What Does Creativity Without Heart Look Like?

I want to talk about Logan Paul for a minute.

Actually, I don’t. I don’t want to talk about Logan Paul, but the events of the past few months surrounding the callous video content he’s posted on his YouTube channel, his apparent contrition for offense or trauma that was caused, and subsequent missteps which show little was learned, have forced my hand.


Because after his latest antics were deemed outside YouTube’s revised guidelines, guidelines likely inspired by previous challenges the platform has had with Paul, he made an urgent plea on his video: “They’re cutting me, bro. Creativity being stifled.”

Oh, Logan. Honey. Bro, if I may.

While I have a number of issues with the argument put forth, I want to center on two in today’s post.

First, the idea of restrictions. Contrary to the popular belief that you can only be creative if there are no limits imposed on your work, a great deal of creative work is accomplished because there are boundaries in place. I think of the OG side hustlers Wright brothers, who successfully developed the first flying machine” with roughly $2000, while holding down full time jobs running a bicycle store. Comparatively, the US government had given Samuel Langley the modern-day equivalent of $700,000 and no other tasks to accomplish the same task. Langley’s behemoth prototype took to the sky once…before crashing into the Potomac, ultimately unrecoverable.

What did a lack of time and funding do for the Wright brothers? It made them efficient. Because they had to sandwich their work on the flying machine between substantial stretches of “real work,” they learned how to make things in short periods of time, to test things in low-cost ways, and to move quickly if something didn’t work…because they didn’t have time to dwell.

I remember this when I write posts for this site between other tasks, or create content for other publications within their set guidelines. Hell, even as  I think about (and stress over, and write right down to the wire of) deadlines. Without those boundaries, I’d never get anything done. And without content and style guidelines, publications and other outlets would never be able to refine their own voice- which, it’s important to note, is their right. So, Logan. Honey. Bro, if I may. Creating absent restrictions is possible for relative few. But creating with boundaries is both perfectly possible, and necessary for a few reasons. Which brings me to my next point.

Some really important points stand out in the written statement from YouTube’s Vice President for Product Management Ariel Bardin (emphasis added):

Recently, we faced situations where the egregious actions of a handful of YouTubers harmed the reputation of the broader creator community among advertisers, the media industry and most importantly, the general public. In light of this behavior—and our commitment to tighten our policies and communicate them more quickly and transparently—we’re introducing new consequences to apply in the rare event when one creator’s actions harm the entire community. When one creator does something particularly blatant—like conducts a heinous prank where people are traumatized, promotes violence or hate toward a group, demonstrates cruelty, or sensationalizes the pain of others in an attempt to gain views or subscribers—it can cause lasting damage to the community, including viewers, creators and the outside world.

That damage can have real-world consequences not only to users, but also to other creators, leading to missed creative opportunities, lost revenue and serious harm to your livelihoods. That’s why it’s critical to ensure that the actions of a few don’t impact the 99.9 percent of you who use your channels to connect with your fans or build thriving businesses.

Bardin’s recognition of the community harm that can be done by an idea (perhaps one that previously hadn’t been undertaken for a reason), reminds me of how I conceptualized the metric of heart in Cultivating Creativity. From the book:

It isn’t enough to just be creative. It isn’t enough to leverage the support of allies, advocates and activators, to take inspiration from varied places, and to enlist talented and varied people to do it. It isn’t enough to steel ourselves against the fatigue and insecurity that can hinder our determination or execution. It isn’t enough to learn how to hold these ideas lightly, or to grow into the people it takes to make them a reality. We also have to think about the impact that these ideas will have once they’re released into the world. We’d love to believe that the thing we’ve created will unequivocally improve the lives of others. But there are times where this is not the case; in extreme cases, there are times where the destruction of others is the express goal of what we create. Simply put: I don’t want to empower that kind of creativity. I don’t empower that kind of creativity.

To that end, I always encourage the asking of three questions when vetting an idea:

  • Who does this idea, project or solution help?
  • Who does it hurt?
  • What can be done to maximize the former condition while minimizing the latter?

I go on to talk about how you and your team can discern the most advantageous answers to this trio questions (invoking the other elements of the Cultivating Creativity Manifesto):

The first question is generally simple enough; it is those who we wish to help, often (but not always) including ourselves, that bring these ideas to the forefront in the first place. The second question is a little bit tougher. It requires deeper examination: in the process of elevating the population that inspired the idea, is it possible that others might be left behind, marginalized, or even hurt in the process? A thorough answer to this question can benefit from other essential elements. Honest and forthright allies, advocates and activators; a broadminded perspective; and varied and diverse collaborators can bring some of these issues to your attention sooner than if you didn’t enlist their help.

The third question might (and should!) test your determination, alter your execution, and employ your flexibility. It is affected by the mental models and assumptions you might have made but otherwise been unaware of. Growing past these assumptions, challenging them with new information and testimony, can change the face of what you’re creating and how it’s received in the world. The result? A more heartfelt project, one that aims to avoid harm and ultimately improve the world in which it exists.

Were Paul to have run through these questions before releasing the initial controversial video, he may have identified that he and his online image could be helped by its release, but in the process many others (survivors of suicide victims, those who hold the Suicide Forest sacred, those struggling with suicide ideation themselves, etc.) would be hurt. Further, if no one on Paul’s team was able to voice these objections, that hints at a circle of collaborators and allies, advisors, or activators with dangerous blind spots in their world perspective. To enlist people who will challenge you when insensitive or ill-advised actions are underway isn’t stifling, it’s enriching.

