Fostering Creativity in the Workplace with Filip Jaskolski [Interview]

Aleksandra Kacperczyk and Filip Jaskolski
11 min read
Aug 20, 2020
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Is there anything that hasn’t already been said about creativity? Something other than catchphrases, buzzwords, and slogans? Something that has value and real-life applications? Aleksandra, technical writer, and Filip, platform manager, delve into the topic to find it out. 

Aleksandra: Let’s kick things off casually. Who or what comes to your mind when you think of creativity and innovation?  

Filip: Excitement! I get easily excited about all kinds of innovation, big and small. As a little kid, I dreamt of becoming an inventor. I love wrapping my mind around how things are designed or built. I was recently blown away by this robot. I love how the algorithm does all of the heavy lifting.

Aleksandra: Wow, that’s impressive. By the way, watching the robot cut out different shapes was weirdly satisfying. Here’s my favorite. It’s an inexpensive infant warmer designed to help women who can’t get to the hospital in developing countries. It’s an effective alternative for incubators. 

Filip: I’m impressed by how simple the invention is, yet it does so much good. Also, the story behind it is just great. A perfect example of how limitations stimulate creativity.

Aleksandra: I know, right?

We’ve warmed up a little, so it’s time to take a deep dive into the topic of creativity. You’ve been working at LiveChat for several years and have had different roles. Which one demanded out-of-the-box thinking the most?

Filip: I started my journey at LiveChat six years ago as a web developer with the Creative Department (this is what the marketing team was called back then). You’d expect that this role required the most creativity, but I’d say it was equally needed in all of my other roles. I had a chance to try on the shoes of a developer, marketer, designer, and, more recently, a project founder and product owner. Now, as platform manager, together with the Platform Teams, we feel responsible for building an environment for others to be creative in. 

Aleksandra: Can you believe that, for the majority of my life, I thought that only art-related disciplines require creativity? Today, I believe it’s not about the role or position but more about the environment you’re in that unlocks your creativity.

Filip: I think you nailed two of the most important aspects of creativity. First, everybody can be creative. It’s not tied to a line of work. It’s a skill available for everyone everywhere. Secondly, for creativity to happen, you need creative enablers in place. You have to have the right mindset and the right environment.

Aleksandra: How would you define these enablers?

Filip: The most important one for me is the right mindset. You need to be ready to be wrong. The biggest enemy of creativity and innovation is the fear of making a mistake. There are great studies about that. I highly recommend listening to Carol Dweck talking about the Growth Mindset for starters.

Aleksandra: I have perfectionism on my list, which boils down to the same thing.

Filip: Exactly! Perfectionism is one of the biggest blockers when pushing for innovation. It lives in peoples’ minds but also creeps through entire organizations.

There are many other blockers like deadlines, expectations from peers, managers, family, etc. This is what I mean regarding the right environment. For you to be creative, you need a secure space where mistakes are welcomed. I mean really welcomed, openly discussed, and treated as opportunities to learn and grow.

fostering creativity quote

Aleksandra: As a person who struggles with the fear of making a mistake, I couldn’t agree more.

Filip: You can think of it this way. It’s cliche, but the fact is, all good metaphors are cliches. Creativity is a weird plant that grows only in certain conditions. It starts with a seed, an idea, a thought, a spike of interest and tries to sprout and flourish despite all the environmental difficulties. However, if you don’t nurture it regularly, it fades away in the blink of an eye. 

There’s a great talk by Sir Ken Robinson where he argues that schools kill creativity. I’d also recommend it.

Aleksandra: I think that metaphor is very accurate. I’m a plant lover, so it speaks to me. I agree that you need to take good care of your plant, and it’s just a beginning.

Filip: Exactly. That brings us to the second enabler for creativity in the workplace. You need the discipline to grow it. 

Aleksandra: Discipline? Not inspiration?

Filip: Yes! We often think of innovations as something that happened overnight in an aura of a sudden “it dawned on me, eureka!“ moment. It’s quite normal for us humans to think of it that way. We rarely want to speak about the hopeless process of building the next innovation. It’s simply much more exciting to think of it as a sudden breakthrough.

Aleksandra: Interesting opinion. But wouldn’t you agree that igniting the spark of creativity is an inseparable part of coming up with brilliant ideas?

Filip: You’re right, but I feel like it’s often overestimated. The truth is, all of the greatest innovations and breakthroughs were an effect of hard and highly disciplined work, numerous trials, and errors. Circling back to the metaphor, the seed doesn’t make the plant, nurturing does.

Aleksandra: You might have a point :)

If I could get back to that first thing we said about creativity and perfectionism. After having worked with you for more than a year, I see that you have embraced the rule of not being afraid to make a mistake. Was it easy and natural, or did you have to overcome some personal barriers and change your approach to mistakes?

Filip: I remember my first real mistake at LiveChat. Two months in, I mistakenly sent out a broken email campaign to over 70k recipients. I remember our CEO saying, “The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.” It really did help determine my mindset back then.

Aleksandra: That was wise of him. It’s easier to forgive yourself, and other people, mistakes if you’ve experienced such a welcoming approach from others. That might be even more powerful than to keep saying to yourself that 'everyone makes mistakes.'

Filip: Exactly. Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone sees them as chances to grow. Not being a perfectionist is still not always easy for me, and I believe it doesn’t come naturally for many people. We’re afraid the product “is not good enough yet,” the idea “is too novel to catch on,” or even “others have already done better.” 

