The Fate of Creatives in an Office Environment

A good friend of mine once told me “creatives can never be truly happy in an office environment.” Having recently started a new job, I was quick to disagree. I feel happy and creative where I am. My writing skills are being used and improved. on top of that, they have invested in me, paying for me to attend classes for InDesign and other software. Creative work is digital as much as otherwise these days. The painter and his canvas is just as creative as the graphic artist with Photoshop. Perhaps we are coming upon a new world where creatives can not only be happy in an office, but thrive.

When I was in college, I had the fortune of working for a local newspaper. Part of this job involved interviews with outstanding students nominated by people in the community. One such student was a boy fascinated with art. He told a story worthy of a Lifetime special. Family life wasn’t easy and he didn’t care how well he did in school. He wasn’t even sure he cared to graduate high school. Then he discovered art. When I met with him, he showed me all these great works he had done, using different art styles. He knew the names of classic artists and talked adamantly about his inspiration. Suddenly, he had purpose. He could see his future. Yes, he would graduate high school. He would even go to college…

…to study graphic art.

I felt for the kid. As I spoke with him about his career options as an artist, I knew he had gotten the same comments I did when I told people I was going into Journalism. “You can’t survive on a degree like that,” they say. “You’ll never get a job.” The boy was smart, though. He knew just like I knew. People needed him. Someone needed to make corporate logos, design newsletters and create content for photo stock websites. Somewhere, if not everywhere, people needed a graphic artist. I’m not sure where he ended up, but I wish him the best. That smart kid knew how to turn his passion into an old-fashioned career. I’d be willing to bet he goes home and has a room dedicated to his canvas as well.

Would a creative be content in a paper pushing desk job where they did nothing but work and came home with no energy to dedicate to their hobbies? Probably not. That’s not the fate of every creative, artistic mind in this digital age, though. Perhaps industrialization made life as an artist a little bleak, but things have changed. The most popular social media posts have photos. Businesses are scrambling for bloggers and content writers who can spread their message across the interwebs. There is a place for the creative in an office.

This photo, “Ryan Honey Artist In Residence Visit (Aug '11)” is copyright (c) 2014 VFS Digital Design and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license. The image was cropped to create the featured image.
This photo, “Ryan Honey Artist In Residence Visit (Aug ’11)” is copyright (c) 2014 VFS Digital Design and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license. The image was cropped to create the featured image.

My specific office is rather old-fashioned and it provides an interesting contrast to my position. Social media is blocked across the office (well, Facebook and Twitter are blocked. You can access literally everything else). It is the type of place where things are the way they are because they have always been the way they are. This hasn’t stopped them from chasing progress, which is where I come in. They see the need to build a web presence, to engage on social media and bring new ideas into the office. Good thing I put “Idea Generation” under my skill sets!

The world isn’t just about business anymore. The world is changing and it seems to be changing in favor of the creatives. Just add a little technology to the paint and canvas, pen and paper, and you’ll be ready for a fruitful career.

Do you think creatives can be happy in a typical office? How do you define a creative? Where do you see the world tilting in favor of artistic people? Will it tilt back any time soon, or is the need for creatives here to stay?

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52 thoughts on “The Fate of Creatives in an Office Environment”

  1. Interesting! I think it’s to each their own because my office sucks! They want me to be a dumbass and just sit there instead of doing something worthwhile. I wish I worked with you in your office. I’d fit right in especially since I have so much to offer but instead here it’s being suppressed.

    1. In my last office, I defiantly felt unused, which is not a good thing in the business world. Honestly, I compensated by working on this blog on the job. They didn’t care what I did so long as the work I did have to do got done.

      Now, I just love it. My department (which is mostly just me at the moment) may soon grow. Maybe I’ll add you on ^_^

      1. That’s exactly what I’m doing because my office doesn’t appreciate eager, hard working employees. So I blog, watch Netflix, and get the job done. I’m through doing more than required.

