I’ve mentioned in the past that my origins were in building communities online around video games, first doing it personally on my own than eventually professionally for some of the largest video game publishers at the time (i.e. Sierra, Activision, Konami). Today though, I’m researching and writing on Creativity, Social Innovation, and the Future of Work. To some these might seem like completely different things, thus they don’t relate even slightly, but to me one is a natural progression of the other. That’s because the Future of Work is about building organizations that function more like communities, whereby playing and learning are just as important as working, thus giving a greater sense of meaning and purpose to everyone within the organization, both as an individual and as a whole.

While my foray into building communities around the video game industry fell off a cliff with the Internet Bubble bursting in 2001, I did try to find my way back in around 2005 but the companies I approached were pretty conventional and thus couldn’t see these shifts that I could see. Hell, most companies back then saw communities as an expense rather than as an asset, a bridge to their customers. Luckily today though that’s still not the case, as companies on the leading edge are becoming self-aware of this need for community and how it can release the creative potential of people, be they employees internally or customers externally.

This became clearly evident when reading the results of a recent GamesBeat 2016 panel on creativity and diversity, headed by an equally diverse group of people from within the industry. The following is a breakdown of the key topics covered by this panel and how they mirror key points and perspectives within my own research. Of particular note, Megan Gaiser’s perspective and insights were the most relatable to my own, as it was apparent she was often seeing things a step beyond her peers.

Nicole Lazzaro: “Our panel is about creativity and diversity: “What has love got to do with it?” If you think about it, creativity is the power to create something new. It’s to buck the status quo. Unconscious bias is the thing that divides us, the thing that separates us one from another. It’s almost like two separate trucks on the same highway, pulling in different directions.”

Diversity – Over the years, I’ve noticed that many notable authors have been all talking about the same thing but from different disciplinary perspectives, often using their own technical language to do so. Within their articles and books, they will even mention creativity as an element or aspect of their research and findings. In reality though, I’ve found it’s the other way around. All of these authors have been unknowing talking about creativity and their work is often an element or aspect of it. Diversity is no different. It is an element or building block of creativity. In fact the first stage of creativity relates to a sense of divergence, deviating from the norm and stepping off the path.

Love – Love is the perfect word to describe the outcome of creativity as social innovation when applied to ourselves. It is a sense of integration and wholeness, a unity of many becoming one. This is achieve through an evolutionary growth process of trusting, believing, and finally loving, be it ourselves or others.

Creating – Creativity is like energy shifting from one state to another. To transform and create something new, it often means letting go or destroying something else in the process. This is why the first stage of creativity has a sense of divergence to it. You often begin by questioning the status quo, thus opening yourself up to emptying your cup and letting go of old beliefs or perspectives that may be limiting you. Only by doing so, can you think of new possibilities and ideas. This is one of the most fundamental aspects of creativity called creative destruction that’s often unknown to most people.

Tension – Tension is an integral and generative aspect of creativity. I first started understanding this years ago when reading The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, when he described it as “creative tension” which is the “juxtaposition between your vision and your current reality”. I saw this replicated in other books like Practical Visionary by Corinne McLaughlin and even in organizational development research whereby people at the highest mindset stage of action logics (aka human development) are so in tune with creativity as a way of living that they can fluidly switch back and forth between practical present matters and future visionary matters with ease.

Megan Glaiser: “The reason I believe that creativity is the mother of diversity is because it takes an open heart and mind to genuinely welcome diverse people, perspectives, and as a result products. People know when they’re not respected as equals. They can feel it. That’s why most people only bring half of themselves to work, because they don’t feel safe enough to let down their guards and truly collaborate. By using creativity to problem-solve, we inspire diversity.”

Openness – People fear the unknown, or at the very least feel uneasy and uncomfortable around something they can’t relate to or categorize within their worldview. This has been shown time and again in many recent articles that note how most “mainstream” companies don’t want people being creative because they often think outside the norm and often proactively try to solve problems autonomously on their own in an entrepreneurial way. Thus creative people are often seen as being “disruptive” and “rocking the boat” to conventional management mindsets who’d prefer people to do just what they’re told like “reliable machines”. Therefore to be open to the creativity of others, it means one has to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and stepping into the unknown. In effect, as someone mentioned to me, you have to become comfortable disrupting yourself.

