Understanding Company Culture and Creativity

In the past decade, there has been increasing pressure on businesses to clearly define their “company culture.” Oftentimes, job seekers know that company culture is important, but can be more concerned about getting the job than making sure they fit in with the environment.

It can be argued that fitting in with the company environment is as important as finding the right position on the right team. Before diving into how job seekers can discover what type of culture a company has, it’s important to know some of the companies that have been praised for establishing a clear, unique culture.

Lynne Vincent, assistant professor of management at the Whitman School has published research linking creativity to entitlement and the importance of supporting creative cultures at work, rather than supporting only creative individuals.

“More organizations are trying to encourage employee creativity and build a culture that supports creativity. The mission or vision statements of two-thirds of Fortune 100 companies include the terms “innovate” or “creative.” It is easy to say that they want creativity. However, actually supporting creativity is much more difficult. Creativity is risky,” explained Vincent. “So, while mission and vision statements are useful, job candidates need to look at what the organization is actually doing to get a better sense of the culture.”

A few companies that have achieved establishing a creative culture, rather than only focusing on encouraging and supporting a few creative individuals are Apple, Google and Facebook. These companies receive countless media headlines because of the creative cultures they’ve established. Below are a few companies who are lesser known for their company cultures, but have been praised by their highly satisfied employees.

Companies with creative cultures:


When we think “pharma,” we also often think starch white and buttoned up. However, Genentech is one pharmaceutical company that has fostered innovation through its creative culture. For Genentech, the culture comes from the top down.

Art Levinson, current chairman for Genentech, was someone who enabled his employees to take risks because “no matter how bold [you] tried to be, there’s no way [you] could be bolder than him,” said Bernard Munos, an innovation expert and founder of the InnoThink Center for Research in Biomedical Innovation.


As a company, REI is built on sustainability. CEO Sally Jewell explains the importance of building sustainability into REI’s goals and values as critical because “[the environment] is important to the long-term health of the planet, and therefore, the long-term health of our business.”

REI has established company goals to include everyone in the fight for long-term sustainability, which means that it’s not only a statement on the website, but rather all employees are engaged in reducing the company’s carbon emissions and bringing its landfill waste down to zero by 2020.


Adobe, the company that gives us Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator (among others), takes its creative culture to heart. About one year ago, Adobe launched Kickbox, which is a way to encourage employees to be creative, innovative and come up with Adobe’s next big idea – with no strings attached.

Any Adobe employee can request a Kickbox (he or she cannot get denied the request), goes through strongly encouraged entrepreneurial training for two days, and then is encouraged to open the box. Inside the box, employees will find a Bic pen, two sets of Post-it notes, a timer, a Staples mini notebook for “Bad Ideas,” a slightly larger spiral notebook, a World Market caramel and sea salt chocolate bar, a $10 Starbucks gift card, and a $1,000 prepaid debit card.

These tools are meant to be a blank slate for the employee to explore a creative idea he or she may have. Employees do not need to submit expense reports for the prepaid card and do not even have to ultimately submit a Kickbox idea. For Adobe, they created a full program to encourage creativity and innovation.

How to uncover a company’s culture

From the examples discussed, it’s clear that there is no step-by-step guide for a company to establish a creative culture, as it can come in many different shapes. There are a few steps job seekers can take to discover company culture without asking “what’s the company culture here.”

The easiest and quickest way to find insight into a company’s culture is to follow the company on their social channels. The people posting on social have been trained on the voice and values of the company, and the posts will reflect those.

If there’s an opportunity to go into the office, the layout of the workspace, type of furniture and kind of artwork on the walls can all provide insight into the vibe at that company. Are people working in closed cubicles? Are there any open, collaborative spaces? Is the artwork abstract or literal? Is the furniture modern? What color is it? These details can easily be overlooked.

In an interview, instead of asking what the culture is, there are more indirect questions that can provide better insight to the answer to this question.

Possible questions to ask would be:

  • What performance review system is used here?
  • How does this company support personal and professional growth?
  • What’s one thing you could change about the company, if you could?
  • What’s the best part about working here that I wouldn’t be able to see from a walk around the office?

Vincent agrees that the trick to uncovering a company’s true culture can lie in the questions posed to interviewers and current employees. Some questions she suggests to include are:

  • What is the relationship between supervisors and employees like?
  • What is the relationship among employees like? Are coworkers talking to each other about different ideas?
  • What is the level of autonomy people have?
  • Creativity takes time. Do people have enough time to complete tasks and explore different options?
  • How do supervisors and company leaders react to failure?

Finding a company culture that you fit in with is as important as finding the right position. Being in the right culture will help you progress through your career, find role models and enjoy going to work.

Sarah Graham