“You have to be creative” is the buzzword right now in the workplace.
What does that mean exactly?
It’s been my experience as a back-office analyst that when your boss says this, it means ideas that haven’t been tried before. Something that delights people. Like what art does.
So how do you know whether you are being creative at work? Here are two indicators.
- Are you making mistakes
- Are you connecting the dots
Making Mistakes is Part of Creativity
At the beginning of a project do you allow yourself to make mistakes, allow yourself to be lost, feel that you don’t know what you’re doing?
People will usually do the opposite. They avoid mistakes at all costs. They dive right in and start implementing. They don’t take time to explore alternatives. These are the signs that people are not creative. They already know what to do. They are implementing and not creating.
That’s another test for how creative you are in the office. Are you creating or implementing? The latter to me is not creativity. That’s doing the same thing over and over again. That’s what we are trying to avoid in this blog.
But There is No Time for Mistakes!
But you’re thinking, there is no time for mistakes. The deadline is tomorrow or at the end of the week. I’ll get penalized if people see that I’m making mistakes.
Then don’t show it to people. That’s what artists do. Artists are very protective about their work in progress in the studio. They don’t show it to anyone. Writers don’t show their ugly first drafts (or second or third). Since this blog is about helping you think like an artist at work, then think of your workplace as your studio. Don’t show your mistakes to colleagues. Keep them to yourself.
Yeah, but that’s easier said than done. Don’t show my work in progress to my team members or boss? Impossible.
But it can be done, and it gets easier over time when you prove to yourself (and your colleagues) that you are creative already. People leave you alone.
Fail As Fast As Possible
There is always time to make mistakes, especially at the start of the project. I had a project once whose deadline was 3 months in the future. I spent the first 2 weeks exploring alternatives on how to solve it. I made a lot of mistakes in those 3 weeks before settling on the final methodology and approach. The project was a success with colleagues saying they couldn’t understand how I came up with the approach to the problem.
One advice is to create your mistakes as fast as possible, by focusing on quantity rather than quality. Think of all the possible directions that something can take. Write them all down. Brainstorm it.
Then set yourself a time limit to explore alternatives for 1 hour, 2 hours, or half of a day.
If the deadline is at the end of the week, then make mistakes for 2 hours at the beginning of the project. Try different alternatives on how the problem could be solved.
Get lost for those two hours.
Then leave it and take a walk. Go to the bathroom or go to Starbucks.
Then come back to it.
Looking at all your mistakes and possible avenues of attack, choose one.
What you will come up with will be seen as creative.
Connect the Dots by Using a Framework
Making a lot of mistakes is one way to be more creative at work. Another is to always approach the solution with a framework in mind. Make the framework up. The framework could just be listing all the different functions in your organization and theorizing the impact of the problem to each department or function. How does this problem impact sales, customer service, finance, etc. By approaching the project with a framework in mind, you will ensure that you do not have tunnel vision, that your solution can anticipate problems for other departments.
Framework is just another way of saying äóìconnecting the dotsäóù - that you are able to look at a problem from multiple perspectives.
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One way to be creative at your day job is to approach things as an artist - which is the purpose of this blog. If you enjoyed this article, why not subscribe? I’ll continue to unpack the idea of Thinking Like An Artist at Work. It will pay dividends in job performance and fulfillment. If you’re already a subscriber, thank you.