Whistle While You Work—And Doodle and Make Tin-Foil Flowers, Too

I don’t want to brag, but I was the belle of the ball at my hometown pizzeria in suburban Maryland.

During my three months there as a waitress, a few of the dish washers had a bit of a crush on me. I always had bread crumbs in my hair and permanently smelled like garlic, so this doesn’t surprise me.

Of all my prospective suitors, Lucio was my favorite. He spent a good portion of his time making me roses out of tin foil, often getting in trouble for doing so when he should have been sweeping up the kitchen or cleaning the coleslaw grater.

But what our close-minded owner didn’t realize is that Lucio was simply expressing his creativity—and love for me—through a non-traditional channel. Sure, it may not have seemed like he was paying attention during all those meetings where we were reminded not to steal from the communal tip jar, but in his own way, he was very much in tune with his surroundings.

And according to Erik Wahl, a graffiti artist, author and entrepreneur who will be a keynote speaker at NAA’s 2013 Education Conference & Exposition in San Diego, more employees should follow Lucio’s lead—without the potential sexual harassment issues, of course.

 “Everyone always talks about the importance of creativity in the workplace, but when it comes time to perform a task or solve a problem, people almost always revert to yesterday’s answer and what is logical and has been done before,” says Wahl, who has spoken about the “art of vision” for executives at Microsoft and Disney, among other companies. “We are addicted to the concept of security, rather than looking at possibility. You need to create an environment where people feel safe to take risks.”

An environment where it’s safe to take a 5-minute break from dish duty to flirt with the wait staff.

To do so, Wahl says it’s important for executives and supervisors to find pockets of time where they can build emotional ties with their employees. It’s the people who work “in the trenches,” Wahl says, that often have the best ideas but do not feel comfortable sharing them.

I can’t think of anyone more in the trenches than those who are elbow-deep in coleslaw.

When it comes to team meetings, Wahl suggests disrupting the traditional channels of capturing thoughts. Scribbling notes in crayon or starting a meeting by playing with clay often generate the most creative and outside-the-box ideas, says Wahl, who recalls one developer at a major corporation who was doodling during the artist’s presentation. His impromptu notebook design was later patented.

You hear that, Lucio? Grab your tin-foil roses and get to the United States Patent and Trademark Office ASAP!

For more, check out “It Pays To Play” in the December issue of units, which mailed Dec. 11. The e-version is available here.