SHORTLISTED FOR THE PORCHLIGHT BUSINESS BOOK AWARD
Creative disruptor, inspirational speaker, and co-creator of the internationally viral campaign #ItWasNeverADress shows you how to put the spark back into your work and life.
“You don't have to turn into a corporate drone to kick ass in the working world,” says Tania Katan. After more than ten years of smuggling creativity into the business sector without getting busted, Katan is here to tell you that any task or pursuit can be a creative one. You just need to be willing to defy conformity and be ready to conjure imagination anywhere, at any time.
If you're feeling stuck in a dullsville job, a windowless cubicle, or an ill-fitting polyester work shirt, chin up! Katan has been there, too, and she's lived to tell the story. How? By choosing to stand out rather than fit in, to find her light, and to bask in it with all of her quirks and flaws. “The moment you choose to let the world see the real you—messy, imperfect, warts and all,” she says, “is the moment you choose to shine too.”
Whether you're an entrepreneur seeking new ways to innovate, a newbie trying to spice up routine entry-level work, a free spirit with a rich creative life outside the office looking to bring more of that magic into your job, or just someone who occasionally feels the urge to scream “Why does it say paper jam when there is no paper jam?!!,” Katan will show you how to transform monotony into novelty and become more energized in your work and in the world.
Peppered with stories of her own shenanigans—from organizing a wrestling match in the middle of an art museum to staging a corporate culture intervention via post-its—and lessons from the rule-breaking exploits of artists, change-makers, and totally legit business leaders alike, this book is a rollicking, uninhibited guide to using creativity as fuel for a freer and more joyful life.
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|Publisher:||Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Fear Is So Last Year
I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.
—John Cage, Avant-Garde Composer
At nineteen years old I heard my calling, a clear message delivered from above. The voice was not God’s or my guardian angel’s. Rather, it belonged to the tall, stern undergraduate adviser informing me that, “The only playwriting class we have available is for graduate students. You’re an undergraduate. You could submit a piece of writing and try to get in, but your chances are slim.”
Sure, many people in my position may have taken this as bad news, but I’ve always been a fan of slim chances. In fact, if chances are too chubby, I tend to give up before I even start. It’s a trait I inherited from my father, the OG underdog, who used to buy lottery tickets only when the jackpot was good and fat and worth (in his mind) the time and energy it took for him to sip scotch at a neighborhood bar while slowly scratching off the silver coating covering the numbers with the edge of a thin dime. He usually won a buck or two —one time he even won a few hundred—but for my dad, it wasn’t about winning the big jackpot, it was about the anticipation, about getting pleasantly day drunk while pondering the possibility of winning against all odds. In fact, the more the odds were stacked against him, the more fun for him it was.
So, chip off the old block that I was, I ignored my adviser’s advice and decided to play the odds with a satirical poem I’d written about pretentious folks who performed poetry in coffeehouses entitled “I Wear Black! And You Don’t.”
The first line: “YOU, like the bug / at the bottom / of my Big Gulp . . .”
The last line: “I slit my wrists horizontally as opposed to vertically and laugh. Ha. Ha. Ha. I wear black! And you don’t.”
As it turned out, I had much better luck than my father, because, somehow, not only did I not get put on suicide watch, I won the jackpot: a spot in the graduate playwriting class! On the first day of the semester I was so excited I practically skipped into the classroom. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. No more slumming it with the undergrad crowd for me, I thought as I found a seat next to a woman who was hunched over her notebook, scribbling furiously. I’m in the big leagues now! There were only seven of us in the class, and the graduate students were all decked out in the fashion of the time—grunge, some combination of black T-shirts with flannel accents, worn-out jeans, dirty sneakers, and a studied air of gloominess. Whereas my outfit—large silver hoop earrings and pale pink button-down oxford (although in my defense, it was untucked from my light blue jeans)—was giving off more “professional lesbian golfer” vibe than “future Tony Award–winning playwright.” They all seemed to have the same notebooks, you know, those nineties-looking ones with the black and white blotches on the cover. My notebook, on the other hand, was more of an assertive orange (some might have said fluorescent, but same difference). Don’t worry about it, I assured myself. You belong here. These are your peeps.