So Logan. Honey. Bro, if I may. Doing something novel means relatively little if it also brings about harm. Maybe that’s why there wasn’t much of it up to this point.

I have little hope that Paul’s particular brand of shock-based online entertainment will change; that’s far from my goal in examining his case. What I do hope, however, is to provide a framework by which others can vet their creative decisions. Not just by how novel an idea is, but how altruistically it can be achieved and implemented. That should matter, too.

[VIDEO] SXSW Panel: Memes and Monologues

Earlier this week, I got to tick a major box off my lifetime “to do” list: present at the South by Southwest Conference and Festival in Austin, TX. Alongside standup comedian and MondayPunday creator Matthew Broussard, satire professor and News Hangover creator Keli Dailey, and Emerson administrator and Humans of Higher Education contributor Jason Meier, we spent an hour talking about the nature of comedy and its utility to “straight” journalism.

From the description:

Can news outlets and journalists apply the strategies of comedians to their work, even if they’re “not funny”? With standup, late night, memes and hashtags, comedians are navigating a tense reality with skill, tackling issues head on. And we think they can teach a thing or two about how to hit “publish” on that controversial piece or have that talk with a cranky uncle. Join us for frank talk on their strategies for speaking truth to power, challenging ideas, and navigating inevitable backlash.

Huge thanks to Jason, Keli, and Matthew for going along with me on this- you were a pleasure and I’m so happy with what we ended up building.

Screen Shot 2018-03-14 at 11.30.07 PM

Click the image above to get to the full video!

Should you be interested in an hour of talk in that vein…watch away!

Inclusion Riders for the Rest of Us

A few weeks ago at the Academy Awards, Best Actress in a Motion Picture winner Frances McDormand set Google afire with the phrase “inclusion rider.” The idea was not hers; rather, it was the brainchild of USC Annenberg School of Communication professor Stacy L. Smith. First proposed in 2014, it is a contract clause that

A-list actors can incorporate a clause in their contracts that stipulates that inclusion — both on camera and behind the scenes for crew members — be reflected in films. The rider states that women, people of color, people with disabilities, and members of LGBT and marginalized communities who are traditionally underrepresented be depicted on screen in proportion to their representation in the population.

Most of us will likely never be in the position to create such a clause for our own contracts. But the purpose that they aim to serve is one we all have the power to explore in the environments we create- and the culture developed by the people populating these environments.

This is far greater than a matter of aesthetics. Valuing and abiding by the principles these inclusion riders espouse contributes meaningfully to a team’s ability to thrive in a constantly changing marketplace. I write in Cultivating Creativity about how those in positions of power (like those who can ask for these rider provisions in negotiations) have a tremendous opportunity to disrupt a power differential in this area:

Those with like experiences and perspectives coming together will result in either relatively few clashes for the sake of harmony, or the same old clashes fueled by existing factions fortifying their ranks. But by seeking to elevate the potential and impact of those who don’t typically have a seat at the table (or an audible voice once they arrive), the work that we seek to do can yield new perspectives, reach new people, solve problems that we previously haven’t had the resources or insight to solve.

This shifting take on allyship, advocacy, and activatorship might challenge those who typically inhabit these roles. By choosing to support those who differ from you, you are making yourself vulnerable. There are aspects of these relationships where you will not be the sage, expert, or most experienced party. And for those who typically sit in the majority, this is an unfamiliar stead. Embrace it. Listen through it, honoring and affirming the difficult truths you may hear about, even  (especially!) if they’re not your own. Learn through it. Use the knowledge gained in these moments to bolster your own work, to fuel your own creativity.

Creating space for underrepresented voices isn’t just “the right thing to do” to make people feel good. It affects an organization’s ability to serve its marketplace, to meaningfully shape the society in which it operates, and the lives of the people affiliated with the organization – both inside and out.

This is presently not easy work. An exchange I found on Instagram late last week dismayingly addressed this concern with an actress and comedian about whom I’d been wondering: Amy Schumer. When asked by a commenter why the three “Amy Schumer Presents” specials had highlighted the comedy of one white woman and two white males, Schumer responded meaningfully:

Thank you. You’re right. But what you don’t know is that I’ve tried and worked hard to produce specials for other women including women of color and been rejected. You’ve seen the ones they agreed to buy. I’m doing my best. I will keep trying. @miacomedy (Black female comedian Mia Jackson) will have a killer special very soon if the people in positions of power wise up.

Admittedly, Schumer’s approach was one I had previously questioned; while the talent she has lifted up (Rachel Feinstein, Mark Normand, and Sam Morril) are all deserving of her support, I wonder what could be done if that capital was used to lift up the talent of those who may not otherwise get the opportunity. Director Ava DuVernay put it another way, when she talked about addressing inclusion practices, questioning the very language that we use to describe it (as Dr. D-L Stewart has previously):

I think the very words diversity and inclusion are unfortunate because it’s really just reality. The world is not as we depict on film and television – that is not real. Unfortunately, it’s the case for the people who are controlling film, television and theater, but it is not a real space. So the idea that inclusion and diversity is some kind of allowance being made to open our arms to more people — no. It is a correction of an error. It is a righting of a wrong. And it is going to be done.

