When you sell people’s thoughts, in the form of ideas and strategies, you better invest in the brains hired to manufacture your “widgets.” Investing in brains sounds something like what a Zombie farmer might do. Or worse, something old-fashioned like sending your employees to night school for another degree. In the creativity industry, more school is just another chance to fill a spiral notebook with drawings of an octopus playing hockey.
The key to better creative brains is finding ways to harness existing passions and then synthesize them into fresh thinking for a client’s business. We all live in information overload, both professionally and personally, so specialization of knowledge comes from passion points. With a critical mass of creative employees, we can start to see patterns in their personal interests. People will curate information against their natural curiosity for music, fashion, art, design, comedy, celebrity and technology -- things that in the old business world might be called distractions or hobbies.
It’s better to think about the two modes of a creative employee: absorption mode and innovation mode. When employees are engaged in following their interests with deep curiosity, are absorbing the seeds that will become their next big idea. And don’t worry if you’re on the client side of this equation -- I am not advocating billing clients for absorption mode. However, I am advocating that the employer invest in it.
Imagine an employee who lives and breathes music. They are hunting down new artists, finding new editorial sources, testing out technologies for discovery and streaming, comparing, contrasting and contemplating. It is a manager’s job to turn that cognitive surplus energy into usable thinking.
In the marketing world, we will potentially derive an insight about the behavior of a modern technology-forward, music-obsessed, audience segment. From that insight comes a new way to reach to them on Songza, Pandora, podcasts, Pitchfork, Shazam, Spotify and Vevo.
Empower people to blur the lines between their interests and their work. You might be saying, “great article friend, but how do I institutionalize this kind of thing into my company?” Well, here are a few ideas:
Enrich their lives
Give employees a stipend to spend at their discretion on anything they feel will enrich their lives. Get a membership to LACMA, buy a Kindle unlimited subscription, subscribe to Monocle magazine or go see a TED talk. Go out into the world and absorb things. Ask them to come back to work with one more creative arrow in their quiver.
Make it easy to learn
It can be very discouraging to a curious person who has an appetite to absorb but no access. It is often uncomfortable to jump through corporate hoops to get permission to attend a conference, networking or cultural event. It should be easy for a proactive person to get out in their industry and learn. Offer employees a discretionary fund to manage their own interests, so it isn’t necessary to ask for permission to go to SXSW, Coachella, CES, or even an EDM concert. You don’t want employees who are content to sit at a desk over a hot computer.
Set them free!
Unlimited vacation. If someone cares about the work, the work will get done. The reality is that everyone is busy -- and unlimited days doesn’t always mean more vacation. However, it does take the pressure and worry away from getting out of the office and experiencing the world. The office is where we synthesize our life experiences into business ideas.
If you see the collective intelligence of your company as a “cloud” powered by servers (brains), then one person’s passions or experience can become fuel for the collective. Make status meetings about sharing “business-y” stuff, in addition to discussing the amazing new podcast “Serial” or how a new food app lets you order in advance and skip the line.
The most important thing you can say to your employees is to “get a life!” It is in the real everyday moments where true insights for clients are born.The best ideas come from living life and understanding how consumers are seeing things in the world.