How creative collaboration can improve your corporate culture

Where do we go next in a world of Great Resignation? the Data telling us that people aren’t just leaving for more money. They leave toxic cultures behind.

As the dust settles on the ping-pong tables and the free food sits uneaten, executives must ask themselves, “What’s my leverage?” Predictably, this is followed by the urge to throw money at them.

Too little too late. You’re out the Zoom door before you can say “counter offer.” What remains are confused executives with little hope of changing the equation.

Between a never-ending pandemic, stacked domestic duties and work that now seems inevitable, this is an existential moment. It’s also a bit of a hot labor market. But that doesn’t explain the real reason why people leave YOUR company.

This is not a moment to give up. It’s time to move towards our future. It’s time to transform. How? Culture. In the past, it was categorized using soft, HR-related words. At best, a word that can be slipped into superficial discussions about why a place is better to work in – fill in the blank with a reason that has a benefit attached.

Most leaders have never consciously engaged with culture. They said the right things, but prioritized profits and a fast career path for themselves and sought rewards for isolated “hero” behavior.

This leaves us with questions: what if cultures were rethought? What if the question on every leader’s mind wasn’t, “How do I keep my people?” but “How do they want to feel and how do they want to be treated?” and “How can I inspire them?” and “How can we shape a culture we love?”

This is the way: The Co-Creative Culture

Look no further than Pixar. in the Creativity, Inc. Ed Catmull shares the power of The Braintrust – a group of passionate people focused on working together with egos off the table and bricks on the table. The Braintrust was once a small team, but Catmull (the head of Pixar and President of Disney Animation) says it “has become part of the DNA of the culture and that Braintrust meetings have become the norm” – inspiring connection, collaboration and co-creation .

The braintrust at Pixar has also influenced everything from Marvel to the Star Wars universe. Jon Favreau was the “only Disney director who not only asked for advice but went to Pixar and experienced the Braintrust for himself,” Catmull wrote.

This has resulted in endless joy for Star Wars fans, including those unhappy with Episodes 7, 8 and 9 by gifting them The Mandalorian and an undeniably cute and powerful Baby Yoda. How? Favreau built a team of directors as diverse as a gang of bounty hunters fighting the Empire, including Bryce Dallas Howard, Taiki Waititi and Deborah Chow. They’ve selflessly created context together, rather than in silos — avoiding the story-destroying mistakes of “heads-down” story-building that have left JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson with perpetual online debates about the quality of the sequels. How does intense collaboration (or lack thereof) impact the larger Star Wars story arc? How does this have anything to do with building culture in any field?

The Braintrust approach is not just hope for the future, but a reinterpretation of the way we engage in work and life. Building with sleeves. Break the silence of boring meetings and turn them into co-creative conversations. Where we don’t “download” others with data (which AI is better at than we are anyway). We explore together. Various ideas that we never imagined. Experiences, products and services that surprise and inspire us and our customers.

It’s the difference between a disjointed DC Universe and a fully connected Marvel ecosystem — or a scattered line of products and an intuitively connected experience, as Apple created it by design.

The difference between employees feeling distant and jaded or part of a world-changing cause.

The difference between companies becoming a relic of the past or a future builder.

Default culture or culture shaping?

Leaders confronted with the broken cultures that shaped them have failed themselves and their employees. And the worst news is: there is no quick fix for this. No overnight repairs. Culture is shaped over years and decades. And if it wasn’t intentional, it probably isn’t what people want.

So what’s a leader to do? look in the mirror Realize how uninspiring and complacent or complicit they have become. Not that they haven’t built a successful business. Not that they haven’t built a powerful team. But they have never consciously dealt with culture.


So here we are. 2022. Living in a world where people don’t get enough empathy, appreciation and inspiration. Where they don’t want bureaucracy, bullying or boredom.