Academy Awards red carpet outside the Kodak Theatre

IMAGE CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons

And yet, in all these discussions, I see hope. I see people like Jessica Chastain tying their own compensation to that of Octavia Spencer, resulting in a fivefold raise for the latter. I see the launch of sites like People of Craft (a directory of artistic creatives of color developed by Amélie Lamont and Timothy Goodman) and Akuarel (a directory of television and film creatives launched by #oscarssowhite creator April Reign). And I have to hope that these mechanisms in media will create a world that other industries can see and emulate in their practices.

For most of us are not in roles where we can include this type of stipulation in our employment contracts. Most of us are left to our own devices and judgment when advocating for these changes in our workplaces. Whose perspective isn’t being heard? Where does your organization have gaps? And who needs to be not just present, but heard and empowered in your organization to change its face?

A few suggestions:

  • If in a hiring capacity, look meaningfully at the job descriptions and locations of postings. If paywalls are associated to access sites, consider how that could keep out segments of the qualified applicant pool. What words could be turning off female applicants, or applicants of color, or applicants with disabilities?
  • Seek to acknowledge, and then change, elements of your organizational culture that are actively challenging or demoralizing underrepresented populations. Asking in earnest, with an eye toward improvement, can reveal inequities and injustices that actively hinder success or comfort for employees.
  • Closely related to the last point: when confronted with evidence of these challenging or demoralizing circumstances, stop. Listen. Acknowledge the experience of the person who is sharing. And incorporate said testimony into your present view of the organization- even if it isn’t your experience. To reiterate the advice from Cultivating Creativity above: “honor and affirm the difficult truths you may hear about, even  (especially!) if it’s not your own. Learn through it.”
  • If serving as a mentor or sponsor, consider not just advising those under your watchful eye, but actively putting them forward for opportunities. Don’t tell them how to do things, let them do things and encourage others to do the same.

Presenting: 2018 Post Conference “Coffee Chats”!

I know the feeling well.

Your head buzzes the whole flight home, perhaps punctuated with quick jots in the margins of conference programs or inside padfolios. The last several days have been educational, entertaining, and energizing. But what do we do with that energy once we get home?

This year, I want it to really have an impact. And I want to help.

Set aside a half hour with me during the week of March 19th to talk about your conference season. Where’d you go? What did you learn? And what are you worried about when it comes to taking those lessons, conversations, and recommendations and transforming them into action? Half an hour won’t give you all the answers, but it’ll be a start…a start I’m happy to help you achieve.

This call is free, and gives you no obligation to buy or book anything. I just want to know what you learned, what you want to do with it, and (if possible) how I can help you get there!

Ready to sign up? Let’s go!

8 Myths About Introverts

This post was previously published with Keep Calm and Dream: For Introverts, by Introverts. 

Any group that is lesser known to the public is bound to be misunderstood, and introversion is no exception. A great many myths have been attributed to this quieter 1/3 to 1/2 of the population, but many have deeper explanations and roots than one could ever imagine- not unlike introverts themselves. Let’s dive in, and see what lies beneath the assumptions you may have heard or had attributed to you.

1. Introverts don’t like people.

This is perhaps the most pervasive myth haunting introverts. While introverts don’t, by nature, gain energy from social situations, that doesn’t mean that they don’t care to be around people. In fact, when in relationships with people they trust and care about, introverts are the most caring and even energetic people you may meet. They just need some time to warm up to people- when allotted that time, and when around the right people, they can flourish.

2. Introverts are shy.

Closely related to the previous myth, many people (introverts included, at times!) are of the belief that introversion and shyness are one and the same. Not so. Susan Cain puts it best in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talkingwhen she notes that introversion is a preference toward ideas, while shyness is a fear of social situations. The former is tiring, while the latter is painful. It’s also worth noting that while shyness refers to social situations, introversion comes into play with any form of excessive stimulation (including temperature, pain, or even hunger).

3. Introverts are quiet.

Is this a myth? Is this true? To quote one of my favorite professors, “it depends.” Introverts who are shy, will be prone to long periods of quiet. But as we just learned, this quiet is symptomatic of shyness, not introversion. Social introverts (yep, that’s a thing!) and introverts in situations that draw less energy from them are not as quiet. In fact, they may appear to “extrovert” (more on that later) better than most. But look closely- they may maintain that level of energy for a shorter period than others. Some introverts are quiet, but so are some shy extroverts (yep, also a thing). Look deeper before assigning this label.

4. Introverts can’t lead.

In early research on introverted student leaders, I met some resistance from colleagues who insisted that such a term was an oxymoron. But as we dug deeper and talked to students in leadership positions, we learned it was far more common than most would imagine. Society is starting to recognize this fact, as leaders like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner and even President Obama are gaining attention for the leadership they provide while honoring their introverted tendencies. Introverts may not always appear at the front of a room with boundless energy, but they can have influence when in the right spaces and supported by good people. In fact, Grant, Gino and Hoffman found that in some cases, introverts can be better leaders than their extroverted counterparts! So if you’re looking to bring someone into power, don’t overlook introverts! And introverts, if you’re nervous about going for it- take a chance. You could be great!

