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The Role of Joy in the Creative Workplace

by Lu, Co-Founder and CEO of Cibo.

Joy powers curiosity and curiosity powers discovery, imagination, and creativity.

I’m asked pretty regularly what it takes to “innovate.” What’s the process? What’s your special sauce? How do you create an environment where you have repeatable innovation? How do you run a business where you depend on the abundant availability of fresh, new creative ideas – EVERYDAY!?

From my point of view, the answer is very simple. It’s not about a process, it’s not about a special repeatable methodology, and it’s certainly not about performance metrics, financial incentives, or big data! It’s all about creating joy in the workplace. Sustained joy produces sustained curiosity which triggers our imaginations and creativity. To imagine, create, and innovate everyday you need to hire and keep great people who are powered by and motivated by joy—and produce an environment with them where joy is nurtured, protected, championed, and valued.

To regularly innovate, create or disrupt you have to be motivated to do so. You need to actually care about the problem you are solving and the people for whom you are solving it. Your brain needs to be genuinely excited and energized by problems and problem solving. Your brain needs to want to know more. It needs to want to dig in, to be curious, and to ask questions.

So why is this hard? Well, it’s not really. We’re all capable of being motivated by Joy. We’re all capable of powering our curiosity with joy and letting our curiosity drive the envisioning of new ways and ideas. We see this in children everyday, and as adults, we tend to see it in our creative hobbies—gardening, writing, crafting, cooking, building, etc. So why is it so hard to find in the workplace?

The workplace priorities of most businesses focus on productivity, service, profitability, sales, product development, etc. All very good things. But joy is not one of them. Joy, or things that sound, feel, or smell like joy are nowhere to be found in the core values or top priorities of most companies. Why is that? Does this mean that these businesses are joyless places?

The lack of an explicit focus on joy doesn’t ensure its absence, but it does mean that the leaders and managers of these business don’t see joy as something that can produce and power real results for their business. It’s not a daily priority. Perhaps for good reason given their businesses, but nonetheless joy is not a priority. Airlines focus on safety. Banks on security. Does joy make sense for your business? Do you run a creative organization, or one that depends upon creativity to thrive? If so, joy deserves more attention.

Understanding and managing joy in the workplace involves being aware of what creates energy and what takes away. In a high performing creative workplace, every day and every single interaction during that day has to produce joy. This inevitably means businesses need to be highly aware of what activities produce energy and which take energy away. The goal? Ending each day with net new positive energy.

This energy comes from the way that we engage and interact with each other. People enjoy being with other people. Sitting around a table with your friends, exploring a problem, asking questions, and exchanging ideas is fun! It’s energizing!

Merriam-Webster defines Joy as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” Creative people desire a high-performance, high-energy environment where their interactions with people and the application of their craft energizes them. They chose their careers not for fame and fortune, but to pursue their craft and be the best at it that they can possibly be. They generously give all of themselves to their craft everyday. Business owners, management and leaders, in turn, need to generously delivery a work environment where they can thrive and be joyful – everyday.

While simple in theory, the practice of producing this kind of environment requires real work on a daily basis. Real barriers to energy exist in almost all workplace environments, from interminable conference calls and death-by-meetings to perennially unsatisfying distributed team environments. Removing practices that drain creative energy as a first step provides space to develop the ways of interacting that can power innovation and creativity, or better yet, to have these practices arise naturally. Ultimately joy begets more joy. A joyful workplace produces a virtuous circle that, if you’re lucky, spirals out of control. That’s where true breakthroughs come from.

Want to know more about the role of Joy in the workplace and creating and delivering net positive energy? Contact the author at

You may not want to be a passenger in Lu’s car, (he used to race cars in the US and Australia) but he’s someone everyone wants on the team. As Co-Founder and CEO of Cibo, Lu’s passion for the agency and our client partners is infectious. It is this energetic, entrepreneurial drive that attracts top talent and moves the team through complex business challenges.

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