I get together once every few months for breakfast with past employees, coworkers and other acquaintances. Besides catching up with each other and staying in touch, the purpose of these early morning breakfasts is to discuss leadership topics and concerns. One of the topics we touched on during our last breakfast was how to stay creative in a culture that is burdened by bureaucracy.
This can be a very tough thing to do! Typically a bureaucratic environment is not at all creative. In fact, most bureaucracies poison creativity and are toxic environments at best. However, if you are stuck in a bureaucratic workplace and you do not want to leave, it is important to remember that creativity thrives within constraints.
This basically means that creativity increases when there are clear boundaries established that your work must comply with or fit within. As your mind considers these clearly defined constraints and considers the task assigned, it will begin to come up with options and ideas that would not have been considered without constraints.
There are many examples of creativity thriving within constraints from every walk of life; arts, entertainment, engineering, construction, agriculture, etc. For example:
- an artist is asked to create a sculpture out of a block of marble rather than out of soft, pliable clay – Michelangelo
- an architect is asked to design a hotel on the cliff side of a mountain rather than the typical foundation – Rimrock Hotel
- a CEO from a software start-up asks its programmers to create a revolutionary product on a shoestring budget – Facebook, PayPal, etc.
- a spaceflight CEO asks its engineers to design and build a functional and safe spaceflight vehicle for a fraction of the cost of a NASA space vehicle – SpaceX or Virgin Galactic
- an oil company hires an engineering firm to build a platform that can safely drill and produce oil in 1000’s of meters of water – ExxonMobil, Shell, etc.
If you can treat the bureaucracy as a constraint then you can structure your work and creativity within these constraints. However, if the bureaucracy is ever changing and is not providing clearly defined constraints but opposes your every move, the constraints may become impossible and it may be time to move on!
If you are not convinced that creativity thrives within constraints, take a look at the following articles for more background;