5. Introversion is cultural.

Introversion isn’t the dominant culture in the United States; that said, it is more common in different cultures. Many Asian cultures revere qualities associated with introversion, for example and with that comes more acceptance in those countries. However, that doesn’t mean that all Asians are introverted, any more than all Americans are extroverted. Introversion and extroversion exists in varying levels of abundance around the world. This myth is a good one to remember when traveling, so as to calibrate your behavior based on how the culture behaves, but is not to be wielded as a means to generalize about people.

6. Introverts and extroverts can’t get along.

With differences in lifestyle, social preference, and energy, it may seem as though a harmonious union between these two types. However, many things that come easily to one type, can be beneficial to others. For my part, one of my best friends is an extrovert, and he’s wonderful at encouraging me to think bigger on projects when I need ideas. Conversely, when those ideas need to be focused and narrowed down, I really excel. Whatever type you lean toward (keeping in mind always that everyone has elements of both!), the odds are good that having a friend or significant other in the opposite camp can make you stronger and more well-rounded.

7. Introversion can be faked.

I hear all the time that introverts feel as though they have to “fake” extroversion in some situations. It always bothers me when I hear someone “faked extroversion” to get through a big speech or a long party. Conversely, friends of mine who have to spend more time alone or have to sit quietly will sometimes claim they’re “faking” introversion. But I don’t see it that way.

In my mind, behaviors aren’t introverted or extroverted, people are. And no behavior is outside of the bounds of anyone’s ability. But, activities like parties or other social situations are easier for extroverts because those situations give them energy. Similarly, being alone and reflection tend to be easier for introverts because they get a charge in those moments. So no one ever “fakes” one temperament or another; rather, you give off the appearance that a less energizing activity is easy.

8. Introversion can be “fixed.”

This is actually a relatively new myth to me, that I saw in the comments of a TED talk about introversion. One rather vocal commenter claimed to have “learned” to not be introverted anymore, and that those who still owned the title simply weren’t trying hard enough.

Believe it or not, there may be something to this one. Not much, but some.

As I mentioned before, introversion isn’t about not being able to do “extroverted things,” but rather being able to convey that these things are easy. Indeed, some elements of life that can challenge introverts (like public speaking, or breaking into new groups of people) can be made easy when we learn the best way to do them for ourselves without them draining our energy. This has been true for me with public speaking- anything that we’re used to, gets easier. And yet. The need, the natural tendency, the physiological need to turn inward in order to get our energy back…never goes away. Even the most comfortable social situations won’t give you energy, they’ll simply deplete it at a slower rate. So introverts, you can “train” to operate out in the world, but your introverted ways will never go away. Spend the time learning how to make the world work for you, and you’ll shine just as brightly- albeit differently- as your extroverted counterparts.

[PODCAST] Boundless Podcast, Episode 8

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of getting to talk to Paul Millerd of Boundless for The Boundless Podcast. Paul is doing some really smart and interesting work on the future of work, how we can prepare people for it, and what traits it will take to embrace and thrive in this new space.

Paul says I hold the present record for making him crack up the most over the course of an interview; if you’re into that, you’re going to enjoy this one. Thanks so much for having me, Paul- looking forward to teaming up again soon!

Click the image below or head to Boundless to hear my episode- and several others on the future of work!

9 Ways Senior Leaders Can Promote Creativity

I spend a lot of time thinking about creativity. How to encourage people to find their own, how to expand the definition of it, how to make the case for its utility in organizations. But what I also spend a lot of time on, is pondering what environments need to help people be creative. A lot of organizations have chosen to focus on the space in which people work – hence open offices, Ping Pong tables, whiteboards, and all those other “office perks” that companies put in place to set themselves apart.

Companies with beer fridges and board games be like… IMAGE CREDIT: GIPHY

But things don’t make an organizational culture. People do. And the people in that organization  – be it a student club, a nonprofit, or a corporation – should have philosophies about work that are congruent with the environment they build and attract prospective employees with.

This congruence came to mind again a few weeks ago when I read this report from the Center for Creative Leadership, about senior leadership behaviors that sabotage innovation. It’s one thing to say, “we love creative ideas,” but it is quite another to foster an environment that truly does that. As such, I want to turn around their findings, thus sharing nine ways that you can ensure your surroundings promote the innovative impulses of your team.

(1) Encouraging creativity.

And I mean really encouraging it. Not just saying “no idea is off-limits,” only to later poke holes in the ones that don’t match what’s previously been done or what solutions were expected. I wrote about the many ways that leadership can articulate dedication to creativity in Cultivating Creativity– and the way that’s most effective:

Leadership over creative individuals, or over individuals with whom you’d like to work creatively, requires a shift in thinking from the way we’ve typically conceived of supervising and managing. In the earliest waves of management, we believed that giving employees permission was the highest form of agency we could provide. Managers and supervisors are custodians of a work environment, and the manner in which people worked was up to them.

Then, leadership and management theory moved away from language of permission and into the language of support. “This individual has my support” was the new way of saying that someone was allowed to work in a different direction than they might have originally. While this change was welcome, this language is challenging because it still puts the onus of directing a project, a department, or an organization in the hands of the leader. The modern workforce is evolving to where having support still isn’t enough. So what comes next?

My answer: truly transformative creative work will come when individuals don’t have permission, or have support, but when they feel supported. While it may seem like a subtle semantic change, I believe it matters. It matters because it changes the responsibility of the manager or supervisor. Helping someone feel supported is a collaborative process. It requires the joint understanding of an employer and an employee, a patron and a protégé, a leader and a team member.

