Working for any medium to large sized business as a creative type can be challenging.
Ideas have to be evaluated before they can be explored. There’s red tape covering most of everything. If there’s not enough money to fund an idea, it gets put on the back burner or ignored altogether. And, most importantly, innovation is risky; too risky for immediate action.
There are, however, ways to beat utilize creativity no matter what your role is in the giant corporate machine.
Here are my top picks of the must-have books for any corporate creative.
The full title of Gordon MacKenzie’s corporate cult classic is apt: “Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace.” Full of quirky commentary on Gordon’s true (or so he says) experience working for Hallmark, the book elegantly covers everything a creative needs to know about staying sane in the work place in a remarkably funny way.
Paul Arden captions this book as “The World’s Best Selling Book,” and he does so for good reason. Packed with sporadic (but creatively insightful) wisdom, Arden helps shine light on otherwise dark and daunting situations in corporate life. Particularly useful for designers, the advice inside is easily adaptable for other creatives in any industry.
Insights, inspiration, examples, and facts about unleashing your creative potential, all from creative genius George Lois (the original Mad Man of Madison Avenue). Similar to “It’s Not How Good You Are” (the previously mentioned book), this one is broken into bite-sized chunks of insights that are sure to help a creative in nearly any business environment.
With more than 40 years of experience under his belt, Jack Foster shares his insights for staying creative and coming up with ideas in this classic book. Scientific America once described this book as “Quite simply, the best book on creativity I have ever seen.” What more is there to say?
Coming in at just 38 pages, this book by James Webb Young explores how to generate ground-breaking ideas for whatever your goal may be. It’s a handbook-sized guide to doing exactly what it says on the cover.
The book from esteemed software agency 37signals is one that rattles traditional corporate knowledge and provokes time-tested ways of conducting business. Targeted more at the entrepreneur: the book is a great case-study for what a creative could do to flip process upside down at any company.
While personally not a favorite book of mine, The Accidental Creative has received rave reviews from almost everyone I’ve worked with. The book takes a look at the processes that author Todd Henry has used to bring innovation into companies, including how to maintain creative rhythm, spotting elements that distract from creativity, and more.
The second major creativity book from 99u, author Jocelyn Glei tackles the topic of managing your daily work life with insights from some of the top creative minds of our day. From the description: “With wisdom from 20 leading creative minds, Manage Your Day-to-Day will give you a toolkit for tackling the new challenges of a 24/7, always-on workplace.”
Undoubtedly a modern classic on how to spend your time working on the work that matters, author Michael Bungay Stanier collaborates with the likes of Seth Godin, Leo Babauta, Chris Guillebeau, Michael Port, and Dave Ulrich to define what it means to spend your time working on the stuff that matters (and less of the stuff that doesn’t). With plenty of insights and tips on how to find the motivation or inspiration to get it done.
Disclaimer: If you click on any of the book links above and purchase any item as a result, I will get a (very small) kickback.
Those that get past creative blocks often aren’t the ones who necessarily have the capacity for more creativity. Nor are they consistently the ones with the right tools or more resources.
No, those that excel when it comes to ideation, to getting past the creative block, who find solutions that work, are typically the people who focus on the thing that matters most.
It’s easy to get consumed with what we believe is the “best” thing. The best thing requires more tools, more ideas, more input, and ultimately more risk. But the best thing isn’t always the thing that matters, the thing that will move the needle.
In our efforts to find the solution that wows us we overlook the one that actually matters.
Fortunately it’s easy to shift away from the best thing and re-focus on the right thing by looking at the impact each is expected to have. Taking the few extra minutes to evaluate your path can make all the difference in not only how you come up with ideas, but the quality of them as well.
If you find yourself stuck often, or moving slowly, unable to come up with enough of what feels like the right ideas, first take a step back and consider the fact that you might be searching for the best thing rather than the thing that really matters.
