Tapping Creativity and Increasing Productivity

This blog entry is a follow up to the last one: Losing Your Creativity

I am sure that Google could serve up a zillion ideas about how to nurture your creativity; I searched my self and found a pretty decent article about creativity in the workplace (you can read it by clicking here). But instead of serving up what you can already find, I decided to just take a simple approach and give you my take on what I see regular folks doing to tap into their creative side, find their mojo, or what ever you want to call it. Most of these are probably fairly basic, and you may already do some of these. If you have some that should be added feel free to add yours in by commenting! The bottom line is to find one or more that works for you and just do it!!!

Listen to music
Read a book (for enjoyment – not work)
Go for a walk
Go for a boat ride
Go for a drive and look at the scenery (but remember to watch the road too) and long enough that you stop thinking about all that work or all those problems at the office
Fish and actually look at the fish you catch
Visit an art gallery or museum and really look at the exhibits/painting – imagine how they were created
Swim (but only in deep water if you know how to swim – otherwise wading in shallow water is good too)
Do yoga or other stretching exercises/movements
Paint/Draw (even if it is with your kids with chalk on the sidewalk or with fingerpaints in the kitchen)
Stroll through a downtown and really look at the architecture and the form and colors of the buildings
Take photos of common, everyday objects – take some at unusual angles
Write a story, letter, blog, diary entry, article – even if no one else will ever see it
Relax in a hot tub or whirlpool or sauna

In addition to these ideas, I have to add that my time spent in Second Life has definitely enhanced my creative side. Trying to build objects in a virtual world requires you to look at objects in the “real world” in a whole new way because you have to try to figure out how to make them using the tools and constraints of that software. I end up seeing shapes and colors and textures that I never really noticed before.

I realize that most users of Second Life have already discovered this, but I add it for those who have yet to venture in. Not only is there the opportunity for you to create, but you can gain a new perspective by visiting and viewing the creations of others. I always think of it as being allowed to look into the creative side of someone else’s mind. And looking at what others have created is always a great way to stimulate your own creativity.


Losing Your Creativity

A couple weeks ago, I attended a meeting with our local business association to hear and participate in a discussion about tax increment financing districts (TIFs). Our TIF attorney made a comment at the meeting something to the effect that “infrastructure is not sexy.” At the time, I interjected my disagreement with his assessment; everyone laughed, and I really didn’t think much more about it until later.

But the more I thought about it, the more I had to admit that the general public would probably agree with our TIF attorney. Why is that? There was a time when people were impressed by the achievements of engineers and public works employees. Our contributions to bettering the lives of people were welcomed and appreciated. Now what we achieve seems to be taken for granted, dismissed, ignored, or worse yet criticized. Only within the confines of our own professional groups are these achievements awarded.

But most of us are not working each day trying to win an award or mass recognition for our designs or projects. So why should this change in attitude concern the average public works person?

The critical issue here is that this change in attitude seems to be leading to a complete dismissal of our profession as one that requires creativity in order to deliver a quality product. I realize that even amongst ourselves this may not be apparent because we really do not talk about ourselves or our profession as one that relies on creativity. But each day we face problems that rarely have obvious solutions, and the way we solve them is to tap into our creative abilities to assess situations, many times “think outside of the box,” and then derive the most efficient, acceptable, and cost effective solution that works. And we do this without even thinking about how we do it.

So if we are automatically doing this, why should we be worried about how others view us and our work? Because at one time, when the general public was still awed by our achievements, we were left alone to create, solve problems, and produce. As the world has progressed, this is no longer the case – the companies and agencies for which we work have made changes to staffing and policies that are now stifling the creativity on which we rely.

We now have supervisors who are not trained in our field and don’t understand the thought processes and work environments we need in order to achieve success. With fewer employees in our divisions and groups, we are pushed to achieve more in a shorter amount of time. Politicians often do not heed advice from professionals and experts in a certain field which leads to an imposition of policies and regulations that simply do not work.

I suppose there may still be a lucky few who have not had to experience these types of changes, but from what I can see and from the conversations I have with other professionals, there does not seem to be many of the lucky ones. Instead I hear of engineers who are having to “clock in and out” in a manner similar to that of a factory worker because some accountant for some government agency has decided that the employee might spend an extra 5 minutes or so at lunch.

For myself, I don’t have that problem, but I do have coworkers who are not in the public works department who simply cannot comprehend why I would need to work uninterrupted on anything. And they are unrelenting in their criticism should I try to just shut the door or not answer the phone for any time period at all.

So what is the result of these changes? I see and hear about designs and projects that no longer are the best or most efficient or even well thought out. This obviously leads to, at the least, increased construction costs and a waste of resources, and, at the worst, failures and a potential for loss of lives.

I agree that we as a nation need to invest more in infrastructure, and I think the average citizen would agree, but more importantly, should this funding one day arrive, we need to spend it wisely by coming up with the best designs. And this is only going to happen if we invest in our own creativity despite the obstacles trying to diminish this vital ability.

Next post – Finding your creativity.