What factors enable and constrain embedding an ‘everyday culture of creativity’?

Based on a preliminary rough and ready analysis of data collected so far in the project, it’s possible to delineate potential answers to the question of what enables and constrains embedding an everyday culture of creativity in a university context.

Data collected thus far includes fieldnotes, personal reflections by Jo and David, records of meetings and conversations, research literature, observations and various iterations of documents (comms, research notes, excel file) that are stored on dropbox.

Enabling factors

Non-hierarchical – a flat hierarchy where people ditch their titles and badges and simply be themselves is an important feature of a play space. Though of course, this opens a can of worms regarding what being your ‘real’ or ‘true’ self is.

Communication – this is key. How you talk to people and tailor the message to them makes a big difference. Linked to this is a significant issue around trust. Furthermore, communicating with each other, encouraging dialogue and ‘developing communicative tolerance’ is a crucial step in the process of enabling ‘social creativity’.

Counter-cultural – this does not necessarily mean being subversive and rebellious but rather just the opportunity to challenge the status quo. We need to be reminded that culture isn’t fixed, we can question the ‘rules’ and what ‘normal’ is.

Physical space – it’s important to have a space and the freedom to stop and be able to sit and just think and reflect.

Permission and legitimisation – giving permission has re-emerged as an important feature of a play space. Permission to just ‘do it’, permission to be themselves, permission be open and honest.

Non-instrumental – in order to be successful in developing creativity we need to ensure that the goal is holding the play-space open and not doing so for any extrinsic instrumental, goal-driven purpose or intention.

Vulnerability – being part of a play space and truly being open to experiment and takes risks requires a great deal of vulnerability and honesty.

Toleration of uncertainty – although very challenging, we have to embrace uncertainty and ambiguity and let ourselves play without knowing where we’re going.

Courage – we need to take risks, dare to question and experiment. It appears lots of people are scared and intimidated to do this, either because of a fear of failure and not getting it ‘right’, or because of a sense of apathy and not wanting to participate.

Facilitation – it helps to have people who can encourage and empower others to be open and share their passion. Support is a general sense is also connected to this.

Champions – it’s really helped to have people who ‘get it’ and communicate the project to others and also can support and facilitate others to get involved. This has ranged from KEAS, to supportive Deans and people we’ve met in meetings.

Make time – sounds obvious but unless we make a space in our hectic schedules then creativity is unlikely to happen.

Critical reflection – being able to both collectively and personally reflect on the process and feeding this back into the play space is a significant aspect in self-renewal and also innovation.

Praise and encouragement – it seems that when individual inputs are recognised and celebrated, people feel validated are more likely to continue being involved and getting others to participate.

Parameters – although this might seem like a constraining factor, we’ve noticed that setting parameters can be enabling in creativity. The parameters can encompass a shared purpose and managing expectations.

Constraining factors

The following have been identified as factors that inhibit embedding a culture of everyday creativity:

Hierarchy – based around issues of job positions and titles, top-down leadership, qualifications, competition, and ego, unsurprisingly stifle creativity. This power imbalance is not conducive to creating and sustaining a play space. Furthermore, power issues can result in defending the party line and also lead to a resistance to change.

Limiting beliefs – there appears to be a widespread feeling of a lack of agency. Many people feel as though they can’t do anything and are stuck. This is linked to an overwhelming sense of stress and pressure that people feel under. Limiting beliefs can be both real and imagined.

Monitoring – many people feeling as they are under constant surveillance and are under pressure to meet goals and targets. The corporatization of higher education and concerns with branding, PR and image also feeds into this sense of monitoring.

Apathy and/or cynicism – negative attitudes significantly inhibits the creation of a play space. We’ve found this manifested either in a sense of apathy and low morale, or suspicion and skepticism of the project.

Lack of space – lots of people have commented on the lack of communal spaces to hang out and meet, and also quiet spaces to just sit and be. Everyone is on the go constantly but not connecting with others.

Instrumentalisation – focusing on goals, outputs and success negatively impacts play, experimentation and risk-taking.

Professionalism – this is connected to hierarchical issues but is slightly different. We’ve found lots of people hide behind their titles and badges and are reluctant to be themselves. This leads to a lack of honesty and authenticity which impairs an everyday culture of creativity as people are not being themselves.

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