Where creative thinking comes from (or doesn’t)

If you’re like me, you probably consider yourself some sort of closeted genius who never thought they’d end up in an office from 9-5. You’re creative, you know you have better ideas than anyone else in the company, even if you can’t type as well, and you don’t neurotically print out dozens of copies of powerpoints before you try to share in a meeting.

 

So, it’s frustrating to find that your creativity is treated like a machine that can just be turned on and off Monday to Friday. You’re expected to walk in the door and just have ideas, constantly, until you leave. Well, that’s not even remotely how the brain actually works. Now that I’m in a slightly higher position, I can afford to be kind of cavalier about how I work in my office. I take lots of breaks, do lots of reading, and I doodle when I need processing time. I’ve noticed the more I let go, the more I’m actually productive. It’s when I’m sitting there racking my brain that nothing happens.

Well, as usual, I’ve been proven right by science. I’ve been reading an article about how creativity really isn’t a traditional skill that can be used steadily for a normal workday, and it’s definitely a reassuring read if you’re someone like me who’s never really fit into your average corporate atmosphere.

 

Basically, it makes the point, using studies and individual cases of companies and leaders, that it’s not about tricks or specific ways to “try” to be creative. There aren’t shortcuts to great ideas, and it’s not a gimmick that you can manipulate that easily. What it’s about is giving your brain the space to be creative without exerting too much pressure in a linear way. So, going for a walk is always better than staring blankly at your computer screen. Having lots of whiteboards and doodle pads is a better way to think of things than to sit at a conference table and nervously avoid eye contact with the facilitator.

 

Most people who study creativity and creativity in the workplace say that you should shake things up and focus more on absorption and processing time than “creating” time, because the actual inspiration is about 1% of the brain work. So, instead of trying to make that the focus of the workday, your work space and schedule should be about facilitating that 1% as fruitfully and frequently as you can.

The most successful companies that use creative people, like tech firms or design firms, have “breakout” spaces and lots of break rooms with games, toys, boards, instruments, basically anything to inspire you and get the other half of your brain working. They look at creativity as a process, where the absorption and processing phases are the things you can easily facilitate, not the actual inspiration itself, which is what’s always felt right to me.
Anyway, this is a great read, and there’s a list of 8 dynamics at the end of it that facilitate creativity and I’d love to compare notes if anyone feels like starting a comment discussion.

My absurdly nice new office chair

If you had told me 5 years ago or, to be honest, even 1 year ago, that I’d find myself paying over $1K for a chair, I would have laughed in your face. That would have been the most absurd thing I could have imagined. Well, here we are, you sat there reading, and me sat in my $1K office chair writing this blog. How did we get here?

 

It all started, really, with the first full day I spent in this office, almost 2 years ago now. It was murder, if I were to have to use one word. Not the fun kind, either. No movie-plot twists, no exciting thrills. Just a slow descent into back pain and stagnation.

 

Turns out that sitting is the cleverest way in the world to kill somebody, because it’s something most people want to do. You think “oh, this is better than being on your feet all day, or picking lettuce.” Think again!

 

I found that after a week of full-time office work, I was already thinking about finding a convenient bridge. But, the money was good, it was easy, and why not try to make it work? So began my journey of trying dozens of different pillows, cushions, and other props to try and make being seated all day bearable, after all I believe (and many others also believe) that sitting comfortably is one of the office productivity tips you shouldn’t ignore.

 

I became known as Phil, the Pillow Guy around the office because of them all. I had to tone down all the different break techniques and back strengthening exercises. Thankfully, when I got my own office, I had the space to try all the odd little tricks like balancing without legs touching the floor, or doing back angels against the wall to develop back muscles. I bought balls to use, balance chairs, I even tried standing, but that was worse if anything.

 

I wanted to be able to sit–just sit–without balancing, stretching, or feeling like I was slowly ebbing my life force into the floor. That’s when I decided to bite the bullet and get a  Herman Miller chair.

I figure if I was going to do it, if I was going to take the horrible step of admitting to myself that I was prepared to use my own money to pay for a chair at this job, I may as well go full-kilter and get the absolute best thing I could find.

 

There were a few things that drew me to the Embody. First, Youtube videos. I’ll buy anything that has a Youtube video. Looking at you, German ball cushions. I would never have ordered you if it weren’t for that Google Pixel-like ad you posted. God, it made sitting look like so much fun. I guess you have to be German, and also insane to actually enjoy them.

