In some ways, the relationship between you and your job is like a romance. When things first start out, everything’s new and exciting. This energy creates a burst of passion that you’ll find engaging and can help you produce some really innovative work. But as with all relationships, the newness is fleeting, and your honeymoon stage eventually comes to an end. After this initial spark fades, you need to find a way to sustain your passion for the organization you’re a part of. If not, your inspiration will suffer. There’s no quicker way to kill creativity than to be working on some project you couldn’t care less about. And things will only get worse from there. Eventually your apathy will turn into resentment as you think about how much good you could be doing if only you were part of a different organization. Once you reach this point, it’s time for the break up.
Because we all know that breakups suck, you’re probably asking yourself, “How can we avoid this? How can we have a successful relationship with our job so that we can continue being creative?” The answer’s a little complicated.
Single and Ready to Mingle
Finding a job today is very different than it used to be. In the past, people tended to stay in one place. The quintessential path in life was to get good grades, attend college, get a job somewhere, work your way up, and retire after 40 years with a nice pension. While this was great for stability (finding a partner, buying a house, and having kids), it was bad for innovation. The chances of really loving your first job aren’t particularly great; and without this love, there’s less opportunity for the creativity-boosting activities of lensing (viewing the problem you’re trying to solve in different contexts) and play (having fun and being open to new ideas) and thus less chance for innovation (check out this post for more on these innovation tactics).
Today, however, the job path in life is not that straightforward for most of the workforce. According to a recent LinkedIn study, job hopping has nearly doubled in the past 20 years! This is a result of the three forces behind our new Innovation Economy: Automation, Abundance, and Access. While robots are taking our jobs, they’re also adding new ones. In fact, a shocking Deloitte study in the U.K. found that while automation has taken more than 800,000 jobs, it has also created more than 1.3 million new ones. This means there’s an abundance of new jobs out there for us right now. Think about most tech jobs. Just over 21 years ago, only 3% of all Americans had ever even visited a website! (Seriously look at these pictures from some of the most popular websites in 1996.) With the oldest sites only about 5 years old, this meant that entire fields like web design hardly existed. On top of all of these new choices, we also have access to changing jobs like never before. It’s easier to learn new skills, to move or work remotely, or start your own thing.
This all sounds great (and it is!), but we’re faced with a dilemma. With so many available options for us to choose from, how do we know which one to pick? To go back to our romantic metaphor, being single and ready to mingle is fun for a little bit, but at some point, we want to settle down. We can’t just keep switching jobs all the time - eventually it gets exhausting.
Finding Your Soulmate
In order to fix this problem, we have to find a place we can sustain passion for. And if you’ve explored finding your creative purpose you might have guessed it - we have to find an organization that aligns with our purpose. Instead of searching for jobs strictly by what type of job it is or by the company perks they have, we should be taking a good look at why the organization does what it does. When an organization is trying to accomplish something meaningful to you, it’s really powerful. As Laszlo Bock, the head of Google’s People Operations Team, states in his incredible book, Work Rules!:
“The most powerful movements in history have had moral motivations, whether they were quests for independence or equal rights...it’s fair to say that there’s a reason that revolutions tend to be about ideas and not profits or market share.”
When we view our job as a way to find a movement we believe in, there’s no question we’ll be more creative. Here’s a few tactics to go along with this new perspective:
1) Do your research. Go to their website, read their history and mission statement, and reach out to them to find out more about their purpose.
2) Be picky. Working at an organization that doesn’t align with your purpose is only taking away time that could have been spent in pursuit of that purpose.
3) Ask yourself if this will further your purpose. You should view working as part of an organization of like-minded people as a way to have an even bigger impact than you could have on your own.
If you’re lucky enough to find an organization that aligns with your purpose, do everything you can to convince them that you truly belong there. Maybe that means waiting until they have an opening. Or maybe that means taking a different role than you were expecting. You might have thought that you wanted to be a product designer, but if a marketing role is available, you’ll be better off than not taking anything. In the long run, working at an organization that aligns with your purpose will make you happier and more innovative, even if in a different role than you first pictured.
Just like finding the right person for you to marry is hard, finding the right organization for you to spend the rest of your life with can be tough. It might not happen right away, and we might have some other jobs first; but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always be striving for this. It’s important to know what you’re looking for in order to find it.
With that in mind, there’s one more (scary) option out there. If you can’t find the perfect organization that aligns with your purpose, then the only thing left to do is (drum roll please....) start your own. While it might seem daunting, starting a new company is easier now than it ever has been. We’ve never had access to more ways to start our own organizations. So if you believe that there’s a problem worth solving, but no one is working on it, then it’s up to you. Do it - because nothing’s more powerful than movements that were started through moral motivations.