Thursday, January 15, 2009

Creativity Can Help Save Your Job -- Here's How to Find Yours


Be creative.

These are the words being echoed in workplaces across the world.

Be creative in coming up with new ideas to grow the business.
Be creative in finding ways to outsmart the competition.
Be creative in finding ways to work more efficiently.
Be creative in coming up with ways to cut costs.

They're just words, but two words that pack a wallop for a lot of people.

Be creative. OK. But....how?

What if your idea of being creative is taking a different route to work? Or wearing a blue shirt with brown pants instead of black? Bosses have said over and over that those who add the most value will be the ones who keep their jobs. Does that mean if you're uncreative, you could be in danger?

Probably not. If you're adding value by doing a great job, then there's no reason to believe your lack of creativity will hurt you. At the same time, coming up with new ideas is a sure-fire way to not only solidify your position currently, but possibly even garner you a promotion -- or increase your appeal to other employers who may be willing to pay more for your creative talent.

And let me be clear here: Creativity is not just the purview of those in areas such as marketing or design. Every workplace needs creativity in order to survive in today's highly competitive marketplace. You may not believe you're a creative person, but I bet you are. You may just need to exercise different muscles in order to really get yourself in top shape so you can call on your creativity more often.

So, let's look at some ways to develop your creativity:

1. Play. I'm not talking Guitar Hero. I'm talking about learning to look at everything in your world as something to explore. There's a reason that kids rip into toys on Christmas morning and then spend more time playing with the box it came in. It's more fun because it can become anything and everything for that child. Start playing with things in your job -- would you be more productive if your desk faced another way? Should invoices be another color or another shape to avoid getting mixed up with other paperwork? Why can't all meetings have a big bucket of Legos for everyone to play with? Experts say that children learn through play -- so why have we stopped playing as adults?

2. Challenge yourself. The next time you're stuck in traffic, look at what's in your glove box. Think of how you could use each item if you were a) stranded in the woods b) asked to make an art project or c) had to describe each item using at least 10 words. You can also do this while at home -- just use items in a desk or kitchen junk drawer.

3. Understand "no" is your friend. Lots of creative folks are told "no." John Grisham is a famous case, receiving dozens of rejection letters for his first novel. Why do you think artists are often starving before they are multimillionaires? It's because they were told no over and over again, but kept plugging away. Often, being rejected really boosts your creativity. So if your boss says "no" to an idea, that just means you're being pushed into a new realm of creativity. Be grateful for it and keep thinking.

4. Be vulnerable. No one likes to do things they're not good at. You don't want to take ballroom dancing lessons if you're so klutzy you can't take a flight of stairs without tripping. You may think art classes are for people who actually know the different between white and ivory. Not so. In fact, the more inept you believe yourself to be at something or the more you don't like it, the more you should embrace it. If you're conservative, take the most liberal person at work to lunch. If you hate country music, listen to Hank Williams. Learn to speak another language. Only by exposing yourself to new and different experiences can you start to jump-start your brain into seeking out new ideas.

5. Go for it.
Once you begin embracing your new-found creativity, you may be shy about sharing it. You may hesitate to propose your new ideas to the boss or co-workers. I'll be honest -- they may reject them in the beginning. After all, if you've not been known for your creativity, people may be a little taken aback when you seem to have morphed into something new. We often have a hard time initially accepting change. But don't let that stop you. Once you consistently offer new ideas, others will begin to see you in a new light -- as someone who is creative and energetic, as someone who is willing to pursue new ways of doing things in a challenging marketplace. And who doesn't want someone like that around?

What are some other ways you can become more creative at work?



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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

If You Were a Salad, What Kind of Dressing Would You Be?

Anyone searching for a job knows the excitement of finally landing an interview. But just imagine how you would feel, after prepping for hours to make sure you're ready to answer questions about why you'd be great for the job, to have a hiring manager lean earnestly forward and ask:

"If you could compare yourself with any animal, which would it be and why?"

Huh??

Welcome to the whacky new world of interviewing.

Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University in Boston, recently filled me in on some of the, er, creative interview questions being asked of job applicants:

* If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?
* If you were a car, what type would you be?
* If you had only six months to left to live, what would you do with the time?
* If you could be a super hero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
* How do I rate as an interviewer?

OK, I think I see the point. The point is the try and rattle the job candidates a bit, because if they've followed the advice that I and others have given them over the years, they've done their homework and prepared good, solid answers to many of the standard (sane) interview questions.

But ever since the high-tech companies started asking questions designed to evaluate how a person thinks (why is a manhole cover round?), interviewers are starting to push the envelope in coming up with off-the-wall questions.

Sarikas says the key is not to panic. There really isn't a right or wrong answer to these questions, but the point is to see how you react when asked to think on your feet. The first thing you do is take a deep breath, so you don't blurt out something like, "Are you kidding me? What kind of crap is this?"

The second thing is to give an answer, even if you feel like an idiot. So, when the interviewer asks, "If you were a salad, what kind of dressing would you be?" answer it to the best of your ability.

"Why, ranch of course," you say. "I go with just about anything, and am favored by most."

Still, if you're feeling it's time to turn the tables a bit and see what this employer is thinking, maybe you could ask some creative questions of your own:

* If your CEO were an animal, what would it be? (If they mention hyena, turkey buzzard, boa constrictor -- you might want to head for the exit.)
* If you could have one person in this company on a deserted island with you, who would you pick? (If the interviewer can't name one person, you may want to reconsider the lack of friendliness within the ranks.)
* If you were asked to compare the supervisor for this job with a food, what would it be? (If a lemon, prune or lima bean is mentioned, be careful in accepting this job. Very careful.)
* If a book were written about this company, what would the title be? (If "Loserville," "Eaten Alive" or "Insanity" is mentioned, again, head for the exit.)

Do you think these kinds of questions being asked of job candidates are fair? Do they serve a purpose?

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