When I’m not wearing my IT Director hat, I’m a writer, a poet, and a book designer. In fact, Berkeley’s reputation for innovation and work-life balance is what initially drew me to working at Cal twenty years ago. Work-life balance is a big plus for artists who are still developing their art or have not gotten to the point where their art can pay their mortgage. As I met staff around campus, I came to learn that I wasn’t the only artist who had figured this out. I met writers, painters, weavers, sculptors, potters, singers, musicians, and bakers, who worked in every corner of the campus.
Rarely did their colleagues know of their hidden artistic talents as if we were double-agent spies living two distinct and separate lives. There was a wall between their work selves and their artist selves.
We often don’t correlate art and business. Artists are daydreamers caught up in their imaginative worlds. Business is about hard cold facts. However, what we’ve learned from the numerous cycles of dot com booms, imagination and creativity is at the core of business innovation. Creativity is one of the hottest skills and talents sought out by companies. You can read more about it (https://hbr.org/2008/10/creativity-and-the-role-of-the-leader and http://www.forbes.com/sites/rogertrapp/2013/10/21/five-steps-to-business-creativity/#3563c9726c87)
What we know now is that artists are problem solvers who question the status quo and who feed off of a creative collaborative process. A poet mentor of mine, Eileen Tabios, a prolific writer of over 30 books, got her MBA from Stern and lived a previous life as a successful banker before taking her poetry full time. She told me that her success as a banker was because she was a poet. There were plenty of people who could crunch the numbers; as a poet, she could imagine the impact of those numbers in investments. Art does not make one an artist. Art is an outcome of artistry. The artist is an artist because they see the world differently.
Where does creativity fit in our world?
In one sense, a university is a business built on creativity, bringing diverse viewpoints together in order to inspire learning and discovery. This is our business. And based on the number of MacArthur genius grants and Nobel Prizes, we are very good at this business.
But you might say that creativity is for research and students, why does creativity matter in running a nearly 150 year old institution? Higher Ed and particularly public education is at a crossroads with continued cuts in funding, pressure to reduce student fees, and a need to dramatically reduce costs in a traditionally bureaucratic environment. Creativity is needed now more than ever. We can’t keep going the way we’ve worked in the past. We have to innovate how we support the university mission.
Some ways to bring your creativity to work:
- Bring your artwork to work. Remind your work self of your creative self
- Explore a work problem in your medium. If you are a visual artist, find a way to represent the issue in a visual way (charts, graphs, sketches). If you’re a writer, what are different ways to articulate what’s going on?
- Question why. Explore. To get to the really innovative solutions we have to be willing to question “how we did things before” and we need more people asking “why?” and more importantly “why not?”
- Be inspired by others and by this place. Find other people who are learning, growing and exploring. Creativity feeds off of each other. Attend a free music concert, stop in on a faculty lecture.
The process of creativity is one that strives for something greater and different yet opens oneself up to learning from mistakes as joyful innovations.
Help cultivate creativity at work:
- Help others change mistakes into a-ha moments. Maybe the paint didn’t quite mix the way you had hoped, but by stepping back you might see that the mistake created something better. By changing the response of mistakes from blame to learning, we’re able to build a habit supporting risk.
- Talk about the art you do. Think of your work here as art. There is an art to working in higher education. There are people here who are masterful in their work.
- Create spaces to be creative. Maybe it’s a puzzle in the breakroom, or bring playdoh to a meeting, or coloring books. All of these help us engage with other parts of our brain.
- Give people permission. Whether it’s a painting class or a poetry workshop, the greatest thing you can provide people is permission to be creative without critique or judgement. When facilitating brainstorming discussions, create a safe space for people to fully express their thoughts even if they -are wacky. Help people explore an out-of-the-box idea so that the idea or some portion of it can become real.
How do you support creativity at work?