A recently released IBM report titled ‘Capitalizing on Complexity,’ which presents findings from interviews of more that 1,500 CEOs around the world, reveals that the top business concern of CEOs today is the ‘complexity gap’—the difference between the emerging business complexity and an organization’s ability to deal with it successfully. To address this challenge, CEOs believe that “creativity is the most important leadership quality” and that practices that encourage experimentation and innovation throughout an organization are of absolute necessity to transform business models, develop innovative strategies, and remain competitive.
In a June 2006 TED Talk, creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson tells the story of a six year old girl fully absorbed in a drawing she is making during a art class. Her teacher, thinking she is not paying attention, comes to her and asks: “What are you drawing?” The little girl replied: “I am drawing a picture of God.” The teacher exclaims: “But nobody knows what God looks like!” To which the smart little girl responds: “They will in a minute!” What a remarkable example of imagination and creativity! Unfortunately, as statistics show, by the age of eight, most children have lost much of their creative capability while most adults are unable to reconnect with the true creative power of their childhood. I won’t go into the analysis of why this is the case; we all know some of the reasons: our western model of education that emphasizes memorization versus experimentation; linear thinking; our business environment that, as Robinson says, stigmatizes mistakes and the possibility of being wrong; and much more. [Note: I am talking about people’s willingness of experiment, fail quickly and learn from their mistakes thereby avoiding the possibility of larger problems down the road. In the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill disaster one might be inclined to reinforce the idea that ‘mistakes’ are not permissible. But recent findings and reports suggest that one must look into BP’s and regulators’ inability to address well-known risks for the causes of the dramatic event rather than people’s ‘mistakes’; one may also argue that the rigidity of the system prevented it to promptly and creatively respond to “obvious signals” that something was not right with the oil rig.]
As CEOs and other professionals have come to realize, creativity has never been so critical in solving today’s complex problems. In particular, creativity is essential to transformative work. The simple creative process is a learning process based on experimentation, testing, and adjustment—a kind of double-loop learning. This is the process that most creativity experts focus on and is, in and of itself, very valuable. However, transformative work requires ‘deep creativity’—a process used by complex adaptive systems and living systems to change their internal structure in order to adapt to environmental change. This process takes place at ‘the edge of chaos’ (the creative space) in a paradoxical environment of simultaneous stability and instability created by balancing and reinforcing feedback loops. For humans and social systems, deep creativity requires a transformation of mental models, beliefs and values. In the domain of art, deep creativity occurs when the artist is able to connect with ‘source,’ the origin of his/her personal creativity; when the artist uses a personal dialogue to create what philosopher Martin Buber called a “I/Thou” relationship (a subject-to-subject relation) versus a “I/It” relationship (a subject-to-object relation) with his/her artistic creation. Deep creativity is based on what anne Starr and Bill Torbert calls “triple-loop learning,” a process that recreates new meaning, identity and vision in the midst of action. The result of deep creativity, in all the different realms, is increased wholeness.
Connecting with ‘source’ is a skill and capacity that can be learned and developed. To that end, I am thrilled to have joined forces with UK artist and facilitator Andrew James Campbell to create an experiential ‘Leadership for Emergence’ course that’s designed to enhance both personal and group-wide transformation. Andrew’s thorough understanding of the process of creativity from an aesthetic perspective and how this process applies to individual and organizational transformative change is unique and invaluable to people who want to embody deep creativity in their leadership style.
Andrew and I plan to co-facilitate leadership for Emergence courses both in Europe and in the U.S. Our first session will take place this summer, first week of September, in South of France. I have posted more information about the course on this site so, please check it out and feel free to contact me if you and/or your organization are interested in registering for a U.S. course next year.
I plan to continue exploring the creativity themes discussed above in future blog posts—how the process of deep creativity operates in living systems, within individuals and in social systems, how it can be facilitated, and how individuals can re-connect with ‘source.’ This is a challenging yet fascinating field of research—one, which I want to become more deeply involved with, as I have come to realize that deep creativity may very well be the ‘Holy Grail’ that will help us ‘save’ our society from the worst that has yet to come.
 Starr, A. & Torbert, W. (2005). Timely and Transforming Leadership Inquiry and Action: Toward Triple-loop Awareness. Integral Review 1, 85-97.