Slate published a great article today, highlighting what we all knew anyway: we say we want creativity, but we really don't. A bulk of job descriptions use this adjective. Motivational speakers scream and yell about everyone having to have it. Leaders wax poetic about fostering it.
But at the end of the day, we only praise creativity after we've seen good results but rarely before and during the creative process. Most people tend to rely on what they already know.
My field largely relies on creativity. For many years, I worked at an organization that claimed to value it. From the first five minutes of my job interview, my future boss asked to know what I would bring to the table that was different. I had plenty of answers.
My time there, however, was another story. My boss repeatedly rejected strategic short- and long-term plans, spur of the moment ideas, small projects, etc.
"That won't work."
"What if something bad happens?"
"What if this gets used against us?"
"We don't have time for any of this."
"This isn't worth our time."
"No because I heard this one person tried it and it didn't work."
"What does this get us? Do we even know?"
"I don't even know how this would work." [said after lengthy discussion]
And the best one..."I don't know. I just don't know about this."
Not exactly the creative spirit that employers are known for demanding.
After four years, I just gave up and stuck to standard procedures that garnered the same results as always. Ironically, I was dinged in a performance review for not being creative or proactive enough. My performance and productivity directly relied upon my boss's engagement, participation, and approval. I hardly ever got all three. I felt like my boss was messing with me.
I recall a competitor doing something "out of the box" and getting some good results. My boss wanted to know why we never do stuff like that. I stifled a giggle, and she shot me a nasty look. Was she kidding?
I would complain loudly about my boss's idiotic management style (never to her face), but I realized she probably had no clue. Whenever I would try to nail down precisely what she wanted, she could only supply vague answers or tell me that I "should just know these things" because it was my job. I now realize this was all code for her just not knowing what she wanted.
To be sure, a lot of ideas can be complete crap, mine included. Most are probably. But when anything unknown gets poopooed you not only lose any nuggets of potentially positive results but you also dis-incentivize others from wanting to be creative and different.
I had to leave my job because I felt I was constantly being set up for failure. In all those years, the only major projects I could take credit for were a newly redesigned website and the creation of a Facebook page — not exactly highlights of an experienced professional career.
The upside is that I saved the bulk of my unused work and included it in my job applications. Those ideas landed me the job I have now. (Unfortunately I couldn't tell my old employer that because of intellectual property.)
So the next time you have the urge to reject the unknown or risky stuff, please reconsider. You might be passing on something amazing.