Brand Culture essentials to stay ahead of the curve

Authors: Louise Cowley
  • Posted on: August 28, 2023

To build movements, you can’t simply rely on the moment. In the world of social impact, innovation is becoming more and more crucial to supercharging your reach and engagement. Whether you’re mobilising the masses, reaching conscious consumers or solving world hunger, sharpening your tactics has never been more important to meeting your mission. Up against the flashy new world of future tech or drowning in a sea of disengagement? Time to innovate.  But how exactly do you go about inviting it in?

Fuelling your mission is an all year round graft.  A little creative thinking can kickstart innovation.  

Whether you’re a  purpose-led brand or working in social impact, there’s a set of universal pressures which squeeze the space needed to innovate. Making meaningful changes to the way of working can feel risky, difficult or down right impossible.

But at Shape History we don’t believe in the impossible. Instead, we developed SHAPE.Create, a summer long testing ground to explore new approaches and expand our horizons. 

We’ve gathered the insights from our experiments in innovation, distilled into the INNOVATION [PLAY]BOOK  to help you develop a brand, culture and operations which innovate for impact. Hey, we’ve done the hard work so you don’t have to. Let’s get you thinking differently in three simple steps..

PLAY – The foundation of your organisational thinking

It may sound a little predictable that as a Creative Director I’d be preaching the virtue of creative thinking, but maybe not so much the value of play. Play is the space which develops creativity, problem solving and alternative approaches. As a society we can’t speak highly enough of play when it comes to child learning and cognitive development. But why did we decide to ditch play in favour of adulting? 

Picture, if you will, myself and our Strategy Director, Lewis, at the United Nations World Urban Forum surrounded by thought leaders and decision makers from around the world. 

Engaged in deep discussion at the Foundations and Philanthropies Roundtable are fifteen representatives from major foundations and philanthropies putting their heads together to innovate on ways to help the international community achieve the SDGs by 2030.

 What were we doing? Playing with Lego. 

  • That’s Lewis making a lego duck

Why? The answer is simple.  If we want to innovate, we need to create space to play. 

Play offers up stimulation to multiple parts of the brain, half of which tends to remain unengaged in our working environments. Play is not only proven to be vital for intellectual development, learning, and communication, but it also engages your imagination – opening up our self expression and tapping into the parts of ourselves which we tend to leave at the office door. Play is fuel for neuroplasticity. It allows us to break out of our routine thinking and apply our whole selves to make new connections in the brain, so we can problem solve and innovate. 

But this isn’t just about thinking different, individually. Play is inherently collaborative. Offering up methods of play within your working practices creates an environment that better suits the inclusion of multiple lived experiences, learning styles and neurodiversity. Ask yourself, can you truly say that your working practices allow every member of your team to engage fully and bring their best self to the work? More collaboration, more different brains in the room, more fully engaged brains, better thinking. It’s a no brainer. 

This is why we’ve pioneered SHAPE.Create,a festival of creativity, learning and innovation centred around a programme of play. 


If we’re engaging the principles of play in order to think different, then great. We’ve got some new thinking going. BUT different isn’t always better. Innovation is harnessing different strategically, with forward, progressive momentum. 

So how do we get from different, to better?

You guessed it, play. The mortal enemy of great thinking is fear. Fear of failure, fear of looking stupid, fear of asking the question, fear of being ‘allowed’ to do it differently. So let’s take fear out of the equation and go back to play. 

You can’t fail at play. It’s a safe space to ask questions, to explore. No one expects you to have an answer in play. There’s nothing to get wrong. It’s pure unadulterated freedom for your brain to explore alternatives without repercussion. 

Play encourages you to do things you’re not good at, to challenge yourself. Just ask the Shape History Planners and Strategists sitting in our life drawing classes. Innovation asks you to avoid the familiar and get a little uncomfortable. 
Being crap at something is the whole point. You learn how to fail in a safe space. It’s research into reducing fear, to encourage everyone to step out of their box and just have a go. It’s this form of learning, to fall forward, that pushes different, into better.


Now, innovation does not have to be as complicated or ‘high brow’ as you’d expect. You don’t need a fancy ideas room or a ‘power hour’ chucked in the middle of your day. What you do need is to consider the culture you’ve built. 

Shaping a brand that facilitates innovation at every level is down to the culture you actively facilitate. Does it honour co-creating? How does feedback work? How much do you spend time experimenting? Your people drive your culture, so if you aren’t providing opportunities for them to be innovative, you minimise the potential to spark what you’re after.  

More on people and operations, If you see the value in being at the cutting edge of your work, the diversity of your team is crucial to these outputs. And we aren’t just saying this, it’s what we really do. Our people are the very fabric of what we do and our culture is informed by the diversity of thought, lived experiences and ideas they bring to our work. 

Our race equity and neurodiversity steering groups have especially allowed us to celebrate and empower our team whilst also making space for us to regularly review how and what we offer up as practices in collaboration, co-creation and more. This has been transformative in how we’ve been able to get the best out of our people, which in turn, has helped us make some truly ingenious work. Outside of this, inviting in more ingenuity can look like..

  1. Improving pathways and existing processes to help co-creation thrive 
  2. Embedding more opportunities for the team to switch hats and be creative
  3. Planting more seeds to continuously learn about your audiences. It’s not enough to stick to what you know, commit to deeply understanding their motivations and behaviours. Question everything. 


So hopefully you’ve gathered it isn’t rocket science. But it isn’t all just legos and feedback loops. We’ll drop in some more insights on our summer experiment soon but if you’re wanting an spark some innovation yourself, reach out here to chat to the team about our consultancy offering and how we can help you spark new ideas.