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 / Third Quarter 1996 / Issue 4(originally published by Booz & Company)


Learning to Lead Creatively

Portraying paradoxes, conflicts and the unknown. A complex challenge typically contains tensions, apparently incompatible parts and even some mysteries. The goal is to notice and then accurately represent such elements without prematurely discarding them. Representing the problem through art-making activities over time allows images and ideas to evolve and shows development or movement among the elements. Going deeper, and getting at assumptions and underlying forces, is part of this evolution. For example, in the case of the team struggling with the product variability problem, the members explored an image that recurred within their drawings, which for them reframed the problem as one that would not be dramatically eliminated but would improve over time. This reduced the self-imposed pressure for the team to come up with a startling breakthrough. It also gave them freedom, along with new language and images, to explore and understand variability in less simplistic, more systemic and more imaginative ways.

Facility with metaphor. Facility with metaphor is crucial to the construction of meaning. Metaphor is always a part of creating ideas. The identity of an organization is frequently contained in stories told by its members, typically filled with rich metaphors. Likewise, individuals construct their personal identities out of stories; the root metaphor of a person's identity is a driving force in his or her leadership role. The use of metaphor, in the writing of stories about their individual issues, provides participants with an emotional and intellectual haven. This enables them to go deeper into their leadership challenges and produce imaginative insights toward their resolution. Indeed, metaphor may be a key vehicle for integrating L-mode and R-mode understanding. It takes a certain kind of competence, and practice, to use metaphors to create new meaning for individuals and organizations. Too often metaphors become superficial, stale or inaccurate. By contrast, we encourage a freer, albeit self-censored, kind of writing that will tap into an individual's deeper concerns.

By tapping into those concerns, with metaphors and the other tools of the artist, managers can release not just their own creative powers but also the creativity of their teams. And if enough of them do that, the whole company will feel the change.

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