Quarterly Publications

Curating a Creative Culture

Starting with Culture


Culture is your greatest competitive advantage. Some business leaders may value their intellectual property, their capital investments, or even their portfolio of products or services as their greatest assets; but none of that would be possible without great company culture.

Josh Bersin, founder of Bersin by Doloitte, defines culture as, “the set of behaviors, values, artifacts, reward systems, and rituals that make up your organization – you can “feel” culture when you visit a company, because it is often evident in people’s behavior, enthusiasm, and the space itself.” And Gestalt psychologists define creativity as, “something that generates a new idea, insight, or solution through imagination rather than through logic or reason.”

What is most important for an industry centered around creating new and exciting ways to learn, explore, and thrill, is to not just create a great culture, but to create a great creative culture. At PGAV Destinations – every day our designers are immersed in that kind of exciting environment. Sarah Neal of CatMedia frames the importance of a creative culture like this:

“By implementing creativity, you open the door for employees from all different departments to come together as a team, increasing engagement and interaction in the workplace. When employees are able to work as a cohesive team, the staff morale goes up, making the environment more fun, happy, and laid back. Who wouldn’t want to work for a company with a work environment like that? This will attract more employees and retain quality workers. Creativity will always make your employees want to learn more by seeking multiple options, ideas, and solutions for the business.”

But, “simply adding a Ping-Pong table to your break room isn’t enough,” says Alison Quirk, EVP of State Street Corporation. “Workplace perks like nap rooms, coffee bars, and on-site massage might be nice-to-haves, but they aren’t the only path to creating a workplace culture that encourages the kind of personal and strategic risk-taking that creativity requires.” Over the last several years, PGAV Destinations staff have helped guide the creation of numerous innovative programs to grow and celebrate a powerful, fast-paced, exciting, and fun workplace community. This not only creates a culture that attracts career-long commitment to PGAV, but is penultimate in achieving our mission of creating destinations that enrich lives, enhance communities, and celebrate culture, nature, and heritage.

In this issue of Destinology, we take a look at how PGAV Destinations is experimenting with innovative ways to curate a creative culture, and the powerful and lasting impact those efforts are achieving.

Full shot of PGAV team while visiting Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Expeditions for Exploration

Professional and personal development brings new ideas and intelligence to your staff, fueling the expansion of their creativity and wells from which to draw their ideas.

At PGAV Destinations, a program called PGAV GO! annually allots each staff member $1,500 to apply towards self-directed professional development. To-date PGAV Destinations leadership has committed more than a quarter million dollars to fund growth and learning opportunities. These funds have empowered our team to travel the world, achieve professional certification, visit astounding destinations, and much more outside of regular business hours. One PGAV zoo designer traveled the Galapagos Islands to observe the evolutionary process first-hand, while a leading aquarium designer traveled to Patagonia to visit Osbert, her Magellanic penguin she has sponsored for five years. Other designers have leveraged the opportunity to visit new conferences, while some have gotten hands-on training in crafts that directly relate to our project work, from making wine or cheese by hand, to learning Latin or professional videography.

“We traveled halfway around the world to find it was both bigger and smaller than we could have anticipated. We had a desire to travel, the opportunity to do so, and a supporting PGAV family to help us get there.” – Teague Peak, Architectural Designer and India Traveler

Upon completion, our staff will often share their new insights and experiences with our entire team at all-staff meetings. You can visit our blog to read about four designers’ architectural tour of India, creating and sponsoring scholarships at our alma maters, attending cutting-edge conferences, and more PGAV GO! experiences.

“Leisure time also activates what’s called the “default mode network“ in your brain that signals your mind to look at problems in a new way,” says State Street’s Allison Quirk. “The novelty of trying something new can reshape your approach to a problem and help you come at things in a new way.” After endless hours of kickball in the snow, collaborating to curate our own inner-office art gallery, and traveling as a pack to cheer on our Cardinals, PGAV has no qualms with letting
loose and playing together.

