Finding creativity in non-creative work

Is there really such a thing as a non-creative industry?

Donn shares how creativity can be brought into seemingly regimental and repetitive work/industries, and how new ideas generated from a different perspective can resonate more deeply with people. Yet, creativity doesn’t always need to result in a large transformation to the workplace, as incremental improvements also has its place in evolving the industry.


  • “I think human beings… have a potential to bring some newness to things, even if it’s a very regimented, repetitive type of industry.”
  • Even in any kind of regular, repetitive practice, people are always involved, and there will always be ways into inject creativity into such processes that will resonate with people
  • “There are sometimes ways to use a different method that relates better to people than let’s just look at our excel sheet / implement another rule / send out another complaining email to get people to do things.”
  • There are two sides to using creativity in the workplace: evolving and improving the business or industry for survival, and being able to fully express yourself through and in doing your work
  • There isn’t always a need for change, and there is value in people who are reliable, unchanging and predictable; they provide a sense of certainty when you work with them
  • Not everyone will be willing to shake the status quo; there is a place for both people who are reliable and stick to incremental improvements, and those who shake things up to find the next big transformation; both elements are equally important
  • Creativity in the workplace doesn’t only mean generating creative solutions; “you might need to be creative with how you get the solution to be bought in.”
  • Sometimes when proposing change or a new idea, you may not need to call it “design” or “creativity” or other Design Thinking buzzwords in order to gain traction
  • At the heart of it, creativity is both about finding a new way and also finding a way that resonates with people

Full Transcript

Sometimes you’ll be surprised that this fun explorations or newness, that you try to bring as the creative distinctiveness, might determine the next evolution in the business.

When we’re outside of the creative industry, how do you bring creativity into another job that may come across as a little bit more unchanging, more repetitive, like numbers crunching and things like that, how do we bring creativity into it?

Well the first challenge is to think of whether there is such a thing as a non-creative industry. I think human beings being in any of the fields that you can work in have a potential to bring some newness to things, even if it’s a very regimented, repetitive type of industry.

Well, I would say the first… if we go back to the example we gave earlier on like the water bottle, I think in any kind of regular, repetitive practice, you are still usually dealing with people, some level of communication right and some task at hand.

You could start from there to say that, hey instead of always seeing my work as this function to fulfil this mechanical task, I realised that there are people involved in this and what resonates with people?

Let’s make a list; people like food, people like fun, people like friendship, people like a sense of recognition/belonging. Now if you take any of these elements, just as part of a long list, alone and put it into your context of work to say, hey can we do this such that maybe colleague A and colleague B would find a bit more collaboration in the steps that they take to achieve the task, so that then at least they form a friendship? Or maybe they just find it more satisfying doing it with someone else.

There are also other things that can be brought into the picture, say if we’ve never considered solving the problem with food, because how do we solve an accounting issue with food right? And nobody really thinks along that line. But the moment that you start to say, “Let’s consider this possibility,” then maybe some kind of way to get people who do not file their receipts well in a team can be done over a monthly makan session: sit down, have a cup of coffee everybody, now these two hours, food is sponsored, file your receipts during these two hours.

There are sometimes ways to use a different method that relates better to people than let’s just look at our excel sheet, let’s implement another rule, let’s send out another complaining email to get people to do things. There are many more inspiration sources possible.

I mean, really speaking of the cuff here so some of this may sound rather unformed, but that hopefully gives you a sense of how in every place, there can be some difference brought if you bring some alternative type of thinking to the way things are solved.

So when you were talking about how to apply creative means to a more regimented work flow, I was actually thinking about what would even trigger someone to want to change the status quo in a creative manner? Because sometimes I guess when things are working and even though they may be tedious or not as fun to do, if they work then people might question, why do we need to change?

Yeah, there sometimes isn’t the need for change. And I think depending on the person, some people are, in our experience, really reliable because they are unchanging and you know that everything that they do is very predictable so that gives you a certain sense of certainty when you work with them; you put A in, B comes out for example.

I suspect that for many others, their strength and talent is not in feeling a passion for work that is like that. I think many people would rather have a bit more variety, maybe because I suppose that most of us are, as human beings, made to be somewhat creative right at least improving things.

So I think that what might be impetus for status quo shifting could just be that you do something a little bit more interesting, your work is a bit more fun, you bring some newness.

And sometimes you’ll be surprised that this fun explorations or newness, that you try to bring as the creative distinctiveness, might determine the next evolution in the business, because new solutions come out that others haven’t really tried and that whole industry evolves. So there’s both a very practical side to it for evolving, improving things; there’s a very strong survival side to creativity and then of course that’s the other thing about just expressing fully who you are, like do you want to just do your job or do you want to do it in a way that you bring yourself to it, all your differences, your uniqueness to it.

I think one cannot really force everyone to have this type of willingness to shake the status quo, and I think there are place for people who shake it a little but very reliably, to always do incremental improvements, I think that’s very important too. And there are others, maybe a bit more like us, our kind of wiring is to shake it very big to find the next transformation. That’s just how we are with our type of wiring. We need all of these elements in place, that incremental improvements… And I suspect that having that very steady, reliable, constant is also a type of skill set and a place to play to have things run well. So if you ask me, I’m biased, I would say that like hey let’s always change the status quo.


Our podcast usually ends here, but we have a follow-up question from Kevin, who’s on the podcast team.

It’s more of our opinion thing, but how valuable do you think all these three-month design courses for leadership and C-suite are in implementing change in the company, since they can’t really exercise it super well unless you train it up like a good muscle? And with this short time span, it’s kind of a small dip into the stuff, is it really worthwhile?

Well maybe one question to ask you, is would you like your boss to be more creative with the way he handles and shapes your employment? That’s one right, and if he’s not, because he’s like what you’re supposing here, can’t get trained and equipped well enough in like a short session to be creative enough. Are you at least kind of hopeful that he will be open to it and get exposed to it, perhaps such that he might get someone who is trained to do it, or he might be open to how you suggest a different way? I mean, these are valuable change right?

The underlying concern or the underlying thing under is just that when you find yourself unable to train an entire department, it becomes a very uphill battle to implement. So that’s why I think that’s partly where it comes from. Because i mean you always need your boss to be on board with your idea then after that, you need your boss to train everyone else with his own limited design experience, then that becomes a very big uphill battle.


You see, one is solving the creative challenge of the task itself, and then you have a creative solution. You might need to be creative with how you get the solution to be bought in.

So there is using of creativity for that purpose too. And sometimes it is about not calling it design, because what is design? It’s just really intending right, a certain type of way of operating, so if you sometimes don’t call it design in an organisation and say, hey I have a good idea to solve this problem or to improve this thing, or I have some good idea to save your course every month, or I have some good idea to make our teammates a lot happier… You don’t mention creativity, you don’t mention design, maybe it gets a bit more traction than the moment you say, “Hey I went to this design thinking course, we should change this!” Then you’d be like, “Uh suspicious, this design thinking thing again.”

So at the heart of things, creativity is both like finding a new way, and at the same time finding a way that resonates with people, so you have to find both. And implementation challenges usually are about finding a way that can resonate with people.

Desiree Lim, Kevin Yeo, Matthew Wong


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