5 Rules for a Creative Culture by Ben Chestnut, CEO of MailChimp. What state of mind is your company in? Are you seeking solutions for problems that seem too difficult to resolve? Maybe it's time to rethink the old school "butts in seats" work culture and push for a more creative culture.
One day, MailChimp CEO Ben Chestnut discovered that his company had acquired a new tagline. Chestnut hadn’t approved, or even known about this rather significant new bit of corporate identity, but there it was—"Love What You Do"—on the footer of the company website. At most companies, changing a piece of punctuation in a line of ad copy takes three weeks of meetings between about 14 people across six departments. So typically this would be the kind of occasion that terms like "tearing a new one" and "terminated with extreme prejudice" were made for.
But there would be no new orifices created that day. Chestnut, the founder of email marketing and newsletter company MailChimp, does things a little differently. He stormed into the marketing and design departments and demanded they come up with a coloring book called Love What You Do, featuring baby Freddie Chimpenheimer (excerpt: "Hi I’m Freddie. It’s fun to be me! Is it fun to be you?"). Sure, the CEO was a little concerned that he hadn’t known about the tag, but, as he noted in a blog post on the incident, it was "pretty spot-on, so I got over it."
1. Avoid rules. Avoid order. Don’t just embrace chaos, but create a little bit of it. Constant change, from the top-down, keeps people nimble and flexible (and shows that you want constant change).
2. Give yourself and your team permission to be creative. Permission to try something new, permission to fail, permission to embarrass yourself, permission to have crazy ideas.
3. Hire weird people. Not just the tattoo’d and pierced-in-strange-places kind, but people from outside your industry who would approach problems in different ways than you and your normal competitors.
4. Meetings are a necessary evil, but you can avoid the conference room and meet people in the halls, the water cooler, or their desks. Make meetings less about delegation and task management and more about cross-pollination of ideas (especially the weird ideas). This is a lot harder than centralized, top-down meetings. But this is your job — deal with it.
5. Structure your company to be flexible. Creativity is often spontaneous, so the whole company needs to be able to pivot quickly and execute on them (see #1).