There's No Looking 'back'

Suddenly, shockingly, the world is different. Economic, political and social tsunami's have ripped through our lives and made sure that post 2008, things, on a lot of levels, will never be quite the same again.

As the reality of tough times hits so too does the realisation that there are no precedents to look back to; no tried and tested recipes for success. Solutions, "meaning", sense, and ultimately survival - will only come from the essence of what makes us human: our own creativity.

Successful businesses depend on new ideas and are driven by creative leadership

In business language: real future growth (not "growth" from cost cutting, restructuring or rationalisation) can ONLY come from new ideas. So every business' survival depends on its (and its people's) ability to:

  • solve problems it has never experienced before;
  • make connections between seemingly unrelated issues;
  • see solutions and not just endlessly analyze the problem;
  • develop new (and relevant) products, processes and services.
  • Nothing less than create its own future.

The leadership challenge this poses is enormous. Leadership of any kind, be it small business, big corporate, governmental, national, global, or community needs to adapt to the new reality.

Einstein said: "Out of difficulty comes opportunity" and Churchill differentiated optimists as "those that see the opportunity in the difficulty" and pessimists as" those that see the difficulty in the opportunity".

The opportunity in the difficulty

This crisis, coming at us on all fronts and touching all nations will not be overcome by government intervention, more regulation or going back to the past. Call me an optimist but I see in this difficulty an opportunity for creative leadership to emerge as a key skill, a driving force and ultimately a source of competitive advantage for any enterprise going forward.

The rest of the world is already on to this. On a recent visit to Sydney I interacted with a body called the Creative Leadership Forum (CLF) which has been set up to develop the skills of creative leadership and innovation among executive and senior leadership in Australia and the Pacific Rim area. It operates based on a collaborative model which brings together global experts on creativity and innovation, spanning the continuum from academia, research, practitioners, and designers.

Interestingly, the latest CLF research among CEO's and senior executives identifies the issues that keep them awake at night:

  • They see creativity and innovation as essential drivers of new business models - yet they acknowledge that innovation in organisations is impeded by a lack of collaboration among employees;
  • Creative leadership skills are recognised as part of the solution to the above. While they use these for a recruitment filter - 2 out of 3 CEO's acknowledge that they have no training in creative leadership.

What is creative leadership?

So what is meant by creative leadership? Many mention the "perfect" overlap between logic (left brained; structured rationality) and magic (right brained passion, imagination and intuition).

Asked differently, whose name is synonymous with creative leadership? A lot of people mention the obvious ones: Richard Branson, Anita Roddick. It applies to anyone who has been:

  • Enlightened or visionary enough to create a new idea
  • Courageous enough to implement it
  • Charismatic enough to lead the innovation
  • Empowering enough to create an environment where others discover their potential - so making the change stick.
  • Creative leadership is about inspiring passion about a future" still to be created". It is about unlocking not just the skill of employees - but their WILL as well.

Why in SA and why now?

As Professor Nick Binedell, Director of GIBS explained at the recent GIBS Arts Experience: "South African business is extremely lively at present, where the ground itself seems to be shifting. During such periods of transformation and uncertainty, successful nations find solutions through personal and social innovation... breaking down rigid thought patterns and offering new alternatives to business problems."

What's the state of creative leadership in South Africa right now?

Are we managing the human imagination?

Do we create working environments which unlock employees "whole brains"?

Are we creating cultures:

  • Which value independent thinking and risk taking?
  • That are tolerant of failure?
  • That value diversity?
  • That exhibit open communication?
  • That demonstrate trust and respect?

This is admittedly the very antithesis of the "keep your head down - back to basics - more regulations" approach.

But the courageous few will reap the rewards: creative leadership has been proved to deliver a significantly higher success rate in terms of innovation, employee engagement and change and renewal.

As we begin to face and deal with retrenchment, downsizing, restructuring, isn't that what we need in South Africa right now?

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