The simple truth is that we often make excuses because of the same fear of being validated. As Sir Robinson pointed out, schooling makes us oversensitive to validation, and failing grades feel awful. How much better would our lives be if we considered every single error as a step forward and not a setback? 

Aleksandra: Speaking of our CEO, he has recently shared The LiveChat Living Constitution on Linkedin. The document states that creativity is one of our core values. Do you agree that this is the mindset we have as a company? Based on your personal experience, we can definitely say that this is Mariusz’s mindset. What about the company as a whole? How have we been maintaining creativity in a growing organization?

Filip: Sure! I consider LiveChat as a creative team that really appreciates open-mindedness and innovative thinking. It doesn’t come easily, though. One of the biggest challenges of growing is to maintain a creative spirit. I watched LiveChat grow from 30 to 180 employees, and I see how it challenged the creative mindset of the organization as a whole. I guess many companies can relate to that.

Aleksandra: Time to spill the beans! In your opinion, what’s LiveChat’s secret to maintaining creativity?

Filip: I suppose it comes down to three main aspects. We provide fundamentals, we set the right expectations, and we stay creative about being creative. We also keep trying new methods.

Aleksandra: Those fundamentals sound like a mystery.

Filip: Fundamentals are all about managing our time and resources in a way that there’s still space for being creative. I can give you a very concrete example. A while back, our CTO introduced SAFe across all the product teams. It’s been a tremendous effort, but now we’re using it to manage projects across almost the entire company.

Aleksandra: What you’re saying is that introducing a new, rather corporate framework, a set of processes and rules, helped the company stay creative?

Filip: That’s right.

Aleksandra: Doesn’t it work the opposite way? 

Filip: People usually assume that project tracking software, corporate processes, and organizational systems are the greatest enemies of creativity. From my experience, it is the opposite. These are great tools to nurture creativity at scale. It seems counterintuitive at first, but trust me, it does work.

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Aleksandra: It’s like when you’re an illustrator but your desk is so messy that you don’t have the physical space to draw. Plus, it’s often mentally distracting.

Filip: Exactly! You use those frameworks to harness chaos in your workplace so that you can distribute resources properly. For instance, Platform Core engineering teams use the structure of the framework to spend two weeks every other month purely on innovation and research. The Developer Program team invests four hours every week in self-improvement. This wouldn’t be possible without effective time management. 

Aleksandra: So the concept of “artistic chaos” is a myth?

Filip: I’m afraid so. To me, it sounds like a bad excuse for not cleaning up your workspace.

Aleksandra: What about the second aspect you mentioned, having the right expectations?

Filip: Expectations are a medium for an innovative, growth mindset. They act as operational hints or guidelines. 

At LiveChat, we expect each other to welcome all feedback, to be open to ideas, and to constantly strive for being better. We’ve been communicating that since day one of every recruitment process. 

Aleksandra: I don’t remember this being mentioned during my recruitment process. Just kidding! 

Filip: In case we forget, our LiveChat Living Constitution says it all. It’s a paper version of the expectations for our team and products. It lets us stay focused and aligned with our values.

Aleksandra: Sure. You also mentioned experimenting. I’ve only been working at LiveChat for over a year, but I’ve experienced the fact that we’re open to trying out new things. I feel like all LiveChat employees make an impact, and our ideas are never neglected.  

Filip: I’m happy to hear that. One of the new ways to give a voice to everyone at LiveChat is the Side Project Day initiative. It’s a company-wide event organized to break us out of the status quo and to broaden our perspectives.

We just wrapped up the second edition and the results blew us away. The projects we saw were thorough and innovative, and the teamwork was remarkable. Seeing this level of engagement in people is deeply rewarding and motivates us to work even harder on the next editions.

There is a great guide on running hackathons by Joshua Tauberer, and it’s a must read if you ever consider organizing one.

Aleksandra: Speaking of hackathons…

Filip: We’re running another one soon. It’ll be an external online hackathon, meaning everyone is invited. For us, it’s an amazing opportunity to grow skills in the areas of event planning, organization, and mentoring. The exchange of thoughts and perspectives during the hackathon always brings tons of actionable feedback for product teams. Participants will have a chance to meet the LiveChat team, our culture and products, make valuable connections, and create something that might change the shape of communication. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Aleksandra: It seems too good to be true.

Filip: But it works! One of our products, ChatBot, was created during one of the LiveChat’s hackathons. Now, it is a full-fledged product in our suite of products. Just like in the story about inexpensive incubators, you never know. It might be your idea that turns out highly successful or even revolutionizes the world.

Aleksandra: As we know from earlier, the fear of failure shouldn’t stop you.

Filip: Exactly. This hackathon, and every similar event, is the time to put skepticism aside and beat perfectionism. The worst that can happen is that your idea doesn’t win, if that even matters to you, and you still end up with tons of experience and knowledge. To me, it sounds like a pretty good deal.

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Aleksandra: What about being creative in day-to-day work. Any parting advice?

Filip: Staying creative is all about embracing the growth mindset and not letting the fear of validation take control over you. You don’t need hackathons or special events for this. It applies to everyday duties, and in fact, to all aspects of your life. A very simple way to work on this is by embracing the word “yet.” If you, your coworker, or your child fails at something, don’t let them feel down. Say they’re just not there yet. Sometimes this word makes all the difference.

If you want to chat about creativity, let’s connect on Twitter!

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