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 Myths Around Self Care

Advertisers would like you to think that self care means buying bath salts or scented candles. Or maybe buying a cruise, or a vacation to play golf. I’m not saying these things can’t be ways to take care of oneself, but I’m stating that these are not the only, or even the most important, ways to take care of oneself.

I certainly think it can be lovely to take the time to unwind in a scented bath with scented candles and music or a book from Audible playing. When my muscles are all sore and I need to find a way to let them let go, a hot bath can be just the thing. I don’t, however, think this a daily need.

Self care means, at least to me, that I get exercise every day. That I eat nutritious food at least some of the time, drink enough water, get enough sleep. That I schedule in shopping at the farmer’s market, and cooking for the family. Self care is listening to my body and resting when I need to rest, being active when I need to move, speaking my truth when I need to be heard, and shutting up when I need to listen.

This type of self care isn’t very sexy, although advertisers are trying to find ways to make money off of healthy food and exercise and water, too.

And then, my mentor Jesse from Thrive Academy (see Thrive) said something that really struck me. You know those things you do that waste time every day? The things you do when you don’t wanna do what you need to do? Apparently, it can be self care to schedule some of that in, too.

What he actually said was something more along the lines of this: When you are out of alignment, not doing your work, not showing up as your best self, what do you give yourself permission to do? Do you get to stay in bed all day? Read trashy novels? Watch Netflix and eat popcorn? What if that payoff makes it extra hard to show up as your best self, because you want that guilty pleasure so much? If you can schedule some of that into your day, it will reduce the thrill of the forbidden and give you some of what you crave. That makes your day more fun, and helps you be more aligned.

For me, bubble bath is fun but I live in a drought-ravaged state, so I don’t want to indulge too often. But I love to read. I always reach a place, either late afternoon, or in the evening, when I just can’t think in a business way any more. I used to feel terribly guilty about not continuing to plow ahead. This ended up looking like sitting in front of my computer reading Facebook, or occasionally reading an email, or like overeating while I berated myself for not having the energy I needed. Now, I can sit and enjoy reading a book for a while, knowing I’m doing what I need to do to support myself, using my scheduled self-care time, and not feeling guilty at all.

Do you know how much energy guilt takes?

I’d like to challenge you to try this for a week. Instead of feeling guilty for what you’re not doing, give yourself permission to take a break and do something you want to do for a while. Something that lets you rest, or gives you energy. See if you can feel smug for using your self-care time well, rather than guilty for not working harder. And see if you get more or less done this way. Are you afraid you’ll never get back to work if you ever take a break? You might find your work is easier and you’re more rested if you take the time to rest!

And then let me know how it goes. I’d like to add this into my group program and I’d love some feedback from all of you!

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.

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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.

Insight

Johan Roos, one of the creators of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, summed up it’s essence as:

“Seeing the same in a different way and
creating entirely new insights,
in enjoyable ways”

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A lot of people are trying desperately to find ways to see the old in a new way. How are we going to come up with the Next Big Thing? We need to find a way to get new ideas that can make us successful.

But think about this – how fun are your meetings? Do you even get insights from them? How rewarding are brainstorming sessions? Are they something everyone dreads?

I believe that being too serious, too afraid, or too disengaged can make any meeting tank. New ideas flourish in a more lighthearted environment. Anything we can do to help our meetings be important but not dry is invaluable. The more serious we get, the more heavy lifting each idea needs to do, and the more likely we are to reject it. With levity, we can let ideas float around for a while to see what about them is valuable, and let multiple ideas bubble around until some of them coalesce into a plan.

This is one reason why bringing in something like LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® can be beneficial – it involves play, which makes it more fun and lighthearted than more serious approaches, but it still gets serious work done. At the end of a workshop, you may understand more than you did before, have ideas of what to do next, compassion for where others are, and a group pride in the work done, without having to slog through some terrible situation to gain group cohesion.

It only takes one person being disengaged to make others stop paying attention; it only takes one person being afraid to keep others from speaking up too; it only takes one person being too serious to keep the atmosphere heavy and uninviting. I’ve seen one person stop brainstorming in its tracks more than once. It takes everyone to make a meeting work.

What are you doing to make your meetings work? How do you keep the atmosphere light, inviting, open, and full of possibility? How do you keep people from shutting everyone else down? And how do you find new insight?

Constraints on Creativity

I got to be a substitute leader for Nora Scully’s Art Spark today. I asked people to build what gets in the way of creativity, and what supports creativity for them. These are some of the responses:

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What gets in the way of being creative is having too many thoughts in my head pulling me in too many unrelated directions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is what I need to be creative – all the parts laid out in front of me, but with some clear space to work in. I need time and space available, but I also need to see all the options to figure out what can go with what.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is me in my DJ booth. I don’t really DJ, but I like to play music to set a mood or create a soundtrack for an event. I like to help people come together through music.

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I get my best work done when everyone is doing their part like a well-oiled machine, and I can rely on other parts getting done. So I can relax and focus on my part.

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What supports your creativity? What gets in your way?

Let Your Freak Flag Fly

People don’t trust what they don’t see. You can tell your people that they are safe with you til you’re blue in the face, but if you don’t have blue in your hair, they will still think they have to stick to strict standards of conformity.

I’m not saying you have to literally dye your hair. I’m saying that if you want a creative team who feel safe speaking up, who trust you will have their backs if they mess up, who believe they can bring any wacky new idea to you and you will listen and help them find the part that will work – then you need to be a little wacky too. You need to show your vulnerability, and admit when you make mistakes. You need to wear mismatched socks sometimes. You need to show that you are your own person with your own peculiarities, and that you welcome the peculiar parts of other people too.

I spoke to an image consultant once who told me the blue in my hair had to go if I wanted to get corporate clients. I said no way! I’m advocating for people to show up as their whole, unique, creative, and messy selves at work. I want people to feel safe to be weird and silly as well as focused and capable. I want people to bring all their ideas, not just the conforming ones. This is how we will survive, with the creative ideas to solve complex problems coming from all the people bringing all the weirdness together and seeing which parts work. Cutting part of us off in order to fit in does no one any good.

This is part of my mission to change the world of work. I want people to feel safe being themselves. I want people to feel safe bringing up new ideas. We need the creativity that comes from disparate things coming together. If all we show up with is the same as what everyone else has, we will come up with the same solutions everyone has already come up with. So please – let your freak flag fly. At least a little. Let the other freaks know that you’re their kind of freak, so they can feel safe being weird around you. We will all benefit in the end.

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