Last night I dreamed I was walking down a path through the woods when I saw a shadow pass over the ground that represented the biggest bird I’d ever seen. I looked up quickly, and saw a Pegasus flying overhead. I was remarkably calm for never having seen a flying horse – remaining calm even as I saw two more. Still at peace and apparently not concerned about the possibilities of what could happen if they decided to relieve themselves, I continued down this path surrounded by trees, when I caught something white out of the corner of my eye. I walked about 100 feet, then I turned around and saw that the white flash was a white owl that was almost the same height as me (okay, I’m short but I am generally taller than owls). He stood with dignity and bowed his head in recognition.
I smiled, feeling that the owl was looking over me. As I continued walking, I came to a smaller white owl that smiled and used his wing to point the way down a new path. I looked down this new road and saw someone coming towards me in a three piece business suit carrying a briefcase. His hair was cut like Jerry Lewis, as if his mother used a bowl or something, and he had on spectacles. The good news is it was Tom Cruise. In turn, the bad news is that it was Tom Cruise (he’s pretty but kind of freaks me out). I realize that at this point my dream might seem too bizarre, but keep reading – I really am going to add some value here.
Tom Cruise had on a drab grayish brown linen suit and was pointing at me saying “I’ve been looking for you; I have an offer.” Next thing I know he’s buried up to his neck in grass and I’m getting ready to trip over his head. He’s still talking, but it’s at this point that my dog licked me in the face and woke me up.
Before you decide I need medication, let me tell you what this dream has to do with you. I believe Tom Cruise represented (in a very pretty way) the corporate environment that has beaten the creativity right out of us. While my imagination (the Pegasus) was flying high, my corporate side was buried up to his neck in earth, seducing me with a monetary offer.
This dream doesn’t mean you can’t work in a corporation and apply your creativity, but it does mean you’ve got to “unfreeze” a lot of boxed-in thinking so you can fly with the best of them. Today’s world rewards the artist, the creative people who are doing things in a unique, imaginative way.
In my new, favorite business book by Seth Godin called Linchpin – Are You Indispensable? He shares the story of a symphony conductor named Roger Nierenberg who taught a session using a symphony orchestra as his example. He first asked the group to play the music he gave them as synchronized as possible. Then, he had them do it one more time, asking each person to go to their own personal edge, giving the music their own sound, going where they wanted to go instead of the way the group wanted to go. Godin says that “To the untrained ears in the room, the two versions were difficult to tell apart.”
We tend to stay inside of the box that has been established for us. I want to help each of us find our imagination again and have success at work. Because I believe the ability to understand and work with other people is the most critical skill in business, I’m going to start with a quick activity that will help you apply your imagination to working with others.
1. Make a list of the five key leaders you interact with at work. Write down their names.
2. Now, assign them to an animal that they most represent.
3. Write one line describing why they are that animal.
4. Take that knowledge and determine how you’ll use it to interact with them more effectively.
1. Joy Smith
3. She is graceful and gentle, but generally sits quietly and grazes at meetings – she doesn’t add much value.
4. In future meetings, I will work to bring her out more with an occasional, non-threatening question (so as not to scare her away).
Not only is it a fun way to think about people, it will reveal more about them than you might realize. More importantly, it engages your imagination that has been lying dormant beneath a pile of boring PowerPoint presentations and grayish brown suits.
As Seth Godin says in Linchpin: We ask someone to do something wacky or original and they change the tiniest surface element instead of finding the root of a creative solution. That’s no accident. That’s what we’re taught to do. The opportunity is in changing the game, changing the interaction, or even changing the question.
While I know Tom Cruise, even in a bad haircut, might seem more appealing than a Pegasus — he won’t help you succeed. The Pegasus will. Unleash your imagination at work and see what happens.