Leadership practices that help people feel supported, whether their idea goes well or poorly (more on that later) is more likely to foster further creativity. I speak often of how important collaboration is to creation; to help someone feel supported is far more collaborative than “you have my support,” and certainly more so than “do whatever you want.” As a creator, how can you articulate the importance of such support? And as a leader, how can you articulate or demonstrate that support to those under your employ?

(2) Evaluating ideas thoroughly, including resources and systems.

There is a time and place to prioritize ideas based on feasibility and resources. That time is not the very instant after the idea is presented. Perhaps the most precious resource that creativity needs to thrive and take hold is time; remember that when an unfamiliar idea is presented. Choosing to evaluate an idea for feasibility at that introduction point fails to truly examine the needs that idea addresses, the resources truly available (and what changes could be made if needed). In the Cultivating Creativity framework, the commitment to thoroughly evaluating an idea is a function of determination. Two traits of a workplace determined to be creative that I strongly recommend embracing and continually implementing:

A determined environment periodically assesses the resources of those dedicated to solving problems. Are they well equipped to address the issues at hand? Where are there gaps? How can those gaps be filled? And how can those in relatively higher positions of power assist in filling those gaps?

When assessing decisions, these environments encourage open-minded assessment of ideas and pitches. Go into negotiations or ideation sessions with a “how can we make this work?” orientation, rather than a “here’s why this won’t work” orientation.

(3) Pushing a Bottom-Up Approach.

After moving to an electronic system for ticketing at my last institution, we had a misfire on how tickets were distributed. I was embarrassed that a system I had championed had failed relatively early in its deployment and had disappointed students. One of those students, more agitated than many, came to see me. I asked her “what would you have me do?” and listened to her reply; the answer was a good one. Later in the day, we re-deployed the ticket acquisition process incorporating her suggestion. She was right.

Good ideas can come from anyone. This means that ideas can be acted on whether they come from the top of the organization, or from someone elsewhere in the pipeline – who sees challenges or problems from a wholly different perspective than those in leadership. As a leader, do you acknowledge the validity and truth in those perspectives, even (especially!) if they don’t align with what you’re seeing?

(4) De-Emphasizing Structure and Hierarchy

One challenge to allowing ideas to rise from wherever they originate, is finding the professional mechanism, or personal courage (or both!) to convey that idea upward in the organization. If we’re convinced people in power won’t listen or honor what we think, we hold ideas in- ideas that can make a difference if supported and funded.

So while it’s unlikely that most companies will dismantle their hierarchical structure simply to ensure the free sharing of information (and, as many learned from the lessons at Zappos, such a move isn’t necessarily productive), it is possible to lower the intimidation factor when it comes to voicing a problem or suggesting a solution. A few quick ideas:

(5) Expanding Innovation Beyond R&D

Confining an expectation of creativity and innovation to research and development (or whatever the equivalent would be at your organization) underscores the idea that creativity is the exclusive province of a select group of people, equipped with a certain skill set, and allowed to impact an organization in a certain way. To be clear: I don’t believe that. I often express disdain or frustration with the phrase “I’m not creative,” but for a very specific reason: it underestimates its speaker. Yes, you too can be creative! And believing that, particularly in a professional capacity, starts with feeling empowered to explore that part of yourself.

Worried about your ability to contribute meaningfully to a creative solution? Start by noticing, and start by encouraging those you supervise to do the same. What elements of your daily routine could work differently, perhaps better? Who does your work include, and who might it exclude? What “research and development,” as it were, could you do within your organization- and how will you use those experiences to get the wheels of creativity and innovation moving? And in your role as leaders, when are approached with the results of these R&D efforts: how do you empower these folks to pursue solutions?

(6) Uplifting First

“That’s not how we do things here,” the fraternal twin to “that’s how we’ve always done things,” is the most disempowering phrase any budding creative can hear. You’d be surprised how many forms it can take – “we’ve tried that before, but it didn’t work,” “that’d never work here,” “we don’t have enough [insert thing] to try that,” – and yet it has the same impact each time: cooling not just that attempt to create, but any subsequent attempts from folks who want to create change.

I expect that much of the reason it’s so tempting to poke holes in ideas when they first arise, is because we’re accustomed to the mythology of good ideas descending from the heavens, fully formed and foolproof. That’s far from the truth. And that means while many ideas do need to be subject to feedback and criticism, it also means we have to try and see the good in those initial proposals to get to that point- not the bad or imperfect.

(7) Encouraging Risk in Innovative Ideas

I’m a generally risk-averse person, so the idea of advocating for risk feels foreign to me. And yet, I have to do so because nothing creative or interesting can thrive without it. Innovation needs risk because it deviates from what we’re familiar and comfortable with. The level of risk can be as big as turning money or humanpower over to an initiative, or as small as daring to imagine your department’s work, or a stakeholder’s experience, as different than it has previously been.

Mitigate risk by supporting creators testing new ideas with the parties who will see the most change. Worried about how a change will affect thousands of customers? Pilot it with five. Scared of long-term implications? Make the first trial time-limited. Small risks that generate wins make larger leaps of faith a little easier to digest.

