Cultivating Creative Leadership in an Age of Complexity

When a majority of the 1,500 CEOs who participated in our 2010 Global CEO Study identified ‘creativity’ is the most important leadership quality for leaders over the next five years, it certainly got our attention.  Intrigued, we began to explore how organizational creativity could be understood as an important precondition for both adaptation and innovation in this increasingly complex economic environment.


And then, several months later, when the IBM 2010 Global CHRO study revealed, that almost 70% of HR heads felt they were not effective at developing future leaders, we knew that cultivating leadership, especially in the context of promoting organizational creativity, was a topic that we must address.


Viewing the question of creative leadership through the lens of organizational creativity helped us to de-personalize the topic.  We wanted to look at the organizational factors—including leadership—that lead to value creation in complex social systems, but we did not want to get distracted by the ‘charismatic leader’ discussion.


We decided to investigate three primary areas:
  • What are the key capabilities of a creative organization?
  • What are the catalysts of these capabilities in individuals and groups?
  • How could these catalytic conditions be scaled and applied for the organization as a whole?

Given the nature of the topic our study team felt we had permission to approach this investigation in a slightly more ‘creative’ fashion.  So, in addition to the interviews we conducted with recognized innovation experts and more than four-dozen leaders from around the world, we elected to conduct this investigation in a very public social media forum: a LinkedIn discussion group.

A special thanks goes out to the dozens of enthusiastic members in the One HCM Global Community group on LinkedIn who contributed more than 300 comments to our team postings as the research progressed.  We are deeply indebted to them for the quality of that ‘conversation’ as it has significantly clarified and enhanced our thinking about the subject.


So what are some of the key findings of our research to-date?


First, organizational creativity is not the enemy of control and predictability.  Rather it is a form of latent capital, ‘creative capital’ if you will, that if cultivated intentionally, can be made available to the organization in times of challenge and change. Conversely, a decision to not to cultivate organizational creativity carries significant risk of it’s own in this increasingly interdependent, interconnected, and complex world.


Second, leadership can either promote or undermine organizational creativity.  In a growing body of peer-review research as well as in our own investigations, leadership behavior has emerged as one of the most potent variables in predicting creativity in teams and organizations.  And in this regard, perhaps our most provocative finding is that traditional leadership development programs were viewed as irrelevant by our study participants.  They made it clear that cultivating creative leadership happens through learning that is high-impact, experiential, tied to real business challenges, and that specifically requires the challenge of the status quo assumptions.


Third, creativity, in both individuals and organizations, is powered by dense networks of connectivity.  The new creative organization is hyper-connected both internally and externally, and this connectivity, when combined with information transparency, allows it to tap into the global collective intelligence in a way that structurally alters the organizational DNA in favor creative collaboration.


These are fascinating times, many of our study participants told us, because the combination of this hyper-connectivity and the powerful social analytics that increasingly enable us, in real-time, to better understand and influence constituent behavior, will lay the groundwork for an fresh explosion of new and exciting business models.  In fact, there were some we spoke with who claimed that organizational creativity is destined to become this new competitive differentiator in this age of complexity.

We are targeting the release of the creative leadership study for late May or early June.  In the meantime, please join the conversation at One HCM Global Community where this week we are featuring the full creative leadership interview with Keith Yamashita- IBM Brand Fellow and Chairman of SYPartners.  (There have been  60 comments logged already so please do join the conversation.)

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