Broccoli and the Key to Creativity

By Sheila Zareh, Senior Vice President — July 30, 2015

I knew the answer to the teacher’s question. I was four years old and confident that broccoli was a vegetable, not a fruit. But instead of raising my hand to answer, I stared quietly and hoped the teacher would call on someone else. She must have sensed there was something behind my tacit facade, because she called on me to answer. Still I remained silent. I was afraid of being wrong. Disappointed that I didn’t have the courage to answer, I slumped further into my chair.

At dna Communications, it turns out, I don’t have to worry about such fears—in myself or others. As junior creative director, I often facilitate brainstorms meant to provide clients with new and different ways to champion their brands. At a recent brainstorm in our New York office, I was delighted to hear ideas from team members of all levels. The energy in the room was palpable. Interns and senior vice presidents alike were excited to chime in with their thinking.

So what is our secret to fostering the best creativity? Safety.

The old brainstorm stand-by, “there are no bad ideas,” is just lip service unless people truly feel secure speaking their minds. This sentiment is rooted in dna’s “as different as you” culture, which fosters a positive, trusting environment that leads to improved peer relationships, participation and knowledge-sharing that nurture creativity. Our leadership is taught to encourage the team, through tone, language and approach, to think of new ideas and take risks without fear of ridicule. Junior staffers are frequently told “you don’t have to get the answer right—just tell me what you think.” They know they can make a mistake, and that offering a less-than-ideal solution is considered a growth opportunity.

We like to build a similar environment of trust with our clients, so we can have open conversations about their business and provide thoughtful, creative counsel. There may be nuances in how each company operates, and we may debate the best approach, but we relish challenges such as these.

If only I had felt this same sense of security in my kindergarten class, perhaps my teacher and peers would have heard my thoughtful take on broccoli taxonomy.