Why Creativity For Work?

Why should you care about bringing more creativity into the workplace? Don’t you need people to just get stuff done, without daydreaming? Well, yes, stuff does need to get done, and also there are good reasons to bring in more creativity.

In my workshop last weekend I spent a lot of time on creativity games that help exercise the creativity muscle. Just like any other skill, the more you practice it, the better you get at it. We covered a lot of ground, but today I want to tell you about one game.

I have a game called Disruptus in which you draw different picture cards and then do one of four things with them: 1) improve on what’s pictured; 2) use what’s pictured in a new way; 3) come up with a new way to do what’s pictured; or 4) take elements from two pictures and combine them to make something new. I find that some answers aren’t that exciting, but sometimes something great happens. For example, I had to improve on the weight machines at a gym. Now, I think using weight machines at the gym are a combination of boredom and pain, with a bit of humiliation thrown in. But I had to improve on them so – what if each machine were enclosed in a pod, and there was a video game you could play by using the weight machine? No one has to see you do it, you get to do something fun, and focus on something other than how much it hurts. I’d totally try that gym!

The thing about creativity is that sometimes it doesn’t give you exactly what you’re looking for. I mean, I’m not in the business of making games or opening gyms, so for me that business idea won’t get me far. But it sure could make someone a lot of money! And the more I stretch my brain like that, the more ideas I can get that might actually help me in my own business.

If you were to do this sort of game at work, you could use the boxed game Disruptus. But you could also brainstorm a list of things at work and use those instead. Sometimes having a custom made game works better.

(Many years ago, my then boyfriend now husband and I wanted to play the game Scattergories. But we didn’t want to pay $40 for it, and besides, we didn’t like all of their categories to begin with. We knew nothing about sports, for example. So we brainstormed a whole bunch of categories, and came up with some that were a lot more fun, like “things to do when you’re bored” and “jobs you’d be ashamed to tell your mother you do” and used Scrabble letters to pick from. Now when we play, we pick a letter and about a dozen categories, and try to come up with a word that starts with that letter in each category – and we know we won’t have to come up with any sports teams or players.)

What could you come up with if you started slowly, like “how can you improve on the soap dispenser in the bathroom?” and moved up to “what is a new way to deliver our product to our customers?” Not every answer will be useful, but sometimes even the crazy ones have something of merit to them. After all, once the concept of drones delivering items was impossible. So were self-driving cars. You never know what possibilities you might find in a game like this!

How can you see yourself bringing this sort of creativity game into your workplace? Can you set up a place where there is no wrong answer, and everyone’s crazy ideas are celebrated? I’d love to hear your own approaches to stretching your creativity for work.

The Norm

When my son was a baby, there was a woman in my Mommy/Baby group whose daughter was tiny. Her (white) doctor told her to butter all of her daughter’s food so that she would gain weight, since she was below the low end of the charts for normal weight for babies. The thing is, the mom and dad were both of Asian descent, and were small adults. The scale of “normal” was made for white people of northern European descent. Her baby was totally normal for who she was, and didn’t need any extra butter in her diet.

Being off the scale in the other direction causes problems too. I knew a (black) child who was much larger than other kids his age. Everyone thought he was much older than he was, and assumed he must be slow or stupid or immature. But we expect much different behavior from a 5 year old than from an 8 year old! If a 5 year old looks like he’s 8, we treat him differently and expect different things from him. He was always feeling inadequate and being treated as stupid, just because he was big for his age.

It’s so easy to assume that our own experience is “The Norm.” For example, I’ve only been pulled over by the police twice, and both times it was for something wrong with my car (a light out next to my license plate; tail lights that weren’t hooked up after brake work). So it’s easy to assume that most people don’t get pulled over very often. But some people get pulled over a lot. Is it because they are bad drivers? It’s easy for me to assume that, but it’s not necessarily true. I’ve taked to people who get pulled over for “driving while Black.” Not for speeding, or getting into accidents, or for missing brake lights, but for their skin color.

