According to different estimates there are about 1.5 million engineering graduates in India each year and this is considerably much higher number compare to our western counterparts including that of US but we are still yet to make our mark at the global scale with innovative products or services. I am not limiting this argument to the technology sector, it is even more valid for inherently creative fields like Film, Animation and Architecture in India. Having worked in film and commercial industries for sometime and in five different countries including India, I think I could draw parallels quite easily when it came to this issue.
We all know entrepreneurship in India is steadily growing from the past few years but the lack of innovation is still at large.To a great extent, I believe our education system and cultural values are the root causes for the general lack of creativity in our country. We forge and compose our values based on predefined dogmas but the environment which we live in are rapidly changing, getting more interconnected and all the information whether it is about the individuals or businesses are becoming more transparent and hard to control. In this new global age the lack of creative culture would result in mediocrity and only businesses which are providing authentic services or solutions will sustain in the long run. Today innovation is not just about inventive ideas but it has more to do with creating new economic paradigms and shifting the consumer values. This is something a startup company like Apple has always embraced and built their core work culture values on. We have the talent, potential and the infrastructure to create breakthrough products or innovative solutions and I think building and fostering creativity at work would bring that much needed change in our nation.
In India the traditional rigid hierarchy system hinders creative work culture more than any other factor and also drawing from our cultural values we are often afraid to speak up to the members above our hierarchical level. This obstructs the creative flow of ideas within the team and resulting in the employees sticking to standard safe practices which yields average outcomes. Also in the long term our mediocre attitude will result incompetence in which most of the employees are failing to compare themselves with the global standards.
Any product or service is all about expressing business’s visions or ideas in such way that it connects with the collective experience of the customers. So if the the employees are working in an environment where they are intimidated strictly by the managerial forces then that could really hinder creative process in the business and resulting in lack of new ideas. The management becomes a crucial component here as it should facilitates the business venture while at the same time loosen the control over the process. The flow of information between all the departments irrespective of their structural management is a must to facilitate the creative work culture. The most creative companies such as Pixar Animation Studios embrace this idea of flow of communication within their business. According to Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios, "Within Pixar, members of any department can approach anyone in another department to solve problems, without having to go through 'proper' channels. Managers understand they don't always have to be the first to know about something going on in their realm, and that it's okay to walk into a meeting and be surprised."
Another aspect of Indian cultural value system that limits creativity is our attitude towards the failure. Due to our cultural stigma we often forget to dissect failures to learn from our own mistakes. We have a long way to go in terms of accepting failures as a stepping stone for success instead of concealing them. Each and every employee should treat failures as a new opportunity to learn something new because an original idea is always a result of many trial and errors. The core factor of building a creative work culture lies in having a platform where employees have shared responsibility, mutual trust and are encouraged to take risks. A good creative space is not about preventing failures but it is really about how to effectively recover from the failures. I would like to quote William L. Mcknight, former President and Chairman of the board, 3M , “Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative. And it's essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow.”
If we want to push our innovative limits beyond the usual norms of economy, functionality and design then we should have environment where employees feel safe to risk it all. This may sound provocative but it is the nature of great teams to be unstable and unpredictable. So it becomes very crucial to build a creative space that resonate with the long term business vision. A creative work culture must change a common office workplace into a social place where every individual can have ideas and feel that they are valued. It is important to note that you cannot make creativity in a workplace but you can only provoke it so creating an environment for curiosity to develop and encourage people to be themselves will yield the best results. In order to provoke creativity, the culture of workplace should promote radical thinking, freedom of speech, constructive criticism, cross departmental collaboration, positive team spirit, calculated risk taking and most importantly it should permit fun and a little bizarreness. The successful creative companies get this notion and it is obvious when you look at why Google have their infamous company policy that allows employees to devote 20 percent of their workweek to pursuing personal innovative ideas. Most companies will find it difficult to allow their employees to work without a structure or letting them to take time out to work on their personal projects. The real creative challenge of the management lies in integrating and aligning the creative practices such as above to business’s long term vision. 3M is another company which has embraced idea of 15 percent rule before Google and they have created an Innovator Award in 1997 for employees who develop profitable ideas during their 15 percent allotted free time in a week. In India, Tata Group have a similar such programme called Innovista which is conducted annually to encourage, recognise and showcase outstanding innovations done by Tata companies across the globe. According to Sunil Sinha, chief, group quality management services, Tata Sons, “Tata Innovista has become a great indicator of the success of the innovation drive in the Tata group — and of the inherent capabilities of its people. The trends observed in the 2013 edition signify a growing culture of innovation in the group with elements of technology-orientation, cross-pollination and risk-taking ability.”
The creative work culture is more about putting emphasis on the process and the people than on the outcomes. The business have to embrace the fact that if they put together teams of people to function well and give them creative work platform then the products or services they come up with will be successful. "In the end, the culture is about more than money. "It's not me saying to our employees, this is where our culture is. It's more about giving employees permission and encouraging them to just be themselves." says Tony Hsieh, CEO of an e-commerce company called Zappos who wrote a book called ‘Delivering Happiness’.
A creative work culture should be never about business’s short term goals or strategy as those tend to switch in businesses with their expansion or when there is a change of interests. Creative workspace is all about making the work process fun, evolving, interesting, employee’s welfare, care and love for the work they do.
I believe human beings are inherently creative but unfortunately due to our cultural and social conditioning, most of us have to be placed in an environment which evoke that awareness among us. So I would like to end this discussion with an excellent quote from Ed Catmull, “The phrase is important in the community but it just doesn't have any effect on the behavior".