I rarely asked my interns to be creative. And always appreciated when they were.

Last week I hosted a book club at our house – a group I look forward to seeing month after month at least in part because there’s no judgment when I’ve not yet started, or only half completed the book by the time we get together.  I asked my husband to grill our dinner – and my daughters appeared to want a role too. So they proposed one: they would be in charge of name tags.

This is NOT a group that needs name tags.  In total we’re roughly 25, and while who attends each month varies somewhat, not only do we know each others’ names, work situations and addresses, many of us know which colleges each others’ kids are applying to, their sports and extracurriculars and so on.

So to say name tags would be superfluous would be an understatement. But my girls looked at me with such self-satisfaction for having created a role for themselves that I did a quick calculation. Worst case, we’d spend about $5 buying name tags and friends would be slightly annoyed by having to slap the sticky thing onto their shirts or jackets. Best case, the girls would get the chance to hone their argument on why this would be useful, map out an execution plan and the ‘tools’ they would need, and carry a conversation with an unfamiliar adult. And they’d quickly realize they’d have an argument for this being a great screen-avoidance activity. So I figured the pros pretty clearly outweighed the cons.

The Unexpected Value of Creativity

Having gotten the go-ahead, they decided that in addition to writing down peoples’ names as they arrived, they would also ask everyone their favorite number.  (For some reason this seems to be particularly intriguing at 10). And skeptic though I was, when the evening arrived I found myself asking a good friend why in the world her favorite number was 831 when most of ours were all single digits.  It sparked a great story.

As I’ve been thinking a lot about how young adults can hone soft skills lately, it was a reminder to me of the impact showing some creativity can have over the course of a brief summer job.  Can it be risky to suggest something that isn’t what your boss asked for? Absolutely – especially if you’re neglecting the work s/he IS asking you to do in the process. But when you’ve put some thinking behind your recommendation – why you think this can make impact, the rough resources required and what the best and worst case scenarios could be – you’re likely to make an impression whether your idea gets adopted or not.

The morning after book club, I got a raft of thank you emails – which struck me as a bit unusual since we see each other so regularly.  I got a couple of comments on the food and the hospitality but what did EVERYONE comment on? How much they enjoyed the welcome process – talking to my daughters and giving some thought to their favorite number and why.  Turns out the least necessary detail ended up being the most memorable.

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