We teach our children in Kindergarten to have empathy for other people. Just because it doesn’t hurt you to bite your friend, doesn’t mean your friend likes getting bitten. It hurts physically and emotionally to get bitten, doesn’t it? Does that mean we need to bite every kid to show them how it feels? Probably not the best solution. Better to teach kids to understand that other people feel things that we don’t feel – and that they don’t feel what we feel – and that we need to listen to each other to find out what is going on inside another person.

When we don’t learn that very well, we start making harmful assumptions. If I only got pulled over twice in 30 years of driving, and this other person got pulled over ten times this year, that must mean she’s a bad driver, right? Not necessarily. But we need to listen to the people who say they have a different experience than we do, and believe them.

Likewise, a rich white person who assumes that they are the norm, and that everyone starts from a place of power and comfort, can only assume that if someone is poor and miserable then they did something to deserve that. They made poor decisions or were somehow bad people. After all, aren’t I doing okay? And isn’t everyone just like me?

First image on Google for “norm”

It takes imagination to picture yourself in someone else’s shoes. It takes reading books about other people’s experiences, and watching movies, and seeing art, and talking to other people. It means knowing other people! Mixing with people of different backgrounds and heritages, and really listening to them. It means giving up one’s own certainty that we know how things really are, to hear how they are for someone else.

My son has a book called “The Only One Club.” The child in the book is the only Jewish kid in the whole class, and feels isolated and weird. The whole class figures out, over time, that every kid has something about them that only they have – the only one with all his adult teeth, the only one with divorced parents, the only one with a twin, etc. I like this book because it normalizes being not part of the norm.

It is so much easier for the people on the outside to see the differences. The poor person says hey, it’s not so easy for me to get child care, or afford college. The black person says hey, I get pulled over a lot more than whites do. The gay person says hey, I can’t marry the person I love. The people who are rich, and white, and straight, and Christian, don’t see how they skew everything until it’s pointed out to them. Heck, even white women aren’t seen as the norm – medical research on things like heart attacks is mostly done on men, so women’s symptoms aren’t always recognized. The people doing the research assume the norm is who they are, and don’t always account for the differences between people.

This is one reason representation is so very important. When the people running the government, and Hollywood, and the police, and the schools, and the doctors, all look the same, they tend to assume they are the norm and anyone outside the norm is bad. But what if they’re just small, or big, or female, or dark, or light, or whatever, and that’s normal for them? When there’s more representation, more norms are seen, and more norms are tolerated and understood, and more people are accepted as who they are. This is why I saw Black Panther on opening weekend – I’m white, but I want to see black super heroes. I want to see Asian, and Hispanic, and African, and European, and Pacific Islander, and Native American super heroes. I want to see Jewish, and Muslim, and Christian, and Atheist, and Agnostic, and Buddhist, and Hindu people in government, schools, hospitals, police, and movies. I want people to see that there is no one thing that is NORMAL.

There are still ways I don’t see how I skew things to fit myself. I feel embarrassed and stupid when I see how I contribute to keeping the status quo. I’m not saying it will be easy to convince those in charge that they are wrong or unfair. It is difficult for anyone to admit they are wrong, and even more so for people with fragile or inflated egos. I think though that the more visible all the differences are, the more we see #metoo and #blacklivesmatter, the more our culture will expand to allow for all of us. Doctors will learn different heart attack symptoms, and stop telling Asian moms to butter all their baby’s food. Police will stop focusing on skin color when more skin colors are represented on the force. Women will be accepted into traditionally male jobs when we see women in the movies doing all these jobs. We can elect non-Christian officials and not see our country eaten up in the flames of Hell. The more it happens, the more it can happen, and the better all our lives become.

What You Focus On, Grows

I wrote this quote when I realized how different exercise feels to me when I focus on the pain in my muscles, the pain in my lungs, the feeling of inadequacy, and the feeling of punishment, versus when I focus on the joy of being alive, the air flow through my lungs, the feeling of growing strength, and the feeling of gratitude for all the parts of me that work. Do I focus on the pain, or do I focus on the fun?