(8) Embracing Ambiguity

Thinking about ambiguity in a creative scenario always brings to mind the image of Willy Wonka in the Tasting Room, snacking wide-eyed as Augustus Gloop wriggles in the chocolate waterfall tube. As the others around him fret about what will happen next, he muses aloud: “The suspense is terrible. I hope it’ll last…”

Few of us will embrace ambiguity with that level of comfort. And that’s understandable! Ambiguity has stakes for many of us, in a way that they never really seemed to for Mr. Wonka. If something goes badly, we could lose money. We could lose trust. We will hear about it on social media. In those moments, it’s also important to recall the good that could come from creativity and change. What parts of our jobs will be easier? What parts of our stakeholders’ experiences will be improved? How can we save money, or time, or the sanity of staff members? Yes, there are things we won’t be able to predict. But even to the risk-averse, I have to admit: there’s something a little fun about that possibility. It keeps our work fresh when we might otherwise get bogged down or bored with routine. In the words of another high-profile creative, Todd from BoJack Horseman, “I never know if I can handle anything. That’s what makes my life so exciting!”

(9) Acting Like a Rookie

At some point, society decided that an ironclad requirement for leadership was having all the answers. Being the steady pillar and sole source of information became a sign of power. But the very nature of creativity and innovation means venturing into territory that no one has seen or experienced before. It requires not having the answers. Liz Wiseman calls this a “rookie mindset,” and it’s one that we could all benefit from when considering a new idea. In her book Rookie Smarts, she explains why:

“When the world is changing quickly, experience can become a curse, trapping us in old ways of doing and knowing, while inexperience can be a blessing, freeing us to improvise and adapt quickly to changing circumstances.”

The purpose of organizational creativity and innovation is to change in a way that responds to our circumstances- not just to implement change for its own sake. Inexperience (and our willingness to embrace that inexperience) forces us to act on instinct and in response to our surroundings, yielding better and less predictable solutions.

I want you to pledge to do one thing this week that makes it easier for you, or someone you work with, to do something creative. Share with me what you’ll do in the comments!

Introverts’ Top 3 Career Challenges

This post was previously published with Keep Calm and Dream: For Introverts, By Introverts.

Thank goodness for Susan Cain.

Ever since her love letter/treatise on introversion Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking hit bookshelves in 2012, a conversation on introverts in society has gained traction and volume. Her work, building on that of Marti Olson Laney, Laurie Helgoe, and Sophia Dembling, has opened the eyes of many who hadn’t realized that the “extrovert ideal” has dominated our homes, relationships, and even workplaces

However, even as awareness and understanding of introversion rises in the workplace, there are some elements of their temperament that may present challenges at the office. Here, we’ll uncover three common career challenges and pose some potential solutions to overcome them.


From the moment an employee arrives in the office- think the all-too-common interview question “Tell us about yourself”- an element of self-promotion is required. Being able to speak openly and effortlessly about your skills and achievements is essential for getting recognized, but this is not a skill that comes easily to introverts. Why? The reflective nature of introverts makes them hyper-aware of the information they put out into the open. Further, because they’re constantly in their own minds, bringing up things they’ve heard often feels like overkill. The result? Hearing things like “I had no idea you had done that!” when one finally does muster the energy to share a recent accomplishment. How does one rise above his or her current station to shine, while not pushing the limits of good taste or one’s own comfort? Think about your own triumphs as though they happened to someone close to you instead. Alternatively, frame the sharing of your successes as those of a team that you work with. Introverts may not like to speak up for themselves, but will muster the energy to toot the horn of those they care about or those with whom credit should be shared. When you separate yourself from your achievements, they may be easier to shout from the mountaintops.

“Face Time”

Many workplaces have the few events per year that it’s nice to show up at, such as networking events, cocktail hours, and all-company meetings. These events, happening after hours, may be difficult to find the energy to participate in. Why? As with a fully charged cellphone, intermittent but constant use over the course of the day without a recharge can leave it drained at the end of a day. Events and activities that require energy, such as these supplemental social gatherings, may not be adequately supported by the energy remaining in the proverbial tank. How to combat this? See if you can arrange your schedule in such a way that you come in late, or leave early, on days that these events happen so you can grab some time to yourself to “recharge.” Alternatively, make an agreement with yourself to hit a modest goal (three business cards exchanged, two rounds of small talk) before departing. Don’t push yourself to earn the “Life of the Party” badge if you’re not feeling up to it, but make sure to make your mark in your own way while you’re in the room.

Providing Constructive Criticism

Because introverts are prone to rumination and dwelling on negative thoughts or experiences, the idea of putting someone else in that scenario is a difficult one for introverts. As a result, hard conversations- about unmet expectations, missed deadlines, or other failures that may have occurred- are harder to broach than they may be for others. These conversations are essential to ensure that employees (or even supervisors) can do their best work, but we shy away from them because they’re uncomfortable. How can introverts combat this instinct to hide the trouble, staying silent as problems potentially grow? Take time to compose your thoughts beforehand; this practice will allow you to strategically point out points of excellence that may offset the areas of struggle. Additionally, urge your brain to consider the best case scenario, rather than allowing it to do what it does best- jump to the worstcase scenario of how someone might receive the information. Trust your colleagues to hear you out, and know that those who speak less may be heard more intently than if it came from someone else.

4 App-Free Tools to Supercharge Your Creativity

At some point, creativity got conflated with a few different adjacent concepts. One which I speak about often, is artistry. I promise: you can be creative even if you can’t “draw a straight line” or “even make a stick figure.” Do you cook to feed yourself? Put together outfits each day? Write emails that people read all the way through? Congratulations, you’ve got what it takes!