 

Well, the Embody has about a million Youtube videos, with fancy animation showing all the science that’s gone into making it work. Apparently, actually doctors designed these, which is obviously more than can be said for anything I found at Staples. It’s supposed to be an active chair even though it doesn’t use any effort to sit on it. I also thought it looked a lot less, er, medical than a lot of ergonomic chairs. It’s modern and cool, and now that I’ve been promoted, I don’t really want the vulnerability of being obviously trying not to be in pain when people come into my office for an assertive chat.

What I liked about it was it was designed to make you an active sitter, which is what I had been working on with all the exercises and balancing pillows, but in a way that was actually relaxing and conducive to work. It’s designed to stimulate your circulation, open up your chest posture, keep you from getting restless–all the things I was working on with the props but in a way that’s not completely distracting.

 

About a month ago, I finally did it. I ordered what as far as I’m concerned is the most expensive office chair known to mankind, and I absolutely love it. Holy shit. I never knew a chair could feel like this. Is it a placebo? I don’t think so, and I’ll tell you why, you cynical reader, you. I went into the first sitting with totally absurd expectations, and I noticed… nothing. Nothing at all. I had that sinking feeling you get when you’ve wasted an absurd amount of money, and turned back to work. I sat there until lunchtime, and to be perfectly honest, I still noticed nothing. That’s when it all clicked: I felt nothing, the entire morning at my desk. This has NEVER happened before. No back aches, no restlessness, no loss of circulation. Oh, I thought. NOW I get it. View this to find the best chair for preventing back pain.

 

I’m still not noticing anything, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’ll tell you where I do notice things: when I get up. I stand up straighter, I don’t feel the need to shake everything out, or stretch weirdly to get out cramps. People have noticed, and I’m finally starting to tell them about the Embody. I was nervous at first because I knew they’d Google and see the price. Whatever. I’ve already converted one coworker, and number two is ready to fall. By the way, don’t forget to visit Office Worthy List to gain access to different types of office chairs — for sure you’ll find one or two that meet your requirements e.g. goodbye back pain!

 

My office job survival guide

Greetings, fellow office prisoner! Perhaps, in reading this blog, you have wondered–how is he still alive? How do we all keep going? How am I to get through this dreadful day, for Pete’s sake? These are all valid and prescient questions, friend.

 

I’ve spent the past few years learning how to survive in the office job I never wanted or asked for. Today, I’m sharing my tips for making it through to the other side with you, in the hopes that you will find them useful. Here goes nothing.

 

The most important thing I’ve changed since I first came to work here was my chair. It seems totally mundane and unimportant at first, but you have to think of it as a tool of the trade. Would you work on a laptop that’s slow and frustrating and causes you actual physical pain? No, not in a million years. Why then do so many of us put up with and make do with the rubbish office chairs we’re given as company standard? It’s absurd. Get a real ergonomic chair–if you’re in it for the long haul, a Herman Miller. Trust me. You’ll thank yourself. If you have a pal in HR, try to put in an expenses claim for it as well. It never hurts to try and game the system ever so slightly.

This next one has to do with your  office chair, but also from the office in general. You’re going to find that people put pressure on you to cut down on breaks, to use your breaks to work, or to stay in the office break room. Don’t. A break is a break. It’s a legal requirement, and it’s your right as a worker. Take the damn break, and take it for what it’s supposed to be: a complete break. Don’t bring work to the break room, don’t sit at your desk and snack staring at the screen. Get up, grab something to eat that you can carry, and go outside. Even if it’s winter. Just for 5 minutes. You need a change of scenery, fresh air, and some quiet. Don’t feel bad about it, and don’t feel antisocial. People will get it once they see that you’re way, way ahead of the game when it comes to making it through each day and staying productive.

 

Cut the cake out, and bring healthy snacks. Let’s face it: you didn’t want to end up here. Do you want to look or feel like you belong in this office building? No. Don’t get sucked into the cake and cookies trap. That’s how they get you. Cake at work is for people who have given up. You still have dreams, you still have goals–you want to go for a run after work and then work on that novel to get yourself out of this gig. So bring something that doesn’t make you want to poke your gut and wonder how you got so fat. Cake culture is the absolute worst. It’s so bad that in England, the health office has started sending official warnings about it. That’ll probably take years to happen over here, but get ahead of the curve.

Lastly, remember that while you should be open to making friends at work, you’re coworkers, not a counselor. Don’t take on other people’s bullshit. If they’re freaking out at you, you know that’s there problem, not yours. If you’re genuinely interested in their personal lives, get involved. If you’re not, just steer clear, and set polite but firm boundaries. You’re not in it for life. As long as you’re polite and warm while you’re doing it, nobody will notice that you’re mentally keeping yourself safe.