Creativity is King


An IBM study of over 1,700 CEOs around the world identified creativity as one of the top qualities they look for in future leaders.

This makes sense. In anticipation of greater complexity, the most successful CEOs are preparing their organizations for a journey into unchartered and scary waters, which is a tactic that has been used for centuries. At the edge of their known world, ancient cartographers used to write, “There be Dragons” on the old sea maps. Company leaders, like the ancient explorers, have to prepare their people to creatively adapt to whatever they may encounter in the unknown (especially if they might run into dragons).

“Most company strategy unfortunately stops at the imagination.” 

In spite of the complexity and uncertainty of new territory, leaders are expected to boldly and creatively screw up old models and assumptions by transforming them into new forms that respond to the changing environment. But they can’t do it alone. Future leaders not only need to channel their inner-creativity but also need the tools to lead others in creative, imaginative and innovative endeavors. Every company recognizes it needs the life-blood of innovations flowing through it if it wants to survive. And innovations are a product of activated creativity growing from imagining new possibilities. So leaders and their teams must learn how to flex the “muscle” of imagination to creatively develop their ideas into game changing innovations.

This takes moving strategies beyond their usual patterns. As one of our clients, a Global Brand President, once said, “Most company strategy unfortunately stops at the imagination". And if a strategy stops at the imagination, it is highly unlikely that the intention to activate creativity will have a lasting impact. Stopping short of imagination is like calling yourself an explorer but never traveling to the unknown where “There be Dragons”.

So how do you set up the conditions for imagining new possibilities? Combine your natural creativity with mastery of two critically important 21st Century competencies: seeing and collaborating.

SEEING—Develop the focus and capability for studying the sea changes within your cultural environment that have implications to your end users. Learn to assess the complex landscape around you with a “whole systems” lens, gaining insights and seeing patterns that can create new opportunities and solutions. More and more graduate business schools are teaching whole systems thinking. If you miss the whole system perspective, your imagination will be constrained by a myopic lens. Commit to developing your mastery of seeing as an integral part of how you lead and how your team operates. 

COLLABORATING—Imaginative ideas tend to take shape from interactions with others who approach the world from a different perspective. Setting up environments to collaborate and exchange within your enterprise will cut across the boundaries of your departments.  Even more importantly, open the boundaries for collaboration of the entire company. Google and P&G, for example, collaborated by temporarily exchanging their marketing people—which opened the teams to a completely new set of insights and imaginative possibilities.

When you get good at seeing and collaborating, you will set yourself up for envisioning new and ever expanding creative possibilities. And when you apply these possibilities to developing new models and innovations, you are well on your way to creating future value for yourself, your company and its stakeholders. 

—Dan and Meredith Beam