Equality – I’ve strived time again to be seen as an equal at work, yet time and again titles, departments, and bureaucracy often get in the way, regardless of how beneficial my ideas may have been at the time. I remember in particular one company, after coming up with a simple yet highly innovative solution that appeased a large portion of their customer base, that I couldn’t be a part of the feature team because I didn’t have an engineering degree. Even worse, I go no financial bonus for my idea, even though the company founder thought it was ingenious at the time. Today though, with breakthrough books like Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux, we’re seeing a whole new worldview and approach to working which dissolves most of the inequality and bureaucracy in organizations, letting ideas emerge from anywhere (just as leadership will as noted further below).

Wholeness – Back in 2005, I was frustrated with the way work worked and wanted to “feel alive” in it. I felt like I couldn’t find a job that could contain all that I am, my true potential, nor find a company with a culture that felt like home, where I felt safe enough to take risks and reveal my whole self. Today I find it no different but now realize that it’s because we need to go beyond the concept of a “job” and a “resume”, as these outdated social artifacts are limiting the way we look at ourselves, both from an individual and organizational perspective. Of course to go beyond these things, allowing individuals to become more interdisciplinary (aka polymaths), we must do the same in organizations, breaking down departmental silos allowing teams to become more interdisciplinary in turn. Mash-up! by Ian Sanders and David Sloly touches upon how individuals are embracing this shift. And The Connected Company by Dave Gray and Everything Connects by Faisal Hoque and Drake Baer touch upon how organizations are embracing this shift.

Inspiration – Creativity as a process, in terms of trying to achieve a Social Innovation, is broken down into three stages: Connect, Empower, and Inspire. While many might see inspiration as a starting point, I’ve realized it’s the ending point, the final stage. Don’t get me wrong. While you can most definitely be inspired to start your own creative process by viewing the creation of someone else (as a spark if you will), you often won’t be able to complete the process until you learn to inspire yourself. This is why most artists and authors will say not to sit around waiting for inspiration because one must learn to create an environment, a space, which inspires us and awakens us emotionally, thus helping to sustain our creative heart and energies perpetually.

Megan Glaiser: “Creative leadership is simply encouraging what’s possible for the greater good. It’s leading with curiosity to discover new ways to do things instead of sticking with the status quo. In our case, we redesigned the system, since the system didn’t include us.”

Curiosity – I’ve liken the process of creativity (connecting, empowering, inspiring) similar to being an explorer, navigator, and storyteller of a whole New World. To leave the Old World though, one has to have a curiosity for what’s out there in the unknown. Without that curiosity though, there is no interest or drive to playfully explore.

Systems – In exploring this unknown New World, I’ve likened the process of creativity to stepping outside of something known into the unknown (so not just on the edge but beyond the edge) and then walking around this unknown virtually within our heads until we are able to view it from many different perspectives at once. Once we fully understand these perspectives and integrate them holographically as one, we then attain a leap of logic and see the whole of what we’re looking at as a complete and unified system (in effect, creating a whole new worldview of understanding within our minds). This mirrors Margaret Wheatley’s article on creative emergence as a three stage process of shifting from networks, to communities, and finally to systems. It also mirrors the work by Valdis Krebs and June Holley on Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving

Ru Weerasuriya: “For all of us as developers, especially in teams, to look at exactly the same problem, but find a solution for it, you need different thinking. Different thinking comes from your background, your culture, your gender, your religion. Whatever it is that makes you different will make you look at the same problem in a different way. That’s how we’ve always worked. We’ve encouraged our team because they’re diverse to look at something the same way and come up with different solutions.”

Nicole Lazzaro: “One of the major obstacles to that is unconscious bias. It’s a way of thinking that puts walls between people.”

Ru Weerasuriya: “For us it’s always been a meritocracy. Quotas go against that. For us it’s always the same thing. There is a position open. You want to be a developer, you need to be good at it. It doesn’t matter where you come from. Ultimately, no one will respect you if you can’t do the job. Whether you’re a man, a woman, minority, whether you come from anywhere, you need to be respected for the job that you do. So I don’t truly believe in quotas.”

Bias – Whatever your current perspective, mindset, or worldview, it has limitations to it which equate to this unconscious bias mentioned above. Of course the problem is that these biases create invisible “walls” and boundaries that we can’t see, thus we are often unaware of how they limit us, even when they’re right under our very noses the entire time. For example, I agree with not having quotas because they force us to act on picking talent rather than allowing the talent to emerge naturally. But of course this only works if you can overcome your unconscious bias by becoming consciously aware of it. We do this by looking inside ourselves which paradoxically allows us to step outside ourselves, thus giving us a more objective view of ourselves as a whole.

