Break Out Of Your Creative Rut With Spontaneous Field Trips

At The Via Agency, events like office-wide dance parties and snow-sculpture contests have resulted in bigger and better ideas.

Break Out Of Your Creative Rut With Spontaneous Field Trips
[Image: Flickr user Mario Pleitez]

Three times a year, management at The Via Agency surprises their employees. After what seemed like a standard company-wide meeting, for example, president Leeann Leahy shut the office down for an hour in the middle of the day and sent everyone to the dance club across the street for a free drink and an hour to let loose. “We all dance our faces off and, then, you go back to work,” Leahy told Fast Company.

Leeann Leahy

Leahy calls these events “go dos,” shorthand for “get out, do things,” and they’re part of a larger effort to promote creativity. The ad agency operates under the theory that creativity comes from having a life outside of the office. Inspiration has to come from somewhere, after all.

To jump-start that behavior, Via sponsors go dos. Some of them are surprises, like the dance party, while others are scheduled, like a recent bocci tournament and beer and fiction night. Via also has a sabbatical program, where people who have been with the company for 10 years or more can take six weeks off to learn something new. Like any perk, these events serve to lift employee morale. But they also, in theory, lead to the type of creative thinking that translates into better work for Via’s clients, which include brands like Welch’s and Samsung. The agency has very low turnover and since starting the go dos two years ago, the teams have put out better and more work, according to Leahy.

The impromptu events are Leahy’s favorite and have the most apparent and immediate effect on employees. “We have found some of our most productive afternoons are after we’ve done a spontaneous go do,” she said. “The energy level is raised for the rest of the day.” Indeed, research has shown that exercise during the workday can boost productivity, and other studies have shown that workers should take more breaks during the day. Think of the company-wide dance party as an extension of the recent movement against the sad desk lunch.

Other spontaneous go dos have included a snow-sculpture contest outside the Portland, Maine offices, a trip to the local art museum, and a wacky food-tasting event. “You’re taken out of your comfort zone, twisted up a little bit, and sent back to work,” Leahy says.

The unplanned aspect is as important as the activity itself. Leahy tries to secretly organize the mandatory office-wide activities about once every quarter because it helps shake people out of ruts. Of course people will have meetings planned, and work to do, but that’s part of the point. “It’s like improv,” Leahy explained. “We want to train people to be open to whatever is thrown at them and to adapt it into their lives. It’s good training for people.”

To some, an enforced company trip to the club might sound horrifying. (So much awkward mingling!) Leahy assures me that attitude comes from living in New York, where she spent her entire life before moving to Maine to work at Via a year and a half ago. People in Portland, allegedly, have no problem dancing with coworkers. And that gives her agency an advantage over the Madison Avenue competitors, argues Leahy. “A creative person has to get up and present their ideas; it’s a lot harder than dancing in front of people,” Leahy says. “We have to create an environment that’s fearless.”

About the author

Rebecca Greenfield is a former Fast Company staff writer. She was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic Wire, where she focused on technology news.