There’s a Native American idea that goes something like this:

A grandfather is telling his grandson that inside every person there are two wolves. One wolf represents the fear, pain, resentment, and anger a person feels. This wolf thrives on putting others down, holding grudges, being defensive, and hurting others. The other wolf represents the love, joy, gratitude, and compassion a person feels. This wolf thrives on giving to others, remembering kindnesses, having compassion for people’s pain, and lifting each other up. These two wolves battle each other inside all of us. The boy asks his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The grandfather replies, “The one you feed.”

It’s interesting to me that modern neuroscience is reinforcing these ancient beliefs. I had this conversation with my son recently:

Him: Mommy, I wish I could erase some of my memories from my mind.

Me: Do you want to know what scientists say about memories? They say that memories exist in our brains because we think of them over and over. The more we think of them, the stronger the neural connections there are, and the faster and easier it is to remember them. We can’t get rid of these connections, but we can make other connections stronger than the ones we want to forget. We know from asking people not to think of pink elephants that when we try not to think of something all we can think about is that thing. We’re both thinking of pink elephants now! But if we think of something else, something we like, we can make that thought stronger than the memory you don’t want to have, and the memory will fade.

Him: Great! I’m going to think about Minecraft!

Do you see the shadow, or do you see the sun?

Do you focus on the pain, or do you focus on the fun?

The moment is the same; your attention chooses one.

What do you choose?

The Pace Of Growth

It pulls me in over and over again – the promise that this time, big change is coming. Exponential growth in your business! Huge breakthroughs in your personal life! I sign up, fork over the money – and experience incremental growth.

Clicker Heroes Cost orange and Rate blue of Treebeard leveling

I get upset by this. Look at those other people! They just took off and now they’re doing great! Why am I only a fraction of an inch closer to my goals now? My husband looks at my progress and says “That class didn’t work.” Then I get defensive and tell him what progress I did make, and how important it is, even though it’s not what I told him I’d get out of the money and time and energy I invested.

What I’ve come to realize though, is this: incremental growth, over time, is incredibly powerful. I don’t feel like I’m making a leap of faith now, I feel like my feet are planted firmly on the ground. And the ground has been built up over years of work, so I can trust it and believe it’s going to stay that way.

My mentor Jesse (check out Thrive and if you go, tell them Talia sent you!) says that a one degree shift can change your destination by hundreds of miles. If you leave San Francisco going east, and shift one degree north or south, where you hit the east coast will be drastically different. You don’t need to make a huge change to get a huge result over time. That difference might not be visible right away, but three thousand miles later you’re not where you would have been.

I feel like all my classes, all my breakthroughs, all my progress, have given me one degree shifts. Sometimes less! My husband looks at my business and doesn’t see the cash rolling in, and thinks nothing has changed. I see a difference, but it’s subtle. And it takes another shift, and another, and another, each one nudging me further, to have me facing the direction where I can really thrive.

All this leaves me afraid to promise too much from my own classes. I don’t want to tell you that you will experience a huge breakthrough, or be 100 times more confident when you’re done. I do believe that I can offer you a number of one degree shifts. When you’re done working with me, you won’t be in the same place you started. I’m not the only one who can help you, and over time you should work with lots of different people to get all of their viewpoints. And, I think I should be one of the ones you consider!

I’m offering a couple of workshops next month on Talking In Circles: The Art of Speaking Up In Groups. They are April 7 and 21, both in the SF Bay Area. You can get more info and register at eventbrite.

Please visit my web site if you are interested in working with me one-on-one, with your team, or in a group program. They are all powerful and fun ways to make these shifts. I’d love to talk to you about what we can do together!

Alignment

Comic character wearing a business suit by anarres

Comic character wearing a business suit By

Do you ever worry about how you come across to people? People say things like “you never have a second chance to make a first impression” and I worry that people will judge me on how I look. Do I need to dress more professionally? Is it acceptable to have purple hair? Will anyone take me seriously if I look young?

Then there’s the other side of the coin. If I don’t have purple hair, am I being true to my creative and bold self? I am young, and I have valuable knowledge and experience to share, can I hold both of these things at the same time? I am gay/bi/trans/queer/straight ally/asexual/poly – what happens to my identity and personal sense of integrity if I hide that?

