The CLF Creative Leader Interviews on Leadership, Creativity and Innovation
A history of interviews with leaders by The Creative Leadership Forum and articles from the CLF
Creative Leadership: leading your staff out of the box
Innovation – in 2009 it’s not just a word to be bandied about. The economy is forcing us to get creative. Innovation could be just what we need and it could be very good for business.
What exactly is creative leadership? It’s not an easy question to answer, but Ralph Kerle is one person who is well qualified to offer an answer.
Ralph is the Program Director of the AGSM Executive Programs Leading for Creativity and Innovation program. He is also the Executive Chairman of the Creative Leadership Forum and Founder of the Creative Skills Training Council, Asia Pacific.
If asked to define creative leadership, Ralph can conjure 1001 different definitions off the cuff. When asked to pick just one, he chose the following:
Creative leadership is the ability to lead others into a new, innovative and unknown future.
Ralph compares creative leadership to the process of sculpting or playwriting.
The artist begins with an idea. Through reflection, revelation and the capacity to let go of things past, the artist is able to navigate challenge and move beyond the limitations of precedent.
Creative leadership is centered on gaining insight through reflection, exploration of new techniques and tools, and an aesthetic approach to situations and challenges.
Creative Leadership versus Traditional Management
As a specialist in the field, Ralph Kerle suggests that the global economic crisis is a perfect example of where creative leadership and traditional management are very different.
Ralph posits that at the core of the crisis is stasis in global thought. While traditional management theory might not have been the catalyst of the crisis, it’s likely to have been a root cause. The crisis has made it impossible to deny the obsolescence of the way that many of us approach business and leadership. We’re risk averse and we overtax the left sides of our brains. And it’s not working anymore. The simple truth is that our business paradigms have failed.
How can we become more creative and innovative as leaders?
It’s difficult to imagine creativity being taught. But when teaching leaders, Ralph practices what he preaches. He is constantly thinking of innovative ways to help leaders tap into their creativity.
Just last week, he completed the development of the Creative Leadership Index. This index is based on his findings from a national study that reached over 30,000 people and explored the question, ‘Is Australian Management Creative and Innovative?’
The purpose of the Index is two-fold. Firstly, it’s a diagnostic tool to help leaders understand the creative and innovative components within their organisations. Secondly, it draws out themes about industry and workplace practice.
The Creative Leadership Index will be available to all participants of the AGSM Executive Programs Leadership for Creativity and Innovation program.
Where will you be when the worst is over?
It can be difficult to see the silver lining of an economic crisis. After all, we’re terrified of failing. This is understandable, until you look at the grand scheme of human endeavour. Innovation, progress, ideas and leaders that have truly shaped the world have very often been born of ‘failure’. Artists are much more attuned to this reality than we are in the business world. At the essence of art is curiosity. It’s no coincidence that this is at the core of innovation too.
As recently as early 2008, words like “creative leadership” were good for instantly glazed-over pairs of CEO eyes. But finally everyone’s sitting up and listening. Ultimately, it will be up to you what you make of the recession. You can hold on for dear life, or recognise the crisis as an opportunity.
Words to the wise
Ralph had the following advice for leaders.
“I’m frequently told I work with the soft stuff – the people, the behaviour. This is just not true. I work with the hard stuff. Focusing on the measurements, the numbers – this is what has failed us. In the vast majority of cases, once you get the people and the behaviour right, the rest will follow suit.”
This is the full transcript of the opening remakes by Ralph Kerle, Chair of the AGSM Roundtable on Leadership, Creativity and Innovation and Executive Chairman, the Creative Leadership Forum
The word innovation, still in these very hard and disturbing times appears almost daily in the media. There are 360million references to innovation on Google and on my Google Daily RSS feed I receive notice of new books and articles released daily globally on the topic. And now I get emails daily suggesting that innovation will be the saviour of the current economic times. To-day, the word innovation in appears almost daily in the media. There are 360million references to innovation on Google and on the Google Daily RSS feed I receive notice of new books and articles released daily globally on the topic. Every job advertisement talks about the applicant having the need to be creative and innovative.
It appears this thing called innovation is a common everyday occurrence. The reality is one might be able to talk about it as if it is. In practice, the reality is very different.
Innovation is an outcome. Nothing more.
Creativity and invention with their fellow travellers risk, experimentation and the until more recently undiscussable “f” word “failure” are the drivers of innovation.
These concepts are unpredictable, very elusive and differ from individual to individual, organisation to organisation in practice as much as we differ ourselves. Every example is different.
