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Published: July 1, 1996


Learning to Lead Creatively

By David M. Horth and Charles J. Palus

Noticing. Noticing is about paying close attention to various textures, facets and meanings, at deeper and deeper levels. By this we mean slowing down and taking in more of an image, a scene or a situation. The idea is to learn to temporarily suspend sensory shortcuts that can lead to "snap" judgments, like visually "surfing" over the many elements of a particular scene. Instead, by lingering over detail, complexity and drama, new meanings emerge. And that allows complicated issues to be reframed and addressed more effectively.

Subtle representation. While noticing is about paying attention, subtle representation concerns the ability to portray what has been noticed with nuance, detail and accuracy. Drawing requires close coordination between observing and producing. It helps develop an eye for detail, for the relationships among details and for the surrounding context. Drawing enables us to be conscious of when and how much we employ symbolic shortcuts in representing reality and it requires us to put aside such shortcuts when appropriate.

Fluid perspective. This concept is based on the idea that appearance depends upon point of view, and that appearances change with time. Multiple artistic renderings from different points of view over time may draw out an essence of what is observed. In the same way, a dynamic process must be observed from a variety of perspectives over time for an executive to be aware that a process is even occurring. We ask people in teams to create images of their complex situations from different perspectives, over time. This process involves pencil and paper drawings -- (Abstract) representations of the situations drawn from the mind's eye, a method developed by artist and researcher Betty Edwards, author of "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain." The ensuing dialogue to interpret the drawings builds shared knowledge out of these various renditions, and occasionally sparks a new, unifying point of view. We see this as an advance over more traditional stances on perspective, including the idea that diverse points of view are simply alternative opinions.

Personalizing work. Work life usually requires that people leave their avocations at home. Yet most people, if they exercise their esthetic competencies, do so through their avocations, interests and hobbies. We suggest that people might exhibit more creative leadership through personalizing work: allowing their artistic gifts to spill over into their jobs, thus bringing more of their personal knowledge and experience to bear on the complexities of work life. One person told us how his interests in interior design, music and theater applied to his work: how he decorated his office to reflect his tastes and interests and to be engaging to visitors. He was able to see himself and his co-workers as actors in a drama, and thus understand and engage the flow of social events. "Theater" became a powerful personal metaphor for him, even at work.

Skeptical inquiry. The disciplined use of intuition and imagination to address complex challenges requires a role for thoughtful skepticism. Skeptical inquiry is about cultivating doubt, uncertainty, disagreement, criticism and alternative ideas in a way that adds insight and energy to a collaborative process. Such inquiry, through drawing and analyzing the work of master painters, includes framing and asking powerful questions that open up hidden areas for exploration. This skill is in some ways a reconciliation between left brain and right brain thinking. It permits people to retain their critical analytical thinking while developing and applying "what if?" R-mode thinking. The payoff is to perceive new aspects of a problem and to produce imaginative new solutions.

Star model. To foster creativity in a group, it is essential for members to know how to find shared meaning in each other's efforts. We use a method called the star model. Members of a discussion group represent points of a star. A member offers something, say a dream and her interpretation of it, to the center of the star. Other members take the dream as if, for a moment, it were their own -- "If this were my dream ..." -- and offer their own interpretation. At the end of this process, the originator of the dream reclaims it and the right to interpret it for herself -- although the others now can claim their own experiences of the dream. Creative tension is thus channeled radially between each member and the idea in the center, rather than directly between the members. This procedure helps the group to respectfully preserve, explore and reconcile various viewpoints.

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