This man knows a creativity-boosting secret your company isn't using. . . yet

This man knows a creativity-boosting secret your company isn't using. . . yet

Chris Ostoich<Play podcast>

Most companies have a policy against moonlighting, even if it doesn’t directly interfere with your main job. Most of them argue that holding down a second job drains you of energy and creativity that you’d otherwise invest in your main job. I suppose that’s one way to look at it.

The secret

Here’s another way to look at it. When I spoke with Chris Ostoich, the founder of BlackbookEMG (now BlackbookHR) back in 2011, he explained he had a very different policy about outside jobs and interests. Every employee was strictly required to have one!

blackbookHRBlackbook is in the business of helping companies retain good employees by getting them connected to the most relevant social and professional networks in town, even if that means they have to create them. Let’s say you’re a 32-year-old single female engineer from Saudi Arabia now living and working in a Midwestern U.S. suburb.

Let’s face it. It’s going to be hard for you to fit in. How are you going to find restaurants and grocery stores that have the kind of food you like; bars that play the kind of music you like; clothing stores that suit your taste; and social events where you can meet people who share your cultural beliefs and values? Studies show if you don’t, you’re likely to quit your job and move back home. That’s where Blackbook comes in. It finds all those things for you. And if it can’t, sometimes it even creates them.

How it worked for Chris

To be successful at this, Blackbook has to have creative, resourceful, and well-connected employees. And that’s exactly why Chris requires his employees to moonlight. He explains it this way:

To be as creative as we need, everyone that works here must have something else in their life they are as passionate about as they are about working here.

He believes outside interests increase creativity and energy, not diminish it. Chris saw this himself when he joined the board of directors of the local fine arts fund. At one of his first board meetings, he realized how many similarities there were between running a start-up business and running a volunteer organization. After debating solutions for the arts fund’s challenges for three hours, he looked down at his notebook. He had filled up the left page with ideas for the arts fund, and the right page with ideas for Blackbook. His outside interest had just delivered a page full of ideas for his main job.

How it worked for Stephen

An even more telling example is what came of the moonlighting of one of his employees, Stephen. The local city council had recently approved construction of a casino downtown, not far from where Stephen lives. Several local civic groups came out against the idea. Stephen knew it was going to be built whether he joined the protests or not. So he decided to take a different approach. He started an organization to help turn the impact on the community into a positive one. For example, casinos are typically built with restaurants, bars, and retail shops in the center of the building. That way, shoppers have to walk by the gaming tables to get to them so it’s easier for them to get lured into the games. One of Stephen’s ideas was to put the shops on the outside, facing the street. That would create foot traffic along the street, not hidden deep inside a windowless building. He thought that would contribute to a more vibrant downtown atmosphere.

As Stephen’s organization grew, the employees of many of his Blackbook clients joined the cause. Some even took on leadership responsibilities in the organization. The more committed they became, the more attached they became to the city. Before he realized what was happening, Stephen’s outside interest started furthering Blackbook’s business objectives. Remember, its mission is to connect its clients to the community. Stephen’s moonlighting effort had suddenly become one of those connection points.

How much is enough?

So, how much moonlighting are employees required to do at Blackbook? At least 25 percent of their time. And as long as they’re getting their job done, it can be during their regular workday— which for most employees, it is. It’s one of the first questions Chris asks in a job interview. If people don’t already have that outside passion, they won’t get the job offer. And if they lose it after they get hired, it could be grounds for termination.

The Lesson

The counter-intuitive lesson is that if you want people to be more creative, tell them to spend less time at the office, not more. Tell them to get involved in something they’re passionate about. They’ll think you’re crazy at first, and so might your boss. Start by telling them Chris’s story. Then give it a try. My guess is, you’ll be rewriting your company policy on moonlighting.

[You can find this and over 100 other inspiring leadership stories in my book, Lead with a Story.]

PAS square profile Paul Smith is a one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a Story and Parenting with a Story.

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