All of these sides are valid. People want to do business with professionals, and so we do need to look the part enough to inspire confidence in others. And people want to do business with people who are genuine, and so we need to be true enough to ourselves to show our integrity. This can be a difficult line to walk.

Fortunately, when you work with the same people over time, you don’t have to hit the exact right line every day. You can be more on one side or the other from day to day, and the over all impression will still have you looking both professional and aligned. It’s harder when you are meeting someone for the first time, and you want to show all these sides at once.

I am coming more and more to believe that being aligned with oneself is more important than fitting a cultural norm. When I try to fit in the way I think I’m supposed to, I can do it, and sometimes even get a thrill from knowing I dressed exactly right for the occasion. Still, the relief I feel when I stop trying to fit in to someone else’s space and instead create a Talia shaped space is palpable. Everything seems to flow a bit better. The things that seemed so difficult suddenly seem easier and more enjoyable.

For an example – I have decided to start holding seminars and group programs that are just what I want them to be, not things that are designed to catch the eye of corporate bigwigs. If I am found by corporations that’s not a bad thing, I still want to work with corporate teams, but I desperately want to help people stand up for themselves and find their own personal courage and strength. I don’t need to wait until a corporation hires me to help individuals speak up in their lives.

I am looking for workshop space in the SF Bay Area to hold half-day seminars for 10-20 people at a time. I’d love to start a group program this spring, if I can get enough people who are interested. How would your life change if you didn’t feel afraid to be yourself at work? How would your life feel different if you had the courage to say what you really think? The world needs your voice, and I would love to help you strengthen yours.

Seminar Flyer 01

Strengths

How would you grow more – by taking what you’re good at, and getting better, or by taking what you’re bad at, and trying to get better? I may have given it away by that word “trying.” The truth is, we can grow from decent, to good, to excellent, to extraordinary in the things aligned with our strengths, but we will never get more than adequate in the things that are not.

I found the book Now, Discover Your Strengths years ago, but never took the strengths-finder test. I unearthed it recently, and have been re-reading it. I took the on-line test as well. According to the Clifton Strengths Finder, my top five strengths are Input, Empathy, Connectedness, Maximizer, and Communication. I’m not sure that Input and Maximizer are my top traits, but I would include Inclusiveness to the list, and maybe Relator.

Not surprisingly, my strengths all focus around connecting to other people. I feel what they feel, make them feel welcome, and find ways to talk to all sorts of people. It’s why I want to do LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® to help groups be more connected and understand each other better. It’s why I want to start a community focused on play and creativity and acceptance of oneself and others. I feel more alive, more focused, more creative, more joyful, and more worthwhile when I’m in relationship with another person.

This also explains why data entry is so deadly boring for me. I can muscle through some things that I need to do in isolation and that are boring, but after a while I can’t any more. Unless I can carry on a conversation with someone else also doing the boring work, I hate it.

I think our society is much more focused on “fixing” peoples’ weaknesses than on strengthening their strengths. When I was looking at schools for my 2e son, I found that public schools can help him in the places he’s behind, but can do nothing for the places he’s ahead. (It’s the nature of 2e kids to be asynchronous in their development, so he’s both ahead and behind.) You know what this would do to him? It would make him feel inadequate, stupid, unwanted, and broken. I have him at a school that focuses on strengths instead of weaknesses, and he feels smart, capable, wanted, and creative. He’s excited to learn, capable of finding ways to cope when he’s bored (mostly – he’s 11, after all), and wants to share what he knows with others. Would he feel all that if he were in an environment telling him that he should be able to write better by now, why doesn’t he know his times tables by heart, he can’t go out to recess until he focuses and finishes that assignment?

Likewise at work, will you get the best from your employees if you tell them they need to get better at the things that are difficult for them, and shame them for not doing better? It’s much more likely that they will be thrilled when you acknowledge them for the things they do well, and that they will be delighted to grow and thrive in those areas. You will get way more engagement, agreement, and productivity from people who get to work in their genius zones.