        Make room for me please! 🙂

  2. I think this is why I am miserable in my current job. Not enough creative outlet. It’s just sitting and waiting for someone to complain about something minor not happening and then making the simple solution painfully overly complicated. 🙂

  3. Congrats on the new job! I love the “idea generator” tag for yourself – i may have to steal it. Creatives are so necessary in the business world. A diverse team is the most successful, so creatives keep those staid thinkers on their toes.

    I’m also a journalism major in the business world, but in a different role. When I was with a very large company, they stifled my creativity with rules about social media, branding and the like. I get it -they are a publicly traded company. Our marketing department loved working with me because we would push those boundaries and create new content that was winning them accolades from corporate. The creatives are an integral part of that company’s success each and every day.

    Then we got a new boss and that all came crashing down. I left and am now in a smaller firm with no boundaries….but no creative team to implement. Sigh. Trade-offs, we always have trade-offs.

    1. I have never had a team. I am a Marketing Manager but I don’t really manage anyone. I’m still new to working out of college and especially new to this job (I’ll have been there 6 months next month!). I’m not sure what a Marketing Department is suppose to look like, but I’m really interested in creating it. A small firm with less boundaries sounds better than a large one with many.

  4. Interesting post. I worked in a company that told it’s staff it’s aim was to become the most creative organisation in the world. Sadly, I discovered that is not possible in a large organisation where “yes people” get to the top and are afraid to take risks that might damage their own futures. The one true leader we had at the top for a while was forced to resign after a mistake someone else made – and ironically, he led with the staff slogan “freedom to fail” – well it didn’t work for him. It scared the yes people too much who were only interested in their own careers and salaries. True creatives were burnt out and quickly became cynical and demoralised. Sadly that was my experience in a (from the outside) highly respected organisation whose product is consumed world wide.

    1. That sucks. It’s such a shame too. In my job, it’s interesting to see the dynamics. My boss gets me. I’m doing my job, coming up with ideas and doing what I can to implement them. There are also people who don’t get it. They insist that things be perfect and every small mistake is a mark against me. Creativity cannot thrive without the opportunity to fail, though. It just can’t. I think I’m in a good spot. If they decide they don’t want my creativeness, I will quickly leave the job – and not necessarily of my own accord. The people who think like that won’t appreciate that you took a creative chance or tried to bust out a draft by deadline. All they will see is that it failed or that your first draft has a misspelled word. Just like that, you’re done.

  5. As a creative working in an office setting, I’d say I’m pretty happy. I get to designs things like: website, newspaper ads, flyers, tri-folds, business cards, and banners as well as work social media. I’m also lucky enough to have an office full of people who are interested in the magic I work with computers and giving me their input.
    I define my creativity and a deep desire inside myself to take the things in my head and put them out into the world for everyone to see (and hopefully enjoy viewing as much as I enjoyed making). Anything… everything. I also love extensively researching! If I don’t know how to do something, I can learn it in the course of an hour or so.
    I see the world tilting in favor of artistic people everywhere. Since we’re all connected via the internet, we can share things that we love and things that inspire us with the world. And we do!
    I don’t see things returning to the way they were before. Humanity as a whole has a progressive outlook on our future. The only way to go from here is forward. Although we have gained a vast amount of knowledge about who we are, where we are, and things we can accomplish with the knowledge that has been gathered and saved over thousands of years, there’s still so much we don’t know!
    Creatives give the world something special and beautiful because we dare to turn our dreams into reality. We challenge concepts and re-imagine how things work everyday. We are creating our own future, a future made up of things that inspire.

    1. It’s a great world, then. I hope more people will come to realize that creative dreams are no less valuable than those who dream of being engineers or doctors. We do our part in progressing society forward.

  6. I’m an engineer, so my creative outlet is more technical. I gravitate towards other creative types, and together we brainstorm solutions to existing design problems. Or better designs. We have patents pending. Note that I have to be proactive and seek out these people, them make time for us to get together. I think that people need to be proactive in their happiness. If you want to do something, find a way to do it.

