In many leadership discussions, one of the key ingredients for leadership is usually absent. Leaders must have ideas. Popular leadership ‘styles’, ‘personalities’, etc. etc. all make the mistake of separating out this important quality. Someone is an “innovator” and another person is a “motivator” or some such silly, arbitrary distinction.
You know what it’s like when you have a leader without ideas: lacklustre direction, no crisis management, consultation (and all decisions) by committee, bureaucratic processes, all delegation with all the reward going to the top. Real leaders have ideas.
Montgomery, Patton, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Churchill, you name them … wartime leaders all drove strategy because they had the grand ideas and knew how to make them happen. Likewise, innovators like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates (in his heyday), John Dell and drivers like Jack Welch all had an abundance of ideas. Modern medical leaders like Christiaan Barnard, Fiona Wood or Jonas Salk all not only pioneered techniques, but passionately built a fraternity of peers willing to advance their fields.
I was often frustrated in various organisations, where I and others around me had ideas which would be taken over by the hierarchy, who then usually managed to butcher the ideas and/or their application. When, instead, I was supported in my initiatives and invited to lead them, the results were inordinately better and created groups of individuals willing to contribute to the ideas’ success. Likewise, when in leadership, I have always been creative and then brought up others to deliver, but I also learned that if someone in my ranks came up with good ideas that it was best to support them in delivering them.
When I was undertaking my graduate work in Canada, I spent some time investigating creativity and its assessment, development and application in both cognitive and educational contexts. There are only a few academics and researchers around the world who have conducted thorough studies of creativity. E.P. Torrance is one, and a host of his students and mentees, which included Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (he of “Flow” fame). Torrance, who was immensely creative and worked hard to develop creativity in children, also said that creativity was the “black hole” of academia, because becoming expert in it or studying it intensively did nothing for one’s career. (Robert Sternberg has also done some work in this area, although it really is not as substantive as his work in general and structural intelligence, nor is it as profoundly useful. He has edited the Handbook of Creativity, which is the standard reference, however.)
I can tell you about one of the most interesting tests for creativity some time – I came up with it when first clarifying my own thinking before conducting research and finding my test had been formally replicated and extrapolated in previous work. It’s hilarious.
How do you create new ideas for your workplace, business or industry, however? It’s not really necessary to attend multiple “creative forces” workshops – they may well stimulate some creativity, but the best way to innovate for your needs is to apply creativity to your context.
In my coaching work, here’s one of the tips that I give to clients:
- Spend time analysing both the socio-economic and technological environment for clues to pressing problems and future trends.
This provides the “context” for developing and brainstorming solutions that will combine current problems with emerging trends.
I have developed a guided process that I can take people through that helps people develop multiple creative solutions and to innovate new services, technologies or products. Proper examination of the environment surrounding you is critical to that process and it’s amazing what you can devise.
So try this in the coming week: when confronted with a problem to which there is no apparent solution, take a step back. Think about what’s happening in the environment around you. What trends do you see occurring? Now, analyse the problem in that light and identify what specific outcome you want to achieve. Now, start brainstorming some possible solutions.
See how creative you are and what innovations you might devise.
Creativity and Innovation are learned. They are not innate. They should be taught and promoted across an organisation. But remember, a leader must have ideas or she is second rate.
Let me know if you come up with anything – we’ll split any proceeds 50/50!!