Keeping Creative During Covid

Simon Ellis | September 21, 2020

My time on the couch watching endless documentaries on Netflix and Quest has not been to no avail. I have learned, for instance, that even in prison on suicide watch, it’s still possible to hang yourself. It just depends on how much dirt you’ve got on ex-Presidents and Princes.

And I’ve learned a bit about blacksmithing. Blacksmiths do a lot of hammering. This will not be a revelation to anyone. However, what is interesting is that it takes less energy for them to keep on hammering the anvil while heating or quenching their work than to stop and start again. They just keep that hammer bouncing.

Keeping Creative - Blacksmith

I used this analogy with my team at the start of lockdown. Being strategically creative ie. being a designer, is a practised discipline. A combination of empathy, insight, research, iteration, collaboration and confidence. Yes, our client work did reduce dramatically, but it was imperative that we kept our design muscles in good shape, not only in readiness for the bounce back but for our own sanity. Keeping creative can be challanging when working remotely. We’ve take a moment to reflect on our own lockdown experience to see what kept EllisJames’ creativity consistent. 

Learning Commitment

About two years ago or so, I put in place a Learning Commitment at EllisJames. The best designers are naturally curious people, always reading, talking to people or finding out how stuff works, or learning how to do something new. But when we get into work and the focus shifts inexorably towards productivity, it’s easy to lose that momentum of learning. That’s when we stagnate as humans, and our businesses will soon follow.

So, the Learning Commitment was a way to ensure that curiosity and personal development was enshrined in how we do things. We operate on 90-day missions, and it is up to each individual to identify their learning commitment for at least the next 90-day period. Each Friday afternoon is given over to our individual learning focus.

Keeping Creative Direction

What are the Rules?

  1. Each Team Member must identify something that they are interested in learning, and not be driven by imagined expectation from me. You want to learn how to cook? Go for it. You want to learn French? You got it. The Learning Commitment is all about the individual, and I trust implicitly that it will lead to a more productive, more fulfilled and tightly knit team.
  2. The Learning Commitment is designed to support a human-centric, curious, fulfilled and engaged team. It is not designed to directly generate additional revenue, and it is not the responsibility of team members to think in those terms.
  3. The Learning Commitment must be taken seriously, and Team Members are expected to apply themselves to the best of their ability. That’s why it’s so important they find something they have a genuine interest in learning.
  4. EllisJames will support and facilitate their learning, both logistically and financially.

Wise Owl

You’ll note that our Learning Commitment is not designed to directly add revenue streams, but you know what? That’s exactly what’s happened. In the last six months alone we have added greatly to our capabilities and knowledge base, from 3D rendering and illustration to digital marketing and webinars, which we have already put to good use in the support of our clients during lockdown.

Keeping Creative Takeaway

Trust is a big deal. Trust, in practical terms, is a determination that another person’s way of doing things might work just fine, or possibly even better, than what I had planned. Trust is an acknowledgement that doing something because it feels right is reason enough. Trust is a commitment to wait and see how things play out, rather than micromanaging from someone’s shoulder. Trust is the confidence that together, we will both learn something from the experience.

Like telling my team they can work from home two days a week, the Learning Commitment was out of my mouth before I’d had a chance to contemplate whether I was able to trust enough to make it work, but it felt right at the time. Working from home to some degree will be the new norm for most working people, so that was definitely something we got right early on.

Keep curious

The Learning Commitment is something that required trust, or blind faith. But boy has it been worth it! The changes in my little team over the last two years have really been startling; to their confidence and self-assurance perhaps most of all. And although it’s a personal Learning Commitment, everything they learn is passed on to, or readily accessible by the whole team.

Learning for learning’s sake is vital for us all as human beings engaged with the wider world. I will ensure EllisJames always retains this creative commitment.

Three of the EJ Teams favourite online learning resources:

Udemy
LinkedIn Learning
SkillShare

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