How to be more creative at work

, ,

My current favorite blogger is Dave Portnoy at Barstool Sports. (Not safe for work.) His topic, as far as I can tell, is smut and snobbery. I think that even though my blog is pointed at the intersection of life and work, I wish it were at the intersection of smut and snobbery. Because I am an aficionado of smut, and I could use a place to show off.

This is my favorite blog post ever by Dave: The Thong is Dead. (Maybe not safe for work.) He does so many great things in that post. He has genuine social commentary about who decides what is fashionable underwear. He shows us a glimpse into his personal life because he has an underwear discussion with his wife. And he provides a great photo of a girls's ass, in boyshorts. All this in 500 words.

For me to get all of that into one post would take about 1000 words. Seth Godin writes posts like that—dependably dense: really short but packed with value—but never as scintillatingly smutty as Dave. Where Seth makes a living as a high-paid speaker by republishing a compendium of blog posts every two years, Dave can make a living as the intelligentsia by repackaging other peoples' soft porn.

Do you know the Approval Matrix in New York magazine? No? You have to look at it. New York magazine has perfected a way to showcase the thrill that is behind the brilliance of low-brow culture. Recent example:

Highbrow and despicable: Franco Zefferellis says the soprano in his opera is too fat.

Highbrow and brilliant: When the production goes to Rome, she quits.

Brilliant and highbrow: The book titled Benefits of Looking Up, which is a series of photographs of balloons that got stuck in trees.

Brilliant and lowbrow: An online video of some guys jumping off Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building.

I am obsessed with the meshing of lowbrow and highbrow. I'm convinced that if you understand high brow well, then you are also a great judge of low brow, and you can get even more pleasure out of that.

This reminds me of when I used to hang out with a woman who was a Ralph Lauren model. Neither of us had very much money because I was playing professional beach volleyball which meant I was living off sponsors (I spent my days in a bagel shop that sponsored me with free food), and she used to be a Ralph Lauren model, but she cut off her hair because she thought she might be gay and she was living off residuals (checks that comes in when ads run months or years later).

So we'd hang out in my bagel shop, usually with way too much food on our plates because I was bulimic and she was a hoarder, and the food was free. My friend's clothes were always a little raggedy because she decided it was cheaper to get ten-cent shirts from the thrift shop than to pay to clean clothes at the laundromat. And I always had a little too much sand in my hair, and it fell onto the table, and since the only new clothes I had were from sponsors, I always looked like I was at the beach even when I was at the bagel shop.

We always sat in a corner because it was too much trouble to try to pass for regular. But still guys would come up to us and they would look at her and feel like they just discovered America. They were Christopher Columbus and she was the untouched new nation (and I was a native they might have to kill.) The guys loved thinking they discovered a street person who looks like a model. They thought they had an eye for lowbrow.

They were morons, of course, because every guy in the whole world was attracted to my friend, and every guy thought he was the only one. “Here's my card. I could do so much for you,” guys would tell her. As if she wasn't already under contract with a modeling agency, violating it with short hair.

My point here: there is a little-acknowledged thrill in uncovering low brow while seeing the high brow in it. It's why I love Barstool Sports. It's also why I know that every job is creative. There are ideas that people dismiss as not right. Not intellectual enough. Not how we think. But there are gems. The creativity, in any job, is finding the gems among the discards. It's thrilling to do. Even if you're wrong sometimes. And the rewards are huge. After all, Barstool Sports is making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

87 replies
Newer Comments »
  1. Sophia
    Sophia says:

    Seriously? That site is the best example?

    Yikes. Crappy writing and bad pictures. Lame sense of humor. Plus a highly exaggerated sense of self-importance, to boot.

    No, thanks – I’ll stick with Kissing Suzy Kolber for outstandingly creative vulgarity, smut – and some of the funniest damn writing I’ve seen. Makes this guy look like a 4th grader.

  2. Erin
    Erin says:

    Why would you link to a blog post where the author says that a woman in a bar not wearing a thong is a “fat bitch”? Did you think about what that sentence means? If a woman is fat then I hate her and call her a bitch? If a woman’s not wearing a thong, i.e. wearing uncomfortable underwear for the sake of sexiness, then it’s because she’s fat, and because she’s angry/difficult.. i.e. a bitch?

