Is Work Limiting Your Creativity?

Is Work Limiting Your Creativity?

by Rasmus Rasmussen on April 4, 2011

It’s a common misconception that you must limit yourself to a specific niche, and focus on one thing only. That “thing”, whatever it is, will become your bread and butter, your area of expertise, your key to success. It’s a misconception because it is only a half truth.

It is easier to achieve commercial success, if you focus your efforts in a limited area. It makes it easier to market, sell and build a brand around. The problem is, that among creative professionals and artists (anyone working for themselves, really), it can also become a blockade that keeps us from exploring new things — which is how we find inspiration, grow and innovate.

I’ve tried focusing in on that one “thing” more than once in my professional career. Each time, the more I narrowed my focus and cut away the “fluff”, the more stifled and unhappy I became. And doing so didn’t increase my business enough to counter that effect. Now I have come to accept that dabbling and experimenting is not something to hold back on, but something to master.

To master the skill of dabbling really means that you are able to prioritize your time and projects to allow room for experimentation. The trick is to budget for it.

There is a company out there that seems to have found a great solution. Google developers work 20% of their time on personal projects. That’s 1 full day a week working on whatever you want. You’d think this might cost Google millions, since essentially they are paying their developers to dabble. Yet it still leaves plenty of time for Google to be among the absolute rulers of the Internet. In fact many of their most successful moves (such as Gmail) started as someone’s personal project.

I experiment with lots of things all the time, and I learn something from each and every one. Most of my dabblings are small, like the timelapse video I did of a bus ride from my neighborhood (West Seattle) to downtown. A larger side project is a short film script, I’ve been writing on. I don’t even have a plan for that, I just felt like trying to tell an entire story in script format, to see what would come of it. So far, I have learned that I love the fast pace of this type of writing.

A variation on this is what I call productive procrastination. When I should be working on something that for one reason or another is a bother, I will often start by working on a side project. By procrastinating doing something creative, I get energized and use that energy to get through the less exciting work.

Whatever you do, whatever your passion, you should never let your professional niche limit your creativity. If necessary, put it in a system and allot the time, but by all means do explore your curiosity. Take a pottery class every Thursday night, if you’ve secretly been dreaming about trying it – even if you’re a struggling, freelance tech writer by day. Make the investment. Not every dabble has to further your career. Some are just for de-stressing or seeing life from a different perspective.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Joel April 4, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Thank you Rasmus, I am in the middle of a project that I am enjoying but there are days that it feels like it could become very expensive firewood. I have always had that “stress carving” that I tend to keep in the tool box, or I weave shavings, or make something totally temporary for the sheer joy of the distraction. Thank you for making it OK.

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