Ability – A perfect example of this unconscious bias is in meritocracy mentioned above. Ultimately it comes down to “Can the person do the job?” Well if you’re looking through a “job” and “resume” lens, as I mentioned earlier, you will be unconsciously removing people before you even get below the surface of them and understand their complexity, capacity, and potential for the work because you will auto filter and scan based upon previous job titles. In effect, it’s not about going “outside” the company to hire. It’s about going outside your existing perspectives and beliefs to hire. In this way, hiring internally or externally is irrelevant. It’s about seeing a potential in someone that you wouldn’t normal hire based upon existing beliefs. In this way, we begin to see potential possibilities, ideas, and people lying dormant under our very noses, like raw gems waiting to be mined. One way of diving deep and understanding the true potential of people is looking at their D.A.T.A. (Desires, Abilities, Temperament, Assets) as mentioned in the book JobShift by William Bridges.

Megan Glaiser: “I think it’s great that companies are putting diversity quotas and those types of tactics in place, but it doesn’t necessarily address the root of the problem, which is the need for leadership transformation. People want to be a part of the community, not a work force. Unconscious bias is holding us all back. It requires that we first become conscious of our biases so we can recondition the way we think to act differently, to lead more inclusively. True diversity — and I totally agree with you — requires a cultural reformation. And so not only do we need to ensure that diversity is hired, we also need to ensure that we put diverse people in leadership positions, so they’re in the room also making those key decisions. We need to ensure that the current leadership team — we invest in them to make sure they’re also diverse thinkers. The call to action is to reimagine how we fundamentally do business. In order to do that we need to tap into our creative intelligence, or rather re-learn it, since we were all born with it. That’s when we’re going to inspire collective intelligence, which is actually what diversity brings.”

Nicole Lazzaro: “We’re looking for a new type of leadership that’s coming. From the ground up we want to look at our processes and encourage diversity.”

Megan Glaiser: “Creativity is the most important leadership skill in the 21st century. We should be leading with it. It’s the antidote to unconscious bias, because it encourages us and inspires us to do and be better. Creativity has been dismissed in leadership historically because it couldn’t be quantified, but that’s no longer the case. There’s significant research that underscores both the logic and the benefits of leading with creative intelligence supported by analytical intelligence.”

Leadership – As I noted above, when we become more aware of our unconscious biases, we begin to see invisible connections and relationships that were hidden under our very noses the entire time. At the same time, we begin to see the true potential of people as well. This is great because suddenly we begin to see the leadership potential emerging all around us. But don’t stop there. Don’t stop at thinking who can we promote or hire to our leadership team to ensure a sense of diversity. Go beyond that. Let go of traditional leadership altogether, as being a select group controlling and managing the actions of others. In this way, leadership doesn’t become a pipeline for a select few but a core aspect of your company culture that is embodied collectively in everyone, thus evolving your organization into a self organizing one. Again books like Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux can show the way here, showing how leaders bubble up and emerge more naturally in these types of cultural environments.

Megan Glaiser: “Make curiosity a key part of everyone’s job. View the design of everything as a tool for connecting and uniting the company.”

In closing, I just want to wrap this all up by returning to my past origins in building communities online around video games. Around 2003, I began curiously questioning why the communities I helped build were so successful and positive. I realized it was because of their culture and how “we created a diverse and inclusive culture from the start”, just as Megan described how Her Interactive got started for her colleagues and herself. Later around 2008, I realized this even went further. These communities around video games were actual sandboxes where next generational organizational development approaches were being experimented with and the more I reflected back on my intuitive approaches to teamwork and self-organization within these communities, the more I saw the Future of Work mirrored within them. This is something which the books A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, as well as In The Bubble by John Thackara, are noticing as well.

As I said at the start of this post, while some may see my background in building communities online around video games as completely different from my research and writing on Creativity, Social Innovation, and the Future of Work, I see instead a natural progression and evolution that has almost taken me full circle, returning me back to my roots of where I originally started but in a different context. At the same time, it’s nice to see game development companies awakening to this same thinking and beginning to consciously design playful learning environments inside their organizations to foster creativity and diversity at work in turn.