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How to Cultivate Your Own Creative Career

More and more people whose likelihood depends on being creative and innovative continually are working for themselves. They’re freelancers, they’re consultants, they’re independent. But many can spend much of their time doing anything but creative work: drumming up new prospects, carving out time for administrative work, or getting up to speed on new projects. Freelancers also lack resources that their colleagues with traditional jobs may take for granted: team support, project managers, tech assistance, or training opportunities, to name a few.

Daniel Goleman spoke with Teresa Amabile in his Leadership: A Master Class video series about practical ways to cultivate your own successful creative career.

Skill Development

Pay attention to your skill development. Keeping your skills sharp is an important piece of creativity. Learning new things in your own area of expertise as well as outside of your strengths can spark new associations that lead to fresh ideas.

Get a Different Perspective

Engage with people who have different perspectives, or who come from different fields. That’s going to fertilize your creative thinking. Working with people who see things differently can also sharpen your problem solving skills by seeing new perspectives on challenges or tasks, forcing yourself to break out of mental habits.

Stay Motivated

Pay attention to your motivation. Try to feel excited about what you’re doing. If you find that your work is getting stale, look for new projects, new people to work with, or new things to do.

Small Wins

Focus on your daily progress. It’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind on our to-do list given a typical freelancer’s workload. That’s why it’s important to keep sight on your accomplishments – no matter how small they may seem. Keep a daily diary. Take two or three minutes at the end of the day to jot down what things you actually got done that day that moved things forward for you in projects that you care about. Maybe it’s something that you didn’t plan on getting done that day. But if it’s meaningful, if you can see your way learning, getting somewhere, doing something that matters to you or to people that you care about, keep track of it. Look back on your record of the progress that you’ve made and the enjoyment that you found in your work.

Become Aware of Obstacles

Take note of obstacles you encounter. Include mental blocks or moods. Find ways of overcoming them. Make a plan for the next day to build on the progress that you experienced the day before to refocus on your goals.

Learn More

Maximize your creative potential with proven-effective practices by Teresa Amabile, director of research in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School.  Her insights are available in the following resources:

The Executive Edge: An Insider’s Guide to Outstanding Leadership examines the best practices of top-performing executives. It offers practical guidance for developing the distinguishing competencies that make a leader outstanding.

Leadership: A Master Class Training Guide offers more than nine hours of research findings, case studies and valuable industry expertise through in-depth interviews with respected leaders in executive management, leadership development, organizational research, workplace psychology, innovation, negotiation and senior hiring. Each module in the guide offers individual and group exercises, self-assessments, discussion guides, review of major points, and key actionable takeaway plans.

Create to Innovate details the latest research behind creativity and innovation and how leaders can drive these critical factors in any organization by creating and growing positive inner work lives for employees.


Teresa Amabile

Teresa Amabile is the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration and director of research in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School. Her initial education was in chemistry before she transitioned to psychology at Stanford University, where she earned her doctorate.

Her main interest in what truly makes workers happy, productive, and motivated, and her most recent work is concerned with how the work environment affects creativity. The research initiative identified the impact daily events have on the workers in organizations, and how implementing a specific routine can enhance creativity. Their findings have been published in management publications and scholarly journals, and a book for business practitioners summarizing their results is in progress.

Teresa earned a place in Thinkers50 twice, as well as being shortlisted for both the Breakthrough Idea award and the Innovation award. She serves on the editorial boards for the Creativity Research Journal, Creativity and Innovation Management, and the Journal of Creative Behavior. Teresa has been the guest speaker on a number of TEDx talks, as well as for many management organizations and corporations.

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At More Than Sound, Teresa is a conversationalist in The Executive Edge: An Insider’s Guide to Outstanding Leadership, a long book containing Daniel Goleman’s in-depth conversations with respected leaders in executive management, organizational research, workplace psychology, negotiation, and senior hiring. The Executive Edge examines the best practices of top-performing executives. It offers practical guidance for developing the distinguishing competencies that make a leader outstanding.

Every leader needs threshold abilities to get by at work. But in today’s complex business landscape, getting by isn’t enough. It’s the distinguishing competencies that are crucial for success. You need elements that will give you “the executive edge.”


Teresa is also a guest lecturer on Daniel Goleman‘s Leadership: A Master ClassHer segment, Create To Innovate, details the latest research behind creativity and innovation, and how leaders can encourage these factors in their organizations by creating and growing positive inner work lives for employees.

Create to Innovate is a part of the HR and EI Collection in The Coaching Program. Also included in the Coaching Program is Authentic Leadership by Bill George, Today’s Leadership Imperative by Howard GardnerResonant Leadership by Richard Boyatzis, and High Performance Leadership by George Kohlrieser.

Leadership: A Master Class is a part of the most in-depth program from our HR and EI Collection, the C-Suite Toolkit. It also includes What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters by Goleman and Resonant Leadership by Boyatzis.


Other Publications:

The Progress Principle   â—Š   Creativity in Context   â—Š   Growing Up Creative