In a quiet neighborhood in Jerusalem, hidden between ordinary buildings, just dozens of meters away from ordinary roads with ordinary cars with people driving to or back from work, I found a paradise. Maybe it wasn’t the Paradise, but to the residents of this ordinary-looking neighborhood and occasional visitors like me, it is as close as it gets.
Imagine you walk down the stairs between the old buildings and enter a different, magical world. The sound of cars is almost instantly replaced by birds singing. The buildings suddenly disappear, and instead, you are surrounded by trees, flowers, and butterflies. A narrow pathway leads to a magical pond with water lilies. As you pass it, you discover a tree with a sign offering you to make a wish and leave the note in one of the tin cans hanging from the branches. You do, and you continue to walk down the path, knowing that whatever you asked for will come true. After a couple of steps, you see a girl sitting on a wooden swing moving slowly as if the wind is gently playing with it. She is reading a book, and you think to yourself that this scene alone is enough to make this place look surreal. And at the end of the pathway, there’s a small inviting shack with hundreds of other books waiting for you to pick one and enter a fantasy within a fantasy. Within seconds, you forget where you came from and where you are heading, and you wish you could stay here a bit longer. It’s a dream-like place that seems both out of this world and exactly where it needs to be at the same time. It is as if you opened the door to Wonderland and stepped in. And the most magical thing about this fantasy world is that it is real, and it was created by people like you and me: the residents of the neighborhood.
I found this small paradise by accident when I allowed myself to get lost in the streets of Jerusalem. Without planning to, I stepped into this Community Garden created and maintained by the people living in the buildings surrounding it. With a bit of help from the municipality, but mostly with their own two hands, these people have managed to create a spiritual oasis: a magical island in the ocean of reality. Just a two-minute walk from one of the busiest streets in Jerusalem, this hidden garden is a breath of fresh air both physically and mentally. When you step into it, you feel its effect on you. You let it change you and make things possible. You believe you are at home, even if you have just stepped in for the first time in your life.
To understand the beauty of the idea, consider the alternative. If the municipality wanted to create such a magical space at a grand scale, it would have taken more than just vast amounts of money. It would have had to find an area big enough for the garden, maybe change the city development plans, create proper infrastructure, and probably fight against some major stakeholders aiming to do something more down-to-earth with the land. It takes money, energy, and tons of motivation to even start such a project.
If you manage to do that, you might end up with a beautiful park in a lovely location somewhere in the city. People will surely use it and enjoy it, but will they feel it is theirs? It will be a place to spend some time in, but will it be a place they can call home? It will host thousands of people a day, but will they feel they are part of a community?
The magic of Community Gardens is that they manage to achieve much more with much less. The financial investment in a Community Garden is negligible. Thanks to its small scale, it usually doesn’t require any significant change of plans or special infrastructure. It is, by definition, physically closer to where people live, and so they feel more connected to it — it brings the magic to them. And as the community is involved in creating and maintaining it, the garden becomes an integral part of them. It is their creation. It is one of the things that makes them a community. And this is how such a place becomes even more magical.
The concept of Community Gardens is more than a win-win concept. It changes the game by inverting a challenge and turning it into an opportunity. Community Gardens are an excellent example of how small and local change-islands can make a real difference.
Now consider a medium or large size organization wishing to become a more creative organization — a change that depends on the organizational culture and mindset. One option is to work top-down. You could define organization-wide processes and tools, infrastructure, and even dedicated roles to set the ground for applying Creativity throughout the organization. Such a move will probably need many discussions and decisions, quite a few resources, and an extensive, gradual implementation plan. A cultural change like this requires the attention and energy of organization’s leadership. It is bound to be a long journey until it really affects the mindset of people and how they operate daily. When such a change is dictated by Management, there is always a chance people will not feel connected to it, if only because they were told what to do and how to do it. Cultural and mindset changes are more effective when they grow naturally and organically.
Global mindset change is expensive (even if only in terms of time and energy investment), far from being trivial, and can create quite a push-back regardless of how good the goal is. But just like Community Gardens, you can invert this challenge and develop local and organic islands of change with significantly fewer resources and amazingly greater impact.
Creating a setup for local paradises of Creativity — autonomous islands supported by the organization but not managed globally — can be a game-changer. Imagine a leadership that encourages teams to start the journey toward becoming more creative by experimenting with it, trying different things, choosing their own path, and cultivating their own local Community Gardens. Any practice the team will adopt will fit them better than a global practice or tool that was chosen by some committee for the entire organization. Any idea that will grow out of this experiment will be owned by the team. They will naturally feel attached to it, and that would be a perfect starting point to make the most of it and continue to evolve it. The team will create their own culture — their own mindset. And when it comes to Creativity, which is tightly connected with self-expression and a sense of freedom, owning the culture and the mindset is priceless.
In different organizations, various aspects are managed, controlled, and monitored hierarchically, many of them for good reasons. Creativity, however, is a magical wild creature. When you try to tame it, it cannot thrive. By encouraging teams to own the responsibility of leading a creative professional life and supporting them, if only by giving them the space to do so, these local islands will naturally grow and spread across the organization. They will evolve into a solid foundation for applying Creativity. Best of all, the people who make your organization will feel they are not just at home but at a place they have personally created.