Now more than ever, corporate employees know that every email they send, every document they write – and in many cases – every word they utter is likely being recorded and can be traced back and used against them down the road. This comes on top of their fear of being criticized, yelled at, shamed, demoted or fired. And so, people naturally gravitate toward the safe middle ground and refrain from producing anything original. After all, they think, recycling what was already said, written, presented, or discussed is a safe bet. Notwithstanding the benefits of such behavior to reducing anxiety – like any good old defense mechanism – it can have a devastating effect on your career.
Don’t be this person. Don’t be afraid to produce creative work. This is what separates a middle manager bound to be downsized from a key contributor bound to be promoted. Cross the action threshold – that imaginary line between working for a paycheck to working for the satisfaction of creating the future; between recycling old ideas and minting new ones; between being doubted for pulling your own weight to being relied upon for propelling the team forward.
How do you cross the threshold? here are a few ideas:
- Be brave. Be original. Have an opinion.
- Synthesize information and look for patterns, then leverage them to create new things.
- Self-introspect and be honest about what you do and don’t know, then close the gap by learning what you need to learn.
- Be a workhorse, not a showhorse.
- Become really good at what you do.
An important and positive side effect of crossing the action threshold is your access to mentors. Mentors are in short supply in corporate America (and corporate Anywhere, for that matter). Instead of waiting for a mentor on a white horse to come rescue you, be your own mentor and cross the action threshold: have an opinion, create new things, self-introspect, work hard, and get really good at it. This will turn you into a more attractive mentee, preparing you for when the right mentor comes along.
While concerns of being tracked or shamed can be paralyzing, generating original work is an effective brain hack for dealing with fear. Try to ignore these thoughts long enough to be able to generate something meaningful. And if your employer boasts about recording every move you make and potentially using it against you, it’s time to find a better job.