How to be the Misunderstood Genius at Your Boring Corporate Job

Here are 4 tips which have helped me survive the corporate wasteland

Here are 4 tips which have helped me survive the corporate wasteland (Photo: Alice Achterhof/Unsplash)

“I don’t get it” she said, doubt flickering behind her brown eyes.

“It’s a joke… You know, because of the way HR usually works?”

“Oh… Ha.”

If you’ve been creating anything for any amount of time, I guarantee you’ve had some form of this conversation.

It’s not like they try to doubt you, it’s just that…Well, you’re a little weird. You, with your ideas and your stylus and your Adobe programs which do God knows what.

You see the world in a way nobody else does. Guess what? That’s incredible news. That makes you valuable. Guess what else? Corporations don’t deal in visions.

Here are 4 tips which have helped me survive the corporate wasteland.

#1 – Build trust in your bosses.

In my experience, nothing makes a job more miserable than a bad relationship with your manager.

“Building trust” sounds really fuzzy and vague, so I’ll give you a step by step process which I’ve seen work plenty of times:

  • Ask your boss for 10 minutes of her time and do these things:
  • Ask what the most urgent thing on her plate is right now
  • Ask her what pressure she’s feeling from her boss
  • Ask her what her goals for the department are
  • End the meeting
  • Head straight back to your desk and write down 10 ideas which could solve her biggest problem.
  • Let those marinate, and then write 10 different ideas the next day.
  • Write 10 more ideas* the next day for good measure

You now have 30 ideas to make your boss’s life easier. Pick your favorite and take one step toward realizing that idea.

Send an email that starts “I hope this isn’t too forward, but I was just thinking about [BOSS’S PROBLEM] the other day, and I had this idea…”

Congratulations. You are on your way to earning trust.

In a big company, the best way to see your ideas come to life is realizing the goals of someone else first.

*By the way, 10 ideas a day could do a lot for you. I’ve integrated it into my microjournaling practice.

#2 – Cultivate your weirdness

On the average workday, I have neon socks peeking out in between my dress pants and sneakers. My shirt tail usually finds its way out of a tuck by 10:30 A.M. My curls flop around at will, and my beard is at a three day scruff.

Because despite what hopeful people tell you — looks matter. They matter a lot. Luckily for me, though, “looks” doesn’t necessarily mean “beauty.”

Someone from another office said on the first day he met me — “Are you a writer? You look like a writer.”

Perfect.

In looks and principles, assume the role of the artist. You don’t act, think or dress the way other people do. You don’t breathe the same air. You don’t live in the same universe. You should be aware of the business world, but only vaguely attached to reality.

Stay true to where your creativity comes from. Getting pulled into “the way things have always been done” is the shortest path to punching your ticket as a normal, pencil-pushing seat warmer.

#3 – Learn to pitch your ideas

Jokes, art, or videos which only tickle your fancy will never pass through the powers that be.

Instead, explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. “It’s funny” won’t fly. “It’s funny because 50 shades of grey is a guilty pleasure with millions of people and comparing it to a corporate policy will get attention” might.*

*this is a real example from my life. 50 shades did get shot down, so I had to settle for Hunger Games. which leads me to my next point:

#4 – Always go a little too far

After the initial conversation you read at the top of the page, my manager and I have reached an understanding:

When I create, it will be unabashed. I will say, do, draw, or write what I think needs to go there to make the ultimate creative statement. She gives me the leash to do that.

In return, I will accept the criticism which comes with outlandish ideas, racy jokes, and design which may not fit the intended audience.

This is critical.

Were I forced to draw in the lines at all times, what we both would end up with is a boring, uninspired work.

Creativity, in a lot of ways, is much like negotiation — reach for the moon, let someone reel you back in if they have to, and enjoy an outcome which makes everyone happy.

I’m not saying they’ll ever understand you. Corporate zombies can be fickle, and anyone who doesn’t fit the mold is destined to be an outcast. In fact, it’s part of The Creative’s Curse to never be completely understood.

But if you play your cards right, your life at work can be a whole lot better.

Todd knows a lot about being a creative. In fact, he wrote a book about it. You can pre-order The Creative’s Curse on Kindle version while it is still $2.99, or grab a free preview right here.

How to be the Misunderstood Genius at Your Boring Corporate Job