Refreshed and renewed, our staff then bring insights from these experiences back into their own designs and project strategies, creating better destinations for our clients and their guests.


Give Time, Get Inspired

We can often become all too comfortable with our company’s operations and ways of problem solving. Engaging with the community exposes us to people outside of our fields and educational backgrounds. As we labor over planting trees or hammering in nails on roofing shingles together, we chat with our volunteer comrades and learn about their organizations, challenges, teams, and ideas. To help foster a creative culture in your team, it’s essential to help them discover new sources of ideas and creativity. One such source is corporate volunteering. Not only does volunteering expose your staff to new teams and ways of problem solving, it also strengthens team cohesiveness, attracts new talent, and builds community relationships.

This year at PGAV Destinations, we joined the Sam Fox School of Design at Washington University’s Alberti Program as a five year, $125,000 sponsor and volunteer resource. Through this opportunity, our designers help lead workshops at Washington University for students ages eight through 15 about architecture, community, and the environment. This program exposes youth to creative industry leaders, art, and architecture opportunities that they may otherwise never have.

PGAV's Designer Maura Pusateri“Sharing what I know and someone understanding what I’m saying reminds me that we all just have to slow down to work together, and we all will come out ahead. This isn’t only about the kids; it’s about all of us learning to help each other.”Maura Pusateri, Designer


PGAV's Project Manager Justin Stichter“Alberti is an amazing forum for these young students; and through their exposure to the world of architecture and design, their imaginations have been launched into an amazing opportunity to explore, invent, and dream. It was an honor to be a part of it – if only for a few short minutes.”Justin Stichter, Project Manager


PGAV has integrated a new volunteer program in the last couple years: PGAVia (Volunteers in Action). With this initiative, our staff gives their time throughout the community for wildlife and conservation efforts, as well as engaging in annual campaigns such as pollinator habitat protection and stopping the illegal ivory trade. 2015’s Ivory Campaign generated significant groundswell energy, beginning simply with watching documentaries and creating an online, anti-illegal ivory petition, the effort culminated with a life-sized purple elephant puppet in the St. Louis Mardi Gras parade. The progress attracted so much attention that it influenced Missouri State Representative Jeanne Kirkton to introduce HB 2747 to the State Congress to ban the sale of illegal ivory!

Volunteering is a remarkable way for your staff to generate new ideas and strengthen bonds – both internally and within your local community.

Tony Schmidt educates a student on a design program during Alberti at Washington University
Photo: James Byard/Washington University


The Right Mix

In this issue of Destinology, we’re exploring how to encourage a creative culture with our current staff by providing volunteer opportunities, a safe environment in which to share stories and ideas, seeking teaching outlets, and developing programs for our teams to pursue personal and professional development. However much support we might develop for our teams, it’s persistently essential to keep hiring new talent to bring fresh energy and perspectives into the organization.

In 2016, PGAV Destinations has significantly grown its workforce, hiring designers, marketers, and support staff from a remarkably diverse set of backgrounds. These new team members are already injecting fresh perspectives and new twists on our culture, making our office a better place to work. However, it’s not about replacing the old with the new. PGAV maintains one of the highest employee retention rates in the destination design industry. This cultivates a remarkable sea of mentors within our walls and above our drawing boards, collaborating daily with our newest staff. They work seamlessly in tandem, combining unbridled enthusiasm and new lessons from the classroom with decades of varied, international experience to create invaluable teams.

While hiring proven and successful staff, or fresh graduates out of top universities, can help increase an organization’s value and venture into new horizons, it’s important to avoid hiring a lot of people who are “similarly creative.” Matt Williams, CEO of the Martin Agency, notes that “the peril is ‘creative redundancy,’ or a uniform culture where challenging points of view are simply not present in the room. The uniformity of the culture can be so strong that everyone you hire sees the world and solves problems the same way.

Friction is grist for the creative mill.

Creative people need an environment that encourages debate and surrounds them with others who challenge assumptions and can add to their ideas.”