    Cheers!

    1. Agreed. You are a perfect example of how important creative people are. Being and engineer is important and people are likely to think that is a good job choice, but you also need other creative people who have different specialties to help make the final product great.

  7. I agree. I am finding after more than a decade freelancing in digital that many big public service organisations like universities need those types of skills and so are recruiting those types of people

    1. May I ask what you freelance? Writing or graphic designs? Something else? I’ve always been curious about freelancing in the same way I am curious about blogging or publishing books for money. There are so many options!

      1. I was working for myself freelance as an editor, copywriter and content manager. Now I am working for a University that have recently been rebranded and so are looking for a more commercial direction to their content.

        Freelancing is a great great lifestyle. I guess there are pros and cons of both.

        PROS of freelancing:
        – Freedom of movement and flexibility. Great if you are young, independent and want to travel.
        – Able to work on diverse projects and really hone your skills to become an all-in-one talented individual.
        – There is a drive (to put food on the table) and this ensures that you never allow yourself to get complacent, you’re always learning.

        CONS

        – Lack of financial stability and assurance of work.
        – Lack of social interaction when you work from home a lot.

            1. That’d be great! As it is, I’m trying to figure out how I can make a living through blogging. That’s probably just as much of a long shot, especially because I have to manage my time with my real job.

              1. It’s hard to make a living out of blogging, without selling out and getting crappy sponsored posts on your blog. But I would say that the best way is to find your interest and really plug it and talk about it on your blog, then you will get a captive audience who is also interested in that topic. Then after that, try and find a ‘real world’ job as a writer or blogger for a company, or even an agency as a content writer, you can use your blog and following then as a ready-made resume and testimonial to your writing talent, and because it’s on a topic you love it won’t feel like hard work to maintain the blog. This sort of approach worked for me.

                1. I will not sell out. I’d get bored and stop all together if I did that. I sort of have the other thing done. I do blog, among other things, for my job (though things have gotten busy so my blogs are more rushed than usual). If my crazy dreams come true, I think my blog (and soon to be blogs) will provide supplemental income to my life as an author….

                  I like to dream big ^_^

  8. I think it all depends on the environment. I work in advertising and know some extremely talented artists. And they love nothing better than flexing their creative muscles for concept design. Unfortunately, that’s usually only 10% or less of their total work time. The other 90% is creating widgets, because that’s what the client wants… and what the client wants the client gets. The fact that any of them can leave the office at the end of the day and still create is amazing. I get the questions all the time, “Where do you get the time and energy to write?” Creatives make the time no matter what the day job does (or doesn’t do) for their soul. 🙂

  9. I think it mostly depends on the person and the job itself. As such, it is truly a challenge that’s for sure! I myself work in an office and like you do not have access to social networks as well as many other mediatic sites (the office has a specific ‘filter’ in place), however I make do. I try to dedicate a little bit of time every day to read something interesting for example – we DO have access to wikipedia as well as most news websites. After all, how can one create something from nothing?

    Also, if you have word, and you have a pair of hands, then you can write! Living in my own imagination has been normal ever since I was born, so nothing new there 🙂

    1. Other people can’t access social media, but I can. It’s my job (and it’s awesome) ^_^

      There is always a chance to be creative, but It’s nice when your job is how you are creative.

  10. Like this. A lot. Definitely, an office setting that lacks aesthetic content is NOT healthy for an artist. Fast downward spiral, yes. But as you lucidly explained, it CAN be productive and gratifying. I’d say you are one of the lucky ones! Also thrilled to hear Facebook is banned there. My mantra for Facebook is a quote by Warhol: “I am a deeply superficial person.”