But another concept got oddly conflated with creativity at some point: tech savvy. That is to say, the popular creatives of our time- Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, so many others- displayed their creativity in the form of technological creations, so we all assumed that those skills were essential to unlocking our own creativity. Thus, I’m dedicating this post to a second promise: you don’t need tech smarts to incubate your ideas. I get asked often “what tools do you use to get work done?” Honestly? Mostly, these. You can do it with a few of thees tools listed below, or with all of them…or even just your favorite one. Read on to find out more about my four favorite creativity tools that don’t require an outlet, charger, password protection…they just need you to unlock their power!


I give notebooks as gifts to friends with fair regularity. The catch? As I told one friend as I gave him his at a going away party, I don’t give them to people who don’t have the potential to put anything stellar in them. And sure enough, these talented people who let me hang out with them continue to show me what they do with these blank pages…and it’s amazing.

Notebooks excel over the open Word document or Google Drive page for a few reasons. One, they don’t need power. If you find yourself wanting to record an idea on the fly or in a place where power isn’t at a premium (think airplanes, the woods, meetings, etc), a notebook will make the move look contemplative where doing the same on a phone or computer can look unfocused or inattentive. I don’t make the rules, or even agree with them all the time- that’s just the mentality we’re working with right now.

An added benefit to a new creative of using notebooks over a seemingly electronic equivalent? They make your progress easy to spot and even easier to track. I think of about my younger days, when my mind and I had a brief dalliance with the idea of being a fashion designer. The earliest pages of my binders of outfits were crudely drawn; the end ones probably were too, if I’m honest. But one thing I got from keeping them in a dedicated space like that, was the ability to see my work evolve. My sensibilities changed, my drawing improved, and I had a tangible record of how my skills had grown.  I don’t draw outfits anymore – I work from home, I scarcely assemble them day to day! – but I find I feel similarly rewarded as I look at my joke notebook now. Premises have gotten stronger, material has shifted with feedback…despite what my inner voice sometimes tells me, I am getting better.

For the budding creative, often mired in a feeling of “is this any good?”, having your own record to look back on can provide a reassuring artifact that yes, you have put in the work; yes, you’re growing; and yes (or sometimes no!), this is worth your time. You can do this digitally, but I find there’s something immensely rewarding about being able to flip through pages and see this evolution take place.


I tell the origin story of Post-Its in my book Cultivating Creativity; they’ve been one of my favorite inventions since I learned how they came to be in a college engineering class. And while they share a lot of traits with notebooks in their utility for the creative process, they also serve a different purpose.

As a “paper perfectionist,” who abhors pencils for their tendency to smudge but also dislikes crossouts because they’re messy, these (literally) scrappy and imperfect signs of the creative process feel unwelcome in my notebooks. But Post-Its? Whole other story. I love using Post-Its to share abstract ideas, organize those thoughts in a structured way (along walls and whiteboards, but rarely connected by yarn), and then express those ideas once they’re coherently “mapped out.”

Post-Its strike me as an exceptional “analog tool” (my catch-all term for non-tech tools) because they’re colorful, portable, and curiously unintimidating. To that last point: I use them frequently in group activities when I speak and facilitate sessions; the ideas that come forth on these tiny sheets of paper end up being eminently more coherent and candid than many of the thoughts I get when asking participants to raise their hands or shout out answers. Their size means what you write can be short, and their relative anonymity in a group setting means that there’s little singling people out for what they’ve written if their name isn’t on it. And if you want to keep a thought? You just take it with you, or take a picture of it. I’m a big believer in lots of drafts before getting things right; Post-Its, themselves the product of a questionable first draft, are the perfect venue for workshopping a big idea on its way to success.

A Door

One of my favorite illustrations from my first book The I’s Have It, drawn by the lovely Sue Caulfield, is of a person tightly hugging a door. And it’s true, doors (particularly when they’re shut) can be the saving grace of an overwhelmed introvert, seeking a moment of solitary time after being overstimulated. But they’re also an essential piece of the creative process – regardless of how introverted or extroverted you might be.

Multiple studies have shown that the most creative ideas are generated when budding creators are afforded time to work on their own first, bringing them to a group after they’ve had time to ponder and ideate solo. Unfortunately for many of us, this means that our standard methods of brainstorming are far less effective than we originally thought. But this also means that when we want to encourage people to be creative, or want to enable the creativity of those close to us, we need to give them some time to themselves. This stage is sometimes called ideation, sometimes called incubation, but it is this brief “vacuum” where disparate ideas can start to connect in the brain, yielding that new idea that we’ll eventually get to know and love.

(The Right) Friend

I clarified that the vacuum above would be (relatively) “brief,” and I did that because creativity cannot exist in isolation. The cross-pollination of ideas, and feedback on those ideas that aids the iteration process, can’t happen if the creator’s work never sees the light of day. That’s why the fourth analog tool I recommend for aspiring creatives is a friend. With that said, this is not just any friend.

