Passion leads to creativity
Creativity Creative Thinking

Mapping Creative Thinking to Passion: an Interview with Cailin Lavallee of Waze


Deadlines and bottom lines are some of the unsexiest lines in the creative business. Just think about the word deadline: dead, line. How awful is that word?

There is something painfully ironic about the gap between business motives and personal motives for creative thinking. The reason why the business does anything is to make a profit. The reason why you do anything is for expression, to find meaning, and to translate your passion into creativity. So when crunch time rolls around, it can be hard to muster up the passion needed to activate your creativity that will deliver the work the business needs.

External pressure is the enemy of creativity

Understanding the Labor of Love

Renowned author Ursula K. Le Guin understood the complicated relationship between labor and love very well, and how passion can drive some of the most significant creative work. “I function only by falling in love: with French and France; with the 15th Century; with microbiology, cosmology, sleep research, etc. at various times—I could not have written A Week in the Country without having fallen in love with current DNA research! … What it is I suppose is the creative condition as expressed in human emotion and mood—so it comes out curiously the same whether sexual or spiritual or aesthetic or intellectual.”

This powerful emotional dimension to creative work is the fundamental psychological driver of some of the best ideas we have. In The Oxford Handbook of Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, a review of the research into how passion impacts entrepreneurship and creativity reveals that passion is associated with a whole host of beneficial outcomes for organizations: entrepreneurial motivation, lower likelihood of organizational failure, venture growth, pride, commitment, empowerment, energy, motivation, innovation, persistence, creative achievement, and work satisfaction. Some studies even found that passion was associated with positive mental health, flow, vitality, positive interpersonal relationships at work, and overall wellbeing.

There is an important caveat to these findings, however, and that’s the dual nature of passion. One side, harmonious passion, is all about how we internalize the motivation to participate in activities that we enjoy of our own accord. The other, obsessive passion, refers to an enforced internalization that leads people to engage in a preferable activity by external pressure. The problem with obsessive passion is that it has the opposite, negative effect to harmonious passion.

This tells us that the beneficial effects of passion on creative thinking can only be realized via intrinsic motivation, not external pressure.

Creative Insight from Cailin Lavallee, Head of Marketing, Waze Ads

Cailin Lavallee, head of marketing for ads at crowdsourced navigation app Waze, knows the challenges and rewards that come with a passion-driven line of work. “I love my current position because I love the product first and foremost. When you’re a marketer, having a true belief in the value of your product is essential. I also love working on the brand side because I get a full picture of what’s happening across the business and have ownership over decision making.”

When it comes to the challenges of being creative on demand in a fast-paced work environment, Cailin knows it’s simply not possible. “Forced creativity is impossible, so you have to make space for it. I also make sure to find time outside of work—to exercise, to socialize—I often get my best ideas when I’m away from my desk. I also ask for help when I need it. We have a really diverse team and it’s really important to tap into different experiences and perspectives to get the best ideas.”

It’s one thing to motivate your own creativity, but quite another to motivate your teams. Cailin says “Giving ownership and credit to those who make things happen is key. On our blog, I make sure whoever wrote the piece is featured so they have public recognition. I also like to have brainstorms and invite people from different teams to join. They often have the best ideas because they aren’t thinking about the same issues and challenges that we do every day.”

Cailin explains that one of the hardest barriers to push past as a marketer is convincing upper management for more budget and resources for a business activity that is often seen as a “soft” pillar of the company rather than fundamental to its bottom line. So there is an added challenge in getting the space and freedom to allow that creativity to flourish. Cailin says that getting The Compass started—Waze’s blog—required some convincing for stakeholders. “It was a new thing for the organization and my belief in the power of content marketing was what made it happen. Now, it’s my constant challenge to continue to improve it and prove its value…and we’re starting to see results. Our plan for next year is to expand it into new markets, so we’ll be a true global publication!”

Cailin’s advice for creatives and marketers looking at breaking barriers to innovation? “Remember that good ideas come from everywhere and to bring new people in to help solve problems if you are getting stuck. Also sometimes, things just take time.”

Waze Blog Screenshot

4 Tips for Harnessing Passion to Spur Creativity

1. Build deadline buffers into your delivery schedule. Looming deadlines are the antithesis of creative success. Make sure you and your teams are starting work as early as possible and allowing enough time for the creative process to unfold without too much external pressure. Don’t let your team get to the point where stress and overtime enter the picture, because neither will help you achieve your goals faster.

2. Encourage taking frequent breaks. If productivity has stalled, don’t continue hitting your creative head against a wall. Sometimes we need to step away from our work to allow our minds time to rest and revisit the problem from a different, refreshed angle. Try going for a walk to physically remove yourself from the environment that’s causing creative roadblocks, or find a quiet space to meditate for 15 minutes.

3. Mix up teams. Sometimes all you need to kick-start creativity is one new person or one new idea. You may be surprised where that insight can come from. Bring non-creative people in your organization together with the creatives to mix things up.

4. Build non-work related activities into your schedule. It’s easy to become bogged down with your work if it’s all you’re doing or thinking about. Make sure to allow time for other activities outside the office like exercise and socializing. Exercise is beneficial for the brain as well as the body and socializing on non-work time and topics can actually lead to breaking barriers in thinking.

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Nicola is an international award-winning writer, editor and communication specialist based in Toronto. She has stamped her career passport all over the communication industry in publishing, digital media, travel and advertising. She specializes in print and digital editorial and content marketing, and writes about travel, food, health, lifestyle, psychology and personal finance for publications ranging from the Toronto Star and WestJet Magazine to Tangerine Bank and Fidelity Investments. Nicola is owner and principal of communication consultancy Think Forward Communication, and Editor-in-Chief at Nicola revels in the visceral, experiential side of travel, and will passionately argue for its psychological paybacks, especially after a few glasses of wine. You can contact her at

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