The M Dash

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Creativity in Every Job: What’s Your Professional Canvas?

April 27, 2018 | Filed in: Your Brain

With A Certain Ease, our latest collection, we created looks that are ideal for the creative-casual woman. We’ve been thinking about creativity at work ever since—and we’re of the mind that all jobs are creative in their own ways. Below, five women from different industries tell us about their professional canvases.  

“Most people see medicine as a black-and-white field, but as a surgeon, creativity is an important part of my job. When I see patients who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer, I have to work with them to come up with a safe and cosmetically acceptable treatment plan, which means that three women with the same diagnosis could end up with three radically different surgical plans.

We also get to be more hands-on while in surgery, and that’s when the art of surgery really comes into play. In some ways, it’s very similar to sculpture—we need to be aware of and in tune with how the different tissues behave. There are no set rules, but many guidelines, so we have to approach every case individually, get the tumor removed safely, and reconstruct the breast in a way that minimizes the changes from the surgery. I’m always incredibly happy when we can reconstruct a breast that matches the patient’s other, non-operated breast, and allows her to not be reminded of her surgery and diagnosis on a daily basis.”

—Sarah, Surgeon

“Marketing is a great place for creative minds, because it is both science and art. We have to constantly think of innovative ways to reach people: Are they interested in certain podcasts? Do they follow certain niche topics online? Are they searching for specific products, such as plus size clothing? Once we know the answers to these questions, we can think of unique ways to advertise to those customers.

One recent project I’ve worked on is figuring out how to reach commuters. Since the cost of ads on the New York City subway is quite high, we thought creatively about other places we could advertise to busy professional women while they’re commuting or traveling—and ultimately ended up working with a company that provides WiFi in airports.”

—Lu, Digital Marketing Director

“I believe programming is a creative field, despite stereotypes you may have heard about STEM. There are many ways to solve coding problems, and I try to think of many ideas and then pick the best one. For example, I recently built a custom calendar for my team. It might not sound like the most exciting endeavor in the world, but it was invigorating for me because in engineering, getting to build something from scratch is kind of the dream. We could have used one of many outside calendar libraries that are available, but that wouldn’t have been any fun. Instead, I got to use our specific design guidelines to come up with fun ways to break down the functionality and visuals on the page. Seeing the result on-screen feels like I got to make a work of art!”

—Natalie, Engineer

“As a clinical social worker in a primary care practice, I often receive referrals for patients who have no previous psychotherapy experience at all and are quite skeptical of therapy. So for me, the moments that require the most creativity at work involve figuring out how to tailor my approach to a less-than-engaged patient in a way that will not immediately turn them off, but rather ‘meet them where they are at’ (a mantra in social work). This ‘warm hand-off’ often has to happen in under ten minutes during a medical visit, where my goal is to get them to schedule an initial consultation with me before they leave, so it requires my full focus.”

—Leslie, Therapist

“People probably think all I do in finance is stare at numbers in a giant Excel sheet. 90% of the time, they’re right. The other 10% of the time, I’m in meetings working with business partners and thinking about what kind of Excel models I can build to help them. I’m just going to say it: There’s an underrated beauty to Excel modeling. Two ways that I like to inject creativity into Excel are:

  • Giving the lay of the land: Including instructions and color legend in every Excel file is essential. In particular, people need to know which cells they can play around with (these are known as ‘input’ cells) and which ones they can’t (these are ‘calculation’ cells, a.k.a. ‘Don’t touch these or else this model will break’ cells).
  • Visualizing whenever possible: I use charts to show trends and conditional formatting that will show results in different colors, indicating whether they are good (green) or bad (red). My secret weapons are data bars and spark lines (a spark line is like a mini graph within a cell—amazing!).

My favorite Excel nerd moment: Prior to sending a model to my boss, I created a macro that was triggered when you tried to close the file. A pop-up would appear with the message ‘Dear [Username], I am not done with you yet. Don’t close me.’ It was a slow week.”

Jacqueline, Senior Manager, Financial Planning & Analysis


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