From Wild to Work: Embrace Your Inner Zebra and Bring Your Creative Self to the Office

Explore how you can bring the creativity and authenticity you embody at home to your professional life. Just like the zebra’s unique stripes, you have a distinct set of qualities that make you stand out. By embracing these traits and incorporating them into your work, you can bring a new level of innovation and authenticity to your role.

AI-generated image via Canva

As a speaker on creativity, I often get the question “I feel creative at home, but how can I be more creative at work?” Some people may feel more relaxed and free from distractions at home, and more constrained at work. How can we overcome these external or internal barriers to creativity?

I recently posted a poll on Linkedin about how we show up at home vs. at work. As of writing, the answers are evenly split between

  1. Different at home vs. work
  2. A bit different at home vs work
  3. The same all the way
Screenshot from LinkedIn

Are you different at home compared to work? With respect to creativity, there are underlying psychological barriers that can prevent creativity in the workplace.

Keep reading for reasons why people act differently at home and at work, and how to overcome those barriers to unlock your creativity in the workplace.

The Fear of Failure and Judgement Prevents Creativity at Work

Let’s face it, we’ve all had that one boss who always looks over our shoulder, making us feel like a kid who can’t tie their own shoelaces.

It’s no wonder that we feel hesitant to take risks and try new things. Not only do we worry about our performance affecting our livelihood, we are conditioned to want to be accepted and fit in, thanks to our collaborative history of living in groups. If we were excluded? We died. Kind of higher stakes than turning in that report on time, but it feels the same.

Rejection hurts. This fear of rejection and failure holds us back from stepping outside the norms of established behaviour and processes. Which would work if we were still living in caves and not much changed. Berries stayed poisonous (or not) and tigers remained as predators, not prey.

So, use your big massive evolved brain to build awareness of this instinctive reaction and start thinking logically about what is really holding you back from shining your creative light in the workplace.

Even Analytical Jobs Benefit From Creativity

You might argue that your job requires diligence, with no room for creativity. Nobody wants a maverick surgeon unless they have nothing to lose, or an accountant that likes to follow their intuition, or an air traffic controller who takes time to daydream.

But, creativity does not have to work against established processes, it can be helpful if used in the right way.

  • The surgeon might start using AI (like I did as a framework for this post!) to write her medical records, freeing up time to research the latest techniques.
  • The accountant might find economies in using points cards or new reporting methods to save time and resources.
  • The air traffic controller might take time to make a healthy lunch in order to give them fuel for the day.

So many people think that creativity is frivolous, random and antithetical to the rigors of an analytical job.

Using creativity at work starts with the foundation of creative thinking – to separate divergent from convergent thinking. When crunching numbers, or landing planes, or choosing where to make an incision – not a lot of room for divergent thinking (imagination). But, when considering the best accounting technique for a client, or how to structure a break schedule for maximal rest and productivity, or new approaches to unusual cases, divergent thinking shines. Know when the situation calls for divergent thinking, and separate that time from convergent demands. Do both, but not at the same time.

Here’s an example: A team is meeting to discuss Q2 results. The marketer giving the presentation sticks to the facts and data.

The first questions may be about the data and how the numbers were obtained, a much more analytical (convergent) discussion. But soon, the conversation turns to what the numbers mean, which now spins off into divergent territory.

Why might sales have dipped on Feb 14? This is the time for divergent thinking, to throw out all of the ideas that might be the cause. It would be easy to say that Valentine’s day was the cause, because it seems the most obvious.

Divergent thinking will identify other factors, such as a snowstorm, a power outage, or an alien invasion that interfered with customers’ ability to purchase the product.

Psychological Safety puts the “psycho” in Workplace Creativity

OK, I could have spent more time finding a better title than that…

Here’s one that ChatGPT suggested when I put that title in and asked “write a new title.” It gave me 4 very boring titles, so I had to ask it to “make it funnier.” I always seem to have to do that.

“Creativity Without the Crazy: The Importance of Psychological Safety at Work”

Hey, I’ll use it!

Now back to Safety.

Did you ever play that game in school where everyone had to share something embarrassing about themselves? Remember how scary it was to open up and share something personal with your classmates?

My grade 3 speech was titled “Embarrassing Moments.” I didn’t win, that honour went to Allison with her great speech starting with “on July 1, 1985, a 7-4-7 jumbo jet will be leaving the Toronto airport, for London, England. And I will be on that plane…..alone”. So dramatic! It was fantastic! I think she went to the Nationals.

Aaaanyway, back to the workplace.

If we don’t feel safe to share our ideas and take risks, we’ll never reach our full creative potential. At a large corporate meeting, leadership had hired (undoubtedly very expensive) consultants to talk about innovation. I was seated with someone from the supply chain department, which I knew nothing about. For real, I didn’t even know what it meant. Could have been jewelry.

