How to Cultivate a Creative Culture

What do we want to see and hear from our favorite brands? A fictional story that — if we buy into it — begins to sound true? Or perhaps it’s something more?

Maybe marketing campaigns should be designed around solving a small problem — or illuminating and addressing a big problem. Brands can be more socially responsible, or more helpful to people just getting through their days. What if a creative culture could lead to marketing campaigns that are a better experience?

Whether you’re raising awareness about climate change or marketing Nike shoes, a creative culture needs to be at the center of your work.

A lot of my work as a creative director, art director and designer has centered around rejuvenation or renewal — injecting new spirit into existing campaigns, or giving birth to a nascent movement or media production.

There are a few common threads that weave through all successful creative projects.These are important motivators for creatives and agencies, but they are also practices that any marketing team, company or brand can use to breathe life into their own projects.

Put out a Cultural Antenna

To be creative, you need to draw from life experiences. But you also need to be empathetic and understanding of the world around you. That requires tapping into, and being mindful of, things that are happening culturally. You want to make a positive impact, make a difference in people’s lives.

You’ll find that when you do this, you are considering people and valuing people instead of just marketing to create a campaign.

Invest Your Time

Companies have to value creativity, or it’s never going to work. From the leadership on down, everyone needs to have a shared vision that values creativity and invests in it. That includes the investment of time.

Creative people need to be allowed to fail. They need to share what’s on their minds and not be embarrassed by that. Creativity needs to come from the heart and from a personal place, and so there needs to be an environment where that can be encouraged and cultivated with no fear. That takes time.

Build a Great Team

In addition to building empathy for people in the culture around you, you really want to take the time and effort to understand, and value, the people on your team. Surround yourself with people who are passionate, excited and energized.

I really love working with people who are excited about possibilities. The creative process works when it’s fun and there’s a lot of positive energy.

When I consider projects, I really think about whether I love and believe in a movement, production or product. If you don’t have that underlying passion, it’s just going to be smoke and mirrors. In the end, your work is not going to be creative or special.

You need to have that personal passion, and that personal connection. I find I’m the best evangelist for the projects I take on: I’m so excited about them, I talk about them to my friends and neighbors, I talk about them at parties. You have to be able to invest in something personally to cultivate a creative culture, and you have to want to make a difference or an improvement in the world around you.

Originally published at

Larry Olson is the Interim Creative Director at Room 214. He is an art director, designer and creative director. His creative mission is simple: Find and work with good people who believe in creativity. A sample of the clients he’s worked with includes: The Climate Reality Project, Virgin, Good The Magazine, MSNBC, Apple computers, NBA TV, Harvard Business School, TBS, Animal Planet, PBS and Hitachi.

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