The first several minutes of class passed in eerie silence, as though the other writers were communicating telepathically in some secret language I didn’t speak. Finally, the professor, who had been busy emptying the mysterious contents of his worn brown leather satchel onto his desk, sat down, faced us and delivered his marching orders: “There are three people stuck in a moving vehicle. Go!” All six sophisticated, flannel-clad grad students quickly cracked open their identical notebooks, put pen to paper, and started moving their hands as if the divine spirit of next-level-shit playwriting had suddenly entered their bodies. The spirit seemed to have skipped over me, however, and instead sent his friend, the divine spirit of holy-crap-what-is-happening. I was frozen. Couldn’t move a muscle. I let out a vague squeak, like the Tin Man begging for a tune-up and leaned in to ask the professor in a stage whisper, “Are we writing a play? Is that what we’re doing here?”
He nodded in the affirmative, which most people would have taken as a cue to start writing, but I could only sit there, utterly paralyzed. I was stuck. I’d been in class for all of five minutes, and I had writer’s block already?? Fear filled my entire being as my brain began generating involuntary “What if”s. What if I can’t think of anything to write? What if my writing sucks? What if the grad students make fun of me? What if they find out I’m a playwriting imposter? What if I spontaneously combust?
For lack of any better options, I put pen to blank page and started writing the stage directions that all plays begin with, lights up to reveal . . . And then the weirdest thing happened. I kept writing. In fact, my hand didn’t stop moving until the professor yelled, “Time’s up. Hand in your plays.” That’s when I realized that I had written, nonstop, for fifty-five minutes! It felt like being high, only with more focus and less munchies. And the craziest part: the play was actually good. I know this because the professor called me into his office the next day and said, “Tania, this play is actually good.” Followed by the words I had previously heard only in my wildest dreams: “You should submit it to playwriting contests.”
I tell this story not to brag about my innate playwriting talent (okay, maybe just a little), but rather because how I began that day, sitting in that classroom blinded by the glare of the white, empty pages of my weird orange notebook staring back at me, is how everyone—every performer, painter, software developer, manager, educator, cashier, dog walker, flight attendant—starts the day: facing an empty stage, a blank page, a bare canvas, a napping computer screen, an unfamiliar route, the entire sky. Whether we work in a soul-sucking corporate job or at the coolest “creative job” ever (or someplace in between), we all start each day from scratch. But here’s the amazing thing about the proverbial blank page: we get to choose how to fill it. We get to decide whether what we put on that page will be conventional, expected, and safe, or whether it will be daring, audacious, and wildly creative.
We can choose whether to stare blankly at the white emptiness, praying for the divine spirit of creativity to swoop in and start making out with us, or whether to trust that there is an entire world waiting to be explored in that space, put pen to paper and start. To make a mark, a simple act that might inspire us to make another mark, and then another, and pretty soon the sum total will add up. Ultimately, when faced with that proverbial blank page, we can either begin to write or allow inertia to keep us stuck in the thick smog of fear and self-doubt. It’s our choice to make anew every day.
We get to decide whether what we put on that page will be conventional, expected, and safe, or whether it will be daring, audacious, and wildly creative.
Don’t worry, fear of the blank page strikes the most creative among us! Like the artist Maurizio Cattelan who, in the eighties, was on the verge of his first-ever solo exhibition, one that would launch his art career and . . . he couldn’t think of anything to make. He was too consumed by freaking out; totally paralyzed by the fear, anxiety, and insecurity over creating and displaying his art. And his gallery, well, they were no help. The organizers of the event weren’t about to move the date just because the artist was feeling stuck. They didn’t give a shite about his creative block! The show was gonna go on whether Mr. Cattelan was scared to make his mark or not. As his exhibition grew closer, Cattelan grew even more riddled with anxiety, which left him even less inspired to create than before (which was NOT AT ALL). So he did the only thing he could think of, which was: to run for the hills . . . Like, NOW.
So, it’s opening night and what does he do? He closes the gallery and hangs a sign on the door that reads Torno subito, or “Be right back.” And get this: The art world loved it! They immediately understood that the sign was an admission of the fear and anxiety we all feel when we have to show our work; they saw the sign as a statement about the very nature of art! Instead of making objects to show in the gallery, Cattelan leaned into his fear and turned it into actual artwork! From that day forward, Cattelan never ran away from an exhibition again, no matter how stuck he got, and he has since gone on to enjoy a tremendously successful career as an artist because, in his words, he makes art “about the impossibility of doing something . . . about insecurity, about failure.”
And that, m’friends, is what being a Creative Trespasser is all about! Facing our fears, anxieties, and impending D-day moments and turning them into works of art. With our imagination and creativity ignited, we can make something out of anything, even if that anything is nothing. And this is true whether we are facing a looming art exhibition, a new job, a big project or account or presentation, or anything else. Taking a blank page and filling it with something unique and new and wonderful: that’s the job of the Creative Trespasser.
