Think back to where your first great ideas came from: creativity fueled by play. This was a childlike, fanciful kind of play. What our consulting firm brings to companies is the notion of strategic play, with the goal of allowing creativity and innovation to permeate all aspects of the workplace. For too long, creativity has been relegated to fields such as design and new product development. We believe that creativity should be a top priority in business, right up there with human resources, operations, and so on. When this happens in an organization (or company) with a risk-tolerant culture that stays ahead of the curve by constantly reinventing itself, its products, and its services, that organization will experience rapid growth.
Strategic play is a process and a mindset. It is about looking for ideas rather than solutions, and focusing on possibilities vs. realities. It is about unlearning what you've learned in the business world. Our definition of creativity is to look at more stuff and think about it harder. Seems easy, but it's hard to make it a habit. Translating it to business is even harder.
When we start to work with a company on reaching distinct goals, the first thing we do is change the perspective. We ask: What business are you truly in? Every company needs to reinvent itself over and over to keep coming up with new ideas. For example, when we helped Nationwide Insurance develop communication platforms to launch a new brand to its employees and the press, changing the company's eagle logo to a blue window frame was far more than a visual shift. The window frame also signaled a shift toward becoming a customer-focused company. We convinced Nationwide that the logo change was an incredible opportunity to relaunch themselves inside and outside; that who you are inside as a company determines how people outside perceive you. So we used creativity as a foundation for a comprehensive internal branding program to facilitate the culture shift companywide.
The process of creativity should always be fun. It's not like filing! Fun in the workplace allows people to lift themselves above everyday business concerns. You can't have creativity without passion. If you're passionate about meeting an objective, you're going to enjoy the process. Creativity in the workplace isn't for a chosen few, either. It's a mindset for everyone that refocuses energies on creative possibilities on a daily basis.
Creativity is also hard work. Usually, companies must develop comprehensive training and development initiatives starting with human resources and leadership.
We use various tools to sustain play in the workplace, but there isn't a set of standard techniques to “think differently.” The idea is to articulate a company's value system, symbols, and artifacts. For example, our artifact is a red rubber ball. It exemplifies the core values of our company — collaboration, open-mindedness, trust, respect, passion, and fun — and reminds us of those things every day. It invites us all: Play with me, collaborate with me. The ball is our icon for creativity because to us, it is the purest representation of play.
Andy Stefanovich is co-founder and in charge of what's next at Play (www.lookatmorestuff.com), a creative consulting firm in Richmond, Va., that has recently added creativity training to its roster of services. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.