How to be more creative at work

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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.

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  1. David
    David says:

    Barstool Sports is awesome!! I got introduced to it when I was studying abroad by a buddy of mine from Boston. I didnt realize that it had become anything of note outside of the boston area, however. The guy is hilarious! if you do not like the content, feel free not to go there. I am not going to go read a gushy romantic site unless I want to make my girlfriend weak at the knees. Girls, dont go to barstool unless you want to know what your man wants from life/you and what he thinks is funny.

  2. Donald James
    Donald James says:

    You know, I sat back and had to think about this for a while. I worked for a very large Fortune 50 retailer in the midwest for a number of years that was insanely focused on ‘branding’ – highly influenced by Seth Godin’s work.

    What you’ve stumbled on is a bit of the secret sauce to our branding efforts. Highbrow and lowbrow mixes are, essentially, ‘purple cow’ techniques to assist the branding effort – the gems you’ve discovered are part of that equation. These gems can actually drive your business.

  3. Andre
    Andre says:

    Branding is a very interesting field of work. Im interested in converting into it from my PR position. I find that it offers alot more room for creativity.

  4. homeowner28
    homeowner28 says:

    How to be creative at work? Just love what you are doing and appreciate every task or work you make. Have enough time to rest, take some nap ofcourse if it is break time lol. Dont sleep during work lol

  5. sexpertzone28
    sexpertzone28 says:

    Trade environments. Going somewhere else to generate ideas – the park, a toy store or even someone else’s conference room – will stimulate fresh thinking.

  6. Jonha
    Jonha says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I love how you make transition from a single thought to another and still put them well together. I really love how your descriptive thoughts.


  7. Ian
    Ian says:

    Sorry Penelope, I can’t say that I agree with you about “Barstool Sports”. I agree this guy is sharp and I am certainly not anti-smut, but a lot of his comment is just too in your face for my liking. What gets to me most though is the ugliness of his site – this sort of site makes my head spin as soon as I arrive. Being a designer, aesthetics colour my view of most things in life. Let me tell you Penelope, you leave this guy standing, I have only recently discovered you but you are already one of my faves. Your writing style is an inspiration and the style of your blog is crisp and well thought out – I approve big time!
    But hey, it’s true what they say – “the world would be a very boring place if we all liked the same things”.
    Keep up the great work that you are doing here.

  8. Bootmatras
    Bootmatras says:

    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.

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