The other day a co-worker stood outside my office. I greeted her, pivoted my chair, put my feet up, and told her to come on in. She commented about my ability to appear relaxed every time she came by. I thought to myself "that's the key to creativity".
At the beginning of my career, I faced the choice of staying late (to make progress on my software project) or driving back to campus (the University of New Hampshire) to hang out with my college buddies. It was a common practice for many of my co-workers to stay late in order to hit (or beat) deadlines.
But there was a big game back on campus, and I was always interested in playing some wiffle ball.
In fact, in my first book on innovation I described this very decision with the following statement:
So, do I play wiffle ball, or do I work for $5 an hour?
Needless to say I was out the door at 5PM. Throughout my career I have made that decision again and again (as much as possible). In my book I credit the discipline of work/life balance as a major driver for creativity and innovation.
As we near the end of 2012 I look back on the last two years and see a validation of that approach.
In 2011 I left the world of software engineering and took a job as EMC's Director of Global Innovation. I thought it would be a technical job, but within 30 days my head began to spin. It was essentially a program management, event planning, and marketing role. I was also managing people for the first time ever (in 25 years). It was difficult to keep my head above water, and although I basically kept the same hours, I found that my head was filled around the clock with the details and logistics of my new role.
During 2012, after one year on the job, I spoke with my boss about the large amount of program management that I was doing, and he agreed that it was not the best use of my skillset (i.e. a technologist). So we shifted the program management tasks away from me, and I assumed new responsibilities overseeing two large technology portfolios: EMC's Global University Research projects, and the research/incubations of my co-workers at EMC Labs China.
Within several weeks after making that decision, I could feel the creativity level begin to rise after a relatively "dry" year. Less worrying about the details of program management gave me more time to read, think, discuss, write, collaborate, and at the end of the day go home and goof around.
Looking back at my career change now, I can see that it is normal to have the creative routine disrupted when making a career change.
However, it's also good to have some lessons learned when facing these changes the next time. Two months ago I was assigned to a new boss and a new organization. This organization is being built from the ground up. I am in the position to choose new work roles. I am choosing to turn down opportunities that have a hint of program management, and say yes to anything that requires deep thinking, strategy, and creativity.
As a result, my calendar is a bit more free, and my feet are up on the desk a bit more often.
I'm hoping for a more creative 2013, and I wish the same for you.
Happy New Year!