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Culture and creativity


Creativity articles > Culture and creativity

 Enabling beliefs | Supportive values | Progressive values |  | See also


Culture can be defined as a combination of beliefs, values and attitudes that is shared amongst a population of people. Cultures can encourage creativity and they can seriously hinder them.

Enabling beliefs

We hold beliefs about many things, but in creativity three important areas are important: beliefs about possibility, beliefs about other people and beliefs about ourselves.

Beliefs about people

If I believe that people are generally selfish or are out to get me, then I will take a defensive stance when others are around and will not offer ideas that I believe will be criticized. I may also take the same approach towards them. Thus a Mexican stand-off is created, where neither of us will be creative, for fear of being criticized.

If, on the other hand, I believe that people are basically thoughtful and caring, even though they may not always act that way, I will be more willing to take a chance with them. I will also be supportive of them, thus enabling them to be creative and encouraging them to do the same for me.

Beliefs about myself

If I believe that I am not creative, that it is a skill beyond me, that I am inferior to others or must conform at all costs, then even if others encourage me, I will be loathe even to be privately creative in my thinking.

If, however, I believe that, given the chance, all people are creative - although some may be differently creative from others - and that I can be creative as the next person, then I will feel empowered to offer ideas whatever the situation.

Cultures that embody beliefs that enable and encourage creativity will get just that. This need not mean setting fires all over the place, and other beliefs and values, such as the importance of balancing today with tomorrow, or the criticality of customer satisfaction, may effectively channel our thoughts and actions.

Beliefs about possibility

If I am given a crazy suggestion and think it crazy then I will treat it as crazy and nothing else. If I believe in black and white and less about shades of gray or colors in between, then I will see just black and white in everything. Perception is reality, at least inside our heads, and limited beliefs about what is possible will constrain our creative thinking.

On the other hand, if I believe that all thing are possible, even though I may not achieve everything I set out to do, I will accomplish far more than if I believed in impossibility rather than possibility.

Supportive values

Values are social rules that regulate our behaviour, telling us what is more or less important, what is right and wrong, good and bad.

Negative values

Values that say 'first achieve your personal objectives' will lead to people putting work above other people. Values that say 'first, obey the boss' will lead to people looking fearfully towards their superiors and keeping their heads down for fear of being chastened. Values that say 'don't rock the boat' will lead to people being risk-averse and avoiding dangerous ideas.

Creative values

On the other hand, values which say 'work together' or 'it is good to explore ideas' or 'managers should support the development of employees' or 'we must build tomorrow's company as well as sustaining today's business' will legitimize innovative thinking and action, and lead to people who value creativity and making use of ideas.

Progressive attitudes

Attitudes are the externalization of combinations of beliefs and values. They signal to others our intent and enable them to adapt accordingly.

Attitudes that care only for short-term gain or cultural conformance send signals that discourage innovative thinking. Disapproving frowns or worse signal the punishment that transgressors may receive.

More progressive attitudes signal interest in ideas and approval of innovation and creative thinking. Even if ideas are not implemented, their originators are rewarded with admiration for their cognitive efforts.

Visible signs

Artefacts, signs and symbols of culture are all around us.


Artefacts are the physical things that are found that have particular symbolism for a culture. They may even be endowed with mystical properties. The first products of a company. Prizes won in gruelling challenges and so on are all artefacts.

Artefacts of creativity may be instances of previous successes and failures. Failures are important as learning opportunities and may be thus imbued with special meaning.


Symbols, like artefacts, are things which act as triggers to remind people in the culture of its rules, beliefs, etc. They act as a shorthand way to keep people aligned.

There may be many symbols around an organization, from pictures of products on the walls to the words and handshakes used in greeting cultural members from around the world.

Creative symbols include artwork, architecture, furnishings and other aspects of the environment. Frivolity and intrigue appear on desks and walls.

See also

Creating a Creative Climate, Ground Rules


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