PAMELA MEYER, Ph.D. Founded Meyer Creativity Associates, Inc. to support clients who want to create dynamic workspaces for innovating, learning and changing. She works with organizations worldwide using the improvisation strategies she learned in her years building creative teams in the professional theater. Today she combines innovative strategies from artistic collaboration with cutting edge management research and practice to help her clients work at the top of their creative, intellectual and energetic capacity. She spoke about here work in her recent TEDx talk.
Dr. Meyer is the author of three books on creativity and innovation, Permission: A Guide to Generating More Ideas, Being More of Yourself and Having More Fun at Work (Playspace Press, 2011), From Workplace to Playspace: Innovating, Learning and Changing Through Dynamic Engagement (Jossey-Bass, 2010) and Quantum Creativity: Nine Principles to Transform the Way You Work (McGraw/Contemporary, 2000), and has contributed two chapters to edited books on transformative learning, as well as numerous articles and papers.
She received her doctorate in Human and Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate University and holds Master of Arts degrees from Antioch University and Fielding Graduate University, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Boston University’s School for Theatre Arts. In addition to her work with organizations, She teaches courses in business creativity, improvisation and organization theory at DePaul University, where she is director of the Center to Advance Education for Adults and a Faculty Fellow at the Center for Creativity and Innovation, part of the College of Commerce and the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business.
Describe yourself in 3 words: Creative, Curious, Disciplined
What is your life motto? Always say, “yes, and . . .”
When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? Like many people, my career has evolved in more of a spiral than a straight line. This journey began after college with my work in experimental and improvisational theatre and spiraled into an opportunity to work with adult learners in university and later organizational settings. I began experiencing success very quickly as students began asking me to develop some innovation programs for their organizations based on the improvisation lessons they were learning in class. This led to the start of my consulting and speaking practice. I published my first book, Quantum Creativity, in 2000 to share some of the key concepts and success stories with a larger audience.
How much time and effort did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? Long ago I discovered that I’m a turtle. Rather than work in bursts or locking myself in a room for an entire weekend to finish a project, I do a little bit every day. With my writing, I start each day setting aside time to write—before I check email, return phone calls, or engage in any outside business. I have been doing this for more than twenty years and it is what has helped me produce three books, numerous book chapters and articles, and finish two master’s degrees and a doctorate. It takes discipline and focus and, yes, it’s hard work, but you would be amazed how much you can accomplish by doing a little each day toward your dream—what ever it is.
What are the challenges in your line of work? The same as the challenges of life: The unpredictability, unexpected ups and downs, and things happening outside of your control. This is especially true when you own your own business. Many of the lessons I learned through improvisational theatre are helpful here—how to think on my feet, work within the givens of a situation and respond to the unexpected and unplanned using available resources.
What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? I’m not sure if I can point to any one mistake, but it did take me a while to learn that not to put too much stock in any one single new opportunity or accomplishment. Thinking that this book or that high-profile speaking engagement will be the turning point is a recipe for disappointment. It’s also a recipe for exhaustion. I’ve learned to show up to my work one day at a time and enjoy it in all of its dimensions, loud, soft, busy, slow, etc. It’s all good.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? Not to be too precious about my ideas. Not to take myself too seriously. This doesn’t mean don’t be passionate and committed; it just means be careful of being too dogmatic. It’s important to hold your ideas lightly and always be open to new learning and evolution.
In your mind, is formal training essential? I don’t think there is any one type of formal training that is essential. It is important to develop true expertise and credibility. This might come from any combination of hands-on experience, formal and informal education. I do believe it is important to develop an understanding and awareness of your field. There are many ways to do this, and it is hard to have credibility, if you only have a superficial knowledge of your area. At the same time, one of the mistakes people make, especially women, is that they need to wait until they get just one more credential, or have just a few more years of experience before they can really pursue their dreams. I encourage people to “sin boldly.” Get out there and start doing some version of what you want to do while you are still learning. After all, we are all still learning.
Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? Everyone can benefit by having a mentor. Because my work cuts across so many practice areas—organizational development, writing, teaching, scholarship—I have not had one single mentor, but have always sought out people I respected who could coach me on specific issues and whom I have stayed in touch with over the years. While there are formal mentoring programs available through many professional associations, I recommend simply keeping your eyes open for people whom you admire. You might find them at conferences, at your workplace, in classes or workshops you take (both instructors and fellow students) and in other unexpected places. I met one of my mentors, who is also one of my oldest friends when we were both working on a long-running show in Chicago. We had many conversations backstage before the show started. With eight shows a week over more than a year—that’s a lot of conversations!
What are some steps those starting out can take to start/further their career? The first step, which is universal for all career paths, is to identify your strengths and passion. Knowing these, as well as creating a guiding mission or vision will sustain you through the inevitable twists and turns. Create a support network who can cheer you on, celebrate your successes and help you regroup when you have set-backs. As you experience new levels of success, continue to lean into your strengths, but also challenge yourself to do the things that scare you or stretch you. These are the opportunities that often catapult you into a new place either in your career, or simply in your confidence and competence.
What kept you going when you weren’t at your best? My beloved mother died just as my first book was coming out. The last thing I felt motivated to do was get out there and shine at my scheduled speaking engagements and media appearances. Even in the midst of crushing grief, I found a way to forge on knowing that it was one of the ways I could honor her life, and also honor all of the years of work that had gone into getting to that point. The sadness did not need to cancel out the joy of the accomplishment, I just found a way for the two to co-exist.
Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? It’s a bit cliché to say “we make our own luck.” What I think that means, and what is true for me, is that my success has had more to do with being present to opportunities as they arose and doing my best to maximize the potential of each new adventure. Books do not write themselves or sell themselves; the media does not learn about you if you don’t get out there and tell your story; and clients certainly don’t hire you if you can’t tell them about the results you have delivered for others. We can’t control the timing of most opportunities, or decisions that are outside of our control; we can keep doing the footwork every day—a little bit every day, like a turtle. That way you will be sure that when the opportunity arises, you are awake to meet it, with your energy, expertise and enthusiasm.