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The Path to Creativity

Most of our lives consist of habits. We walk/drive to walk along the same route. In meetings, we sit in the same seat and at restaurants, we order the same dish.  Generally, if you do something right and well the first time it is a good idea to do it that way again.

Unfortunately, that reliance on memory can also hinder your creativity. Psychologist Tom Ward calls the use of memory in problem solving the Path of Least Resistance. In his research, he finds that when he asks people to be creative, they are still strongly influenced by what they know.

So how do we spark creativity? Art Markman, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin recommends the following:

  • Place constraints on the problem. This may sound a little wonky. We often think it is best to have as few constraints as possible to be creative, but the focus may allow you to maneuver through solution quicker.
  • Inject some randomness. Create a solution that incorporates an element that is selected at random. The randos keep you from using solutions you already know about.
  • Add distance. There is a fancy psychology theory that says the further you are from something, the more abstractly you think about it. Markman suggests thinking that you have to create a solution to your problem that will be used in another country.
  • Do it for someone else. Try to imagine solving the issue for someone else.
  • Experience new cultures. Adapting to and learning about new cultures helps new memories and ideas form. This helps people become better at seeing that  any problem can be approached in multiple ways.

There’s Irony in that Achievement

I have been struggling at work. I can’t explain what is wrong and I can’t figure out how to fix it.

In May’s Harvard Business Review Thomas J. DeLong, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Sara DeLong, his daughter and a psychiatrist in San Francisco, discuss how being a high achiever can eventually get in your way. They discuss plateauing and the reluctance to turn to anyone for help.

They list several “curses” of the high achiever. Now, let me tell you, these curses are like a calling card for the feedback I have received.

  • The fact that achievers can get so caught up in a task that they don’t communicate everything with colleagues. CHECK
  • Failure to distinguish between the urgent and the merely important. YEP, USED TO DO THAT
  • Caring intensely about how others view their work, but ignore the positive and obsess over criticism. I THINK THEY ARE TALKING DIRECTLY TO ME

And then there were two that I literally said “well that explains it.”

  • The passion for work creates intense highs that give way to crippling lows. For achievers, it’s a fine line between triumph and agony.
  • Being guilt-ridden, not matter how much they accomplish they still feel like they aren’t doing enough.

What the article didn’t tell me is how to fix it. They express the need to be vulnerable and ask for help, but at what point should you be doing it on your own? Or is that the whole point, you shouldn’t be.

The authors note: “Moving your A game to a new level or in a new direction takes humility, it takes practice, and it takes patience (not necessarily your strong suit).”

And again I ask myself, am I being impatient? Are the people around me impatient due to their high achiever brains?

At this point it isn’t about a promotion or more responsibility. It is about doing the job I am assigned to do with my A game intact.  I just wish I could figure out the easy answer and get back on track.


What does a productive day in PR look like?

PR is like having multiple personalities. Being able to flit easily from the mind-numbing task of building a media list, to securing a media interview, to answering a client e-mail and more is invaluable in this industry.

Given the fast-paced nature of our profession, it is hard to imagine that ANYONE can get out of work before 6:00 p.m. EVER. A debate that recently occurred over e-mail between a few agency friends—if you get out in time for a 6:00 p.m. happy hour are you really working or just highly productive?

I am still trying to figure out how I can land in the highly productive column. Here are a few things I am doing to succeed.

  • I have never been a morning person. So learning this trait has been a hard one: Get. Into. The office. Early. Get through the emails that dropped in your inbox overnight and file them away. A clear inbox can lead to a clear head. I swear.
  • I don’t live by this at all, but apparently, if you set aside designated times to check your e-mail it will save you time.
  • Same goes for your news sources. I have Tweetdeck set up and mark Tweets that I want to come back to.
  • Meetings, meetings and more meetings. They eat up a lot of my time. They cut my day and limit the amount of cruising time I get to power through my work. If you are always on time others will eventually learn to be on time too, thus saving you time.
  • I learned this one from my immediate supervisor (that is appearance No. 3). Microsoft Outlook’s calendar can actually serve as reminders too. One major time-saver I’ve found through its use is to set sporadic reminders to myself for items that are dangling in “follow-up limbo.” For example: the interview you got six weeks ago has it posted yet? Save yourself the hassle of sifting through your vast email for the last correspondence and set a calendar invite to pop up in a few weeks with the details of where the task at hand stands.

I am by no means succeeding at all of these, but I am trying. It helps you not only become more productive, but also effective and you are more likely to make that happy hour. Triple whammy.


Traveling Not for the Weary

On my run today, I started thinking about something a former supervisor said about my work ethic. She was explaining how a colleague was upset about traveling to a client in another state every two weeks.

After speaking with this colleague my supervisor’s reaction was “if this was Laney she would be psyched about it.” She’s right; to me the business trip is more than just frequent flier miles.

It’s about face time with the client and earning the trust from your team.

Face time with the client so early in your career doesn’t come easily. More often than not you are the one behind the scenes that gets the call for monitoring questions or meeting arrangements. Having a chance to be in front of the client, offering your counsel and learning client service hands on is invaluable.

Back on the home front, your team learns you can be trusted in certain situations. It can strengthen your relationship so that your boss knows you have his or her back and reinforce the idea that he or she can count on you to handle whatever comes up.

So while, catching the 6:00 am flight to wherever and returning 12 hours later can take a lot out of you, its important to remember all the good that can come from it too.