creative desperation for desperate times

My personal knowledge mastery framework was a result of creative desperation. I had just lost my job. My wife was a stay-at-home mother, we had two young children, and we live in a remote economically depressed part of the country. I had spent the last five years working for a learning technologies research centre and then an e-learning start-up. Suddenly I was a freelancer, physically disconnected from any potential clients. It was 1,000 KM to the nearest major urban centre.

Gary Klein’s research in, Seeing What Others Don’t, identified five general ways that we gain insights.

  1. Curiosity
  2. Connections
  3. Coincidences
  4. Contradictions
  5. Creative Desperation

I desperately needed a way to connect with potential clients, stay informed in my profession, and find colleagues to learn from. The inspiration came from Lilia Efimova in 2004. The desperation of a limited client base here in Atlantic Canada led me to focus globally. Blogging was the initial medium by which I reached out to the world.

In a conversation with Rob England yesterday we talked about the demise of blogging over the years. For example, a lot of my fellow bloggers are no longer writing in this form. But I have noticed a bit of a sea shift lately. My old friend Luis Suarez has come back to blogging, and it’s nice to see Lilia picking up the pace again at Mathemagenic. I recently wrote that we need to move back to slow media for the great reset that this pandemic may create. Slow media are a conduit for reflection and deeper conversations. Given that many workers are now realizing that a lot of their old work practices were unnecessary, we should all find ways to make better use of our time.

Creative desperation is what we do when we have run out of time or traditional options. Many of us are in that situation today. But creative desperation means sticking our necks out. When I started blogging, and had no revenue, my wife asked why I was giving away my knowledge for free. By doing so, nobody would hire me. This was quite rational advice. But desperate times called for desperate measures and so I kept connecting and putting my thoughts out in public. Some people likened blogging to having naked conversations. It can be scary at first.

As a freelancer I could experiment. There wasn’t much else to do anyway. But what about inside organizations, especially in today’s various states of lock-downs? Organizations have to be more forgiving of failure and let people experiment. If people cannot fail, they will go with what has been done before. They may be desperate, but they won’t be creative. Allowing failure can help develop a library of worst practices — lessons learnt. The organization can collect stories about both the successes and failures. Today’s management can still be demanding in getting work done, but there needs to be an escape valve so that creative desperation is an option.

Desperation without creativity is a sign of a dysfunctional management structure.

Here is my advice on how we can work smarter in a networked world.

  1. Slow down
  2. Connect
  3. Reflect
  4. Experiment


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