How to pursue a creative career alongside a corporate profession

Creativity is the currency of the AI era. As technology comes for white-collar jobs, many professionals seek ways to secure their own careers. Being known for something other than your daily work will be critical in securing employability in the long-term.

Defining creativity

To be creative means the ability to make something out of nothing, something that is new, original, and innovative. It is exactly the skill that most companies are looking for in the hyper-competitive post-AI world. Individuals who can develop and demonstrate their creative skills along with their core competencies will be highly valued.

The value of creativity

The traditional segregation between the left and right brains no longer applies as organizations want individuals who can straddle and integrate both seamlessly. Unsurprisingly, those who manage to develop the ability to do this don’t just see an increase in their employability and salary, but also experience a deeper satisfaction and engagement at the workplace, as they feel they no longer need to fit themselves in artificially construed boundaries of the self.

Cultivating creative alongside corporate skills

After 20 years as a senior executive in the business world, the time had come for me to integrate my corporate and creative careers. In December 2023, The Dreamwork Collective published my debut novel in Dubai. The Sky Has Moved Away is recognized as the first climate fiction book from the region, and topped the Amazon bestseller list in the first week of its launch. It felt like a seamless transition between the corporate and creative, yet the book was long in the making.

 Through my corporate career, while working at McKinsey and Microsoft, I would find the time to build my writing skills. I attended writing classes regularly for nearly eight years before I put the novel out into the world.

The skills I learned, the fresh perspectives and ability to persuade and lead through new approaches, and the capacity to see unique solutions that a left-brain trained individual may not perceive – all these have definitely helped me make strides in my corporate career too.

How to integrate corporate and creative careers

1. Let go of limiting beliefs. We often label ourselves (and others) as creative or non-creative people. That is a false, self-limiting cultural construct that has outlived its utility. All well-functioning human brains have left and right brains, and it is up to us to embrace and integrate them.

2. Hone your skills, develop your craft. Whether you want to write, paint, sculpt or act, it is important to learn the craft. Just as you would acquire skills in your corporate job, put in deliberate practice, seek out creative classes, solicit feedback.

3. Start small and iterate. In all walks of life, but especially in the creative fields, perfection is the enemy of the good. Rather than aim to write an entire award-winning book in the first attempt, start small. Publish small articles or short stories. Gain confidence and build onto bigger pieces.

4. Read, read, and read. If you want to be a writer, there is no path to it  other than through reading. Every great writer started out as an enthusiastic reader. The rule applies to other art formats as well, whatever it is, you need to experience and immerse yourself in the works out there.

Surya Ramkumar is a novelist and business leader who has successfully combined a creative career and an executive profession in the corporate world.