Creative thinking is not just for artists or entrepreneurs or strategists, but for any and all careers. Given the volatile market, rapid technological change (like automation replacing 45% of jobs over the next 20 years!), and the fact that the future is always uncertain, you need to think creatively about managing your career. Being effective in your same job will still change over time with new initiatives, new business processes and new management. Moving to a different job may or may not be possible – I used to work in publishing, which is like a game of musical chairs. Changing careers is always a possibility, and here you need creative thinking to identify new areas, imagine how your skills and expertise relate to something new, and experiment with how you’re going to bridge your existing experience and connections to your new choice.
The “right” choice may be more than one – think creative combinations
A lot of clients I have worked with are in industries dealing with massive disruption – financial services, media, education. Either/or decisions like should I stay or go or should I take this job or not cannot be fully explored with an either/or mentality. Sometimes the right choice is yes/ and. For example, one of my education clients was struggling under a promotion to more administrative duties while still trying to juggle her outside interest in teaching with education technology, which wasn’t supported in her job. Should she stay or go? We reframed the issue to look at ways she could succeed at her job and fulfill her tech interests. Even if you leave a job eventually you want a good reference, and when you’ve accepted a promotion, you want to show some positive results. At the same time, if your passion lies elsewhere don’t deny your interests. My client started consulting on tech issues and speaking at conferences – it raised her profile at her current job, while building a brand that would ultimately support a change if she needed one. As it turned out, she preferred the combination of traditional job and side business.
Creative thinking means you look past the obvious
When I blogged about private v. public college and what you could do with the additional $200,000 you would save by going public, this was another example of creative thinking for career planning. Many people default to thinking what you’ll make after college and how quickly you could earn back the $200,000 investment, especially if you have the brand name of a private college degree. ROI is definitely one good calculation to run and a rational choice to prioritize. But you also want to look at your other choices – what else could you do with the $200,000? (As I pointed out in my piece, you could fund a house for cash, starter investments and travel around the world, and remember, that still included college, just a public one.) By thinking beyond the obvious choice, you open up possibilities to discover something better.
Creative thinking means you ask different questions
In the above example about college selection, the choice of private over public isn’t only about which education will give the better job prospects now. That looks at short-term ROI. Career planning is a long-term proposition and a series of jobs (as well as employment gaps and entrepreneurial ventures). The degree is a sign of competitiveness, a foundation for skill-building, and a network of current and future connections – all of these contributions need to be weighed. In addition, the opportunity cost that I mentioned above (to spend the private/ public cost differential on real estate, investments and travel) is another factor. But you only get to this by asking different questions: what else could I do with my money? Is having more financial security and flexibility (by not incurring as much debt or by buying a home outright) better for me than the stronger brand or network? When you’re faced with a decision and you find yourself stuck in either/or thinking or lacking for alternative ideas, try asking different questions.
Life expectancy is on the rise, which means career planning needs to take into account longer periods of time. Add to this the increasingly rapid changes in the market and you can see that planning for today’s careers demands creative thinking. How is your job, company, and industry going to change? Brainstorm 10 or more changes. What would you do if your line of work disappeared and you couldn’t do what you’re doing now? What would you do if you came into an unexpected windfall and realized you didn’t have to do what you’re doing now? How can you think more creatively about your career next steps?