Being Creative When Your Boss Isn’t

by | Apr 3, 2023 | Journal

Be subversive!

That’s my advice to creative people with bosses who automatically reject new ideas. If you’re really creative, you can find a way to work around them without ever telling them what you are doing.

Trust me. Being gifted with original ideas almost hourly, I spent years learning how to get to “win-win” by maneuvering around both bosses and subordinates not similarly gifted. But it only works if you hide your revolutionary ideas behind a mask of conventionality.

This is painful for those who glory in their creativity, but the results are worth it. Take the way I worked with my old administrative assistant (AA), for example.

I’d greet her most mornings with my latest brilliant plan, knowing she would instantly tell me how awful it was. Since she had been there forever and knew how to operate our databases (which I never would understand), I had to live with this. In addition, once she dug in, she could be impossible.

The trick was to keep her from digging in. So I would smile and move on. What was just one more idea? I also learned that if my idea really was good, by mid-morning, she would be coming into my office.

“You know that terrible idea you had this morning?” she’d say. “If we change it, I think we can make it work.”

Then she would suggest changes which usually improved my initial idea. We’d develop a plan we could sell to my bosses who, like my AA, were leery of thinking outside the box. After we won, I would praise my AA lavishly. You’d have thought it was her idea and I merely sold it.

Phony? Maybe. Effective? Oh, yes! Between my ideas and my AA’s skill at raising needed objections to improve them, we got away with murder.

A few takeaways:

  • Bosses think in terms of costs versus benefits and all that boring stuff. You have to make your case with hard numbers. Beat them at their own game.
  • The art of subversion applies to your look as well as your ideas. Depending on the business environment, people who seem to be conventional can get away with a lot more than those who flaunt their tattoos and body piercings, so in some circumstances you might want to cover them up. This may seem inauthentic, but then again, how badly do you want to sell your idea?
  • When you do win, don’t gloat about your success, especially if you want to turn your boss from an obstacle to an ally. Thank them and praise them for their support. Even bosses need love!

Your boss may never understand you, but in the end, if you make them look good and make money for them, they won’t even care about your body piercings or tattoos.

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