Permission to be creative, sir

There’s no deep secret to being creative at work. The first rule, say the founders of email marketing company, MailChimp, is to avoid rules. Oh, best skip order and embrace chaos as well. “We provide an environment that allows for, and encourages, acting on spontaneous creativity,” says co-founder Dan Kurzius. “Outside of being accountable to our customers, the less formality, the better.” It’s not an unusual story in the tech world, where having fun and generating ideas are seen not only as desirable but as fundamental in building sustainable growth. MailChimp’s loose creative culture has paid off, with 825,000 subscribers worldwide including individuals and organisations as diverse as TED, Harmonix and The Economist. That looseness brings some interesting management challenges. CEO and co-founder, Ben Chestnut, found out about the new corporate tagline – Love what you do – when he saw it on the company website. Instead of “tearing a new one” over not being told, he commissioned a colouring book to leverage the company chimp. At the other end of the creative-control continuum are organisations that ‘process’ ideas to death, what innovation expert Scott Anthony calls ’iteration-itis’. He cites a recent conversation with a senior executive who lamented the “lack of magic” in the ideas staff were generating. The company, he adds, seemed to be brimming with innovation energy, particularly among young employees. The problem wasn’t the ideas, but the process staff had to go through to get their ideas heard by the top brass. “Before anything made it onto the (top) agenda, it was vetted. And screened. And debated. And re-jiggered… By the time idea generators had gone through this gauntlet of gate-keepers, their ideas became watered-down and wafer-thin,” he says, “acceptable to everyone, exciting to noone.”

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