Cultivating a Creative Culture: The Book

It all began in 2015 with the A List Apart piece Resetting Agency Culture.

The crux of the article was that the number one problem in workplace culture today comes from a business forgetting that the human beings behind the sites we design and products we produce are, well, human. We’re not simply names on a spreadsheet and our dedication is not determined by the last out the door at night. Humility, empathy, and a well of inspiration that never depletes ultimately augments quality of work, quality of life, and the business on whole.

The thing is, the original article was through the lens of an agency, which was ultimately a limitation toward the bigger picture of the subject matter. Much of the feedback I received on that piece was from people working in all forms of media: radio, television, print, online. They cited that the themes were equally applicable to their livelihoods.

This was the catalyst for expanding upon the material into book form; there was a more holistic tale to tell. Written for designers and developers, but applicable to all: company-agnostic, hierarchy-independent. And so, from 2016–2017, I wrote. And wrote, and wrote, and wrote.

(left) Writing // (middle) Being a dad // (right) Back to writing

Copious research, dialogues with peers, and interviews with thought leaders later, here we are: Cultivating a Creative Culture. Designers and front-enders have a unique advantage in solving the cultural problems in business that are sucking the life out of us. Several, in fact. The principles discussed in this book derive from the perspectives and skillsets we already use daily: empathy, objectivity and, yes, ample creativity.

The Book

The (table of) contents within netted out organically. The journey you’ll experience while reading will take you from a first day at the office, through the typical week, over the long term, and ultimately once you’re seeking your next best cultural fit:

  1. From Square One
    “A thriving creative culture is the sum of many dynamic parts. Its impact is directly translated over to quality (not quantity) of work, quality of life, and measurable performance.”
  2. A Healthy Dynamic
    “A healthy dynamic at all levels of an organization forms the backbone of a creative culture. The environment sees the profit in employee growth, not just via the almighty dollar.”
  3. The Value of Time
    “To do our best work, to grow our skill sets, and to cultivate an environment in which passions thrive, we need to stop casting a judgmental eye at ‘available’ time that supports employee growth.”
  4. Beyond the Viewport
    “While our livelihoods exist within the digital realm, inspiration has no such contextual boundaries. There is an entire world of design and inspiration beyond the context the digital world affords us.”
  5. Your Cultural Match
    “Finding your cultural best fit isn’t a swipe-left or swipe-right matchmaking process. It requires research, patience, and honesty about your goals, desires, and work habits.”
(left) Justin Dauer and Jaan Orvet discussing culture in London // (right) Jeffrey Zeldman receiving the first proof copy of Cultivating a Creative Culture in Chicago

The strategies contained in the book are developed, quite simply, through human observation, dialogues, listening, and enacting. Some of the strategies are practical common sense (weekly creative inspiration meetings), while others required more trial-and-error (offsite inspiration camps). For my part, both positive and negative experiences in the workplace over the course of my career equally helped shape my viewpoint on what a successful creative culture is.

Jeffrey Zeldman contributed his industry-defining thoughts on the material for the book’s foreword. Andy Budd and Jaan Orvet lent their brilliant cultural insights, leveraged as case study and thematic backbone. And that’s only the beginning.

Bobby Price’s illustration style aligned perfectly with the tone of my material. I broadly wanted a genderless character to be in the chapter illustrations, and we conceived the idea that this character would be demonstrating / interacting with the general theme of the respective chapter in kind. His hummingbird design — a chill, pensive, self-confident little bird — was the perfect fit.

Spanning the office, the expanse outside the confines of our desks and viewports, and with cultural influence from Scandinavia and domestically, the tools to do our best work are passionately articulated.

In Your Hands

Creative cultures contribute to the resounding success of an organization and the work its team creates. They permeate the interactions at our office, the meetings we attend, and the manner in which we produce. It’s very much about being focused on the human beings behind the projects and facilitating them doing their best work; getting there represents a shift in thought as much as in procedure. The good news is we all can get there.

Cultivating a Creative Culture” will be available everywhere June 13th in paperback and eBook. You can pre-order both formats now.

ISBN: 978–0692840672
Paperback: 102 pages
Publish Date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Lead Hand Books