So the purpose of the Creative Leadership Forum research project “Is Australian management creative and innovative?” was to see if there were discernible patterns of practices, understandings, attitudes, perceptions and needs around creativity and its resultant innovation amongst Australian managers that could allow us to design and deliver meaningful and transformative peer to peer executive education and training programmes to enhance their practice in this area of vital interest to the Australian economy.
The research questionnaire was deliberately designed to be generic, not to target industry or market segments, rather to reflect the existing opinions and practices surrounding creativity and innovation in the Australian work force as a whole.
The on-line survey was framed around three main areas of interest
- Leadership, creativity and innovation
- Perceptions of creativity & innovation as practice, individually and organisationally
- Creative leadership, creativity and innovation development needs
I would like to thank at the outset The Australian Services Roundtable, the Australian Institute of Commercialisation, The Society for Knowledge Economics, The Australian Facilitators Network, ETN Communications through their magazine and on-line journal Fast Thinking,The Creative Skills Training Council, The Leadership Consortium, Innovation and Business Skills Australia (IBSA), Creativity Exchange Network and IXC Australia who agreed to partner with us in this project by providing links on their web sites and direct email newsletters to their membership databases to the on-line survey. We estimate to have reached 30,000 in the Australian workforce at all levels and received in total 331 responses . In addition, I carried out additional indepth interviews with 25 C plus executives after the compilation of the survey questionnaires.
I would also like to thank Dean Harris, Group Managing Director of Synnovate Australia whose advice was very helpful in the design of the survey.
Here is a quick snapshot of the more interesting results
How do Australians Perceive Creative Leadership, Creativity and Innovation.
When asked are you a creative leader?
81% of Australians said YES
So if you are a creative leader (as the majority of Australian managers say they are) what does a creative leader do?
97.08% say a creative leader is one who leads people and processes creatively
45.9% say a creative leader is one who creates
A very important distinction here in that Australian managers say a creative leader is NOT ONE WHO CREATES but one who leads people and processes creatively.
Very revealing, is that managers do NOT see creative leadership, creativity and innovation in the basics of business - area such as revenue generation (50.8%), cost reduction (25%) or the development of new products.
The main theme to emerge from this topic is that whilst Australians feel they are creative leaders they foster creativity through empowerment rather than actually practicing or applying creativity in the work place.
And because of the disconnect between the role of a creative leader and the role of a business leader, the workforce is conflicted on how to apply creativity to produce innovation at work.
These responses suggest the need for leadership training focused on building a better work environment that ties functional creative skills training to the practice of creativity in everyday management.
Personal Perceptions of Creativity
Hands up those who are artists?
Hands up those who think they are creative?
So where does creativity come from?
91% disagreed creativity is mainly practised by artists
72% disagreed creativity came from artists
If creativity is not necessarily artistic, then what is it?
46% say it is mainly problem solving
44% say it is NOT problem solving but can’t say what it is
So there is substantial confusion and a lack of knowledge about how to describe and use the word “creativity”
We asked Australian managers how they perceived themselves creatively.
People say I am creative (Hands up those for yes hands up for no) The report response - 70%
I am creative (Hands up those for yes hands up for no) The report response 88% (And only 1% disagreed)
I recognise when I am being creative. Hands up those for yes hands up for no Report response 79%
Is there a difference between personal creativity and work creativity? Hands up Yes Hands up No
62. % No 48. % Yes.
What makes managers creative?
We asked managers to list three attributes they perceived as their creative attributes in order of importance..
- 56 % responded with attributes that could be called a functional, objective rational or problem solving view of creativity
- 20% responded with attributes that could be defined as an aesthetic or a softer form of creativity
- 21% attributes that could be categorised as both such as courage, empowerment, risk
- 2% as neither, using terms such as tenacity, endurance
In summary, we can say the majority of Australian managers hold a broad definition of creativity and in the main feel they are creative and believe that creativity can be used by anyone anywhere. They are accepting that creativity has many manifestations and uses.
My personal view though is that Australian managers are forced to view creativity and innovation from an operational, functional and process outcome driven perspective rather than from the perspective of a creative process and because of this it is impossible to tell if a manager who identifies him or herself as creative is able to manifest that creativity in the workplace.
How do Australian Managers perceive Organisational Creativity.
82% could not describe the difference between the terms creativity and innovation when it is applied to the workplace.
Yet they seemed to be able to do so intuitively when asked to describe their experiences of creativity and innovation organisationally.
