Being Professional and Creative

“How can you make sure that being too professional doesn’t inhibit creativity?”

This is a very interesting and challenging question! Let’s look at a couple of key terms: “professional” and “too professional” to distinguish some differences between them.

When I think of what makes a person “professional,” I think of someone who:

  • is approachable
  • comes across as an effective employee and/or leader
  • does high quality work consistently
  • is reliable and honest
  • is well respected and
  • dresses and communicates in a presentable manner (relative to the particular work environment).

When I think of someone who is being “too professional,” I think of someone who:

  • is presenting a “persona” of how they think a professional is suppose to appear and act and isn’t letting people get to know much about who they really are
  • comes across as cool and “all business”
  • not approachable
  • a perfectionist in his/her appearance, work and communication style and
  • consistently tries too hard to prove him/herself

This question reminds me of a situation a number of years ago when I was talking with a colleague about my desire to “try to be professional.” My colleague stopped me and said “Lorrie, you don’t have to TRY to be professional, you ARE professional.” That statement stopped me in my tracks. I actually didn’t know that that was true. I realized that I wasn’t yet confident enough to know that who I was, how I communicated, appeared and worked were finally professional. Suddenly I knew that I had developed into an effective professional and didn’t need to be consciously making an effort to do so. I had integrated the qualities and was a professional.

After getting over the shock of my colleague’s statement, I found that I felt both a sense of relief and freedom to be myself. I didn’t have to keep “trying” and “worrying” about whether I was professional enough. I’d learned to be and had the experience to know that I was a professional. Period.

So while I think it’s very important to be professional and to be taken seriously, it’s also important to have a sense of humor and be approachable.

When people are being “too professional,” I don’t believe they can be relaxed and free enough to allow themselves to be creative. They tend to be too uptight and worried about making mistakes.

To be creative, one has to be willing to try new approaches, ideas, systems, etc. and to have them not work out. Not all new efforts will be successful. That means a person has to be willing to have results be unsuccessful periodically and not let it stop him/her or take it personally. Creativity is exploring and experimenting without guarantees about the outcome.

It is certainly possible to be professional and creative. It doesn’t work well to be “too professional” and creative since the first tends to be inflexible and overly cautious while the second requires the willingness to be flexible and the ability to take risks.

Originally published 11/20/11 on –“a website providing advice for your business and career.”