My last position at a large semiconductor company was one of the most fun assignments I ever had. I was responsible for seeing the future, and identify opportunities for the company. The job required a significant amount of creativity, the ability to foresee the future, and see where those opportunities were. Some of the ideas I generated had since been implemented, while others are still in development.

My daily routine started with reading, surfing the Internet, and expanding my horizon. The purpose of that activity was to increase the number of "old" ideas in my head, and thus increase the probability of two of those "colliding" in my medial pre-frontal cortex (typically, when I was in the shower...) to generate new ideas.

A big part of my day was dedicated to meet people in different business units at the company. The company's headquarters held more than 9,000 employees, so there was a lot of talent, knowledge, experience, and viewpoints to draw from.

I'm an extrovert. Although I enjoy speaking, and am very gregarious, that's not really what being an extrovert means. In the context of creativity, it means that in order to get new ideas I need people around me. Whether it's through ideas that come from them or, mainly, through bouncing ideas off of them. It was easy for me to generate ideas when I was around other people.

Then, I would go to my office and write down all my new ideas.

But there was a problem...

As research (including my own in Un-Kill Creativity: How Corporate America can Out-Innovate Startups) showed, autonomy is one of the most important factors affecting creativity. Not everyone wants autonomy, though. A study conducted at the Liverpool Hope University School of Business in 2014 showed that 78% of employees said that work autonomy was important to them, and also showed a strong correlation between autonomy, creativity, and productivity. But it also meant that 22% of the surveyed employees did not want autonomy, or thought it was unimportant to them.

I was in the 78%. Autonomy was important to me. It was more than important, it was critical. But--

My boss was a micro-manager...

Every time I would sit in his office and share my thoughts with him, he would give me other directions. He would criticize my work, and worst of all--he would go into the smallest of details of what I worked on, and would have an opinion on each one of those details. It drove me crazy. I didn't enjoy having those meetings with him. I tried to schedule those meetings towards the end of the day, so they will not ruin my creativity throughout the day. Of course, it typically ruined the rest of my evening. But one day I made an important discovery--

It was really my fault...

In one of those meetings, after my boss had discussed some of the minute details of my work and offered his opinion, I decided to confront him. I asked him why he was discussing my projects at such great detail. I explained to him that by doing that he was restricting my autonomy. I explained how important autonomy was for my ability to be creative. His answer surprised me. He said:

"If you don't want me to give you my opinion on every little detail, don't share every little detail with me."

It hit me like a five-pound hammer. He wasn't asking me for the details. I was the one scheduling those meetings with him. I was the one sharing the smallest details of my projects with him. Why was I expecting him not to offer his opinion on what I was sharing?

Because of the hierarchical relationship between us, I interpreted his comments on my project as marching orders. I interpreted them as an attempt to micro-manage me. I didn't interpret the same in meetings I had with others in the company, because I had no supervisor-subordinate relationship with them. It was really my fault.

The conclusion:

You can restrict your own autonomy through the amount of involvement you invite from your boss. Keep your boss appraised at the big picture level of your project. If you are an extrovert and feels the need to discuss your ideas with others, do that freely, but just not with your boss.

It also proves another point--that corporate culture starts with you. Not your boss.

Published on: Jun 23, 2017
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