I remember listening to a talk from a business coach which highlighted some of the differences in our productivity when the boss is watching. If we’re on our own, we might check emails, send a text message, watch YouTube videos or whatever. But, if the boss is watching, we will work. We will sit at our desk and do what we’re supposed to be doing.
So his tip? Work like the boss is watching.
In a way, it’s a good tip for productivity. At least for cutting out those time-wasting activities that don’t contribute. Great for those tasks that are certainties and it’s just a case of getting them done, and it can be a good way of looking at things if your boss happens to be you and your future depends on you getting the work done. But then there’s that old phrase, much repeated in songs over the years – dance like nobody’s watching.
If you’re dancing, what difference does it make if you know nobody is watching?
It removes judgement. You’re free to look ridiculous. You can express yourself in any way you choose without fear and you can immerse yourself in the music and just let go. You’re free to play. The self-expression can make you feel better but there is more to it than that. If you do it enough, you just might get good. By flailing around day after day, you may find some moves that actually look pretty cool. Your moves. You could surprise yourself. And, if you get that confidence up, maybe one day you will feel good enough to surprise someone else too.
I don’t see work as being all that different.
If when we work, we’ve got that spectre of a boss looming over us, we are going to hold back. We’ll be afraid of making a mistake and looking ridiculous. We’re self-conscious. Critical. The result is that we play it safe and take no risks. Or worse, get so tied-up second-guessing the inevitable judgement that we make a complete mess.
I remember on Fluffy Gardens making sure that people felt ready to show me their work before I looked at it. I didn’t want to catch anyone mid-dance. Without me looking over their shoulder, they’d invariably take more risks. Be more playful. After all, if it didn’t work, they could clean it up before I saw it. I got better results on a show where my main request of each animator was ‘surprise me’. I knew they could all do adequate without taking risks. But these days adequate just isn’t good enough. It’s in the surprises that those animators would make the show great.
I think we’re all capable of beating ourselves up enough about our work without adding the permanent shadow of a boss to the process. Instead, we should create without advance judgement. Allow ourselves to play. And allow ourselves the mistakes, those moments in which we might look ridiculous. Through that, we’re more likely to rise far above adequate. All the way to excellent.
So when it comes to being creative, when what you do really has to count, here’s my take – work like nobody’s watching.