Series: Building Your Creative Practice @ Work
Part 1: Uncovering your opportunities for creativity
Creativity has an image problem.
Firstly, it’s thought of as belonging only to the realm of artists and visionaries—something not widely applicable to daily work and life. And while I’m not saying that people necessarily have negative feelings about creativity, I’ve heard it dismissed as superfluous icing on the cake of “real work.” (Eye roll.) But the real image problem that creativity suffers from is that people view it as something you either have or you don’t. A binary, inherent state. You simply are creative or you aren’t.
This is all bullshit.
Developing a creative practice
Creativity isn't just about artistic expression or sweeping innovation; it's a vital tool for everyday problem-solving and engagement in your work and beyond. And it’s a skill! Meaning, it’s something that can be cultivated and strengthened like a muscle so that over time, it becomes a natural orientation to the world. Developing a creative practice—defined as any intentional way of working that supports your creative identity and expression—can be simpler than you might think.
Developing a creative practice—any intentional way of working that supports your creative identity and expression—can be simpler than you might think.
You might be asking, “Why bother?” Even if you could increase your creativity, why should you?
For more detailed answers to that question, I’d suggest reading Kevan’s post about creativity as a differentiator and our post about “decompartmentalizing” our working lives. Broadly speaking, developing a creative practice and applying it to your work—no matter what your work is—can lead to better work and business outcomes. But even more than that, it can lead to more personal satisfaction and fulfillment with the work that you’re doing. And who couldn’t use a little more of that these days?
So, welcome to the inaugural post in an ongoing series about developing a creative practice at work. This post is just the first of many, so stay tuned for more tips and exercises that will build on one another over the coming months.
This post covers something pretty essential: How do you identify what areas of your work life are ripe for creative opportunities? Let’s begin at the beginning with an exercise to find out.
You can grab this free workbook here to follow along with this exercise, if you like. You can also start a paid subscription for access to our entire library of brand, story, and creative resources past, present, and future. Just $5/mo.
How to uncover your opportunities for creativity
Step 1: Identify the creative benefits that are most meaningful to you
In general, knowing why you want more creativity in your life will help you zero in on particular areas to apply your practice to. While by no means exhaustive, the below list will give you an example of some of the benefits a creative practice can bring to your work and your life.
Increased team/personal engagement
More generative brainstorming
Finding flow states/mindfulness
Learning a new skill
Garnering professional attention
Take a minute to choose two or three benefits you’d like to focus on first and write them down somewhere or note them in your workbook.
You can also brainstorm your own benefits/motivations here. Maybe you have a personal reason for wanting to identify as a more creative person? Maybe you’re about to rage-quit and this is your last resort? Whatever’s authentic to you!
Step 2: Identify where you have control in your role
Now, let’s identify the time blocks, tasks, processes, strategies, etc. that you have agency over. By focusing your creative practice on the areas of your work life over which you have ultimate control, it’s less likely that an external factor will impede you.
No, not everyone is a people manager or in charge of how meetings are run or how projects get kicked off. But I bet you have more agency than you assume when you really drill down into how you’re spending your time. Even something as “basic” as how and when you check your email inbox and Slack notifications throughout the day or how you socialize with your colleagues are examples of moments of agency in your daily work life.
And if you do run a team or a process, great! What rituals, schedules, or other norms do you dictate?
Example areas of agency:
How and when you communicate with your colleagues
How project work gets initiated/kicked off
How strategy is set and by whom
How goals are set and by whom
How professional development conversations occur
How [repeated process] occurs
How you socialize with colleagues
How you make formal decisions
Meeting rhythms, structures, and content
Feedback and/or retrospective mechanisms
Measuring and reporting results
Jot down up to three of these in your workbook or wherever you’ve listed your benefits.
Step 3: Brainstorm new approaches in each area you control, using your benefits as a “filter”
Like, ok, perhaps the critical safety-check process you’re in charge of that’s legally mandated by the state isn’t the best candidate for InNoVaTiOn, you know? But that weekly team status meeting (area of control) that everyone snores through? People could probably be more engaged (benefit). Projects with stark handoffs (area of control) between teams? Perhaps strengthening collaboration (benefit) would be beneficial. Dreading a task (area of control) you have to do every morning? You wouldn’t mind if it were more delightful (benefit), I’m sure.
You might find that just by doing this step of pairing what you control with the benefits of a creative practice you want to see, you’ll shake loose some general ideas about how you could be approaching your work more creatively.
Something like this:
I know this step sounds easier said than done. “Oh, just think up a new way to do something? Cool. Thanks.” But Google can be your best friend here. “Different approaches to managing your inbox,” for instance. Or “Example Asana project templates.” Or “How to create more engaging presentations.”
You can also survey colleagues and friends about approaches they’ve used or heard of. Likely, you’ll get a few intriguing tidbits from several different sources, and you can filter out what isn’t relevant to you.
As you can see in the table above, more than one benefit could be applicable to an area of control. If you use our workbook, you can list out all the possible overlaps and see which seem easiest or most impactful.
Now, for each pairing of something you control with a potential benefit, commit to trying one new approach to each, and make a note of what you’ll change about it.
Don’t try to do every idea at the same time! But if you follow this exercise, you’ll have a pretty robust list of different approaches that you can experiment with over time.
Remember: Developing a creative practice doesn’t mean that you invent a wild new approach to something from scratch; rather, it’s the willingness to imagine that another way of doing something even exists!
Developing a creative practice doesn’t mean that you invent a wild new approach to something from scratch; rather, it’s the willingness to imagine that another way of doing something even exists!
Creativity is a practice. This is just a starting point.
Like I mentioned, this will be an ongoing series about practical ways to increase creativity in your work life. As you can see by the exercise outlined here, developing a creative practice is (or can be) a methodology that you apply, a lens you see through. By doing the work up front to identify the areas of your job that are ripe for a creative rethink, you’ll be able to return to them with the additional tips and exercises we share here.
Next in this series, we’ll talk about the power of time when it comes to developing a strong creative practice. See you then!
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