When describing experiences of creativity, managers described what they did
Designed, created, wrote, performed
“created a nation wide add campaign”
“designed a Christmas party theme”
When describing experiences of innovation, managers described what they achieved
Reduced costs, enhanced quality, created value, streamlined process
“saved $55million in recurrent expenditure”
“developed a new more efficient filing system”
From this we can see that Australian managers regard creativity in a very narrow view as mainly idea generation; innovation as implementation
"Turning ideas into implementation” was how one respondent described organisational creativity.
Importantly, the overall perception of individual creativity and innovation in the workplace is positive
However and this is a vital statistic..
Whilst 81% of Australians believe they are innovative and are able to apply creative thinking at work, only 55% believe their organisation is creative and a slightly larger number 64% say their organisation is innovative.
In other words, Australian managers have a more positive view of their ability to be creative themselves versa their organisations ability to apply this creativity.
On the specifics of Leadership, Creativity and Innovation Skills Development in The Workplace
- only 18% of organisations surveyed had a creative leadership programme
- 95% of those programmes are CE0 driven
Creativity and Innovation Skills Development In the Workplace
49% organisations have offered some form of creativity and innovation training. mainly in Senior to Middle Management
A very telling stat was that less than a quarter of the respondents felt their organisations creativity and innovation skills programmes were successful and just over 50% were unsure whether they were successful or not.
So it was against this research report that AGSM Executive Programmes took the decision to form a Roundtable drawing senior leaders across all sectors into a dialogue - the purpose of which is twofold -
- to gain different perspectives and understandings on the issue of leadership creativity and innovation
- to use the opportunity of a Roundtable to reflect on and incorporate into their overall activities the thought knowledge and experience a gathering of this nature will offer.
Back to basics is the mantra I keep hearing from senior leaders and business owners as they prepare for an indeterminate period of turbulence and uncertainty. However, it is not possible for us to return to the basics as the basics we know no longer exist. Our reliance on measurement and technology as a prediction for the future has shown to be false and often misleading as companies keep re-adjusting their revenue and profit projections, downwards in nearly all instances, and job layoffs start to take hold. The craziness is compounded when world trade collapses by 45% in a quarter; investors in super funds see their savings reduced by 35% and investors rush to invest in gold as it climbs beyond US$1000 an ounce as other commodities crash. Against these facts how can we make economic sense? The only certainty seems to be the media who keep perpetuating the doom and gloom.
In January 31, 2009 the leading article in the Sydney Morning Herald Weekend Business Section uses a pictorial metaphor of several old fashion galleons armed to the teeth carrying flags from America, UK and Australia rushing rapidly toward a giant waterfall created by melting icebergs with the caption "Drop the anchor, we're going over the edge!!"
Here we stand in a moment in time where everything we have taken for granted economically; everything we considered secure and certain about our assets and our ability to earn and grow those assets seems to be in question. Our reality is now contained in a miasma of ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty waiting for signals suggesting the economic order has either completely imploded or landed safely.
Just this weekend at the top end of town, the World Economic Forum 2009, Niall Ferguson, an economic historian from Harvard, named this coming period the Great Repression comparing the global situation to what happened recently in the Argentinean economy.
It is against this backdrop of systemic economic breakdown, the Creative Leadership Forum has recorded its best monthly revenue on record and goes into 2009 with an unprecedented number of bookings for leadership programmes, consultancies and for me, keynote speaking engagements.
It is not by chance this has occurred.
Senior leaders and managers know we are in a crisis of extraordinary proportions and as a result are keen for deep and meaningful dialogues devoid of posturing, propaganda and proselytizing. This week the World Economic Forum Davos 2009 has shown the importance and power of open dialogue at the highest levels. Leaders seem to be seeking different opinions, listening with new intent, not eager to make decisions necessarily; more to reflect, to gather their own thoughts; to try and understand what it is that is emerging globally and nationally. This is a scary uncomfortable place to be in especially for leaders in organisations who have relied on what they considered once reliable measurement and information systems.
What a time like this calls for is authentic dialogues devoid of any hint of rhetoric or status as leaders seek signs of new emerging conditions and directions. Open-heartedness, open-mindedness and an open will to live with the current darkness of uncertainty and to make hard decisions requires extraordinary personal powers of balance, perseverance, patience and resilience.
These are the philosophies and practices that great creative leaders such as Nelson Mandela have embodied - the ability to apply those values and concepts in times of darkness for the benefit of their constituents and stakeholders..
Are our business or organisational leaders equipped to embody those practices as we move forward in these times?