Inboxes full of emails, congested social media feeds and incessant push notifications, the noise of modern life can distract marketers from creating their best work. The challenge of nurturing creativity in an ‘always-on’ environment is a focus for marketing teams across startups and blue chip corporates alike.
Despite its size and scale, Google looks to maintain a creative, small-company ethos within its Creative Labs division by getting employees to focus on “scrappiness”, cultivating a challenger mentality and always being hungry for opportunities, according to executive creative director Steve Vranakis.
He tries to position his team for creativity whether they are in the office or working off-site. He wants them to “collide” with people in different roles who can offer a rich perspective on topics that would not necessarily be in his team’s day-to-day remit.
Every morning the leadership team meets to gauge the pulse of popular culture, and once a week Vranakis also catches up with Google’s Creative Labs worldwide on a conference call to talk through their plans and projects. On Thursdays all teams meet for TGIT – thank Google it’s Thursday – a session dedicated to what is happening in London from a cultural perspective, internal projects and innovative things they may have missed online.
“You have to act like a sponge and find out what’s happening in culture and life.”
Steve Vranakis, executive creative director, Google Creative Lab
“Last time our head of creative tech held a sharing session for everyone on machine learning. It is very important that the sessions are mandatory as they are fundamental to the business and therefore happen on company time,” he adds.
For Vranakis, there is no need to switch off from technology, since it can actually be conducive to creativity.
“You can dial in with a smartphone and do a conference call from a café. Complacency and comfort are far bigger problems and when you fall into a routine, it is death to what we do,” he says.
“In a company, you can be sheltered from what’s really happening. You have to act like a sponge and find out what’s happening in culture and life. I encourage the teams to get out there and see shows, galleries and listen to music to get under the skin of the user.”
Tune in to your surroundings
Sharing the belief that you can gain inspiration from anywhere, Rob Forkan, co-founder of footwear and clothing brand Gandys, insists his team tune into the environment around them.
“I’m the one who says ‘get out of the office’. You can’t compare yourself or know what’s hot or not until you actually know what’s on the market,” he advises.
“Go and explore because you can’t try to set a standard unless you know what’s out there. It’s very easy to look at the work we have done but I want to go higher.”
Forkan acknowledges, however, that not everyone has an entrepreneurial mindset and some people prefer clear instructions and rules to spark their creativity.
In his new book ‘Too Fast To Think’, Chris Lewis, founder and CEO of PR agency Lewis, says: “The environment that we work in has become faster and more demanding. If we want to retain our health and creativity, we have to reorganise to make that happen.”
First of all that means changing the way people work as individuals and with others, he suggests.
Build the right environment
Having an office environment conducive to creativity is a big advantage for the team at online investment management service Nutmeg, explains commercial director Katie Prentke.
“We have everything up on the walls for all the different projects we’re working on so we can visualise everything we’re doing. It’s a real creative outlet. Our chief technology officer calls them ‘information radiators’.
“We also have a big open plan office and find that human interaction always helps drive creativity. When we are working on big projects, we co-locate our teams so business and product teams sit with engineers and designers, which facilitates conversation,” she adds.
The Nutmeg team embraces technology, using instant messaging service Slack as an easy and open way to communicate rather than getting bogged down in emails.
Prentke also encourages her team to get out of the office and commit to continuous learning, which could mean taking courses or going to conferences and bringing back snippets of best-in-class creativity from across different industries.
“I don’t want people censoring ideas and so I want to create an environment where people can have random and crazy ideas. We have brainstorming sessions where we start off by saying ‘if there were no constraints, what would you do?’. Having no limits can spark an idea,” Prentke adds.
Although it can be easy to lose focus by getting caught up in daily tasks, marketing manager at app software developer Poq, Anna Abrell, believes getting the right office vibe is crucial for driving creativity since people in a relaxed state of mind produce better content.
“One of the biggest barriers to creativity is team members feeling afraid to voice their opinions.”
Anna Abrell, marketing manager, Poq
“One of the biggest barriers to creativity is if team members feel afraid to voice their opinions or crazy ideas are met with too much scepticism,” she says.
“So it’s very important to feel comfortable around each other. Our whole company structure is very flat, meaning we benefit from everyone’s ideas getting heard.”
The marketing team sits next to Poq’s open-space ‘garden’, which is flooded with natural light and Abrell ensures everyone winds down with a drink on Fridays, which she says is a good opportunity to spark new ideas by catching up with the rest of the team.
The Poq marketers have forged a close-knit way of thinking by having weekly meetings to run through tasks and talk about projects. Abrell believes it is also important to give creativity the space and time to flourish, which is why she allocates at least a week for creative brainstorming when working on a campaign.
“At Poq, we often talk about the marketing ‘gut feel’ when dealing with certain tasks. Ideally, we want this gut feel to kick-in every time we brainstorm ideas for a new piece of content, a new campaign, or even when it comes to trade show stand aesthetics,” she adds.
While acknowledging it can be good to step away from the computer to generate ideas, Abrell believes technology is helpful in facilitating everyday creativity. Her team, for example, use project management tools to keep on top of long- and short-term projects.
Creative director at Yahoo Studio EMEA, Alec McCrindle, agrees that making your teams feel confident enough to share their ideas helps spark the best creativity.
“It’s important to have the confidence to share even wacky ideas, which can sometimes be the best ones. Curiosity, confidence, collaboration and common sense are the keys to productive creativity.
“Creativity is something we keep in mind even during the hiring process, we’re always looking to work with smart, curious and collaborative people.”
McCrindle advises marketers to find the best way for all personality types to express themselves, suggesting inclusivity promotes better long-term results. For this reason he asks his team to ‘brainwrite’, a process where everyone writes down their ideas instead of saying them out loud to ensure they feel comfortable.
A mixture of building a workplace environment that celebrates ideas, utilising technology to enhance communication and breaking out of the office to soak up culture is helping marketers reclaim their creativity.