What's your reaction when someone mentions that he or she is creative?
I have always assumed it is a good thing: someone with a sense of humor who can be playful, flexible, and available to go anywhere.
A creative person (hereafter referred to as a CP) can be a problem-solver. In a lifetime of thinking outside the box, the CP doesn't see the same limitations as the rest of us. The CP's "outside the box" is normal territory.
The creative person may well be gifted. A writer, designer, top seller, public speaker, storyteller, musician, student of foreign languages, or chef can be a welcome member of anyone's team. The more the CP uses his or her gift of creativity, the more they can produce.
As Maya Angelou once said,"You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have."
But is there a downside to creativity? I never thought so until I was teaching at a local college and met the chairperson of the foreign language department. I mentioned that, as a career counselor, I often meet people who would like to teach a course in their career field. I asked him what he looked for in adjunct faculty. His answer surprised me:
"Whatever you do, don't send me one of those creative types. I've been burned too many times."
I was shocked. What on earth could be wrong with a creative instructor? Wouldn't the class be more fun, more unusual, livelier?
The chairperson continued with what he had experienced:
1. Creative people don't stick to the syllabus.
2. They don't like the textbook that the department agreed upon.
3. They don't get their grades in on time.
In short,"Creative people are too much trouble."
This faculty chairperson wanted someone experienced, savvy, respectful, and, if creative, wise enough to not bring it up.
Have you experienced a downside to your creative personality? Are you judged as flaky or presumed bent on destroying the “order” of those around you? Or have you learned to manage your artistic and verbal flair in ways that enhance the workplace (without rattling too many other people)?
Here are a few suggestions for the CP who seeks acceptance in the workplace:
1. Deadlines are important things to other people. That's why they use calendars and planners. Often a project can’t move forward without your contribution—but that’s no reason to behave like you are the only one on the project. Respect deadlines.
2. Figure out and abide by the process for presenting new ideas in your workplace. Believe it or not, there are good times and good people who will hear you, in a right-place, right-time situation. (Hint: It's not in the middle of someone else's report about something else!) Sometimes creative energy gets the best of you, but do your best to wait for an appropriate opening. You might even present a summary of a new idea in a memo and ask your boss about a good time to discuss it.
3. Be appreciative of the contributions and ideas of others. A compliment from a creative person is valued more than you know.
4. In a job interview, be prepared to discuss your creative process and how it manifests on the job. The people conducting the interview want to hear about your strengths as a team player (listening to the ideas of others, being willing to be supportive, accepting critical review of your own contributions). They want to know that your wonderful bursts of inspiration are in line with the goals and limitations of the organization.
If anyone has success strategies to share, feel free to add them to the list. Creative people are so necessary to move us forward in these tough times, and we can all learn new ways of being effective.
Anne Headley is a nationally certified career counselor with several decades of experience working with adults in career decision-making and transitions. She is a frequent guest on the Career Clinic radio show, discussing items of interest to listeners. Anne is currently working on a book on how to leave a job gracefully, and welcomes conversations with people about their experiences in resigning a position.