It seems like a lot of us don’t value the things we do well, because they come so easily to us. It’s like a thing can’t have any value if we don’t work hard to get it. Besides, if I can do it so easily, can’t everyone? We don’t seem to realize that no one else does it just like us, and that most people don’t do it at all.

It can be difficult to uncover what it is that we do well and easily, especially if we think it doesn’t matter or can’t be turned into a paying occupation. I took a class some years ago by the authors of Inside Job: 8 Secrets to Loving Your Work and Thriving and they said something very similar. They helped me figure out that play and creativity, and bringing people together, are things I do anyway, regardless of where I am, so if I can get paid for that it will be much easier than other jobs would be.

So today, I challenge you to notice something that you do easily and well. What do you do as easily as breathing? Look at your family and co-workers. What strengths do they have? Acknowledge someone for what they innately bring to the table. And help them play to their strengths.

Archetypes

I was on a group mentoring call talking about archetypes as a way of thinking about an issue. The archetypes in this case were: Warrior; Sovereign; Shaman; Lover. I thought this was an interesting tool to use.

Image result for archetypes

 

I started out thinking about how these archetypes functioned in my life in the realm of exercise. The Warrior part of me wants to exercise to be strong; the Sovereign wants me to be healthy; the Shaman enjoys my walks because I can commune with nature, watch the sun rise, listen to the birds, talk to trees, and feed my spiritual aspect; the Lover enjoys the feeling of being healthy and the joy of movement. When I only worked out of the first two, I didn’t exercise much, since it felt like punishment. ‘I must exercise to be healthy but it doesn’t feel good so I want to avoid it.’ It was only when I found the ways that it felt good that I started doing it every day.

My husband is an artist. He needs to draw and paint to feel joy and contentment. So when he spends all his time in his office using Photoshop, he doesn’t feel like he’s working super hard and struggling, he’s doing what he loves. I have looked at him on the computer for hours during the day, and then going back after dinner, and felt entirely inadequate. I can’t focus on my computer that long! But for me, computer time is much more on the side of doing what I should, not what I love. I find joy elsewhere. So it’s not a fair comparison.

I think it’s interesting to apply these archetypes to work, too. Is there a place in your work where you feel joy, or pleasure? Is there a time when you feel connection to something larger? Or is it all about getting ahead and working harder? I think there is a place for a strong warrior and sovereign, so that the right things get worked on, and the work is focused and intent. But if there is no lightness, no connection with something larger, then it feels more like punishment than a cause to work for.

This may explain part of the Gallup numbers saying that only 33% of American workers are fully engaged at work. If work is punishment, I’d want to leave early too! When I have to spend hours working on things I don’t enjoy, I’m not working at my greatest potential, I’m less likely to have the energy to help others, and I want to stop as soon as possible.

So here is the million dollar question – how can you help your employees find pleasure, connection, meaning, and joy from their work?

I’m reading a book about finding your strengths, so I may have more to say in next week’s blog. However, for today, I need to say – it depends. It depends on the things that light up your employees. It depends on what they enjoy, and where they look for meaning. But I can give you a few generalities:

  1. Explain the Why. When you tell someone to make 100 phone calls a day, they might rebel. But if you talk about the goals of the organization, and how this effort can help reach the goals, they may be more inclined to put in extra effort and time. Knowing how each person’s part plays into the bigger picture can help people feel like they are creating something bigger than themselves, which can be inspiring.

  2. Listen to the People on the Front Lines. Just as they say no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, the people who are implementing your plan are the first ones to see how and where it doesn’t work. You need to know this! Also, they need to be heard. So pay attention! People won’t keep speaking up if you don’t listen the first time.

  3. Build Up Your Team. Make sure people know each other, and feel comfortable around each other. Make sure your team knows how to support each other, how to help each other, and that everyone has everyone’s back. Make sure people feel comfortable showing up as their full selves. If someone doesn’t feel welcomed, they won’t put out any extra effort for the group.

In other words, find ways to engage all the archetypes. Help people feel connected, feel wanted, feel part of something they can be proud of. Otherwise, all you get is minimal effort from one part of your workers.