Creativity is key in today’s employment hunt

Beth-Ann Kozlovich
Author and consultant Neil Tepper, above, says staying creative and realizing your choices are key in finding a new job or career. Courtesy Photo

HONOLULU—Sometimes the exact number of jobs lost during the recession really doesn’t matter. If you’re one of the unemployed thousands in Hawaii, it’s still you left without a job or maybe even an industry. In a jobless recovery, the small comfort of knowing the recession is over is further demoralized by continued economic reports including this week’s UCLA Anderson Forecast saying it will be sometime in 2012 before we will likely see single digit U.S. unemployment. In Hawaii, the UHERO annual forecast expects a state unemployment rate of 6.4% into 2011—down from the current 6.9%. Still, the reality for those continuing to look for work is that many private sector jobs may not come back. It’s frightening and unnerving, but there can be a creative upside, according to Neil Tepper.

Tepper is a former creative director for the Coco-Cola Company, Universal Television, and the 1996 Olympic Games. He’s now a consultant, author, creativity coach, photographer, and songwriter. He bills himself as “The Creativity Doctor” and has released a new workbook, Prescriptions for Living a Creative Life. Since the 1970s, Tepper has mostly made Hawaii his home base. In that time, he’s seen many changes in the workforce—but he says it’s nothing like what we are experiencing now.

“The pendulum has swung about as far as it can go,” Tepper says. “Life is recalibrating. Forget what you think you know about looking for a new job.” It’s time to unleash the kind of creativity that can help the new job surface or allow you to launch a new career. It’s time for new tools for new rules.

Tepper began to see new rules emerge when he decided to go solo in the late 1990s after 15 years in corporate America. He started the process of phoning, emailing, networking, and marketing everyone is told to do. He let the world know he was open for business and he expected his phone to ring. It didn’t. He pushed harder and pitched more—and still nothing.

“It was humbling. I thought with my credentials and world-class experience, I’d have a ton of clients,” he says. Days turned into months when Tepper found himself in the middle of a weekday afternoon sprawled on his sofa reading a novel. Guilt was supplanted by calm as he realized it was necessary to “explore the poetry of my life and not just the industry of my life,” he says. In that moment, Tepper understood for the first time that it wasn’t a case of either/or but both. And in that moment, he believes his life changed. Call it kismet or luck, but the phone did ring 24 hours later with a very lucrative consulting job, ironically not from among the contacts he had previously made.

“Do your due diligence,” Tepper says. “Send the resumes, make the calls. Take care of what you need to do to put food on the table, the kids clothed, keep the mortgage paid. But once you’ve done it, go do something else. Take a walk around the block, go to the beach, get out in nature.”

Whether you suddenly find yourself without your job or have been jobless for quite a while, realize that you are not alone and that you still have you: all your skills and talents. “Inventory them, list them on paper,” he says, “and don’t edit as you go along. Just list them.”

The purpose is to see in a tangible way all you have to offer to a potential new employer in your current field and especially to notice components of yourself that can be recombined or rearranged.

“As far as I know there are no new notes,” Tepper says. “Mozart used the same ones McCartney uses. It’s the same with skills.”

Tepper agrees with the practice of keeping a small notebook with you wherever you go and within easy reach when you’re in bed. Creative thought can happen at any time and you want to be able to capture it without editing. He also advocates regularly networking with others who are looking for jobs, in business groups, wherever people are gathering that could potentially benefit you, even if you have to force yourself to go. He admits he falls into that category.

“But I go anyway,” Tepper says. “Everyone has skills that are a little different. I may have some you don’t have and you may have skills I don’t possess. Something may spark.”

As you look for a new career, a new job, or create an entrepreneurial venture, it may be unavoidable that you will have to take your children out of private school, cash in some of your savings, sell your house, and move to a different neighborhood or perhaps live with relatives. Tepper says none of this has to be irrevocable; it’s just what you may need to do now to align your life with your choices. And he profoundly believes there are always choices, even if they’re not the preferable ones.

Is changing in your thinking about the circumstances foisted upon you an exercise in self-deception just to maintain control? Tepper says no: “All of us are responsible for recalibrating our lives throughout our lives. Make it okay to be uncomfortable because in times of change you are going to be uncomfortable. Most people don’t want to hear that. These are the times when we have to look inward and most people don’t want to hear that either.”

For those who do listen, Tepper sees a more self-directed, fulfilling future. “Change is happening,” he says. “You can run up against it or embrace it. Better to embrace it.”

Beth-Ann’s entire interview with Neil Tepper is on the Town Square archive at