Creative Person in a Non-Creative Role: Read This

It happened again, as it has several times since 2015.

This message shows up time and time again — different forms, different ways. The other day, it showed up in my Twitter feed.

I’ve worked at the same company for 5 years now as a millennial, which I think makes me like the Cal Ripkin Jr. of under 30s holding a job.

This is usually shocking information. It’s not half as shocking as what I’m about to say next:

I actually like my job, AND the work I do for myself

But who cares about me. I don’t have all the answers.

However, the picture of a potential creative genius sitting in a cubical believing she is never going to be able to do the work she dreams of is enough to drive me to share a few thoughts on the subject, imperfect as they may be.

Here are a few suggestions for you:

1. Redefine Creativity

Look around the internet and across dictionaries, and you will find dozens of different definitions of what creativity is.

Here’s one I like to use:

Creativity — Combining existing information in new ways

Or, if you like the simpler but less studious version:

Creativity — Connecting the dots

Pablo Picasso didn’t invent paint or the paintbrush or painting as an activity. He didn’t discover the canvas. He wasn’t the first to learn the most efficient brush stroke.

Instead, he combined all these existing elements in new ways, eventually generating a truly new and unique art form — Cubism. This expresses itself more commonly today in the simple collage.

But watch this:

Brain Meeks, an expert in Amazon advertising, did not invent Amazon. He did not invent Microsoft Excel or data analysis. He did not come up with completely new or different ways to write copy.

Instead, he combined all these existing elements in new ways, eventually generating a truly new and unique practice for looking at data. This expresses itself in the way he teaches others to analyze similar data.

Picasso and Meeks are using the same process.

Stripped of all the specifics, both men are going through the same steps.

Do that, but with your work.

2. Stop asking the company to sponsor you

Many times people ask this question with a different motivation:

“Well, I just want to write books/paint/draw/design for a living, and it’s not fair those activities can’t generate enough income for my expenses. The company won’t pay me to just ’be creative‘’”

Nobody ever actually says that, of course.

I kind of wish they would.

I understand it, I really do. If writing on Medium alone and publishing a book or two were enough to provide me with the lifestyle I desired, the likelihood of me quitting my full time job go up dramatically.

Let’s address a couple of false assumptions with this motivation:

a) “Those activities can’t generate enough income for my expenses”

They probably can.

It just might not happen fast enough, big enough, or be sustainable enough to please you.

This is why you must have an evil plan: Work for the man, but build for yourself.

Slowly but surely, you can start to bridge the gap.

b) “The company won’t pay me to just ‘be creative’”

In the most basic terms, a company is a structure organized around a need in the marketplace.

Publishing companies are organized to meet the need of people who want to read books.

Identity security companies are organized to meet the need of people who want to protect personal data.

Pet accessory companies are organized to meet the need of silly Americans who overpamper their dogs (guilty)

Quite simply, your company probably does not have a legitimate need for what it is you do. And if it does, they are likely getting it from you at the lowest price point they possibly can*.

(*This is a paradigm which is slowly changing, thanks to the fact CEOs are realizing robots can do all the work humans used to do, but customers still want to feel they are dealing with a human).

Here’s how to really blow your boss’s mind:

  • Discover what the company is REALLY after
  • Find creative solutions to help achieve that goal
  • (Regardless of whether or not it fits in your role)
  • Present those solutions to someone with influence

The more you help your team/business unit/company win, the more trust you earn to be creative in the first place.

3) Help other people

I picked this up from James Altucher:

Do all your work before noon.

Do everyone else’s work after lunch.

This not only gives you a better picture of the company as a whole, but it widens the amount of existing information you have (remember — that’s the only critical ingredient to creativity).

4) Make a backup

5 years into our relationship, my boss and I operate pretty much like this:

Tami: “Todd! I have this great idea for a thing.”
Me: “Cool! What are the details.”
Tami: “Well, I thought we could [blah, blah, blah] with the extra [blah, company details] with a llama at the end to show how ludicrous it is when our managers do that.”
Me: “Hmmm…”
Tami: “Anyway, that’s just what I was thinking. Run with it.”

I then go off and make a thing. It may have a llama at the end. It may be that I chose another silly animal. It may be the llama has been cut, and instead I did whatever I wanted to because I wanted to make a video which looked like “Stranger Things”

The resulting conversation goes one of two ways:

CONVERSATION 1:
Me: “Hey I made a thing”
Tami: “OMG I LOVE IT. This isn’t at all what I asked for, but you totally got what I was trying to say.”
CONVERSATION 2:
Me: “Hey I made a thing”
Tami: “I don’t get it. Can you add a few more llamas like we originally talked about?”
Me: “Sure, and as a matter of fact, I already built several llama mockups so we will still hit our deadline.”
Tami: “Wow, you sure are great.”
Me: “I know.”
Tami: “You’re going to write about this experience, aren’t you?”
Me: “………”

At the end of the day, your boss is probably just worried about getting in trouble with her boss, who needs to have work ready for his boss.

Take chances. But take chances with your reputation, not anyone else’s.

5) Quit

Ah ha!

If I have learned anything about writing for an audience, it’s that everyone loves when an internet personality tells them to quit their job.

You’ve probably been waiting for me to say it this whole time, haven’t you?

“It’s time to go little bird! Free yourself from the chains of corporate tyranny! Follow your heart and all the butterflies!”

Which is fun to say.

It’s become less fun over the years as I’ve discovered things I write and say actually (get this) generate consequences for people who follow my advice. At times, that works out great and I get lovely emails.

Other times, I get angry mothers who don’t understand why their children are after apprenticeships instead of college.

So sure, quit.

If you have the financial resources to not starve, quit.

If you can do so without damaging a meaningful relationship, quit.

If you are ready to depart without blaming a stranger on the internet, quit.

Quit and go “find” your creativity.

Just remember this: If you don’t have it where you are, you probably won’t get it where you’re going.

Much love as always ❤

— Todd B


Infinite Ideas

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