Some time ago, ICSC’s student Anneke Veenendaal- de Kort, had a chat with professor Gerard Puccio, chair of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State. Dr. Puccio talks about how creative leadership helps you to be more successful in the complexity of our rapidly changing world. You have to decide for yourself: do you want to conform or do you want to learn new things? By consciously thinking creatively, you challenge yourself to discover new things and to actually implement that great idea you had.

Unique Human Quality
Puccio describes creative leadership as a form of leadership that helps to move a group, organization or country in a new direction. According to the professor, creative leadership is a personal quality that enables people to act more flexibly and to work in turbulent and ambiguous environments. According to Puccio, there is an important difference between leadership and management. “Leadership is not about the leading position, but about the influence you have, regardless of your position in the organization. Leaders are catalysts for change. Leaders embrace creative thinking processes of themselves and of others”, the American says.

For Puccio, creativity is what distinguishes humanity from other animal species. In a TedX-talk, the professor asks the audience to picture in their mind’s eye a tiger. “Let’s say this tiger is aggressive and he’s coming for you. Are you fast enough to outrun the tiger? I doubt that very much. Are you strong enough to outwrestle the tiger? I doubt that too. Evolution has not made us particularly strong or particularly fast and we are not able to fly either”, says Puccio. We survive because we are able to respond to our environment in a creative way.

Faster Reaction in a Rapidly Changing Envrironment
Organizations have to respond ever faster, says Puccio. “The life cycle of a product is approximately five to ten years. Within this period of time, a product nowadays goes through fundamental redesign. In the area of Creative Class 1technology, it’s every six to twelve months”, according to Puccio. To be able to keep up with this punishing pace, the American claims it is necessary that leaders and organizations have a creative mindset.

Creativity Difficult to Train?
“A survey among American HR Managers showed that they see creativity as one of the most important skills. But at the same time, this is, according to the HR Managers, also the skill that is most difficult to develop”, says Puccio. According to Puccio, the good news is that humans have the innate ability to be creative. “We all have imagination. We may vary in the degree of creative ability that we have, but it is there and it can be developed”, the professor claims. He says creativity is often hampered by education, socialization and conformity. “It’s obvious that organizations need rules, shared values and procedures. But if we focus too much on these things, it will block change and progress”, Puccio thinks. To be able to realize true groundbreaking changes, you have to give and use the time and energy to generate many ideas. And when you have thought of innovating ideas, it helps to think in solutions about the way to let them mature. Do not immediately think of limitations, but try to postpone your judgment and first develop ideas further. It is a lot easier to tame a special plan in a later stage, than it is to make an average plan special.

The professor claims that creativity can be developed through training and coaching programs. Anneke Veenendaal-de Kort, independent communication advisor and author of ‘Verandering van spijs’, agrees with this. She followed several trainings in creative thinking in the Netherlands and is currently following the Master Creativity & Change Leadership at Puccio’s university. She has seen her creativity grow over the years by continuing to train herself. “I see two important advantages in deliberately training creativity. First, you get more fluent in generating ideas and it becomes easier to distance yourself from the frameworks and solutions you know. Second, you learn to select special ideas and to transform them into usable ideas, without losing the creativity.”

When companies have no (or little) time to train the creativity of their employees, it’s a matter of attracting creative people. But how do you know if a potential employee is creative? “The easiest way is very simple. You check whether they have a history in producing new ideas. In the US it’s becoming more and more common to ask in a job interview: ‘What were your new ideas?’ In addition, you can ask them if they already have new ideas for your organization.” The attitude of potential employees is also a good indicator. “Is he or she open and unbiased with regard to new ideas and is this a ‘playful’ person?”, Puccio tells. Lastly, it comes down to the thinking abilities and the imagination. “Can the candidate think fast and in an original way?”

Creative Class 2Create a Creative Environment
According to Puccio, companies should create an environment where creativity can thrive. “A playful environment, where there is room for new ideas and plans. Furthermore it is important that people do not immediately respond in a judgmental way to new ideas. You need to give each other that space”, Puccio says. “The corporate culture is largely linked to leadership. Leaders are the ones setting the tone. Leaders should appreciate flexibility and experiments and give employees the room to fail. If people do not get the room to fail, they start playing safe”, Puccio tells.

According to the professor, this does not mean that you need a flat organizational structure. “There can be creativity in a hierarchical organization. Hierarchy is nothing more than an organizational structure. Leadership is not the same as a job title on a business card”, the American claims. Anneke Veenendaal-de Kort: “It’s all linked to cooperation. Creativity develops where people are working together. Too often still, plans are made in the Boardroom without consulting the rest of the company. And as soon as these plans leave the Boardroom, the staff appears not to agree with the solution the Board came up with. This can be remedied by connecting very different people to each other or by working with open platforms”, says Veenendaal-de Kort.

She even claims that it can be useful to force all employees to actively contribute to the creativity of the organization. The question remains whether everyone would feel comfortable with this or consider themselves capable of it. Veenendaal-de Kort’s solution? “Try and find the creativity that suits you best. It’s a misunderstanding to think that creativity is only about the ability to generate ideas. Creativity can be found in every phase of change. Check for yourself if you’re most inventive by discovering the question behind the question, by generating ideas, by developing these ideas into usable plans or if you can contribute by using all your creativity to implement a special plan. One thing is not better than the other. Choose where you will invest your energy and take charge in your own creative way.”

Interested in learning more about creative leadership? Consult this site for information about ICSC’s Master program in Creativity and Change Leadership.