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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 21, 2001

Call to get creative unsettles many workers

Gannett News Service

One of the big pushes in the workplace these days is for employees to be "more creative."

But what exactly does that mean? Are workers supposed to start filling out forms in different colored ink, perhaps drawing flowers or rainbows in the margins? Are employees supposed to be "creative" in figuring out how to do half the work in twice the time?

No. What bosses are looking for is for workers to approach common practices in new ways — figuring out how a process can be streamlined, or listening to customer needs and then designing a new product to meet those desires.

It even means throwing out suggestions that may seem a little wacky but could lead to breakthroughs in how business is done.

Of course many employees are shaking their heads, wondering what planet they have to live on in order to be able to act that way.

Many companies still operate in the old mainstream, keeping employees so busy with "busy work" that they barely have time to take lunch, let alone think creatively. But it's also true that in order to survive in the new economy, employers are beginning to realize that they must get those creative juices flowing.

Still, the directive to "be creative" is something that just doesn't happen overnight. In fact, because so many employees have been in such restrictive environments for so long, coming up with alternative thoughts can be a little frightening and intimidating.

That's why it's a good idea to start those juices flowing, to sort of open up your thought processes and let the sun shine in. Here's some ways to begin thinking creatively on the job:

• Get some rest. No one can think creatively — let along think, period — when they are exhausted. So instead of working late into the night on that project, put it aside. If you're having trouble sleeping, consult a doctor to get some suggestions on how to get a better night's rest. Try to catch a few minutes of rest every day, even if it means sitting in the parking lot in your car and listening to music for 15 minutes.

• Read. This means something besides annual reports or training guides. Look at photography magazines, hobby publications, gardening books, fishing magazines or travel guides — anything that allows your mind to wander and your spirit to relax.

• Go outside. Sitting in your workplace often stifles creativity — the same people, the same place, the same environment. If you can't get out during work hours, take time during your off hours to visit a park, work in a garden, watch a sporting event, anything that gets you out in the fresh air and aware of the bigger world around you.

• Expand your horizons. Take up tap dancing. Learn to fly fish. Volunteer at a charity event. Ask someone you don't know very well to lunch. The idea is to expose yourself to new stimuli that will get your brain operating outside its usual spaces.

• Fail. Give yourself permission to mess up. Let yourself try an idea that you're not sure will work. The point is to try. And if it doesn't work, well, it doesn't work. But you will have learned something in the process.

Let your imagination go, and have fun doing it, without worrying about the outcome.

As Muhammad Ali says, "The man who has no imagination has no wings."