Innovation Leadership Requirements – Creativity

Innovation Leadership Requirements - CreativityI 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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

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Jeffrey PhillipsJeffrey 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

Jeffrey Phillips




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No Comments

  1. Jim Smith on May 27, 2010 at 5:20 pm


    Interesting blog! There’s quite a few things working against the development of creativity. Much of the education process does whatever possible to stifle creativity, it’s far easier for the poor teacher to deal with a bunch of zombies than a bunch of loose cannons running around and being creative.

    Secondly, leaders don’t help much either. I help clients reduce operating expenses by hundreds of millions of dollars in as little as eight weeks. Yes there a “secret process” involved, the net of it is that for the duration of the project we almost completely suspend the impact politics and culture have on stifling innovation and creativity. I know that sounds too easy, but once the CEO sponsored process it implemented we receive thousands of recommendations in a week when previous attempts generated only 800 in a year.

    Like Regan said in his famous statement about government not being the solution, rather they are the problem, middle management is exactly the same.

    Fifteen years with the same results, take away the political and cultural road blocks, real or perceived and creativity flows freely.

  2. Jose Palomino on May 31, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    One good thing we can look at is the strong community of businessmen and women, entrepreneurs, and marketers online. The web sure has its own bureaucracy, but here, employees get to hang out with the bosses. CEOs tweet alongside entry-level employees. More and more large companies are also adapting creative marketing and PR via non-traditional efforts.

    I believe this kind of reaching out requires a reassessment of a brand’s value and how it is proposed to a clientelle. Finally, so much learning is going on online. There is a huge exchange of ideas from people who comprise every level of an organizational chart. Undergraduates, MBA degree holders, and even 13- and 15-year olds who have yet to set foot in college are exploring the world of business.

    I do agree that a lot of companies still have to overcome the restricting practices they prize in their own respective businesses. But I also think that now, in the age of sharing and exchanging ideas, is the time to encourage people to be creative. Thank you for this inspiring post, Jeffrey! The way you used IBM’s research to pose a challenge C-level employees is just wonderful.

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