Who Killed Creativity? How Can We Get Creativity Back?

The Creative Change Leader: Dealing with the complexities of the future

By Gaia Grant


“Managers today face a new set of problems, products of a volatile and unforgiving environment. Some of the most critical: How in an age of rapid change do you create organizations that are as adaptable and resilient as they are focused and efficient? How in a world where the winds of creative destruction blow at gale force can a company innovate quickly and boldly enough to stay relevant and profitable?” Hamel, 2009

We were sitting on our balcony on the last day of summer, enjoying the sunny view over the beach we live next to, when we saw some ominously threatening black clouds roll in over the horizon. We knew a stormy southerly change had been predicted, and we were ready to see the spectacle. We had closed all our windows and lashed all movable outdoor furniture down in preparation – all the weather forecasts had been clear that a storm was coming. Yet few other people seemed prepared. We noticed that it was not until the winds started howling and the rains started bucketing down that the crowds fled from the beach in panic. We saw on the news that night that boats were caught on the harbour and left drifting. People were caught on the roads with fallen trees and electrical wires blocking their way.

It made us wonder why we are often so ill-prepared when the information is available to us and the signs are so obvious?

Dealing with a volatile and unpredictable environment

In his recently released book Accelerate, renowned Harvard Professor John Cotter cleverly demonstrates how the world is moving faster. He includes a series of tables clearly showing the exponential rates of change since the mid-1900s in a number of areas, including total patent applications, growth in hard drive storage, and shares traded on NYSE annually. For all of these areas and more, says Cotter, the data is convincing. “On almost every important business index, the world is racing ahead. The stakes – the financial, social, environmental, and political consequences – are rising in a similar exponential way.”

Kotter describes the need for the organisation of the future to simultaneously maintain rigid systems and structures that can provide a solid base of support for ongoing development, and develop parallel nimble and adaptable systems that will be able to cope with the dramatic changes ahead. The general trend is towards recognising that the world is not black and white, that there are no simple solutions, but that ambiguities such as these must be accepted and dealt with appropriately.

So if this is what the organisations of the future might look like, what will the leaders of the future need to be? It has become clear to us that the leaders of the future will need to be creative change leaders.

A profile of the creative change leader

Creative change leadership is a relatively new approach to leadership that has been studied by Dr Gerard Puccio and his team from the International Centre of Studies in Creativity at the State University of New York. Creative change leadership has been described by Puccio and his colleagues as “the ability to deliberately engage one’s imagination to define and guide a group towards a novel goal—a direction that is new for the group. As a consequence of bringing about this creative change, creative leaders have a profoundly positive influence on their context… and the individuals in that situation.”).

As Puccio and Mance have described in new research they are currently working on, leadership needs to be the catalyst for change, and when successfully applied it interacts effectively with creativity as the process of change, and innovation as the successful adaptation of change. The change leader will need to balance all of these areas successfully.

Creative change leaders will need to be able to deal with the same complexities. They will need to be:

  • adaptable
  • highly flexible
  • tolerant of ambiguity
  • open to potential new ideas and solutions

As British theoretical physicist Professor Geoffrey West and his colleagues have identified, we are needing to innovate faster in order keep up with the pace of growth. Since, he believes, all civilizations and all organizations follow a ‘sigmoidal’ growth curve, they usually stop or rest after a period of time. By this stage, when the writing is already on the wall, it’s usually too late to do anything about it. This is traditionally when spending on innovation is cut, and yet this is ironically when it is needed the most. If companies allow themselves to be dominated by bureaucracy and administration rather than creativity and innovation, as West says is inevitable, they typically become suffocated by the essentials.

Creative change leaders will embrace innovation proactively and ensure it remains a priority.

By Gaia Grant – a Director of Tirian and the co-author of Who Killed Creativity? …And How Can We Get It Back?: Seven essential strategies for making yourself, your team and your organisation more innovative. Gaia has an MSc in Creative Thinking and Change Leadership from the State University of New York, and is starting research on creating a culture that supports innovation with the University of Sydney.

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