Our culture has a lot of ideas about Creatives in the workplace, and those ideas aren’t always the most encouraging. I, like many Creatives I know, spent most of my college career listening to (probably) well-meaning older relatives ask questions about what kind of job I expected to get with a creative degree. For the last several generations, society has had a really narrow view of the job potential and work ethic of Creatives, which is really sad. Luckily, it seems like things might be changing.
Industries are starting to see the benefits of hiring Creatives, and many Creatives are starting to branch out into unexpected industries they never thought they could thrive in. The truth is, that humans have been creative creatures since the dawn of time. Whether it’s beautiful cave drawings or ingenious tool inventions, everything we do is creativity in action. And it seems like we’re finally seeing more people recognize this in the workplace.
It’s totally possible to have a fulfilling, well-paying job where your creativity gets to flourish (take that, Great Aunt Gertrude). But there’s also no denying that when it comes to being a Creative in the workplace, our culture still has a lot of baggage to unpack. As we begin to enter a post-Covid world we have the unique opportunity to rewrite the narrative about being a Creative in the workplace.
Let’s bust four myths about being a Creative in the workplace.
“You’re such a stereotype”
The thing that can be most annoying about being a Creative is the ideas other people have about what it means to be one. They run the gamut from pretentious egotists to depressive addicts. Basically Oscar Wilde to Kurt Cobain. We’re often portrayed as either arrogant or tragic.
If you think about it, it makes sense. Creatives are far more willing to take risks, we spend a lot of time in our heads and imaginations, and as innovators, we’re not always interested in doing what everyone else is doing. We’re maybe indulgent when it comes to the beautiful things of life, but unnervingly comfortable with life’s darkness. And all of those characteristics can make us seem a little foreign to people. Culturally, while creatives aren’t always valued the way they should be, we do tend to be idealized. Even when those ideals are polar opposites.
But one of the traps we can easily fall into is buying into our own mythos. The other trap? Rejecting those stereotypes. I had a theatre professor in college who during one lecture dramatically tossed a scarf over his shoulder and hollered “Stereotypes exist for a reason!” It is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed. He was right. Most of the big-name creative geniuses we know of fit into a stereotype. Or at least, the image they share publicly.
The stereotypes of creatives exist because they’re at least half true. And we hate them because they’re only half true. The reality is, that Creatives are nuanced human beings. We don’t fit into a neat, easy-to-understand package. But no one does. Everyone is a little bit magical and a little bit mundane.
As creative people, we are both highly innovative and full of lofty new ideas. When we accept that we’re going to be eccentric and quirky to others AND that we’re boring human beings, it makes us better and more creative. Owing our whole selves allows us to find our unique way of seeing the world and then using it to make it better.
“Your needs are unreasonable.”
Creatives get a bad rap about being particular about the conditions they are willing to work in. You know, the unyielding creative who demands a specific brand and temperature of drinking water, and refuses to work with “common” people? We all know that those kinds of people are few and far between. A big part of being a Creative is flexibility, and most of us are flexible people with an acute awareness of what we need to perform well. We can also tie the value of our work to our self-value which can make it seem like we’re inflexible when it comes to work conditions.
The truth is, this allows us to set better work boundaries and we shouldn’t be afraid to be upfront with our employers about those boundaries. Thanks to the pandemic, our ideas about where and the way we work has changed, leaving the potential for creatives to capitalize on these changes to accommodate the way they work. We have more freedom to negotiate with our employer about our work hours, and working from home (or our favorite local coffee shop).
But even if those two things are non-negotiable in your workplace, there are still ways to adapt your creative process for the office. If you are a night owl whose brain doesn’t start working until after 10 am, schedule more mundane tasks that don’t require as much thinking in the morning.
Creatives need time to think through and process their projects. Maybe start your brainstorming on a big project right before lunch. You may have solved the problem or come up with the perfect design solution while waiting on that burrito. If you need total silence to work, invest in some noise-canceling headphones, or if you need chatter in the background grab the AirPods and click on that Binaural Beats playlist. You can even adjust your meeting schedule to coincide with whatever time of day you have the most energy for people. All of these things help optimize your work day in a way that works for you.
Once you know what works best for you, don’t be afraid to tell your superiors and co-workers. Your need for a certain schedule isn’t a burden to employers. Rather, it helps them have realistic expectations of you. Let them know when they can expect to hear back from you, or when you’ll be unavailable. Communicating to your co-workers eliminates confusion, and allows you to do work you’re proud of.