    Or you could say I’m reading way too much into it and that all he really meant with that sentence was “I hate women.”

    I love your blog. I thought very highly of you when I saw how you handled the miscarraige flap on television, and the way you directed the conversation toward abortion rights. That’s part of why this is so disappointing: I saw you speak up for women’s rights on tv, and now (as a post-bulimic woman, no less!) you’re linking to this guy who says… that. Ugh.

  3. sadya
    sadya says:

    PT could you please give a heads-up on twitter whenever u post a blog on your site. i have to randomly keep checking your blog throughout day/week to see if you’ve posted anything new.

    • onegirl
      onegirl says:

      If you look at the top right side of the blog, there is a place where you can subscribe. Once you do that, you get an email whenever a new post appears.

  4. Eddie
    Eddie says:

    Being creative comes with great risk at times. For example, it’s 1:20 a.m. and I’m still at work. Why? Because I tried to do something creative for this company (i.e., find ways to save money). They have 2 new digital printers which are down most of the time because there isn’t enough work to print. Post-holiday until spring seems to be a tough time for print media. So, like a nice guy and as their new production supervisor, I suggested ways to save money to somewhat offset the enormous lease on their new digital printers. Apparently the existing procedure involved pre-cutting 11 x 17 paper down to 8.5 x 11 then printing on the smaller sheets, despite their lease stipulating that a 11×17 print costs the same as an 8.5×11. Illogical? You bet! So, like a nice guy, I suggest printing 2 units for the price of one then cutting it in half… presto exchange-o… a ____ % profit. You fill in the blank because my brain is shot. This all sounds easy enough, right? Wrong! The printer’s processing software is not user friendly and it took me about 8 hours of my own time to study it’s advanced features, run test prints and produce a desired final result. And as a treat, I now have to document how I produced this minor miracle so that it can be repeated. I realize this initial investment of time and energy will reward this firm with profit, but my ass is sore from sitting so long, and my lungs and eyes are sore from the printers’ ozone exhaust. So… in short… beware! Creativity can leave you with a sore ass.

    • tattooboy
      tattooboy says:

      Hear Hear brother, I know about how creativity can leave you with a angry behind, it’s good to think on your feet though, that’s what I do, the majority of my planning creative or otherwise on my feet while I’m looking after my kids than whatever I do after happens a lot faster.

  5. Jess @OpenlyBalanced
    Jess @OpenlyBalanced says:

    “There are ideas that people dismiss as not right. Not intellectual enough. Not how we think.”

    I think that last is super important. Sometimes ideas are discarded because they’re not how we think, but it is exactly that which makes them so brilliant. Many great outside-of-the-box ideas were saved from the cutting room floor. But I’m sure just as many (if not more) are never given a chance to become the gems they have the potential to be. I’m a big fan of anyone who takes a risk on a “not how we think” idea – it’s the only way great things happen.

  6. Erin
    Erin says:

    Did you choose not to display my comment because I pointed out your hypocrisy? Would it have been better if I just called you an idiot instead?

      • Jens Fiederer
        Jens Fiederer says:

        I thought it might have been her earlier comment beginning with “Why would you link to a blog post where the author says that a woman in a bar not wearing a thong”.

        Possibly it just took a while to make it in (or her browser did not refresh cache) and she commented in haste?

  7. Mark
    Mark says:

    Ouch! Going right off the rails; I had to come and see what kind of comments you’d be getting from this one. I love that you love this site – “Because I am an aficionado of smut, and I could use a place to show of,” please, do go on.

  8. Erika Harris
    Erika Harris says:

    “We always sat in a corner because it was too much trouble to try to pass for regular.”

    I’m so glad you’re out of the corner :-) And love your irregularity.

    I think you were overly-generous with Portnoy, but I get your point: contrast makes everything more interesting and fueled with creative potential. Like sperm and egg.

