How do you pursue excellence and creativity when you’re in the middle of an organization more interested in avoiding conflict and maintaining the status quo?
The status quo is a safe place for some organizations to be. The passion for excellence doesn’t always translate into making improvements when there is an institutional mindset of “we’ve always done it this way – why change?” For a lifetime, I have at times encountered resistance to new ideas and an attitude of continuous improvement.
If you find yourself wanting to try new things when those around you don’t, here are ways to keep your creative edge.
- Keep thinking and creating. Find an outlet – or several outlets – that give you a chance to express yourself. I think one of the reasons I began to write was frustration; in my own little corner, in my own little blog, I could think – and write – whatever I wanted to say.
- Go for your big vision. When you have a big vision, try for it. Maybe everything won’t work the way you intended. But still try it. One of my visions years ago was to found a 4-H Tech Club. We had no blueprint. My vision was a 4-H club where kids could experience and learn about new technology and develop their own skills to use it. I didn’t want a robotics club like some areas had, though we do some robotics activities. Had a “light bulb” club been created in the time of Edison, it would have been rendered irrelevant. We are in a technological revolution, and I wanted to help kids make the most of new opportunities. The kids in the club have surprised me for years, and we’ve gone in directions I never anticipated. Last year, the Indiana 4-H Foundation selected our club as 1 of 4 to present in a statewide science showcase.
- Make small changes where you can. Sometimes small changes can lead to bigger ones. Over 10 years ago, I startled a nonprofit I was president of when I announced that our spring fundraiser had to make money or we wouldn’t do it. It had lost money the year before. We made small, but significant changes, and it became a money maker.
- Work through the resistance. People will resist your ideas. They will complain to each other about you and your ideas. Some may try to sabotage them. Keep going. As you find ways to work through their resistance, you will improve the final product. More importantly, you will develop skills in working with difficult people and tough circumstances. Those skills will help you become a better creator. Better to work with people who will tell you no than to work with yes people who never question your ideas.
- Don’t fall into the anger trap. It would be easy for me to wonder sometimes if there is a sexism element to some resistance of change. Yes, I have at times encountered some who like working with strong women so long as they toe the party line and don’t bring truly independent thought to the table. Don’t go there. Don’t waste your energy on anger because it isn’t productive. Work very hard not to take things personally because the only thing it will do is sap your creativity.
- Broaden your network. Find ways to meet new people and encounter new organizations. You will discover new ways to work with new people. And if you’re truly unappreciated, you just might meet someone who introduces you to a new organization where you and your ideas will be valued.
- Leave when it’s no longer fun. So long as struggles to do something creative still gives you pleasure, keep going. When it stops being fun, even if you feel duty bound to stay, develop an exit strategy and follow it. Without passion, it’s harder to wade through the swamp of problems to get to the dry promised land on the other side. I struggled with the leaving part. But I have learned when the time comes to remove something no longer pleasant from your life plate, if you remove it, you’ll then make room for something that might be better.
I found my niche. I found a place where strong women are valued, as are their ideas – even the totally unconventional ones. But all the skills I developed struggling in places resistant to change can help me now make bigger things happen.
And having been in worlds that didn’t understand that excellence and creativity are good things, being in one now makes me appreciate it all the more.