How Do You Know When You’re Being Creative vs. Productive?

I love to get stuff done. I count various measures on my way to my productivity, but when I cross things off my lists? Yeah, I love that. I know what being productive feels like and looks like for me. It often feels like some amount of “stuff” per unit time.

But creativity?  I used to think creativity was limited to the arts—to painting or writing or some kind of artistic ability. I was not creative.

I’ve changed my mind.

I now think of creativity as a way to make something new:

  • Generating new ideas
  • Applying those ideas in new and unique ways
  • Producing something no one else has before

When I use that definition of creativity, I realize I can’t separate my creativity from my productivity.

But how do I get to new ideas? How do I apply them in new and unique ways? That’s where I use the ideas of obliquity—indirect ways—to increase my creativity so I can be more productive.

Indirect Goals Might Free Our Creativity

Obliquity means we don’t take a straight-and-narrow path to our goals. Instead, we deviate. Sometimes, we wander. There’s a great book that explains why we might not want to take a direct path to our goals: Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly. (That’s an Amazon link.)

What is indirect work?

  • Daydreaming. I do this while I walk. I think about all kinds of things and make interesting-to-me connections as I walk.
  • Socializing. When I talk with a wide variety of people about all kinds of ideas, I learn and make different connections between disparate ideas.
  • Feedback from my speaking and writing. I use the questions people have to inform my content development. (I don’t care much about the happy faces or any ranking after I speak. If I’ve done my job right, people realize much more value after days, weeks, or months after I speak than right away.)

Notice that all of this indirect work allows me to test ideas—sometimes in my head, and sometimes with others. I push and pull on those ideas.

If you read my other blog and my books, you know I draw pictures to explain my ideas. The more I test those ideas in blog posts and articles, the easier it is for me to generate the (eventual) books.

When we are creative, we might experiment with this thing several times before we get it “right.” I like the experimentation part of creativity. The experimentation allows me to be productive.

How I Link My Creativity and Productivity

When I allow myself to be creative and experiment, I don’t have to worry about being perfect. Especially not when I write. (See Perfection Rules in Writing? You Might Be Micromanaging Yourself.)

I free myself from perfection so I can be creative and deliver on my productivity goals. (Yes, I need to use my courage to do so.) I embrace the connections between all the pieces of my life and work. That’s another reason I don’t buy this “work/life balance” nonsense. It’s all life—we decide where to spend our time.

The more time I spend on “indirect” work—all that thinking, daydreaming, and socialization—the more creative I am. And the more often I experiment with my creativity in public (for feedback), the more productive I am.

(If you’re wondering, this is why agile approaches work for products. The faster we get feedback on what we do so far, the faster we can integrate that feedback and offer something even more useful to our customers.)

That’s the question this week: How do you know when you’re being creative vs. productive?

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