  9. Lynn Kennedy
    Lynn Kennedy says:

    I once tried to be ‘creative’ at work..get that – ONCE. I tried like our intrepid software printing friend posted below, to save my org $$. Turned out after all my work and sweat when I reported to my boss what I had found out, his offhand comment (and he thought very little of me to start with) was Oh someone already tried that and it didn’t work.
    Now I work for the fed’s in Cda and to try to be creative? gimme a break. I can barely get thru the day most times due to the stagnant atmosphere around here. There is no room in upper mgt’s mind for ‘creative’. I get creative when I get home if I haven’t had my creativity beaten out of me. Leave my job you say for a more creative one? I wish on that one too…$$ and pension keeps me stuck. Sorry to be a downer but creativity in the workplace is highly overated and tough to accomplish. thanks for all your inspiring work tho cause it keeps me going on a daily basis!

  10. Dale
    Dale says:

    Easy to say hard to do:) That’s why so few people succeed with this, or even try – even though it’s worth it!

  11. Bob
    Bob says:

    I’ve been reading “Free Play”, about improvisation in life and art. i saw the title of your post and was excited about syncing up your thoughts on creativity with my new perspective. That was a reach, but smutsnobbery sounds like fun.

  12. Karen
    Karen says:

    THIS is sheer brilliance!

    “They were Christopher Columbus and she was the untouched new nation (and I was a native they might have to kill.) The guys loved thinking they discovered a street person who looks like a model. They thought they had an eye for lowbrow.”

    And the way you weaved the bagel shop story: hell, I was there!

    • Michael Fontaine
      Michael Fontaine says:

      I KNOW! This is the best thing Penelope’s written all year. Best, in this case, just means most creative.

  13. CK
    CK says:

    Agreed, I’ve thrown out many creative ideas in my days, either to have someone take it and run and take the credit or just have it shot down with no discernable explanation. Usually, it’s the “that’s not how we do it, but we will continue to keep you in the dark, so keep swinging away,” look. I haven’t given up but I don’t expect a tangible return. I guess you would say that I am more of an enabler now. Makes you not want to stick your neck out for your company, as the head just gets chopped off.

  14. Matt Wrench
    Matt Wrench says:

    “The creativity, in any job, is finding the gems among the discards. It's thrilling to do. Even if you're wrong sometimes.”

    But how does one manage being both creative and mitigating risk to a reasonable level? Jumping on to every idea seems like a good way to destroy your long-term effectiveness.

    • Jess @OpenlyBalanced
      Jess @OpenlyBalanced says:

      Actually, there’s a lot of evidence that jumping on every idea, or at least more ideas, increases your long term effectiveness, particularly for creative jobs. Incredibly successful people, in addition to having more successes, also have WAY more failures than people performing at the “normal” level. Steven Spielberg is the one I hear cited as an example most frequently. In order to end up with more successful results, you have to try (and therefore fail) more.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        That’s a really good point — that people who are wildly successful generally can point to more failures than the average person. And in order to fail more, you have to try more ideas than the average person.

        Something I have had to teach myself to do is to squash my own propensity to say no to ideas as soon as I hear them.


  15. Chris Yeh
    Chris Yeh says:

    KSK is a good sports+smut blog. So is With Leather, though the running gags about the writers’ propensity for hookers and masturbation are a little over the top.

    • Sophia
      Sophia says:

      I think that’s why I singled out KSK above, too. Raunchy, vulgar, disgusting – but the content and the writing are over-the-top brilliant.

      This post talked about merging highbrow and lowbrow – but that is INCREDIBLY difficult to achieve. It’s easy to be vulgar and grab attention; it’s much harder to do it in a way that’s actually smart and appealing. That Barstool site is a mess – all hot pictures and titillation, plastered with ads to generate cash, but with no substance or humor to back it up. Lame.

  16. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    In order to be creative at work you have to care about what you do.

    It’s much easier to coast at work and be creative in the things I actually care about, that don’t earn me money.

