Creative thinking may mean simply the realization that there’s no particular virtue in doing things the way they have always been done.
- Davey Coleman
I was at a company where everyone accepted that having one man whose whim determined everything was the way things run. We, the workers, could occasionally convince our managers that something was wrong but when the solution was tell the president we can’t work this way, management stiffened. You know those entrenched people aren’t going to change their minds at the first suggestion. Still you hope when presented with enough evidence, reason may prevail. But those managers don’t want to buck the status quo and risk losing their jobs. They’d rather accept The Way We’ve Always Done It.
What’s your goal? Good work or just any job? Do you not want to buck the system because of the hope that you’ll get to work on something cool later, after this emergency is crammed through The Way We’ve Always Done It?
There’s an apocryphal story about Axl Rose’s (of Guns n’ Roses) recording of Chinese Democracy in which one producer was brought in simply to convince Rose not to re-record Appetite for Destruction note-for-note with a new band. That producer succeeded in convincing Rose not to make that terrible mistake but he didn’t get the job to make the next record.
It eventually took Axl Rose 14 years to make Chinese Democracy. Other than Rose, none of the original personnel from Guns n’ Roses worked on the record. Imagine if you’d strapped into the producer’s chair in 1994, watched the tyrannical CEO fire everyone, suffered through a re-recording of a classic album, and ultimately recorded only 5 finished minutes of new music per year (yes, that’s what it comes out to). Would you consider that good work?
Accepting the status quo by not pushing back on your entrenched, stubborn boss means you might get the chance to work on a potentially great project but you’ll have to suffer through stupid ideas to get there. There’s no guarantee that a great project lies beyond the bad work. I like to think that apocryphal producer dodged a bullet.
And here’s the thing about the status quo: it isn’t going to last, no matter what you do or don’t do. Not standing up to your boss doesn’t necessarily preserve your position nor does it guarantee better work later. It just ensures you won’t do good work now.
So it’s better to take the breath and realize that throwing out the playbook is one of the most creative impulses you can have. It doesn’t mean that you throw out everything all at once. But look at where you’re getting hung up and consider trashing The Way We’ve Always Done It.