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Lessons from My Worst Job: I Was Fired for Being Too Creative

You learn something from every job, even from the horrible ones. Often, the worst job experiences are an opportunity for gathering lessons and for learning about yourself. In our new series, Lessons from My Worst Job, volunteers share their past work nightmares, how they handled them and what they learned as a result. Some lessons are small, while others wind up being profoundly important to the storyteller's professional life.

In our first offering, BOLD's Chief Marketing Officer Dawn Crew shares her experience of being penalized for thinking outside of the box at work and how it changed her management style forever. Whether you are looking for a new job that will help you develop your creative side, or just trying to find creative ways to make your current workplace more bearable during your job search, read on for lessons that will make a difference for you and your coworkers!

The Job

"My weirdest job ever was at Baskin-Robbins, the ice cream shop. It was one of the oddest yet most formative experiences of my life. The job of an ice cream scooper comes with pages and pages of documentation, or at least it did 30 years ago. Details about how you greeted a customer 'with your eyes' to how and where you stood when the store was empty. Every tedious detail was documented and reviewed in the on-boarding training and consistently enforced by the store manager, aka rules commando.

The store was always crowded on hot summer nights with singles, couples and families out for sweet evening treats. Most of the items they ordered were off of a menu and each was to be made very specifically. As an ice cream connoisseur of sorts, I was always making suggested changes to my customers so that their tasty treats were even better than advertised.  In a few short weeks, I had gained quite a following of people that would come in with friends to try some of the creations I had helped them alter. Sometimes there would be four of us working but I was the only one busy because people were all wanting me to help them customize their treats.  Sometimes there would be four "scoopers" on a shift and I was the only one with a line, literally out the door.  My register tallies were often 3-4x then next busiest scooper.  I was even asked out on a date by the cutest boy in my grade.  Best job ever, right? It was until I was fired for being 'disruptive' to the store and for not following the rules. I was handed my final paycheck and released immediately."

The Lesson

"I learned that creativity in the workplace is confusing, even maddening, to some. When that creativity threatens the status quo or the vision of the higher ups, the outcome is most often bad," Crew said. "It is especially bad for the people that are 'positive rule breakers' because they aren't able to use their creativity to make a contribution that is rewarding to them. As a result, they don't feel valued. It's also bad for business because creative new ways of making more money aren't discovered. "

Advice for Promoting Creativity in the Workplace

Crew's worst job taught her that not every manager appreciates employees who march to the beat of their own drum. She vowed never to be that manager.

"As a leader and manager I always listen to the people that challenge the status quo, and who want to creatively enhance the rules," Crew said. "I genuinely recognize people for their creativity because I fundamentally believe this is how employee engagement soars and businesses get the best results."

Regardless of your role in an organization, you can help promote a creative environment where new ideas are embraced. Here are three more tips for inviting creativity into your workplace:

  1. Reward, rather than punish, creativity. Often employees need to be motivated to go the extra mile and share their creative solutions to problems. One way to encourage this type of sharing is to suggest that managers and supervisors offer tangible and intangible rewards for innovative ideas. Those who present an idea that is implemented could receive monetary incentives or recognition from the company. Regardless of the organization's budgets, there is almost always a way to incentive creative ideas that will benefit the entire workplace. A shout out for creative thinking can go a long way.
  1. Make suggestions anonymous. Some people don't want recognition but they do have important suggestions to share. Recommend an anonymous suggestion box in your office. This might encourage employees who might be too shy – or too afraid – to voice their ideas, especially if they are of a sensitive nature. Even the worst job should benefit from this.
  1. Suggest a brainstorming session. Have a problem at work that needs a creative solution? Ask your manager to block off time on the schedule for a group brainstorming session. As they say, two heads are better than one. Imagine the ideas you could generate with four or five or ten employees in on the conversation.

Perhaps it's not your worst job, but you're not excited by it. Ready to move to a company that values your creativity? Check out the tools at MyPerfectResume to get ahead of the pack.

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