The Virgin America lounge at LAX, clinks of drinks, CNN humming in the background, and a distant rumble of planes landing and leaving gently marking the end of a stimulating two days facilitating 36 of ABC’s most senior television executives. Heads of news, comedy, daytime, digital, sales, and more, all filling one room with creative brilliance and focusing not on scripts but on … strategy.
Amazing. Literally like nothing I have experienced before.
What I am left with is a realization that categories restrain creativity.
We can be creative at play but not work, when creating content but not running operations, in design but not accounting. We know ourselves as fitting a certain character – you are funny or serious, passionate or reserved, persistent or carefree.
And the issue with these categories is that they force us to seek consistency and unnecessarily restrain who we might be. I can be goofy at home as “father,” but can’t bring myself to be so during a conference keynote.
The reason is not logical. Being goofy on stage could actually work in unexpected ways. But as a human, I seek consistency in who I am being. I have always been “smart” and “passionate” delivering a keynote so it somehow feels incongruent to be otherwise.
In certain places, in certain situations, we take on a persona and seek to act in conformity of that persona. You are a parent, friend, executive, child, spouse, U2 fan. You adopt an identity and then choose actions that are consistent with that identity.
And here is the problem in that.
You only bring part of yourself, more accurately one aspect of yourself, to wherever you are right now. This is why I find stiff financial executives and buttoned-up CEOs who, in other contexts, are passionate and free and human. But they leave part of themselves at home when they suit up for their job.
Over the last two days I witnessed something remarkable – people who expect themselves to be creative every day at work bringing that creativity to a strategy off-site. Attacking fundamental business challenges the way they might an advertising campaign or new pilot.
And to be honest, what I loved most about this experience was that they approached it with such confidence. They felt no need to prove their creativity. When I work with others in “creative” fields, I’m often left with the conclusion that they are continually out to prove they are more creative than you. They must always take the opposing view, wear the latest clothes, or in some other way make obvious their “creativity.” These people, at the top of their game, felt little need to prove themselves. They sat down and took apart strategic challenges with intelligence, commitment, and innovativeness. They expected themselves to be creative regardless of the topic.
If they can creatively attack strategic challenges that at Harvard or McKinsey one approaches with such ostensible seriousness, why can’t you?
So ask yourself, wherever you are, whoever is around you, who are you “being” at that moment? Are you seeking consistency or are you experiencing freedom? Are you attacking the problem as a manager or artist, executive or goofy parent having fun?