The two aren’t always exclusive, but more often than not one distracts from the other.
There’s a story of a very successful businessman who is on vacation in Mexico and encounters a single fishing boat docked at the pier with a large catch of fish.
When the businessman asked the fisher how long it had taken to catch so many fish, he told him that it had only taken a little while.
The businessman was surprised and asked why the fisherman didn’t then stay out and fish longer, since he apparently was having such success that day. To which the fisherman replied: “this is enough for my needs. I’ll now go back home and spend the day with my family, playing with the children, cooking dinner, dancing, drinking, and laughing.”
Again surprised, the businessman began to talk to the fisher about how he could fish for longer every day and make enough money to buy a bigger boat.
If he bought a bigger boat he could catch even more fish and make even more money, which meant he could hire other fisherman to help him on his boat. With the money he’d make with all of the help he could buy a whole fleet of boats and make enough money to start a large business.
At this point the fisher asked the businessman what he would do then. The businessman replied: “That’s the best part! You could sell the business and make enough money to never have to fish again. Then you could spend your days with your family, playing with your children, dancing, drinking, enjoying good food…”
The fisherman just laughed and said “But I’m already doing that now!”
There are a few important morals to this story, but the one that is often overlooked is the impact of the fisherman’s work itself.
Yes, he could have continued fishing and built up an empire of fishing ships, but that wasn’t what the fisherman set out to do everyday. Even if he did work that hard and achieve that success, for him the work itself was his personal reward.
For creative work it has to be the same way: the work is a big part of the reward. The process of creative work is what makes it worthwhile, not always the results.
Even if you were to sell a painting for thousands of dollars, or if you were to sell a million copies of your novel, or to reach some other height in your creative work: what then?
Success isn’t the end, the work has to continue.
So, whether you’re heading in a direction that you’ll hope will bring you wide success or not, remember that the work you do is something you need to find fulfillment from itself.
Whether you reach a perceived finish line or not, there’s always going to be work to be done. Make sure it’s work you enjoy doing.
We’re often drawn to the thing that makes the most noise or moves sporadically or flashes on and off.
It’s in our nature to look when something like this happens, because that’s where danger or benefit often come from. When you’re browsing around the Internet and something bright and animated comes into view you’re going to take notice. Often the reward is entertainment, occasionally it’s wonder, sometimes it’s disgust. But it lasts only a minute or two and then the feeling is gone, no matter how long the thought stays with you.
Sadly the same is true for when you’re searching for creative inspiration.
Occasionally you’ll find yourself desperately searching for something that inspires you. Only you’ll be looking for the wrong thing in the wrong places, because what you’re drawn to is the thing that makes noise, or moves, or flashes.
Sometimes the thing you should be looking for to feel inspired is the thing that you aren’t noticing, the thing that’s not at all flashy.
Maybe it’s the flaws of a hand-made, ceramic mug. Or a sudden change in pitch on one of your favorite songs. Or the way an author purposefully chose the wrong word to invoke an emotion, rather than opting-in for the proper one.
If you’re looking for inspiration don’t just rely on the next flashy thing that captures your attention. Instead, focus on the thing that doesn’t immediately make you stop and look, and really dig into it’s details.
It’s hard to move on anything when you don’t know which direction you’re heading in.
So we wait until the path becomes clearer, until a lightning bolt of inspiration strikes us and we know which direction to take.
That reason alone is a big one when addressing why we’re stuck: because we’re waiting for something external to push us forward. We’re stuck because we are too busy looking for the right motivation or searching for the clear direction towards success.
But the easiest way to get unstuck is to move in any direction, to simply start.
You may head in the wrong direction, but knowing which direction not to go in means you’re closer to moving in the right one.
It doesn’t mean you’re going to find the best possible solutions, or the biggest idea, or the perfect result, but it’s the easiest way to move. If you’re feeling stuck, just start with what you know.
The real trick is to not just start, but keep going, to never stop moving.