Every dawning decade brings in new catch words in the universe of management. There has been induction of terms like, let’s circle on this; ballpark; deep dive; zero-in; core competencies; ideation; robust; sustainable; re-inventing the wheel; let's touch base offline; sharpen the pencil; on boarding; seamless and a whole herd of them — the list is endless. But has their induction and usage altered the associated action? No. None of these have brought a new meaning or a newer method, style, processes or system in the world of management. These are merely new coinages of old and existing functions that have been prevalent and performed for hundreds of years.
Unfortunately, the usage of cliche words/terminologies/ jargons is wrongly perceived to be an indication of being a professional, one who is possessed of new ideas, relevant to the emerging time and challenges. It is not the case. Deep dive still means paying attention to wholesome details; sharpen the pencil still means to remain focused to fine tune and so does let’s circle on this, means the same. Old wine in new bottles.
In the context of leadership, we have seen development of hairsplitting nuances of leadership, like thought leadership, emotional leadership, situational leadership, transformational leadership, transactional leadership and the icing on the cake is an “authentic leadership”. What? Can we perceive a leader who is not an authentic person and yet is called a leader? Even those who are hoisted and protected, undeservedly, get exposed very quickly, if authenticity is not their hallmark.
For creativity, the jargon used is ‘out of the box thinking or solution’. The jargon is a mere humbug — it is still an effort to find new ways of thinking and doing. This article therefore is about ‘creativity’ and not about, ‘thinking out of the box’.
For the purpose of this piece, I shall rely on the dictionary meaning of creativity and not upon its new coinages - the meaning is, “relating to or involving the use of imagination or original ideas to create something inventiveness”.
Do leaders/managers have to necessarily be creative? The answer from my standpoint of personal experience is a vehement ‘yes’ and a subdued, ‘no’. The answer essentially hence is both a yes and a no; for reasons that leadership is expected to provide direction (system, process, methods, etc) to achieve a vision (Corporate Objectives). Since creativity involves both the tangible and intangible aspect of leadership/management, it is imperative for a leader to be creative; and for any inadequacy in this area, he/she can rely upon hiring relevant resources and specialists, who will have the ability to exhibit this trait more predominantly within their skill set.
Progress demands creativity. Goals cannot be achieved without the creative minds at work. The curiosity to look at ways and means to do things differently is creativity. A writer, Frank Barron describes a creative person as “…. a creative person is both more primitive and more cultivated, more destructive, a lot madder and a lot saner, than the average person”.
A car of the same model, make and type between two drivers will be driven differently; one who doesn’t ‘think’ will use only the brakes and accelerator; and the one who ‘thinks’ will drive with ‘anticipation’ - the application of brakes/accelerator of the former will be sudden; while the later would use these tools. With sight upon say the traffic light or the brake lights of the car ahead, and hence will have no jerks of sudden speeding or immediate halting. Creativity is all about thinking with anticipation. Skilled thinkers aren’t always the most intelligent people. The state of mind impels action, which has to pass the test of evaluation of the thought before execution. Said Martin Luther King, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at the time of challenge and controversy”. It is only in times of not business as usual that the creative streak must come to play its bit. New challenges drive creative thought.
Embarking on a journey of creative thought means having the courage to take associated risks, with a good measurement of pros and cons, to deal with the outcomes - challenging the validity of the most loved situation of status quo of the environment is an act of managerial bravery. Imagination and creativity are two sides of the same coin; inconceivable to separate them. Knowledge gives option to think, because it entails the known; and imagination instills the soaring ability to see the undiscovered and non-existent. Imagination dominates invention; Edison dreamt of having brightness in the dark and invented the light bulb. Managers/Leaders must imagine, think and foresee. “The creative individual – is capable of more wisdom and virtue than collective man can ever be”.
Mangers who demonstrate calmness and tranquility in their disposition are the ablest in creativity, because they think and convert ideas into actions with lightning speed. No wonder, Descartes remarked, I think, therefore I am. Doing common things in an uncommon way indicates creative approach. To create is to be daring. Fearlessness is an essential prerequisite for creativity. And failure is the most effective teacher of the subject of creativity.
A leader by his creative streak frightens first and then calms his workforce by putting up a continuous challenge to the status quo, with fluctuations, movements, imbalances, disturbances, chaos - these ultimately become the raw material for the creative process. Creativity is the disturbance of existing matter.
For any manager worth his/her salt, who wishes to be creative will have to expunge from the scheme of action, the element of fear of failure. Creativity demands boldness. Experimentation being the cornerstone of the process of creativity requires pre-acceptance of its likely failure. “The most important of my discoveries have been suggested to me by failure”(Sir Humphrey Davy). A great deal of country unmapped within us, demands discovery. “I question”, was the amazing motto of Leonardo da Vinci.
Senior management has to seriously embrace the creative environment. It is innovation that keeps companies going; stagnant organizations decay and are lost in oblivion. Creativity is the only way to make for all of us a better and promising tomorrow.
The writer is a senior banker and a freelance columnist