By Kevin M
Every one of us has a creative streak in us. Even if it hasn’t been apparent thus far in your life, it’s sitting somewhere inside waiting to be tapped. In a way, it represents the best we can be, or at least the best of us we have to offer and for that reason it’s a quality that needs to be identified, cultivated and put into practical action.
Many of us would like the opportunity to be creative in our jobs—that seems like the most natural place to apply it. If we have license to be creative through our work it would enable us to develop and implement our hidden talents and in the process to raise our market value to our employers and to the entire job market.
After all, there are broken systems in every organization that need to be modified, overhauled or completely scrapped and replaced with something new. There are product lines that would be much more attractive to customers if only… There’s so much that could be done if only we were freed up to do what we know we can do.
But does it feel as if none of that is possible in your job? You have so many ideas and plans but the time is never right to bring them to the surface. True, some people are in jobs—in certain companies—where their creativity is not only being encouraged, but it’s also being put to work and it’s making a difference. But that isn’t the norm, and maybe it’s not true in your case.
Is Creativity Dead in the Workplace?
If you’re feeling creatively stunted on the job, it may not be you—it may be your company. The reality is that few employers are truly driven by innovation. Innovative businesses need creative people. But let’s face it: most employers aren’t innovators—they’re “me too” businesses. They’re not trying to build a better mousetrap, they’re trying to stay in business, keep their salaries and keep their stockholders happy. According to one analysis I’ve seen, this describes at least 80% of all businesses.
Forget about public and corporate statements by high ranking managers, high minded company handbook excerpts, the employment ad that might have brought you to the company, or even the “soar with eagles” motivational posters that may decorate the walls and pin boards of your company’s offices. Most employers don’t hire people to be creative—they hire them to do a specific job. Period.
Interesting aside here…a friend of mine who runs a very successful small company says he doesn’t put up any of those motivational posters around his office. His reasoning is that if his employees take the poster messages literally, they’ll quit and start their own businesses! (Hint: there’s a message in there somewhere!)
But back on topic, you have to determine whether the employer you’re working for is one of the innovative minority of companies—or the “me too” majority. If you’re in the latter group, where most people are, the situation is unlikely to improve.
Line positions versus Staff positions
One of the key issues determining creativity in the workplace is the type of job you hold. This is from Business Management 101 in college, but there are essentially two types of functions in any organization: line and staff. Which category your position falls under largely determines the level of creativity you can bring to the job.
Line positions are the ones that represent jobs in the company’s main line of business. They’re essential players in various positions along the company’s main product chains, typically including product creation and production and front line sales, though this can vary by business type.
Staff positions involve jobs that while critical to operations, are essentially support functions for those in line positions. This will usually include administrative staff, payroll, accounting and sales support.
People who work in line functions typically have the greatest ability to be creative. They’re designing, producing and selling the company’s products and at a minimum, they’ll usually have significant creative flexibility. In fact in some companies that are creative in nature (architectural and graphic design firms for example), creativity in line positions will be required.
Staff positions are usually typical to all businesses. Because of this standardization, there are fewer opportunities for people in staff positions to bring out their creative side.
The fact that you’re in a staff function doesn’t mean that there should be no opportunity to be creative. Every system, no matter how well conceived, has room for improvement and a progressive employer will encourage creativity at all levels of the organization.
Don’t confuse improvising with creativity. Nearly everyone is forced to improvise in their job as a means of working with limited resources, but that isn’t being creative. Improvising is finding a way of working within Plan A—more specifically about working around the system and its weaknesses, and fitting square pegs into round holes. Creativity is hatching a new Plan A—and in some places, even suggesting as much can get you reprimanded or fired.
How you can be creative even if you can’t do it on the job
OK, let’s be honest, most employers—despite their claims to the contrary—aren’t terribly interested in letting you release your creative side. Quite the opposite, as many employers are highly prone to micro manage the most elementary functions. But you need the paycheck and new jobs aren’t easy to find.
If the creative juices in you are flowing but you can’t find a way to put them to work on your job, consider one or more of the following:
- Work on moving yourself into a job—inside or outside your current company—that will be in a line position, sales, or a some other position where you can put your creative energies to work.
- Make a jump from your me too employer to a company that’s going places—they’re out there, they’re just not as common. Look for companies that are growing faster than their competitors and/or have a string of successful product or service launchings in recent years. Companies like these usually value creativity at nearly all levels of the organization.
- Find an orphan function in your company that needs to be done but no one else wants to. The fact that you’re even willing to take it on may give you all the creative room you need. This can also be a way of transitioning within your current company.
- Find a part time job in a creative capacity. This could be a way to develop skills needed to move into a full time position that will enable you to use your creative energies.
- If you really want to be creative—with full control of the work environment—start a side business that will unable you to do to that. As an example, this blog is my effort in that direction.
- Creativity doesn’t always have to be employed in a business capacity—find ways to be creative off the job, like self-improvement efforts, community projects, volunteer work and the like. Side benefit: business and employment opportunities sometimes develop out of these efforts.
In a way creativity unleashes the best we can be, and that’s reason enough to actively pursue it. Even if you can’t do it within the scope of your current job, you can still be active in developing it in the ways presented above, or in any other way you can think of.
Some believe that their creative desires need to be put on the shelf given the weak job market and shaky economy; in fact it may be that creative streak you’ve been holding back that is the very key to your success in a bad economy. Your best may be inside you waiting to get out—maybe there’s no better time than now to let that happen!
Are you able to be creative in your job? If you aren’t, what are you doing to bring out your creative side?