This was a great strategy for creativity, and we collaborated on a great idea, merging both of our knowledge areas, to solve a current business problem. After the meeting, I was excitedly squeezing the primo hand squeezy lightbulb swag (to remind us to be innovative), thinking about our new solution.

I shared the idea, expecting lightning to strike the ground in front of me. My VP quickly retorted, “that won’t work”. Wow. I was so deflated.

I don’t care too much about career ladders and upward mobility and things, so it didn’t bother me too much, but it didn’t make me want to share any more ideas, or motivate me to find new solutions. At that same company, I was conversely given a lot of latitude with the way I implemented my KPIs (see that, using fancy words like KPIs!).

As the lead on a presentation to an important client, I chose a unique and creative way to share the information. One of my colleagues, participating in the presentation, was sweating bullets.

He said, “what if what we present doesn’t match their vision?”

Well, we will learn, I exclaimed!

Maybe I was a line item away from getting fired from that job, but my results spoke for themselves, and I continued to push the envelope. Despite the innovation conference snafu, I was confident to try new things and take small risks, thanks to a supportive manager. Honestly, I think they just didn’t know what to do with me (hot tip: move so fast that you tire out your superiors, then they leave you alone, in my experience.)

Here is a Forbes article that expands on the idea of managing for disruptive talent that expands on the idea of creating safety and fostering individual creativity.

Basically, we need to feel confident to take small risks, be vulnerable, and okay to be ourselves.

Much of that confidence depends on your manager and the organizational culture, but you’re not going to like this POV (Point of View, get with the lingo).

Your ability to speak out and be vulnerable, and try new things, also depends on you.

You need to have the confidence to take the chance to be yourself, and to realize that it’s not only enough, it’s spectacular.

If you want to speak, then speak. If you want to be creative at work, then create.

If you want to speak, then speak, is an idiom or expression in the professional speaking world. It means that if you want to speak in front of audiences, the only way to get better and get booked is to be on a lot of stages. SUPER helpful advice, right?

But let’s look at creativity through this lens. When people complain that they can be creative at home but don’t know where to start at work, my advice will now be, “if you want to be creative, then create”.

That means, take time every day to do something different, creative, take time to daydream, or have a brainstorming session with your team on something ridiculous. I mean, how do you think instant mushroom coffee was invented?

Also, creativity requires rest. If you are in a stressed or anxious state, it can be difficult to explore unusual or innovative approaches. Whether it’s painting, playing guitar, or watching cat videos on YouTube, taking time for ourselves can actually make us more productive and creative in the workplace.

How do you show up to work? Are you different at home vs work, and do you want to be?

I’ve always marveled at people who seem like completely a different person at work vs when you get to know them outside of work. It’s not a criticism, but I am genuinely curious about the drivers of that behaviour and change.

The sales manager who is straight straight-laced and serious at work, yet stars in musical theatre on the weekend.

Or the quiet, unassuming analyst who performs African music and dance on her days off.

Is it an expectation at work to look a certain way, or a desire to keep our softest centres protected? Or something else?

Let me know. Find me on social, and let’s get a conversation started about how we can show up fully at work, the way we want to, not the way we feel like we have to.

In Other News…

Upcoming Events

Creativity is for everyone!

Over the next 3 months, I will be speaking to nurses, construction workers, veterinarians, and more about how they can amplify their creativity.

If your organization could use a creative kick in the butt and are located outside of Calgary, contact me for travel savings for these dates/locations!

Using AI To Kickstart Your Creative Process

Wondering how you can leverage AI or just curious how to use it?

Follow along as I use ChatGPT to kickstart this very blog post!

Watch the Video

Creative Lifescaping with Mark Metry

Navigating Social Anxiety to Embrace Being You

Watch a past episode of Creative Lifescaping with Mark Metry: entrepreneur, author, creator, mental health advocate, coach, teacher, keynote speaker, podcast host, and loving human being.

Mark has also written a book, “Screw Being Shy: Learning to Manage Social Anxiety and Be Yourself in Front of Anyone.”

So if you’re feeling anxious about being more yourself at work, this episode is a must-watch!

Watch the Episode

Ask a Speaker Series

Do you ever wonder how speakers are able to overcome their nerves to step on stage and share their message?

If you need a little extra push to overcome your fear of judgment, check out my “Ask a Speaker: Fear of Judgment” series to learn how speakers overcome the fear of judgment.

Featuring 30-60 second pieces of advice from wonderful speakers like Marc Haine, David Saxby, Andrea Menard, Patricia Morgan, James Robilotta, Randall Craig, Sara Gilbert, Shelle Rose Charvet, Elizabeth George, and more!

Watch the series

The Reluctant Creative

If you’re feeling creatively challenged, why not check out my book The Reluctant Creative?

It’s got 5 easy-peasy creative habits to help you step out of your comfort zone ad add some sparkle to your life.

Check out the book