February 13, 2017

Fostering a creative culture: trying, but not too hard...

By Ned Potter, Academic Liaison Librarian 

In the Relationship Management Team we work on several projects across the year. Some of them recur year on year, some of them are one-offs. An example of a one-off project was three of us being tasked with looking into creativity: how could we be more creative and allow ideas to flourish in the team?

As part of this process I spoke to a few librarians, both in this country and abroad, who I considered to work in creative environments. I wanted advice and ideas and experiences around creativity not just as an individual but for an entire team. Some of those I spoke to I knew well, some of them I'd not interacted with before.

I'm not going to quote the individuals directly (because the conversations happened before this blog existed, so I didn't mention to the participants that I'd be writing them up) but I can point to several key themes which came out of more than one chat.

Before we get to the list, a summary of the consensus across all the conversations: the culture that encourages people to try things is usually more creative than the culture where 'creativity' is a specific goal or something that happens at assigned times. Talking about it too much makes it awkward. So it's easier to work towards a goal in a manner which allows for flexibility and new ideas, than to introduce creativity as an end in itself.

How can you encourage a culture of creativity in your team?

  1. You can't force it. As soon as you create any constructs around creativity (like having 'creative Tuesday' or whatever, where people are encouraged to spend the morning doing creative things) it prohibits the very creativity you're attempting to instigate.
  2. So it's more about a culture of trust, and of allowing experimentation. Rather than making a big deal of creativity, the most productive way forward is to foster an environment where people feel able to be creative. This means encouraging people to try new things, and trusting them to go off on their own path. It also means bringing back fresh and new ideas to the team, and cultivating an environment where new and innovative practices are shared. 
  3. Flexibility is essential. If you work a 40 hour week and all 40 of those hours are fully assigned before the week begins, then of course there will be no room for creativity. You HAVE to build some give into the working week, or month. The capacity for chaos. Allow people to be creative in a way which suits them.
  4. Start small. Make a change in the way you approach a smaller project. If it works, be more experimental with something a little larger, and so on. You get more confident as you go - even if the experiments don't always work. Which brings us to...
  5. Celebrate success, give permission to fail. This came up time and time again. People need to feel they can take a punt on something and not be embarrassed or told off if it doesn't work. And examples where things DO work need to be celebrated, to encourage others. Both success and failure should be a source of discussion so everyone can learn from both. And success shouldn't be the same for everyone - you have to be realistic about what the different personalities in the team can achieve, and set different people different goals.
  6. Think beyond the sector. We can learn so much from looking outside libraries, but we need to do this proactively rather than just hope it happens...
If you've got any more tips on fostering a creative culture, let us know in the comments.

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