Event Recap: Cultivating a Creative Culture

AIGA Santa Barbara returned to San Luis Obispo last week, continuing our SLO Studio Tour series with a stop at iii Design. About fifty local professionals joined the firm’s Founding Partner Missy Reitner-Cameron and CEO Wyatt Renew for a multi-segmented discussion about developing a purposeful environment of creativity that leads to strong company culture and innovative thinking from the entire team.

The duo began with a one-on-one conversation about their firm’s history and how they got to now, explaining that in their experience, company culture can’t be forced or emulated. Superficial things like environment or perks aren’t the source of culture—they’re merely expressions of it. They argued that those things—foosball tables, on-site massages, free snacks—identify company culture but don’t actually create it. Instead, Missy and Wyatt recommended that organizations involve their entire team in defining common goals and values first, and then allowing surface level attributes to accentuate those values.

Diversity and Chemistry

Creative company culture isn’t dictated by management, but good leaders can identify company culture and amplify it. The hiring process plays a big part; the presenters recommended hiring for cultural fit as well as for diversified talent so teams aren’t comprised of similarly creative people. iii Design even dedicates one entire in-person interview to assessing how each candidate would fit with and/or augment the company’s culture.

Chemistry is also critical. To foster that, Missy and Wyatt recommended that teams find activities which everyone looks forward to doing, like bowling for a cause or day-long “dates” with other local organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters. Other examples included regular all-hands staff meetings to review history and define direction, meaningful field trips that foster both inspiration and innovation (anything from Ira Glass at the PAC to the local chamber of commerce), and finding a common cause to bond over and give back to (community service as a team or dedicating regular time for in-kind work benefitting local nonprofits). Processes can be taught and skills can be learned, but without chemistry there’s no culture.


Diffusion and Discussion

The presenters freely stipulated that none of this would work if any team member felt inhibited, so they took a page from their own book and broke up the event into a team activity. By selectively ceding control, leaders allow their team to maneuver and develop a unique, authentic identity on their own. Five separate groups of eight (according to Google, the ideal team size), each led by Missy, Wyatt, and other iii creatives, held back-and-forth sessions about how they might apply the presentation’s points to their own organizations. The idea was that both spontaneous team activities and extracurricular creative outlets help create strong team bonds, because all leaders require creative solutions from their teams.

Following the presentation, everyone was invited to stick around for an afterparty celebrating iii Design’s 12th year in business. Pizza and beer gave way to sliders and spiked snow-cones, and the fun continued well into the night in the stylish building by the train station.

AIGA SB thanks Missy Reitner-Cameron and Wyatt Renew for their wisdom, the entire iii Design team for being gracious hosts, and everyone who turned up—students and professionals alike—for making this our best-attended SLO event yet. Thanks also to our board volunteers for making the drive from Santa Barbara, and extra special thanks to AIGA SB SLO Board Liaison Rachell Newburn for making it all happen.

Rock Star Gig Rating: On a scale of “zero” to “insane,” this one was like playing a good arena gig in the same town where we’d done equally successful club and theater shows in the not-too-distant past.

Further Reading

The iii Design leadership recommended three titles:

Photography by Keir DuBois & Jennie Jacobs

By Keir DuBois
Published October 12, 2016
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