This friend has to be someone who acknowledges the hard work you’ve put in, but isn’t afraid to give you the honest truth about what you’re working on. This right friend can ask critical questions, not to take the wind out of your sails but to help you sail in the right direction. This person understands what you’re doing, but their knowledge isn’t limited to what you know. Joshua Wolf Shenk suggests “find[ing] a stranger who gets you, or a friend you think is strange.” This combination of affinity and different experience gives you a richer form of support- one that critically and meaningfully encourages you to  be better.

And indeed, all four of these tools can critically and meaningfully encourage you to pick up a creative pursuit, stick with it (literally, in the case of a Post-It) even when it’s hard, and do the work that it takes to succeed- all without having to remember to bring along a single charger!

See Me Talk Creativity and Makerspaces at #ACPA18

Becoming a Student Affairs Creator: Digital Makerspace Workshop #ACPA18

Join the Student Affairs creator revolution. We’re moving from lurking to participation! Less consumption, more contribution! Professional learning and engagement is not sitting back to absorb information. Let’s lead by example by changing how we process knowledge, share innovative ideas, and apply design thinking in higher education and student affairs. 

To push the boundaries of expertise and unpack meaning making in the profession, I’ll be joined by a group of other creators at the 2018 ACPA Annual Convention in Houston Texas for a pre-conference half-day workshop. This hands-on session will have participants create audio, video, textual, and visual media projects to think about how knowledge is created and disseminated in our profession. .

Join us for this dynamic four hour workshop on Sunday March 11th, 11:30am-3:30pm! Learn more about the session here and register here! Limited spots available, deadline is February 15th!

I’ve so enjoyed getting to embrace my creative side, be it through finding a new way to work in the field of student affairs, to finding ways to incorporate interests like comedy and literature into the content I share with students and professionals alike. It is my goal, alongside the outstanding professionals I’ll be working with in Houston. to help you light the spark that encourages you to stoke your own creative fires. What issues on your campus need a fresh perspective? What new forms of expression are you looking to explore. Come see us and start the journey during your time in Houston!

Background on #SAmakers Pre-Convention Workshop

For college student educators to be relevant in higher education, we have to be contributors to the proliferation of knowledge and practice in the field. Student affairs professionals need to be actively engaged in developing the future of higher learning. This is a bold and necessary call to start a true SA creator revolution. Let’s move from lurking to participation by consuming less and contributing more! Professional learning and engagement should not be sitting back to absorb information. In reflection and through self-assessment, a small number of professionals are blogging, podcasting, creating videos, and sharing visual digital traces of what it means to be a professional in SA today. There are innovative practices from professionals and networked communities that enhance how we work and interact with our functional roles at our institutions. SA professionals are toggling between traits and cognitive processes for design thinking, problem-solving, and create ways to share experiences in a variety of emerging technology outlets.

As college student educators, we need to lead by example, specifically  rethinking how we process knowledge, employ innovative ideas, and apply design thinking to higher education. Technology allows us to contribute via multiple modalities to teach and reach our learners, colleagues, and stakeholders on campus. Part of this digital literacy development includes storytelling, narratives of experiences, and dissemination of  open educational resources for knowledge sharing in higher ed. How are you contributing to the profession? To push the boundaries of expertise and unpack meaning making, this hands-on session will have participants creating with audio, video, textual, and visual social technologies to deconstruct how knowledge is and can be shared.

Hands-On Experiential Activities

This pre-convention workshop will give participants information on the pedagogical strategies behind a variety of makerspaces. We use the word pedagogy here intentionally – meaning reflecting on your philosophy and thinking through how to apply that philosophy to various makerspaces. How does your chosen tool or medium influence what you are trying to say, convey, or create? These are the types of conversations we will have during this pre-convention workshop. Specifically, we will discuss:

  • Audio pedagogy – Storytelling, podcasting, interviewing, SoundCloud
  • Video pedagogy – GoPro, Jing, Screencast-O’-Matic, live streaming, YouTube, Vimeo
  • Visual pedagogy – Drawing, Graphic facilitation, visual mapping, infographics, Canva, web
  • Written pedagogy – Blogging, Freelance/Publication, Self-Publishing, Wikis, email newsletters

Makerspace Rooted in your own Experience

One key to our workshop will be that, prior to convention, we will engage registered participants to think about how to make this workshop work for them. While you can engage with these ideas in the abstract, it will be easier to “choose your own adventure” once your destination is set. What issues are you facing in your work – and how can you use makerspaces to solve that problem? What knowledge have you gained that you want to share with the rest of the student affairs world? What innovative practices do you have that will benefit the larger college student educator community?

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this institute/pre-conference workshop, participants will be to:

  1. Identify the barriers and opportunities for creating content and sharing as an open educational practitioner in higher education with attribution and creative commons licenses.
  2. Outline pedagogical practices and applied technologies to develop creative works and experiment with various media technologies to hone maker skills.
  3. Design visual, audio, video, and written creative projects during the institute/pre-conference workshop to hone digital literacy skills that support open education resources development.

Pre-Convention Faculty

Josie Ahlquist
Digital Leadership Author, Coach & Speaker
Florida State University Research Associate & Leadership Instructor josie@josieahlquist.com
www.josieahlquist.com \\ Josie & The Podcast
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Instagram

Paul Eaton
Assistant Professor
Sam Houston State University
Department of Educational Leadership
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Instagram

Amma Marfo
Speaker and Facilitator
Fun Enterprises
www.ammamarfo.com || The Imposters Podcast
Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram

Laura A. Pasquini
University of North Texas

Register Today!!