Alison Quirk of State Street Corporation seconds the notion of a diverse creative team. “Diverse groups yield better solutions and a variety of perspectives, insights, and learning styles to accelerate problem-solving,” she says. “There’s also a term for this – the Medici Effect – which posits that a diverse team has a better chance of generating groundbreaking ideas thanks to the varying ways it approaches a problem.” When we seek out a diverse set of skilled talent – from different cities, states, and countries; non-traditional industries and educational backgrounds; different life-paths, from head-of-the-class students to global backpackers; introverts and extroverts – we create an environment bursting with a world of experience and ideas, helping generate some of the most unique and creative solutions for our own company as well as our guests and clients.


Communicating Creativity

Giving team members the platforms to share their creative ideas, and encouraging a safe zone to collaborate and discuss those ideas, is a fundamental component of enabling a creative culture.

Encouraging a fun, open, storytelling culture enables staff to freely share new ideas and collaboratively problem solve, learning from one another and growing together. In Storytelling: It Can Change Your Mind, we noted that interpersonal neurobiology is investigating how our brains grow when we tell each other our life stories. In fact, our brains make little distinction between our own experiences and someone else’s: the same areas of the brain light up either way, creating fascinating personal connections. As Salman Rushdie once said, “Man is the storytelling animal. It’s the thing that defines us. We tell stories to understand  ourselves.”


In 2013, Designer Amanda Yates started Second Tuesdays in St. Louis, a kind of spin off of The Moth or This American Life podcasts. Learning a great deal about hosting storytelling sessions, and the emotional empowerment and group learning that can come from sharing one’s story, she brought that program inside the walls of PGAV to our own staff.

Later that year, Amanda along with Exhibit Designer Carol Breeze, and a small team started Spot on Story, named for our beloved staff mascot. On one Friday afternoon each quarter, our staff gather with handfuls of snacks and drinks, settle in to comfy chairs, to laugh, listen, and tear up as a half dozen of our team take the stage to tell their stories. Each Spot on Story centers on a given theme; and for one hour, donned in costumes surrounded by endless props and visuals, storytellers celebrate our history, our culture, and share industry learning. It’s a remarkable opportunity for our team to hone their presentation skills, come together and strengthen relationships, and learn and grow together. Storytelling pervades everything we do at PGAV, and Spot on Story gives a moment to pause and spin a yarn together.

“Sometimes too serious a mindset can hinder creativity,” says Hongkiat contributor Michael Poh. “Having fun during work allows one to be relaxed, and that’s where one tends to get inspired with wonderful ideas.”

“Once you have your dream team in place, encouraging those creative souls to speak out will empower them and help steer the company,” says Martin Agency CEO Matt Williams. To embody this empowerment, PGAV launched #LoveWhatYouDo in 2015. As our most recent social media campaign and this year’s recruiting slogan, #LoveWhatYouDo features PGAV current and emerging leaders sharing their personal stories of how they were inspired to explore destination design and the passion that continues to drive them. Through this process, our team discovered relatable origins to their careers and motivation, and found courage and pride in celebrating their craft. From exploring the woods behind their homes to building the entire Rebel fleet out of cardboard in their basements, our team has shared heartwarming stories that remind us that we’ve come from remarkably different origins, yet we’re quite similar as we work together to achieve a unified mission.

As almost any teacher would attest, fictional or real, those they teach often ask questions or tell stories that bring a whole new perspective to their work or their thinking, generating fresh creativity and ideas. In 2015, PGAV principal and chair Mike Konzen made the company’s first TEDx appearance, presenting “Empathy and the Art of Destinations” at TEDx Gateway Arch. This December, our Director of Attraction Development, Jim Wible, will follow in his footsteps as he presents “The Best Ideas… Don’t Have to Be Yours” to a fresh crowd at the Gateway Arch. Communal storytelling has been in our DNA ever since we gathered around warm fires, flickering off darkened tree trunks in the thick of the forest, sharing lifesaving knowledge of predators and the locations of fresh water. Today we similarly share lessons and insights, growing as one to advance an industry and our world.


Share Button
Read the Digital Magazine Edition