  11. Reading about the offices at Apple and Pixar makes me see that there is a way to do office setting for creatives. Truth: not all creatives can get a job in a creative job… Some of us sell medical equipment or work at banks or whatever. This does not mean we are stifling our creativity. It just means that we are making money to keep our family alive. This also does not mean we hate our jobs that aren’t artsy jobs. I love my job. I also love to draw. Can I say that I love art even more when it’s not being forced out of me everyday and then judged by a client or supervisor? I also believe that creatives need to be encouraged in their creativity before they “grow up.” My daughter is 6 and wants to be an author. I tell her to write stories now! Let’s learn about how to get published NOW! Let’s not wait for the humanities department at some college to steal $100,000 before you publish and make money at what you love. If you think you are a designer, get business information, redesign their marketing material and SELL IT TO THEM!!! Make money at it right away!

    1. I’m crazy jealous of every person who published a book before graduating high school. I think what you say is important. People are quick to say “you can be whatever you want” but never say how. Then, we they start seriously thinking about college, that turns into “you can do anything you want, except that. That’s a hobby.” But if kids who had the drive wanted to learn about publishing, they should be given the tools to do so!

  12. I also work in an office and love it. It may be that I’m equally analytical and creative, or it may be that my time in the office balances me so that I can better focus my creativity when I’m home.

    If I worked in an environment where it was all creative all the time, I would get burned out and stop enjoying it.

    1. I’ve never worked with all creatives, so I don’t know if that would burn me out or not. I do need people who think differently, to help pull in some of my more outlandish ideas. ^_^

  13. When I left school in 2008, I was very versatile and had fresh ideas. Although I had the rare opportunity to intern in my country’s leading private tv station, I told myself I was going to work for myself because I valued my freedom.

    But I was naive. After national service I quit my job. Boy, I nearly died! The economy punched me so hard I feared I might not be able to get up again and I live in Africa so you can imagine. My studio start up also failed because no investor was interested.

    Later, I tried freelancing but it didn’t work. The thing is, most of the people who will give you a contract would have already seen your work somewhere, so you have to establish a reputation first. An office environment is certainly not the best for creatives but the corporate world is always restrictive. The office is a good place to start from.

    Moreover, few managers in my part of the world see the creative or media arts as a specialty – most believe anyone can do what you are doing. But then, the key is to build a strong and an outstanding portfolio over many years, hand it over and the rest will take care of itself.

    From experience, I know many people are not happy with their work, especially because they do not have that creative freedom or they are not doing exactly what they like and are probably thinking of quitting, there are only three questions you must ask yourself before handing over your resignation letter:
    1. Do you like to eat?
    2. Do you have bills to pay?
    3. Are you a self starter?

    If your answer is no to the third question, don’t quit. Maybe you should consider other options, like working part-time with multiple agencies.

    1. Oh no. I’d never think of quitting. I like the job I have. Still, freelance sounds so nice. I suppose I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing, build a portfolio and see what happens.

  14. Creativity is the ability to connect the scrambled dots to visualizing a picture to picturing a yet to happen event to playing with unrelated words to bringing tune to a diffused and defect lyrics…imagining the unimaginable.

    Creativity needs space and place to germinate and nurture…without the proper environment and engagement it just cannot grow.
    Most organizations don’t have the understanding and insight into the process of creativity and innovation… these to happen, it has to be in the DNA of the organization.

    It depends on the leader driving the organization and the culture that has been developed in the company, these matters and counts on building the blocks for fostering creativity or formulating innovative thoughts.

    Insightful Post!!!

    1. All true, but I’m hoping the business culture is changing. People need creative for their websites, social media and marketing. They have to be able to give those people what they need in order to keep them. I have hope creatives will find happiness in the offices of the future.

      1. Organizations are understanding the need for innovation, the way keep differentiate in products and services…Yes, companies are creating that space for nurturing creativity with the office space…also employees are looking for freedom tow work, and creativity needs that freedom to play with new ideas and experiment with new way of doing things…
        Happiness is intrinsically linked with creativity…

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