he pays close attention to his surroundings and waits for an opportunity to embellish, to “link the familiar with new utterances, and adjust to unanticipated musical cues that reframe previous material.”

Jazz musicians also take advantage of errors. Which is also how the pacemaker was created, recalls Barrett: “A simple mistake – pulling the wrong resistor out of a bag – and a willingness to stick with it long enough to connect the pulse of the oscillator to [an] overheard conversation about irregular heartbeats… led to an invention that has done untold good.”

Errors are the stuff of new discoveries because they disrupt our expectations and throw us into new territories where we have to look for original approaches and ways to combine previous knowledge with the tools at hand.

This is why innovators like Brian Eno like to disorient the members of a band – while they’re rehearsing in the studio – by having them switch instruments. This may result in less refined music, but “it enlarges the envelope of possibility within which they navigate,” says Eno in a conversation with Stephen Johnson.

Lastly, it is important to allow employees to design their own workspaces within a flexible, relaxed structure. Cross-disciplinary dialogue requires vigilance and followership. It also requires minimal, obtrusive, intervention.

What a manager should do is play the role of the anthropologist; keep her distance and make sure she is observing her team in its most natural state. Or just pick up and instrument and join the groove! Join – as in follow, not lead.

Companies and organizations that are excellent at delivering innovative products and services also happen to be platforms of experimentation and learning, and they often empower employees to become proactive agents of change beyond the walls of their organization.

So go ahead, spread those ideas and give them a try!

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