  17. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    Brilliant and lowbrow sounds like the new shabby chic. I like it. I still hate thongs, though, and I consider myself neither fat, nor a bitch.
    Anyhow. Beautiful and hilarious metaphor on discovering America in your friend. I do think you could take that last paragraph, though, and elaborate, inserting a personal example from your workplace of how someone has found a gem among the discards. I loved the pay-per-view art anecdote from that last link, the one written in 2002, but not everyone is going to click on it, nor does it cite how you or one of your colleagues has been creative at work, which I think would be more believable than Mr. Portnoy.

  18. julia
    julia says:

    the title of this blog had little to do with the post. Entertaining as usual but not particularly “how to”.

  19. Lori
    Lori says:

    I have yet to read the sites you refer to – looking forward to them. However, I love your point. Thanks for reminding everyone that “The creativity, in any job, is finding the gems among the discards. It's thrilling to do. Even if you're wrong sometimes. And the rewards are huge.”

    And the rewards don’t have to be financial.

  20. Deborah
    Deborah says:

    Your posts usually point me to some interesting reading, but “The Thong is Dead?” No, no, and no. Crappy writing, questionable jokes, and basically just mediocre woman hating shit that the average frat boy can write. This is your favorite blog post?? Wow.

  21. justamouse
    justamouse says:

    “But still guys would come up to us and they would look at her and feel like they just discovered America.”

    That line is brilliant. I need a drink it’s so good.

    • Lola
      Lola says:

      In some Spanish-speaking countries, “Discovering America” is an expression that means more or less, ‘stating the obvious’. It’s funny to see how a cliché in one language becomes something fresh and witty in another.

      PS I’m not trashing the writer: really, the sand in the hair/bagels/stinky clothes/bulimia part was so well-written, that almost make me throw up my non-fat chai latte.

  22. Walt
    Walt says:

    I LOVE Barstool Sports…have been reading it for about two years now and I’ve been reading you for about 6 months. Never would have guessed that you read the stool!

  23. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    Ok, to connect to Bartstool Sports (I couldn’t read more than one post–too ugly and manic) and your lowbrow/highbrow stance: his wife is wrong about Vogue and Cosmo.

    Both suck but Cosmo is more useful.

  24. Mike
    Mike says:

    I know what you mean – even the crappiest of jobs, the worst of work has opportunities for creativity. (Although I tend to believe that creativity is useless if you’re not getting credit for it)

    Not sure what you meant on that highbrow/lowbrow stuff. I don’t worry about whether something is high or lowbrow, s’long as I like it.

    Besides, many of the things we consider ‘highbrow’ was actually rather lowbrow at some point in history.

  25. Barb
    Barb says:

    “a great photo of a girls's ass”?

    When my friends and I were in our twenties, hanging in bars, hearing people older than 40 (who still hung out with our age group) talk like this, we referred to them as “Dirty Old Men” and “Dirty Old Ladies”. We assumed they had never progressed emotionally past their teen years and pitied them.

    Poor Penelope. Poor Farmer. Innocent Poor Children. How truly pathetic.

  26. Jens Fiederer
    Jens Fiederer says:

    Or maybe the Dirty Old People had progressed emotionally to where they realized that some things just never change and didn’t feel the need to hide it from overcritical young whippersnappers?

    – Dirty and Proud

    • Barb
      Barb says:

      Or maybe not.

      The only person you can change is yourself Proud Dirt Wallower. If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

      Moral and Happy

  27. Jens Fiederer
    Jens Fiederer says:

    Why on earth would I want to change? As you say, “if you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem”, and I see the problem as people who get too caught up in concealing their desires behind some elaborate facade they think would be more pleasing.

    And “wallow”? Please. Dirt must be sampled with a mercurial grace.

    • thatgirlinnewyork
      thatgirlinnewyork says:

      word. larry craig, mark sanford anyone? if you have to call yourself “moral” then it sounds more like you’re struggling with it than owning it via your behavior. morality isn’t a competitive sport, unless you really do feel you have jesus’ private line on speed dial.

    • Barb
      Barb says:

      “He who says there is no such thing as an honest man, you may be sure is himself a knave.” George Berkely

      Part of the problem I see is girls being objectified which leads to many more “dirty” things that you probably wouldn’t “object” to either. Continue sampling and Wallow on. . . .

