Working in the Creativity Age

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 10, Issue No. 9
December, 2011

By Dan Coughlin



When I was a kid, there was a very popular song on the radio called, The Age of Aquarius. It was written in 1969. Some of the lyrics included:

This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions

That age never quite happened, but right now we are living in an age that really is happening. It’s called the Creativity Age. The world has evolved from the Stone Age to the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Age to the Information Age to the Creativity Age. This era is relatively new. It began with the proliferation of the internet and email and has gained speed ever since with technologies that have connected people all over the world and given people the opportunities to do things they could never have done before.

The Creativity Age caused massive upheaval for many organizations and individuals and shut down many businesses. It certainly upended many people’s otherwise wonderful careers. It cut across national borders, shrunk the planet, and changed how organizations and individuals interact with each other. It also created enormous opportunities for people all over the world

…and the crazy thing is its impact is only going to get bigger and bigger. The Creativity Age is here to stay.

Where Does Work Happen

If you’re going to earn a paycheck, it’s going to happen in one of a few ways. You will either work for a for-profit or a not-for-profit organization. You will either own a business or work for someone else. You will either manage the efforts of other people or you will not. You will either work with other people in an organization or you will work completely by yourself. Your work today and in the future is going to fall into one or more of those categories. We can break it down even further. Toss out your title and your industry and the size of your organization and your bonus and where you went to school. None of that stuff really matters. Regardless of the way in which you work, there are certain key elements that absolutely matter in the Creativity Age. Here are five of the most important.

Add Value

Value is anything that increases the chances that the other person will achieve what he or she wants to achieve. Regardless of your title or your income or the size of your organization or your industry, you have one critically important job to do today. That job is to add value. Every day you have to ask yourself, “Today how am I going to create value for other people and deliver it as well as I can?” This is not a fun little saying to post on your wall and smile about. You have to have a ferocious and committed drive to creating and delivering value every day!!! This is the one and only way to survive and thrive in the Creativity Age.

The job of today is not the heavy lifting of the 1800s or the gathering of information of the 1970s. The job is purely to create value and deliver it to other people. You might be creating and delivering value to your team members who are part of a huge organizational effort. You might be on the front-line with your customers. You might be running a training session or deciding who to hire or serving as an engineer on a new product development or working in a not-for-profit organization focused on delivering food to the needy or teaching elementary school kids or deciding on the strategic direction of a Fortune 100 company.

It doesn’t matter what your role is or where you work. What does matter, and it matters a lot, is that you step back from your activities and ask yourself, “What can I do or make that would be of greater value for these people?” This is the first step to working successfully in the Creativity Age.

If you are unemployed or are looking to work at a different organization, answer the same question. What can you do to create value for that organization? Be very, very clear in your own mind so you can clearly communicate it to other people.

Observe, Listen, Read, and Combine

The old saying, “There is nothing new under the sun” is true, but only tells part of the story. The creative person looks to create new value by observing other people in action, listening to their thoughts, reading their stories, and combining the ideas into new products and services. The great advantage of today is that you can “observe” what is happening anywhere in the world via the internet, you can listen to what people have to say from anywhere in the world via and, you can read any book or magazine in an instant on an iPad or Kindle or Nook, and you can combine an incredible array of products and services and ideas that already exist into something that is new and is of great value for other people. These four skills (observing, listening, reading, and combining) make up the generator of creativity. And they’re free! Use them every day.

Care Immensely about What You Do

I had lunch with my mom yesterday. When I drove her back to her condominium, we paused in the parking lot. She pointed to a group of men who had raked and swept a giant pile of leaves together. They were putting the leaves into a giant mulching machine. She said, “Those men care about their work. Look how clean the parking lots are. I’m going to go tell them what a great job they are doing.”

In the Creativity Age every detail matters a lot. Regardless of where you live you are competing with other talented people all over the world. No country has an insurmountable advantage over another. It’s an open game of competition. Consequently, the key is to create and deliver as much value as you can every day. Ultimately, it comes down to caring enormously about what you do.

Where can you learn to care?

Think about your closest family members, your best friends, the people you admire the most. Describe how you care about them. Write it down. Then apply that level of caring to the work you do every day.

Go to a place you admire: a restaurant, a store, a barbershop or beauty salon, or a favorite vacation destination. Study how the people who work there care about their customers. Write down what you see.

Fix in your mind how you will apply some of those approaches in your work.

Tomorrow at work care more than you have ever cared before. Take caring about the details of your work to the highest level that you have ever done. Then when you go in to work the day after tomorrow care more than you did the day before. Don’t obsess over your bonus or your title. Just care about everything you do and you will find yourself doing it as well as you possibly can.

Connect to a Purpose

The people that I know who are riveted with a purpose in their professional lives are the ones who care the most about every detail. They see their work as merely the mechanism for fulfilling a greatly engrained purpose. You have to know why you do what you do. There are only three great sources of passion that I know of. You either have to love what you do, love who you do it for, or both.

Some people love the work they do. They love building teams or they love making something that no one thought was possible or they love some aspect of their work. Some people don’t love what they do, but they love who they do it for. They are helping to send a child to college or helping a child who has been mentally or physically challenged or being there for an aging parent. They love the person so much that they are driven to do their best work every day.

Fit within a Larger Picture

In the Creativity Age no one works in a silo. We are all connected to other people in our work. Even if you run a one-person business, your efforts are still interlinked with the work of other people. How does the value you create and deliver today fit within the larger picture of your organization, your community, or the world’s market place? Working hard on the details of a project is only of real value if it helps other people to achieve what they want to achieve.

Those are five of the critical keys for working successfully in the Creativity Age. In many ways, these are the same keys to a successful career that were true in earlier ages. However, back in those days you could count on getting a “job” in an organization and keeping it for the rest of your career. You could count on competition being limited to your geographical area. Those parameters no longer exist. Now more than ever before you have to constantly be creative in finding ways to add more value to other people.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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