Creativity and Innovation

Creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas to modify and innovate processes. Creativity is an essential prerequisite of a high leader. In fact, the boundary between leadership and art, the art of human relations and remodeling reality in this case, is very thin. High leaders are considered artists in that they introduce creatively new methods and processes based on an original intuition. 

     A leader’s intuition brings forward something new that was never seen and recognized before. The leader develops the intuition into a vision and the vision into a project that involves people, investments and efforts to transform that original intuition into reality. The leader is working to make real something that is not real, convincing people of the reality of something they never really saw and collaborating with a team that has never done it before. The situation is not easy. Creativity here is the element that brings it all together. 

     A leader is always attracted by innovation and is disposed for innovation, just like, for instance, a writer is attracted by new languages and expressions. I had innumerable, fascinating, exchanges with my friend novelist, who has a deep knowledge of language and writing forms. Incredibly, we have always been aligned on this issue. Language can be stretched, modified and innovated to meet new expressive forms and to convey emotions, in the same way as organization processes and methods can be stretched, modified and innovated to meet new leadership forms and convey solutions. In fact, if you look at the history of writing, major authors always introduced new styles to refresh the language and obtain new communication heights, the history of literature is there to show this. Organizations, on the other hand, always try to innovate either through the development of execution capabilities throughout the workforce or by enhancing the use of creativity in processes. 

     Innovation is the action of changing something estab-lished, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products. The shift to an innovation-driven economy was determined by globalization, increased competitive pressure, quick changes in technology. Executionary capabilities, developed constantly throughout the years the quality and reliability of products and services, and are today widely shared by organizations or at least can reach similar levels. Creativity instead not only remains a central issue, that not all organizations can ensure, but has also grown into a major solution to competition’s new goal: innovation. 

Creativity is essential as a mindset for the leader and for the project

     Creativity is essential because it establishes an appropriate mindset for the leader. A creative approach puts aside rigid structures and looks into things in a new way. A leader is always creative, it is part of his or her distinctive characteristics. The quest for new roads, more efficient and competitive solutions, the search for higher outcomes requires a constant confrontation with creativity.  A creative leader is seeking something, is looking around for something. We are not talking here of a settled, satisfied leader, who is enjoying his or her success and essentially repeating a method. We are talking here of an unsettled leader, restless, completely open to observation and life, even private life, enjoying the mystery of living and engaging in a vital challenge to solve a problem or find a new solution. It is an incredibly exciting mindset, typical of the leader, but it should not be confused with those individuals perennially unsatisfied who go looking for challenges only to occupy time. A high leader is perfectly able to sit by the poolside and enjoy himself or herself doing nothing a full day. 

     Typically, this wonderful leader (I mean exactly what I wrote, that is: a leader full of wonder) will carry along his or her challenge about anywhere they go. There really is not anymore, a distinction between private life and work. The challenge is just as fun and stimulating as any other part of the private life. And this does make a difference because the most creative solutions come when you begin to blend all aspects of life and maybe you suddenly see in something you would have never expected the solution to your challenge. 

     There is no possibility to be a leader and something else, when you are a leader, you lead throughout your life.

     Creativity is essential because it establishes an appropriate mindset also for the organization. The creative mindset of a high leader eventually transforms the entire organization. That is why organizations that want to innovate are spending more and more time on the choice of the right leader and are dedicating more and more attention to the creative aspects of the candidate. The leader’s creative approach extends to the whole team who, without prejudice of the peculiar abilities of each team member, is encouraged by the leader to let free creativity. Having regular meetings during which everyone is encouraged to change point of view and propose a completely different road to the solution or inspiring everyone to bring their personal life, their personal passions, into the discussion, are two interesting solutions that help free creativity and open up the road for innovation. Such an approach is creative in itself because it innovates interrelations, by creating a more intimate relationship between the members of the team. a leader that manages well this aspect will eventually lead the team to create an intra-organization lexicon, which is a complex term to say a personalized use of words and style of language: within the team everybody finds a new very personal language, for example using some words typical of a private passion of each member of the team, just to give a very basic example a baseball passionate member of the team will use words like ‘center field’, ‘catcher’, ‘shortstop’, ‘pitcher’ when describing a new idea. These words will eventually become part of the team’s daily language when working and when relaxing, so that if you happen to look at the team from the outside, you will not understand what they are actually saying but you will have the impression there is some sort of fellowship going on. This lexicon (wordbook) greatly enhances motivation and sense of belonging to the project and the team, bringing in open mindedness and creativity.

