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So you don’t fit in. Good.

If only I were short and brownish-grey.

"If only I were short and brownish-grey."

Hooray for coffee. I know I’m not the first to say it, nor will I be the last. But still… yay.

Hooray for Starbucks as well. It’s clean, friendly, smoke-free and comfortable. And I don’t care what anybody says; I even like the coffee. And they play good tunes. I like writing at the cafe sometimes. It helps to get out of the house, and have a change of scenery. You could say that it’s office away from office–home office, that is.

That said, let’s talk about environments for a moment, shall we? More specifically, work environments. How many times in your life has someone said to you, “Have you seen Office Space?” I think it’s been about a hundred times for me. And yes, I’ve seen it. It isn’t my favorite movie, or even in my top 20, but I appreciate and thoroughly understand why this flick is loved and revered by so many. Offices and corporate life can really suck, and when I say “suck,” I mean they can really and truly suck the life right out of you, and especially if you happen to be a Creative Beast. The makers of the film got that–big-time. They saluted the office stereo-types, and said “Up yours,” to the corporate assholes (and may it be noted here, that I do not feel that all corporate people are assholes. There are assholes everywhere you go, and corporate outfits are no exception. There just may be a higher percentage of them in “the office.” It seems to be par for the course. At this point you might be saying, “It takes one to know one.” And you might be right). The movie became a cult classic and a big release for everyone who has had to work in such an environment. Here’s a clip:

Now. That said, drudgerous corporate hell is not a necessity. Yeah, that’s right; it doesn’t have to be so. There are workplaces that nurture and foster creativity, and–surprise, surprise–very often, these places are considered to be the best places to work, according to surveys taken. So my question is, why don’t more companies work on creating better environments for their employees? Do all the HR text book studies really indicate that putting people in cubes with ugly brown-grey walls makes workers more productive? Because here’s the thing: Fast food restaurants have a history of using the same ugly colors in their restaurants–so that people will eat quickly and get the hell out.

I believe most companies aren’t really looking for people that think for themselves too much, and most companies do not care about the spirit of the individual. But what about the ones that do? What if more places really cared to learn about the people that they hire, and find ways to put their greatest skills and talents to use? What if more places offered work environments that encouraged individual growth in addition to the growth of the bottom line? What if more schools and educational programs were designed in the same way? I think companies with real vision do function thusly. I think the ones that prefer drab cubes and don’t want to invest in creativity are really rather old-school and backwards, and eventually, they will lose out. Basically, here’s the deal: everybody has dreams of something greater… something better… something more inspiring. That’s why shows like American Idol are wildly successful, and movies like Office Space make people LTAO, and think things like “Hell, yeah!” with fires in their bellies. Life is not about the 9-5 grind, the twenty minutes on the treadmill or the mowing of the lawn. Not that these things are evil or wrong in any way–it’s just that there is so much more to look forward to, and when people fail to recognize that, it’s sad. It makes me think that “The American Dream” in some cases has mutated into “The American Nightmare,” and that’s a shame.

Creative Beasts need each other, and they need creativity. They feed off of one another. They are wired to be inspired. They make each other laugh, and they brighten each others’ lives. They are wild, passionate, beautiful creatures that aren’t afraid to believe in things that aren’t in front of their noses. Magical things like airplanes and spaceships; aliens and Santa Claus–or Jesus, if you prefer. The point is that to be creative takes faith. More on that later. Creative Beasts are sometimes reckless, sometimes crazy and sometimes they make each other crazy–and everybody else, for that matter. But they need each other, and everybody else needs them. So if you’re a Creative Beast, and you feel like you’re somewhere that you don’t belong, chances are, you don’t. Take heart, hold your head high and keep on doin’ what you’re doin’. And ask yourself… what would the world be like without people like Thomas Edison or Albert Einstein or Leonardo daVinci or the Wright Brothers? Beethoven, Mozart, Muddy Waters, John Coltrane or The Beatles? Madame Curie or Gertrude Ederle? Jane Austen, Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, and Gilda Radner? Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Richard Branson? Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr? Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, Ellen DeGeneres or David Letterman? Oprah? Julia Child and Jacques Pepin? Alice Waters, Lydia Bastianich, Charlie Trotter, David Chang and Michel Bras? Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, Woody Allen, and David Lynch? You get the idea. I could fill a book with names of people that without whose light, the world would not be nearly so bright a place. Think about it… And then give this a listen:

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  1. pietro
    June 30th, 2009 at 15:15 | #1

    can’t believe you reference ‘office space’ without moving the cinematic component of the discussion notably forward to the eminently more sumptuous ‘haiku tunnel.’

  2. thaus
    June 30th, 2009 at 21:04 | #2

    Ah, Haiku Tunnel. I would have to agree; it is more sumptuous, indeed, and especially if you have ever worked as a “temp.” Thanks for the comment/idea for future post.

  3. PsiTrey
    July 24th, 2009 at 08:39 | #3

    I’m really glad you put people like Marie Curie and Albert Einstein in your list of “Creative Beasts.” We live in a society that gives us a false dichotomy of creative “artistic” types and then the mathematical and scientific types. I do not accept this as I believe there is creativity in science (and mathematical reasoning certainly has a place in creative endeavors such as music or art). As a teacher certified in math, theater, and English, I find people often react with “That’s an unusual combination” because we’ve been taught to categorize people as creative or logical, artistic or scientific, etc. The reality is we can be all these things, as evidenced by the idea of the “Renaissance Man.”

