Don’t Ask “Gifted Employees” To STRETCH If You Don’t Mean It

In elementary school I was considered a tenacious student. I was advanced in many of my subjects and became bored with the status quo.  Never afraid to voice my opinion, I was the kid that only had one question.  Why?  I never understood why a teacher had to give me constant direction and I really only liked the teachers that gave me room to think.  I also wanted to lead the other students.  I wanted to organize them for projects and sometimes, for protests.   If you’ve met me, there will be no surprise there because it really still describes my style and approach to life.

giftedI share that story because when you were considered “gifted” back in the 1980’s (and maybe even today), schools would put you in a special program to hopefully provide challenging learning.  Ours was called STRETCH.  I remember going to take the test to determine whether or not I would be accepted into the program.  I was in the third grade.  I recall that one of the tests involved a whole page of circles and the instructions were to use lines to make the circles into something else.  Well, being the creative thinker I am, I didn’t make the “normal” or expected clock or basketball.  I added lines to the outsides of the circles and changed them into lemons and balloons.  I changed them into objects that had circles inside them.  I truly thought “outside the box”, or circle, as it was.  Well, turns out, that was too radical and I was not accepted.  The next year when I went to take the test, I drew all the expected items like clocks and basketballs.  I was quickly accepted into the program.

The significance is that even then, I learned that people really don’t want your creativity.  They say they do.  They may test you and tell you they do.  But, when real creativity comes out, they become afraid and push you back into the box you popped out of.  It’s disheartening.  I’ve seen this happen in every job I’ve ever held.  Employers usually want creative conformity.

So, what does this mean if you’re heart and mind make you a highly creative thinker?  

Well, as I see it, you have choices.  You can conform to the status quo and be unhappy or you can let your creativity shine and maybe not have solid roots planted for very long.  To me, the world needs the risk-takers, the people who push limits and who want to bust up the status quo.  You wouldn’t want  a whole department of us, but one or two may be just the spark you need to turn your department or organization around.  At any rate, the lesson is not to ask employees to be highly creative if you don’t mean it and don’t plan to support it.

What do you think?  Are you highly creative and if so, how has that impacted you at work?  If you’re not, how has hiring highly creative people worked in your organization?  Did they make it long term?  I’d love to hear your comments.