      • Jens Fiederer
        Jens Fiederer says:

        Although a more honest man than me would be hard to find, the girls seem to enjoy a bit of honest knavery.

        Most girls don’t really object to being seen as sex objects, they rather enjoy it in my experience – as long as they are not seen MERELY as sex objects. That’s a two way street – as long as they respect my intelligence (and the fact that my wife is the most important woman to me) I quite enjoy their little flirtations.

  28. Bob Jones
    Bob Jones says:

    I’m wondering where you came up with the figure that Barstool Sports makes “hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.” No way that’s even close to true.

    • Barb
      Barb says:

      To Dirty and Proud –

      Rest assured, the young girls that you oggle talk among themselves about how much they respect your intellect and how lucky your wife is to be married to you. (No, that couldn’t be oinking noises you hear them making).

      Maybe the only one you lie to is yourself.

      • Jens Fiederer
        Jens Fiederer says:

        Much the same way they talk when I am present, except for the animal noises – sounds cute, though.

        If they didn’t want you to look, they wouldn’t be so forward about showing you. Not that the older ones don’t enjoy the attention as well.

  29. moooooog35
    moooooog35 says:

    I like to think I’m much funnier than Dave but don’t ever tell him that because I’ve asked him for a job a couple of times and even though he’s taken out a restraining order on me and – sadly – sent his attack dogs for me, I’m still hopeful.

    I mean, someone has to help him spend those hundreds of thousands of dollars in income, right? RIGHT?!

  30. Kyle
    Kyle says:

    All you guys have sticks up your asses. El Pres is the man…and I’m happy that an intelligent woman takes his posts as they should be taken; with a grain of salt. In this day and age too many people get bent out of shape for the stupidest reasons. The comments in this section are case in point. Clearly your senses of humor are lacking. Penelope, I’m happy your’s is not…keep up the good work. And to the rest of you: VIVA LA STOOL, BITCHES!!!

    • Barb
      Barb says:

      C’mon Penelope. These are the guys that praise your intelligence. The objectification of women in our country causes many other social ills. There are few other better reasons to get bent out of shape but these guys want you to believe that women who oppose them have no sense of humor (or that most girls don’t really object, or they are bitches, or crazy, or immoral themselves, or that they really want them, etc, etc.)

      Can you comprehend how much a part of the solution you could become?

      There is a correlation between morality and True happiness.

  31. James Dekmatras
    James Dekmatras says:

    I did the same thing when I had no washing machine at home. But I only did this with my underwear. It was way cheaper to buy new socks than to let my old socks cleaned at the laundry. These were the days. And nowadays I have a washing machine and I have never have to buy new socks, because I have enough socks for my entire life.

  32. Kate
    Kate says:

    That CAN’T be the right link to Dave’s article. That CAN’T be Dave’s article, in fact, because there’s a photo of the original article in that summary. The summary, by the way, is disgusting. It lost me at “chick” and “fat bitch,” but the last two sentences, “Sluts read Cosmo. Live and learn,” really hammered home the gender shaming.

    Penelope, please don’t link to woman-hating shit like this; high traffic only encourages more of the same. I’m guessing it’s a mistake.

    HERE is the right link/article:

    • Jens Fiederer
      Jens Fiederer says:

      YOUR article can’t be Dave’s article, because the Cosmo article you link to was written by a Jessica, not by a Dave. It seems more likely that “elpresidente” is a Dave than that “Jessica” is a Dave, although I don’t know how Penelope figured out the Daveness.

      Since she clearly labels (and appreciates it) as “smut”, finding it is not highbrow hardly makes it a mistake.

  33. Jon Chambers
    Jon Chambers says:

    I must take issue with the presumption that being creative at work is a positive thing. More often than not, doing one’s job efficiently and productively is contrary to being creative.

  34. Clinton Dock
    Clinton Dock says:

    Creativity is by born. It can’t be achieved. If we see in history we will see most creative people were peculiar in nature. Everyone thought them mad.
    So in real life you can’t be creative. But you can try to make new things.In this way one day we will be succeeded to do new things.
    However thanks the writer for nice posts.It helps to think

Newer Comments »

Comments are closed.