  4. PsiTrey
    July 24th, 2009 at 08:59 | #4

    Another thought, I’m going to have to disagree with you on the “Companies who prefer drab cubicles” are “old school.” Sometimes it’s just a matter of what works. I’ve seen the cubicle argument in education. This is what led to the “Open classroom” concepts which proved disastrous. While the seating chart doesn’t always have to be rows and columns, sometimes that structure helps students (and workers) to focus and be in a position to better unleash their creativity. I know I’d probably do better in a little cubicle than in an open office which would be full of distractions.

    And this is the nasty bit, you mention that the environments don’t foster creativity and productivity. But for some of these jobs…how much creativity and talent is required in the first place? I know it’s fashionable to bash Corporate America (and I”m not a fan of the culture), but I also realize that we are very dependent on it. Our retirement funds from 403bs or 401ks? Corporate America. The economy that provides jobs and livelihoods? Corporate America.

    And honestly, I don’t know how much environment factors into performance, going by my own classroom experience. Whether I’ve had traditional seating or more inclusive seating, lots of decorations or minimal decorations, student-centered curriculum or teacher-led curriculum, the same struggling students struggled and the same excelling students excelled and the same average students did average. Environment might help here or there, but it doesn’t ever make a student smarter, and I doubt that the layout of an office will make workers more or less capable at their jobs. Would it affect motivation? Most likely, and that might be enough to improve productivity and performance. But I’m not sure I accept the notion that everyone is a Creative Beast just waiting for the right environmental conditions in order to burst forth. That’s why people like the ones you mention are special in the first place.

  5. thaus
    July 24th, 2009 at 11:37 | #5

    You make some great points. I understand that cubicles are not the enemy. Nor, by the way, is corporate America. I believe that there are plenty of corporations that do great things. Even though it’s a little scary to admit–simply because my natural tendency is to fight the grain, so to speak–I’m a bit of a Starbucks fan. And Apple. …And Virgin. As I’m originally from Seattle, I’m still upset with Howard Schultz’ decision to sell the Sonics, but that aside, Starbucks as a corporation has set many precedents in terms of the ways in which it not only conducts itself as a business on the whole, but in the ways in which employees are treated, and I even worked there for a time. And another aside, many have scoffed at Starbucks and called them a monster because they have had a reputation for opening stores on every corner and putting local shops out of business. Here’s what I say to that: there likely would not be any small/local espresso cafes if not for Starbucks. They were the first to do it, and to do it really well. They set the standard, and they are the reason that so many little guys everywhere thought to themselves, “Hey, I can do this, too!” That said, local cafes can and do create their own followings and are successful. And guess what? If they offer a pleasing environment, great service and a great product, chances are, that is what is keeping them afloat. Because as far as those three things go, Starbucks still holds the bar pretty high, and they know that they had better, because that is their brand. Ask me how I feel about going to a local cafe that is unclean, doesn’t treat me well and can’t make a decent cappuccino? I’ll tell you: I will not lose an ounce of sleep if they close doors.

    Maybe the cubicle comment was a little harsh–I will concede and soften my words where that is concerned. I completely understand the need for efficiency, and reduction of noise levels and distraction. I am eminently driven to distraction, myself. My point is, however, that not everyone fits in the same box or mold, and it may very well be a mistake and short-sighted to assume so. A lot of talent gets overlooked in the workplace, and people who could be contributing more, do not, simply because they are not encouraged to do so. And for that matter, I know the same is true in the classroom. I’m not saying that teachers don’t encourage all children to participate (though in some instances, that’s true), but not every child learns in the same way, and just because one person does not succeed within the same parameters as the person sitting next to him or her doesn’t necessarily indicate that person’s ability to succeed or fail on the whole–just within that system. And it certainly doesn’t indicate a level of intelligence. Thomas Edison was a problem in the classroom as a kid, and his teachers wrote him off as stupid. WRONG. He was smarter than they were–significantly. It’s much more convenient to attempt to fit people into molds, but in the end is it really better? Why do so many kids get shuffled and passed on from grade to grade that can’t even read?

    Now. Do I believe that everyone is a Creative Beast, and just waiting for the right moment to burst forth with his or her genius and creativity? Absolutely not. I think there are plenty of folks who are pretty happy just playing their part in someone else’s vision, and that is perfectly well and good, and necessary, I might add. But I still believe that some environments are wrong for some people. And actually, I know it.

  6. thaus
    July 24th, 2009 at 12:17 | #6

    I couldn’t agree with you more. It used to be that the arts and sciences were natural companions to one another, and Leonardo Da Vinci was a prime example of someone who was a master of what some would now considered to be opposing disciplines… Incidentally, when I was a kid, I thought that it was odd that universities offered degrees in “letters, arts and sciences…” But yes, science and math require a great deal of creativity, unequivocally. They are simply different languages. And as it is with any language–you learn the rules, so that you can then learn how and when to break them. 😉 Einstein, himself, said that imagination is more important than knowledge. Granted, it has also been said that the average human is closer in intelligence to a chimpanzee than to Albert Einstein… Nevertheless, what I’m getting at is that perhaps the ways in which people are taught to think ought to be more closely examined.

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