How 'Creative Trespassing' Can Energize Your Work And Life

Published: Thursday, February 21, 2019 - 11:52am
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2019 - 7:28pm
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Tania Katan
Tania Katan.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Most people don't have jobs where they're able to challenge the status quo or do things that don't fit neatly into a corporate package and the emotional response could be to throw up your hands, say "forget this" and start looking for another place to work, or even more dramatically, you decide to follow your dream. But there are more practical ways to act and practical doesn't have to mean boring or by the numbers. It’s part of what author and performer Tania Katan writes about in her new book "Creative Trespassing: How to Put the Spark and Joy Back Into Your Work and Life." And she is with me. So Tania, let's start by defining what creative trespassing is.

TANIA KATAN: Yeah, it's about sort of sneaking more creativity and imagination into less overtly creative and imaginative spaces, like work. So that's the high level definition of it. Yeah and it comes out of the fact that I found myself as a theater person giving talks and workshops in companies and organizations and preaching the good word of creativity. And these are spaces that weren't overtly focused on creativity and yet the audiences would come up afterwards and almost in hushed tones say, "you know I have my degree in musical theater" or you know "I side hustle as a graphic designer." "I paint on the weekends" or "I'm in a band" and "I want to do what you're doing" and I'm like "I don't know what I'm doing." So there, I think I'm hiring. Yeah. So there was this, I felt like there was a need for people to stop making a separation between creativity and work, and actually infuse some of the imagination that we access or reserve for the weekends into our 9:00 to 5:00. And then yeah, so I started really like consciously exploring this working within organizations. So I'd say SMoCA when I was a…

GOLDSTEIN: Which we would think is a creative organization but it has probably structural stuff like any place does.

KATAN: Yeah, this was the cool thing. It was actually, it's a largely corporate structured environment. It has a board of directors and all that kind of stuff. And they hired me to think outside of the box so they're like "she's an outsider and wild, and we need wild and innovative programs" and then they stuck me in a cubicle and I was like "This isn't funny." OK well I'm going to mine this little space for opportunities instead of seeing limits, I'm going to see like what can I play with.

GOLDSTEIN: Ultimately, we're all sort of like "hey I'm going to do that step" like the people who came up to you afterwards. So how did you finally decide like you know that I'm going to either kick open the box or I'm going to get in my box be comfortable?

KATAN: Yeah. Actually there were a lot of years of feeling like I would never be "successful" in a traditional sense because I had like wild parents who didn't work regular jobs. And so like in two second versions, my dad was cabbie in Manhattan full time and then a part time amateur gambler and sometime day drinker. And my mom, she invented products that other people would invent first. So you know a lot of like the tuxedo shirt, that's mine. You know the tuxedo T-shirt, anyway. So I come from a long line of outsiders so I wasn't quite sure how to fit in or how to kind of plot a map towards a "successful career." And yeah. So I just I don't know I'd stay up late some nights and just look at Indeed. And when they had type in key words I'd say "lost" "help" "Funny?" You know you can imagine the job opportunities with that list. They were nonexistent.

GOLDSTEIN: Ok so let's go back into more specifics about your job at SMoCA. There was an advertisement. They're going to have this new space. They wanted some creative person who was going to do it differently. And then you went ahead and you actually got the job. So how did that ultimately affect where this creative trespassing all of this came from?

KATAN: So, yes so then I come to this organization. They're like "Tania, be wild, think outside the box, come up with cool ideas to bring in new audiences" and I'm like OK I will. And then I started to and people are like no you are. And the board of directors were like she's not working, she's just running around, having fun; as if the two are mutually exclusive like as if work and fun can not be connected. And I realized that I got more work done when I was more playful and engaging with my colleagues and getting to know them on an interpersonal level as opposed to like well our Q1 goals are due, or you know let's talk about the budget. And so my playful approach actually made the work that I did better and it allowed me, I came in, I was a department and a team of one. It was just me and I had a budget of a half of one and so it allowed me to be really creative and I formed my own team. You know it wasn't sanctioned but I'm like “OK there are a couple of docents who are really nice and I think they got my back and there's an AV guy from the theater across the way. Please help me sir.” And you know in the front desk staff at the museum and we all formed this team to make these programs happen. Nobody gave me permission. I just took it and they were wildly successful because they ticked all the boxes of my actual job description.

GOLDSTEIN: You're not telling everyone to quit their jobs. You're saying try to find. Because it is, a lot of people will say, even probably the same if we come up to you, they're probably saying to themselves, "Oh well, OK Tania's inspiring so what I'm going to do is I'm going to go chase my dream of whatever it may be because that's creative." Now are you saying that people can actually accomplish these goals within. I mean there are boundaries we know but they can find their way around like you did.

KATAN: Yeah this is absolutely one of the messages of Creative Trespassing because you know I have to say I think that having a job in many situations is a privilege. And we forget that. You know especially if you're reading like self-help books, it's like “quit your job and pursue your dreams” and then it's like, but I'm not going to pay your rent. You know like the self-help guru isn't like you going to throw down some money for lights. No, what I've experienced and what I've talked to other people who are imbedded in organizations is that if they kind of throw out the scripts and the rule books in order to serve everyone around them and the mission of the company, they can be wildly creative. And that's what people end up seeing in the world. And also just like on a very you know some people are like “I'm an introvert. I do not want to be performing at work. Like you Tania.” However I do want to have more of a sense of joy during 9 to 5. And so throughout the book I have these things called productive disruptions. So one of the productive disruptions is called “create a job title on purpose.” And you write down all the things that you love doing at work that enliven you and those around you. And the mission of your job. Then write another column of all the stuff that you need to do your responsibilities for your job. Pick something from column A and column B and then come up with the best job title, on purpose.

GOLDSTEIN: It's within all of us, you think?

KATAN: A lot of what I talk about in the book is self-limiting beliefs and we all have them. So to answer your question, we're not born with them. Good news! Spoiler alert! We can change them because they aren't a part of our DNA. So there are self-limiting beliefs I've heard when imbedded in organizations, sort of like, you can't do that: it's not best practices. Well maybe I don't want to do the best, maybe I won't do better than the best. Or maybe I want to fail so that I learn something so that I can do the best job. Everybody has a sense of an imagination. We are born with imagination in our bodies. Whether or not you choose to explore that is your choice. However this book will definitely teach you sort of bite size ways to practice being creative in a way that feels comfortable to you. So it's a practice, I mean honestly, it's like you know we talk about practicing medicine, sports figures go to practice. I mean, we, you know as creative people, we have a practice we don't just show up and say I'm awesome and I can figure out, I can solve any problem with my creativity. We practice and we fail. We make mistakes and then we learn and then we you know it's something we refer to as beta testing which is you know in technology. But technology has it right. They're like “OK beta test. We're going to throw this stuff out there that we think is pretty good to our intended audience. Then we're going to gather feedback from the people we want to use our product” and they're going to be like “oh he's awesome we're like I don't understand not use the intuitive” or whatever. And then they make it better and then they offer it up again.

GOLDSTEIN: Tania Katan is the author of "Creative Trespassing: How to Put the Spark and Joy Back Into Your Work and Life.” She'll be speaking at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts at 7pm on February 22nd. Tania always good to see you. Thanks.

KATAN: Thank you, Steve Goldstein. I love being in real time with you.

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