I noticed something interesting about creativity and organizations in my earliest years of studying it: organizations were willing to embrace it…when something had gone wrong.

Think about it: when are managers, bosses, or leaders most likely to ask for your creative solutions? When you’re down a staff member. When funding is interrupted. When circumstances change unexpectedly. It’s been a mission of mine for several years to disrupt that mindset on creativity, and embrace it not only as a stopgap measure, but as an everyday competency.

With that said…I know a lot of you are being called upon to get creative now. And I get it. The interruption to our daily routines that COVID-19 has presented to our work is unprecedented. As such, the way we do our work in the midst of these changes is similarly novel. You have to get creative, in the most literal sense.

I’d like to help you get to work.

As you start to make plans for new versions of the student engagement you’re regularly called on to provide, I want to share some reminders by way of creative competencies that I’ve leaned on for years to help folks find their inner creative. I’ll share a few this week, and a few next week. And if there’s anything more specific I can be helpful with, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Allies, Advisors, and Activators: What do you need to enable your creativity, and who has the power to provide it?

Ordinarily, when I talk to people about the power of allies, advisors, and activators, it’s all about developing relationships. These people, who may have more organizational power and influence than you, are the ones who can go to bat for your most out-there ideas. In cultivating relationships with these folks, heeding their guidance as other programs come together, and being of use to them in their moments of need, there is a kind of currency developed, a series of deposits of sorts that will come in handy when you need to make a withdrawal.

While other deposits you’ve made should stay put during this time – don’t touch your faces, don’t touch your 401(k) or 403(b) – this is a bank you can and should reach into when pursuing new and different ideas.

Departmental, divisional, and institutional support matters hugely here. There’s already a substantial amount of risk being tolerated by us all, so new ideas might be seen as bringing undue pressure into the mix. A few tips to lessen that perceived risk:

  • Tie new ideas back to voiced student needs: At this stage, you likely are in contact with the students you’ll be serving, and as a result have a sense of what they’re needing and would like to see from your office. Frame the programming ideas that you wish to pursue, as expressions of that need and an ability to meet them. This is not unlike how you’d typically justify certain programming initiatives; in this case, you may have artifacts (chats, emails, etc.) to document these conversations. With permission, share those to bolster your case.
  • Tie new ideas back to touted divisional and institutional goals: At a moment when so many eyes are on institutions to make the “right” moves, they’ll likely be looking to established goal markers like strategic plans and mission statements with which to align their work. Framing your suggestions in language and structure that mimics these guiding documents is always crucial, but even more so here as institutions seek to be efficient in their execution.
  • Emphasize the importance of whatever normalcy we can offer: It’d be silly to pretend that these aren’t wholly novel circumstances. But I stand by this particular piece of my last post on this topic, about things to consider as these ideas come together:

    It is normal to have opportunities to see a magician, or a comedian, or a spoken word poet on campus. It is normal to meet monthly to ensure that students are getting the most of their leadership opportunities. And in a moment where many of us are feeling not only panic or worry about this drastically shifted version of normal, but also a sense of mourning for what we’re leaving behind temporarily, attempting to bring steadying experiences is a good thing to do.

    We will lose a lot of traditional experiences over the course of this extended hiatus from in-person programming. But there are opportunities to steady, to comfort, and to divert attention from the worrisome parts of the experience. Frame your ideas as part of that, and those with power and influence will hopefully see their utility.

Broadmindedness: Where will these new ideas come from, and do you feel supported to seek them out?

Maybe you’re at a loss for how to create engaging and transformative programming in a digital landscape. But do you know who might not be?

No, that isn’t rhetorical. Do you? And do you have the opportunity to look?

We’re all accustomed to going a set number of places, or a set type of place, to stay informed. But with no clear path forward during an unprecedented time, we’ll all have to challenge ourselves to navigate off the well-worn paths and see who may have resources to help. K-12 education, corporate learning and development, and educational technology all feel like natural starts. But could engineering, the arts, or even construction and materials have ideas? We won’t know until we look. This means advocating for “free creating” time – even half an hour at the start or end of every day. This could mean participating in webinars, Twitter chats, or lunch and learns from other professional associations. And with the time and resources to look elsewhere, it could mean more robust programming as a result of the peek outward.

Collaboration: How can teaming up with student leaders and other departments increase the reach and impact of what you create?

I won’t spend time here espousing the benefits of collaboration here; that’s been done ad nauseam elsewhere, and many of us are already engaged in it in some form or fashion, willingly or unwillingly 😉

What I’d instead like to do with this space is leave a few guiding questions that could affect the outcome of these collaborations:

  • What audiences that you work with need special care, and how can your collaborative efforts seek to meet those needs? Collaborating with your counseling center to present programs geared toward students already challenged by depression and anxiety; your campus multicultural offices, affinity groups and/or academic departments to find opportunities to highlight the intersectional challenges that this crisis presents; or career and alumni offices to address the changing world of work could all be viable ways to present varied and valuable programs to students and the larger campus community. Be sure, as you present these options, to think of ways for those who can’t join in real time to engage at a later date.
  • What offices are in high demand, and how can your programs extend their reach? There are undoubtedly offices on your campus whose functions are popular at the moment. From the top of my head, counseling, IT or academic technology, and career/internship services come to mind. How can the options you offer present entertainment as well as utility? We already know that students attend an event when it provides unmatched entertainment or needed utility, and that’ll be even more important to consider when they’re engaging remotely.
  • How can your students take the lead remotely? In my last campus-based role, two of our most popular organizations by attendance were the Yoga Club and the Zumba Club. Could you collaborate with those leaders to help them offer classes or practices online? Could streamed feeds from gaming clubs, do so with campus resources? Can service-based groups open up projects to the full audience of your office to extend their charitable reach? It may seem that because we’re the ones at the help and everyone else is dispersed, that it’s all on us professionals to get the job done. But students can, could, and likely want to get involved. Let them help!

Next week, I’ll explore the importance of determination, execution, and flexibility (a word I’m sure you’re hearing a great deal already) in crafting creative programming in this climate. In the meantime, stay healthy and take care of one another. I’m happy to help however I can, so please be in touch via the contact form on my site!