I found it interesting yesterday to see that IBM’s Institute for Business Value, a think tank and research organization, has surveyed CEOs of major corporations to try to understand the key characteristics that leaders will need in the near future. I guess I should be more specific – I didn’t think it was interesting that they asked 1500 CEOs about the important attributes and skills necessary for future leaders to possess. I found it interesting that the number one skill they recommended was “creativity”.
This is interesting on so many levels. Mention creativity in most corporate environments and eyes roll so dramatically you’ll be concerned that someone could actually lose one. An eye that is. Creativity isn’t just scoffed at in most organizations – it isn’t even considered a topic of polite conversation. There are few if any classes on creativity, and very few people outside of perhaps the marketing organization get hired for their creative skills. Most organizations “rent” creative people from their marcom or ad agency, then sigh a big sigh of relief when those “creative types” in black turtlenecks go back to their colorful offices.
In fact we’ve spent the last decade or so hunting down and eliminating the creative types – those that “question authority” or visualize whirled peas in larger organizations. We’ve glommed onto the Six Sigma mantra, focused on continually improving in a Newtonian fashion to eliminate variances and errors. God help you if you suggested a creative new idea or change. No, we’ve been rewarding people for constantly sticking to the knitting, only in a more efficient way.
But what’s happened is that the future isn’t like the past. As Twain remarked, history doesn’t repeat but it does rhyme. Today is somewhat similar to yesterday, except that the pace of change and complexity are more intense, and will be ever so. We can’t constantly improve the existing processes and methods in the face of changing environments – we have to dream up new methods, new solutions. And that dreaming up starts with creativity. Roger Martin, the Dean of the Rotman school, wrote a book entitled the “Opposable Mind”, which boiled down for the sake of a blog post suggested that good leaders can hold two opposable concepts in their heads and reject an “either/or” decision making process. Thinking outside the constraints and extending the context of the problem – that’s creativity, because that thinking rejects the limited options and finds new solutions.
Interesting to think that a new breed of executives and managers will need to be more creative, and that CEOs already believe that. There are only a couple of problems:
- The word isn’t filtering down in their organizational bureaucracies. Creativity is at best frowned on, so where will they find these creative leaders in their organizations?
- There’s not a lot of approved training for creativity and little room to exercise creativity in an organization. How does anyone develop these skills in a larger organization?
- The graduate programs many executives attend – MBAs and other executive programs – don’t place much emphasis on creativity. How does this thinking get grounded in a new generation of leaders?
You new generation of leaders, it’s time to apply all the creativity you have, and find resources and outlets to learn more creativity, because the markets and challenges you’ll face will require far more creative thinking than ever before.
Jeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of “Make us more Innovative”, and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.