We all stood frozen as he spoke:
“Oh, I see,” he said. “You think people just get sick randomly.”
One-by-one, our college choir conductor pointed his baton at six gaping holes in his ensemble. As he jabbed it toward the gaps, he spoke:
“I know who was awake at three in the morning. I know who is eating lousy food. I know who is choosing to live in a sloppy environment. I know who has bad influences around them. I know whose mother still treats them like a baby.”
And then he said this:
“When you signed up to this group, you made a commitment to be here. That means every choice you make outside this room should set you up TO BE HERE.”
Here is what doesn’t matter in work and life: talent.
Here is what does matter: dependability, integrity, delivery.
Want your boss to give you more leeway? Do what you say you are going to do. Do it with the +1 Rule. Do it earlier than expected. Then, help other people do what they said they were going to do.
If you don’t deliver, nothing else matters. So long as you’re doing that, then try these things:
#1 Have a job that allows for creativity
Don’t forget this breakdown:
Creativity is — solving problems, fashioning products, or defining new questions in a way that is novel.
Art is — the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination
The Arts are — the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance.
So what we are NOT talking about here is turning your accounting numbers into a song. What we ARE talking about is a position with the freedom and flexibility to allow for your personal creative genius.
Can I be honest? Sometimes the problem is not your effort. (Although the hype machines of the internet may make you believe otherwise). If you are not in a role in which you can solve problems, fashion products, or define new questions, MOVE.
“If the voice inside you is telling you it can do better, it’s probably right.”
#2 Bring in coffee for everyone when you are running a little late
And get Starbucks, not the gas station stuff.
#3 Do not become abstract
A funny thing happens to human beings when we can’t see other humans.
We start to believe they aren’t real.
How else do you explain Subway having a recipe for bread which included yoga mat material? Or the Peanuts Corporation of America knowingly releasing contaminated food, causing an outbreak of Salmonella? This happens whenever people turn into numbers and market demographics.
Humans are not biologically wired to understand people we can’t see. We need the facial expressions and body language to know what another person is really all about. We need their face and their vocal tone.
I can’t help but be reminded of Milgram’s psychological experiment — where participants were told by an authority to press a button which would “shock” a person in the other room. Almost everyone kept pushing the mechanism, even after it appeared they were doing great harm to the other person. Would these results have been the same if the victim were not behind a wall?
What does this have to do with winning your boss’s favor?
Well, if you both work in the same physical office — nothing.
If you or she works remotely at least a little bit — everything.
Without human context, you become Employee #47573. It becomes all too easy to shoot down your ideas. Later, it becomes all too easy to fire you.
#4 Ask about their day
People are everything. Relationships are everything.
By the way, the difference between a brown-noser and a good person is that one of them is genuine. Be genuine.
#5 Use the “trial run technique”
Many frustrated creative people are so because they have NO IDEA how to sell the idea they have. This can happen for a couple of reasons:
a) You are too close to your project and can’t explain it correctly
b) You only know the benefits for you (and not other people/the company)
c) You don’t know how to make saying “yes” easy for your boss.
The Trail Run Technique is my favorite example of this.
In sales, this is also called “The Puppy Dog Close.” As opposed to trying to explain to a family they are about to purchase something which will poop all over their floors, pile up vet bills, tear up valuable possessions, and eventually die and leave you devastated after 10 years, you instead say:
“Don’t take my word for it. Just take this little guy around for an afternoon.”
The family cuddles, falls in love, and scoops up the pup.
Say these magic words:
“If it doesn’t work, we can go back to the old way.”
This sentence is your magic bullet.
#6 Do the stupid grunt work which is beneath you
No manager ever has enough time or money. What is a boss to do?
Answer — have people cover tasks they aren’t necessarily good at or responsible for.
I am sure there are exceptions to this rule, but I haven’t seen any yet.
Whenever you take a creative position, your goal on the team is not to do experimental work or play in Illustrator all day or soak up company funds to learn new things.
Your goal is to achieve a result.
What result? I don’t know. You will have to ask your boss. Once you find out, do all that is required to reach it.
Even (especially) the stupid stuff nobody else will do.
#7 Disagree with your boss
Oooooh, this is my favorite.
There is probably no more provocative a statement to a superior than saying something along the lines of:
“I understand what you are saying, but I still have a different opinion.”
In Jim Collins’ classic business book — Good to Great — he points out that Level 5 Executives (a common element in all great companies) have the ability to surround themselves with people who would bitterly argue about what the right decision was.
Based on the hierarchy, that Level 1s & 2s need to have opinions of their own, as opposed to being warm bodies who smile and nod.
When you always agree with the boss because they are the boss, you are forever a functionary. Disagree, and you are suddenly an autonomous human being, capable of visualizing and managing his own projects.
(PS. — Some bosses don’t like disagreement. There’s a simple process for dealing with them).
#8 Accept Feedback well
With the possible exception of Pablo Picasso, every creative person of note had a key person who provided valuable input. This person would tell the artist what was wrong with their work. The artist might pout for a while, but would ultimately make changes to improve.
- Jobs had Woz
- TS Eliot had Ezra Pound
- J.R.R. Tolkien had C.S. Lewis
- Freud had Charcot
- Stravinsky had Diaghilev
- Even Einstein had someone
Oh, and wait! I just remembered Pablo Picasso had George Braque, without whom cubism probably would not exist.
Especially in a modern work environment, art-based professions are a push and pull process, not a genius-with-a-thousand-helpers process. Even if you choose not to implement it, accepting feedback with grace will do wonders for your work reputation.
By the way, there are probably plenty of creative people who stubbornly clung to their pure vision and didn’t listen to anyone.
You just don’t know their names.
#9 Keep delivering
Oh, you thought you got a pass on this after you’ve established your reputation? Nah.
Here’s what happens in a corporation: You don’t get paid for what you are doing. You get paid for what you have already done.
An army of inflated egos runs rampant in Corporate America.
Don’t join them.
#10 Fight to see her vision, not the other way around
Here’s a question:
Why do you think there are many more amatuer creative people than there are professionals?
There are probably plenty of reasons: life weeds out those who are simply less talented. Some don’t want to turn the thing they love most into a job. Others may just lose interest.
It is one thing to sit alone in your room, doodling a masterpiece on a napkin. It is quite another to generate a 50s-themed advertisement that uses pink and says the line “we’ll take you back.” You will be creating this for a board of five different people, all who have different opinions which must be incorporated into the piece.
And it still has to look good (the hard part).
Amatuer creatives can bring their own vision to life.
Professionals can do it for other people.
Be a pro.
PS. If you enjoy reading about creativity,
You might be interested to know I’m giving away a copy of my first book — The Creative’s Curse — whenever you pick up a copy of my latest book — The Unstoppable Creative.