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How To Prevent Your Office Culture From Crushing Your Creativity

Source | FastCompany : By TED LEONHARDT

Big companies scale up to repeat their early successes. Toyota makes a consistently good product over and over again. Whirlpool does the same. They’re heavily invested in systems they can confidently replicate.

Size isn’t always the culprit, but creative-minded people sometimes feel suffocated in big corporations. To be sure, that same culture clash can take place just as easily in small companies, too. But it’s often the most rigidly organized businesses that need creative thinkers the most—yet struggle to give them the space to thrive.

It’s worth pointing out that even creative professionals—people whose jobsdepend on their creativity—working in creative industries can feel hemmed in by their organizations. Many designers, writers, videographers, and other creatives I’ve met do their most fulfilling work in small- to medium-sized firms where the work is on creative production for a range of clients.

The challenge is, that sweet spot is tough to find. Not everyone can work for a perfectly sized, super-supportive creative shop—there just aren’t that many of them out there. And many of us find very good, meaningful reasons to say “yes” to the giant corporation and take that corporate gig.

But I’ve come to believe that the best talent will always chart its own path, no matter how unlikely the terrain. Many creatives survive and even thrive in a traditional corporate environments, often by nailing these three criteria.


Large companies tends to focus on making the most profit most efficiently by following and maintaining a consistent chain of command. That doesn’t always incentivize creativity. Creative types don’t usually respond well to top-down authority or monetary incentives. But it’s hard to unload all the blame for that on employers. Northwestern University psychologist Dr. Carola Salvi, who studies creativity (and advises me in my coaching business), explains that “due to their autonomy and professionalism, as well as their critical nature, creative people are not easy to motivate.”

The reason is because creative people see their work as their calling—we’re powered by what’s often called “intrinsic” motivation. But often a good deal of company time is spent on reinforcing structures that have nothing to do with (and sometimes even detract) from that type of motivation—through meetings and gatherings that feel, at the very least, bewildering if not plain useless to creatives. That woman doodling on her legal pad and staring off into space as the meeting drags on is likely from the creative department and working on her next campaign—or wishes she were.

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