Creativity in organizations

     Creativity in organizations is not just an exercise to generate ideas, it is part of an accurate process aimed at bringing about the potential for innovation. This process, in respect of other creative activities, usually has well defined boundaries so that the creative process is not really completely ‘creative’ but it goes in a precise direction as defined by the organization’s leadership. Applied creativity means understanding and knowledge of what surrounds you, awareness of yourself or your organization goals, ability to think out of the box, courage to take alternative directions, identification of innovative solutions, use of a defined method to bring these solutions to reality and obtain positive results. 

Here the leader is critical because, as explained in the chapter dedicated to humility, the leader’s role is initially to set the boundaries of creativity and, more importantly, decide to what extent let the team force the creativity limits set by the organization. This requires the leader to have his or her feet well on the ground. An organization is not an art shop and, however obvious it may seem, it frequently happens that boundaries are unclear and creativity trespasses the allowed limits. 

     The leader sets the limits and, while encouraging creativity, supervises that no one exceeds the limits. But what are exactly these boundaries? Creativity in organizations should encompass a creative approach to ideas and a creative approach to problem-solving aimed at generating viable and original solutions to complex problems. Creativity’s goal is innovation and innovation, we know, means changing for the good or simplifying something by introducing new methods, ideas or products. The creative approach in an organization addresses directly and exclusively this. The pragmatism, the sense of reality and of limits of the leader is essential to steer the creative process through the potential risks of imagination. The influence that the leader has on the team ensures creativity is kept within boundaries without the team losing enthusiasm or motivation for the project. This is a particularly delicate work for the leader, who has full responsibility of this process.

     Additionally, it should be considered that the most creative individuals in the team are, typically, also the most independent. When the leader encourages creativity in the team it is inevitable that these creative elements will take an as much as independent as possible stance. The creative individual, who necessarily has to see the entire project to propose a viable solution, tends to take possession of the entire project and the leader is the only factor that can prevent this behavior from getting out of control. 

     Finally, organizations usually have a complex relationship with creativity. On one side they need it to pursue innovation and they search for creative leaders, on the other side organizations need to take into account the risks, costs and time consumption that creativity gives rise to.

Experimental creativity

     There is another side to creativity that high leaders use abundantly but is less talked about: the experimental side of creativity. If we assume that creativity involves changing point of view and finding new routes in function of a determined goal, then a creative team is an excellent instrument for the leader to obtain a number of experimental solutions. These solutions are developed by the leader and the team in parallel to the main solution and are constantly used to test the main solution. Sometimes the experimental solution proves better than the main solutions and substitutes it or becomes a feasible Plan B to the main solution.

     In conclusion creativity has a major role in an organization and leaders should always encourage it. However, it poses two relevant problems to an organization: management and uniqueness. As for management, it requires a considerable effort from the leader in terms of managing the team’s creativity, this in turn requires a leader with an excellent knowledge of what is creativity and its limits within the organization, as well as a leader with a sound balance in managing the team’s creativity. As for uniqueness, creativity does not follow a standard model and the pattern of the creative process is rarely methodical. This makes the creative process a rarely if ever repeatable process, while organizations do seek repeatability in all processes. This requires an additional effort from the leader who should record all the creative process and at least try to define a pattern, not much in the process that lead to the solution (which will probably be unrepeatable) but rather a pattern in the approach that the team used in the creative process. The ideas, the way they were encouraged and stimulated, the way in which they were shared and the way they were enforced to get to the solution, are repeatable processes that bring enormous value to an organization.