At this point you might have some of the same questions that people often ask me when I talk about Creative Trespassing, for example: “How can I break the rules and fill my blank page, as it were, if I work in the most conservative company? I traded my soul for a key fob, a 401(k), and Golden Handcuffs.”
I feel you. I’ve worn some pretty tight handcuffs and even tighter company logo shirts, and I know that it can feel like a gray, fluorescent-lit prison of your own making. But the good news is that we can shake off, or at least loosen, those corporate shackles and disrupt the conventions even in the most conventional, buttoned-up environment; we just gotta do it acoustic style: that is, no amps, unplugged, and under the radar. That’s why the acts of creative sneakery in this book come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. Only you can be the judge of what will fly in your company, so it’s up to you to choose the acts that will get you and your colleagues’ imaginations fired up—without getting you fired.
Here’s another question I hear all the time: What if I get pushback? What if my ideas get pushed down?
If you are successfully disrupting the status quo in your workplace, you will absolutely get pushback and pushed down. Sorry. But there will always be people, teams, entire departments that will respond proportionately to your courage, creativity, and care with fear, reluctance, and eye rolling.
And, yeah, it stings for a few seconds, but then, without fail, the sting gives way to a smile: you survived. The more you engage in Creative Trespassing, the more you’ll see pushback as a sign that you are doing exactly what you are meant to be doing: nudging people out of their comfort zones, breathing new life into the company culture, and igniting a creative revolution in the workplace that will ultimately lead to more exciting innovations, more authentic connections, and deeper insights.
Transform the Norm
Creativity is an act of defiance.
—Twyla Tharp, Dancer and Choreographer
The first board game I ever remember playing as a kid was Chutes and Ladders. It was for the preschool set, so there were no words on the game board, just pictures of little kids engaged in various activities that were deemed either a “Good Behavior,” like doing chores, or “Bad Behavior”—which was usually something surely forbidden, like drawing on the wall with a crayon. Landing on a Good Behavior square meant you could ascend the ladder. A Bad Behavior would shoot your shit down a chute faster than you could say “Future Picasso!”
As a kid, these classifications of “good” and “bad” always puzzled me—and to be honest, they still do. Most of those mischievous activities didn’t seem so bad; in fact, some of them were downright creative and fun. There was the kid riding a bicycle with his hands and feet in the air, smiling as the wind blew through his hair. Another was drawing a mural of stars and lightning bolts. Another was actually reading a book! And one was carefully carrying a stack of dishes (probably to help her mom, because her dad was at the racetrack losing their rent money). Sure, the dishes slipped out of her hands and smashed into smithereens, but that wasn’t her fault! It ended equally badly for all of them. You can imagine my horror when I, as a curious three-year-old, witnessed the fate of those inquisitive kids!
It’s astounding that a game meant for children would send this kind of message: that a child’s curious nature should be punished. What if instead of giving the kid riding the bike a broken arm, they gave him a cape and he became Evel Knievel? What if, instead of giving the little girl coloring on the wall a sponge and a look of shame, they gave her a canvas and she became Frida Kahlo? What if the little girl balancing a thousand plates made it to the kitchen and became the next Julia Child?
What if instead of getting busted up for breaking the rules, these kids were rewarded for rebelling against conformity and boredom?
Of course, the game is just a symptom of the larger problem: many of us are raised to believe that if we dare to play, to create, or to explore, we better be prepared to suffer the consequences. Unfortunately, this message is only reinforced once we become adults and enter the workforce. Now we get to trade our crappy Chutes and Ladders in for the Corporate Ladder—an even higher-stakes game where breaking the rules, we are led to believe, has even greater consequences. But does it? NO! As Creative Trespassers we know that ‘“good behavior” means breaking some rules to create more opportunities for unfiltered expression, audacious contributions, and childlike curiosity!
It wasn’t until the sixth grade that I fully grasped this concept. This was a time when I was the only girl on the boys’ basketball team, had my hair cut—by my mother—in a pioneering avant-garde style that can best be described as a forerunner to the mullet, and was obsessed with Culture Club, more specifically Boy George, to the point that I was prone to repeating “Tania George” over and over again—aloud. This was also around the time when I began practicing homespun stand-up comedy routines in my bedroom with a hairbrush for a microphone that I would tap (before starting my set) and say, “Is this thing on?!” I’m not gonna lie, I was cool beyond my years. I was, if you will, an early beta test of me. And like many great inventions that emerge ahead of their time—the internet, self-driving cars, Pampers for adults—mainstream society wasn’t ready to understand or accept my supreme coolness.