Here are some things you can do now to start shaping culture:

Make meetings personal. Studies show that people feel burned out, lonely and exhausted. The last thing they need is to hop from one meeting to the next and “get straight to the point” at every turn. It’s a surefire way to get her to leave. The best approach? give them space. Start with two questions: “How are you?” and “How are you really?” Give them a chance to check in, tell their dog story and have their 5-year-old daughter wave at the camera. Bonding is one of the best ways for people to feel and stay part of a team. Anything but work check-ins are great, along with sharing stories and highlighting what we’re grateful for.

Give people permission to build. YOur people aren’t so interested in random rewards as they are in challenges, or the lack thereof. They want to tackle impossible challenges, disrupt things and build something together. They want to be trusted so they can expand the impact of their work in all directions. Set people loose on a big challenge and give them explicit permission to connect with whatever they need to make it happen. Blow down the barriers for them and they will raise the bar themselves.

Related: Inside the Pixar Braintrus

Transform “boring work” into inspired co-creation. If people don’t feel inspired by their work, they will leave. It’s as simple as that. They want to be part of something big and feel like they belong. People want to be part of the wave where work matters. It may not be your job to make sure their work doesn’t feel boring, but you can create an environment where work feels and is co-creative. How? Connect the dots with it. Tell people to “help create” solutions, and take them into the trenches to see what they see and feel what they feel. Show them a template for co-creation, showing how committed you are to including them and making collective progress. There is nothing like leaders who build purpose by shaping products and solutions as a unit.

Culture is about embodying principles. It’s about redesigning meetings as conversations instead of downloads, and building bridges between teams instead of building more islands and silos. It’s about making people feel happy, talking about feeling energized. Where leaders take care of them personally and bring them together. A place where the word “love” can appear even in all its simple but powerful forms.

Isn’t that what each and every one of us wants?

A beautiful future that we can imagine and shape together. A future every leader can build now. By draft. Intentionally. Sacrificing your ego for the good of others. Knowing that people will feel the truth of their motives deep in their hearts by making them feel, not through succinct memos. You will feel the strength of the common goal and be successful together – for each other and for customers. A joy that endures and weaves into the fabric of our personal lives and families. We are shaping a future in which we are not only better off at work, but also much better off in life.

We are now at a critical moment of leadership: what will you do with it? How will you lead others into the future through the power of culture? And how will you design it to make it a place where people dream of becoming a member?

First steps towards transformation

How can we build cultures more like Pixar’s Braintrust? Here are some ways to take it to the next level (we learned this from Ed Catmull):

Give people permission to change the world, starting with changing their work. Be open to where people get their passion for building solutions from. Billion-dollar companies are born out of a single idea that someone had for years – after being given permission to make it a reality. Start with questions to provoke a culture of curiosity where everyone can imagine and express a better future, and work with everyone they need to make it a reality – without fear. Show them you care by providing the space to create, collaborate and design with others.

Encourage people to be brave enough to collaborate with others. Don’t let your culture slip into workplace politics, executives building personal empires, or self-inflation. Embrace the future of becoming a selfless force. Make others your mission by putting ego aside and pursuing work based on a benchmark: how your culture inspires the lives of others and how the “lowest ranked” person speaks about your culture to a stranger. Embody and encourage bold empathy to make others feel seen, respected, and understood.

Bring misfits together to build insanely awesome things. The future is calling. People strive for a higher way of working and living. Let them drive the deep work that is not only different, but makes a difference. Be inspired by the story of your future and try to be it now. Don’t blindly follow popular opinion or consensus. Your competition doesn’t have the innovative elixir, but your people do. Have the courage to align principles and be brave enough to achieve the best results – whether now, 10, 100 or 1000 years from now. Build infinite trust in your team.

Braintrust is about co-creation. At its core, co-creation solves the deepest problems of toxic work cultures and why people would ever leave.

The world needs co-creative cultures.

build one.

Chris Deaver and Ian Clawson are co-founders of BraveCorea leadership consultancy shaping the future by helping leaders be more creative and transform creatives into better leaders. How creative collaboration can improve your corporate culture


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