One of my colleagues is a project manager who codes apps in her spare time. Another is an engineer that performs slam poetry at night. One friend, whose government job is in flux, writes a well-trafficked blog and writes for the Huffington Post (among other things). Another friend does import policy and has an editing business on the side.
I could continue, ad nauseam. I suppose I should mention a Agriculture employee whose band was shortlisted for the CBC Searchlight contest, or a Director of Facilities whose haunting novel, Man and Other Natural Disasters, was shortlisted for Canada Reads in 2013.
Creative outlets, they call them. Work/life balance, perhaps.
This is one area in which I’d like to see more work/life integration. We are not boring people, and yet us knowledge workers default to unreadable documents. As they say, the road to hell is paved with Powerpoint presentations. The mere existence of the field of marketing proves wrong our typical approach to communication*.
We know a great deal about the psychology of attention and communication (that link, over the words “great deal”? Click it, if any). Good designers try to anticipate what readers’ minds will do as they look at a page. We can use hierarchy, consistency, visual links, and colour to highlight key concepts, draw readers to make connections between ideas, and keep them interested.
But we don’t.
We tend to use hierarchy, only. Headings and subheadings, in larger font or bold, to indicate conceptual breaks. At that point we dust off our hands and say job well done.
You can contrast this with… Well, pretty much anything. Any think tank report, even the bone-dry Conference Board of Canada, includes design elements. Even a firm’s typically dull annual report can be made interesting, as Deloitte proves.
And I have seen the odd beacon of light in my organization. Some friends in Vancouver took the content behind their strategic plan and turned it into a suitcase-shaped glossy pamphlet called Where Are We Going? It’s short, witty, written in plain language, and in general spectacular. It also preempts a concern with my ideal, here: It didn’t replace long-form planning documents, which are frequently required from a policy or ass-covering perspective. In fact, the long-form document is a prerequisite for the readable version, but fails as a communications piece.
A Gartner VP once told me that the hallmark of good governance is that every employee knows, by heart, the CEO’s top three priorities. That won’t happen when they’re buried in a sixty-page, size 12 Arial 1.5” top and bottom 1” sides margin document. This is even without getting into documents intended for the public.
There are two major reasons why I feel strongly about this. One is that we’d end up with better, more readable documents, and better communication in general. The flip side, though, is that we’d be making knowledge work a better home for people that enjoy being creative (not “creative people.” No such thing. It’s people that are willing to be, and interested in being, creative). This is important because such people don’t just apply creativity to corporate documents, but to relationships and wicked problems.
Creativity is, perhaps, the thickest thread running through most of this blog. I wrote a piece for Canadian Government Executive magazine’s February issue about common space, and I wondered if people would think I arrived at that argument because of my position in a real property organization. It’s actually from reading about engagement, productivity, and innovation – creativity, collaboration, and environment just fall out of those topics. Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From hits this nail on the head (oh wait – that link is awesome too). The flexibility to be creative keeps people interested in their jobs, which is great for output. It’s why Teresa Amabile, who has researched creativity for 30 years, ended up writing a fantastic book about engagement and productivity (she also ends up accidentally landing on gamification in the process).
I don’t think this is a one-post train of thought. So my long story short for thus far is that we’ve got a lot of latent creativity around – as employees, we should push for opportunities to exercise it; as organizations, we should design to facilitate that. The world needs us to stop being boring.
*Or problem solving, or strategic planning. Some colleagues are experimenting with really interesting approaches to scanning exercises and resiliency tabletop exercises, but I sliced thin today to try to keep the length manageable.