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 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.