“You’re so right brained”
In my first office creative job, I was sitting in a meeting where my coworker friend was giving a mini leadership lesson on collaboration. He went on about how having a diverse team meant we could lean on each other’s strengths. He then pointed to me and said “I’m not great with words, but she is. She’s not great with details, but I am.” Before I could stop myself I blurted out, “I’ll remember that the next time I’m fixing all your grammar.” We all laughed, but I was so salty about that comment, and I remind him whenever I get the chance.
That comment bothered me because I’ve trained myself to scan a block of text and see all the details that need to be fixed. Like an artist is trained to see incorrect perspectives, an accountant finds miscalculations, or a wedding planner anticipates problems.
We’ve got to stop thinking in terms of left and right brains. You are a whole-brained person. In fact, neuroscience is discovering that both creative and scientific-minded people don’t use just one side of their brain. The thicker and stronger the tissue connecting the sides of our brains, means our brain hemispheres are communicating well with each other. It’s the communication between the left and right sides that makes people better innovators.
Our brains are so cool, yet we still know very little about them. The more we do discover, we learn our past definitions of intelligence and creativity are incredibly limiting. No one is bad at details, but we’re each more likely to be attuned to a particular set of details; the details you are drawn to matter. Of course, we need each other, and working with others opens up room for collaboration and sharing ideas. But what makes working with others rewarding is getting the benefit of seeing their details, and you get to share yours.
This binary view of our brain is also problematic. If we’ve decided that the person fascinated by biology isn’t connected to their emotions, we’ve just told people they need to be a sociopath to excel in their field. Telling the kid who is musically gifted they’re bad at math is dooming them to struggle through school. Emotions are part of our biology; music is math. These things require both sides of our brain. Some specific skills come more naturally to each of us or are easier for us to wrap our brains around. At the end of the day, everything can be learned since your brain is a literal learning machine. Let’s start approaching our work with our whole brain.
“Monotony is limiting”
I know. All the Creatives reading this snarled and sighed. It’s the weirdest thing that we are resistant to the idea of monotony and routines, and yet once we finally create those monotonous routines, our productivity skyrockets, as does the quality of our work. It’s an unfortunate truth and yes, we all hate it. But this is where the workplace gets to be a strategic teacher for us.
There’s an idea that office jobs, even creative ones, are soul-sucking and meaningless. Isn’t it funny how we creatives intrinsically know we have the power to create meaning – except in an office setting? The truth is, we do have the seemingly magical ability to find beauty and meaning in everything, but we tend to only use the superpower where we want to. What’s ironic about this is that by refusing to use that power in one setting, we’ve put a limitation on ourselves. An inconvenient reality is that we find the meaning we’re looking for, and if we refuse to see it in a specific setting, we’re robbing ourselves of finding the things that set our souls on fire. It might be time to practice what we preach and decide to look for the magic we’ve blinded ourselves to.
But even beyond that, routines are magic! I know! But hear me out: I hate doing dishes, but I can’t create in a dirty environment. It drives me nuts. If it’s my routine to put my dishes in the dishwasher as soon as I’m done with them, I don’t have to think about them again. That opens up much brain time for creating! And that’s all routines are, automating the boring stuff (or as one of my favorite creators calls it, the Muggle stuff), so I can do the magic stuff. Yeah, it’s boring. But so is practice.
This brings me to monotony. In the simplest of terms, monotony is how you get good at stuff. You do it over and over and over and from every different angle until you master it. Mastery is the result of monotony; unfortunately, there is no way around that. And you knew this as a kid. When you first found that spark of creativity you did it repeatedly. Monotony was exciting then because you were learning; you got to create. Monotony was a gift. So what changed? In my opinion, I think those of us who hate monotony have lost our child-like sense of wonder and humility as we learn at the foot of the muse. You get to make art and build a life where you do the thing you love over and over. What a privilege! Monotony and routines aren’t the villains of our stories, but the very tools that make us artists; that 9-5 routine has a lot to teach you about being an artist.
Creatives belong in the workplace
Dear Creative, the workplace needs you. It needs your vision and passion, ideas and stories. It needs your incredible talent at making things better, more beautiful, meaningful, and thought-provoking and you will be a better artist for learning all you can from the workplace.
Creatives are change makers and by challenging these myths I truly believe we can change the way people see creatives and how we do business. Who knows? Maybe we’ll prove to the world that there’s a creative living in us all.