Five Simple Lessons to Boost Your creative leadership

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We define creativity as the ability to generate something valuable without a blueprint or instructions.

IBM’s landmark study of 1500 CEOs across the globe in 2010 identified “creativity” as the single most important leadership competency for enterprises seeking a path through the extraordinary complexity of the world today.

What did they mean by this? Today’s leaders value creative thinkers and doers — people who can surf the unprecedented complexity that life presents today and get through to the other side with amazing results. 

So what does this mean for you?

When strategic planning doesn’t work, you need creativity.  And most of the time, strategic planning doesn’t work.  You can plan — but you’re still going to come to complexity, uncertainty, and unknowns which likely will blow apart your careful plans. And like many strategic plans made throughout the years — as any seasoned consultant can tell you —it’s likely that yours will end up on a shelf somewhere gathering dust and doing no good at all (Check out this World Bank article about reports).

You don’t have to be an artist. Obviously the CEOs aren’t saying they want painters and musicians (although we daresay that might help!) And while artists can teach us a lot about creativity — and remember, we mean creativity in its broadest sense — being creative doesn’t mean you have to draw or sing. 

Everyone can learn creativity.  Here are five basic learning points to instantly increase your creativity competence.

  1. Creativity isn’t slide projecting.  Most people think that creative people imagine something in their minds and create that exact thing in reality.  Nope.  Not how it works.  Very, very few people can imagine something “whole” and produce exactly that.  It’s so rare that it’s weird — and not always great.  Most creatives — as in the vast majority — have to hunt for their results.  They begin somewhere and follow a disciplined process.
  2. The John Cage rule.   This is the John Cage rule (also known as the Genesis rule, because God created the world in six days and then stood back and looked at his work).  “Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time.  They are different processes.”  See our other article about this.
  3. Clear constraints and limitations at the outset.  See our other article about this.
  4. Understand your fears.  Fear is the greatest blocker to creative work. Why are you afraid — and of what in particular? Face your fears; give them their accurate, precise names. Fear has more power over you if you are only half aware of why you are afraid, or only aware of your fear in generalities. Drill down into it and face it clearly – give your fears their true names.
  5. Know your medium. When you’re making plans, how well do you really understand your medium? In an art practice, the medium is the canvas, paint, wood, or stone.  In your case, the medium is people. Are you making assumptions somewhere? How carefully have you gotten to know the people you are trying to serve?  In art, the physical medium will teach you about its limitations and properties.  And it’s the same with people.  Dive in and get to know them so you can flex and pivot from your plans as needed.  Knowing your medium is essential to improvisation.

OK, so now we are curious: how could these five creativity tools help you in your life right now? Tell us in the comments below!

Love to you,

Jeff and Louisa


  1. Sue Barnum on March 16, 2016 at 5:39 am

    This is really helpful. In all my art studies, I have never understood the process of making, then analyzing, making, then analyzing…makes perfect sense. Helps in painting, writing, sewing, practicing piano, as well as the teaching I do (which begins as study, writing, analyzing, then more study, writing, and analyzing.

    I will have to think about the people I am trying to serve in my teaching and how to get to know them better….same with the writing I am doing. But this is great!

  2. Logan Peterson on March 17, 2016 at 10:02 am

    I’ve found the tendency to analyze during creation to be a chief impediment to my writing. I’ve since taught myself to scribble out first drafts in awful handwriting so that I cannot read the lines above the one I’m scrawling. This not only allows the writer in me to feel safe, it also gives the editor in me space from the work so that he can edit with fresh eyes and a detached attitude–necessary for true analytical work.

    The naming of fears, along with any other tendencies that are eating my lunch, is also very useful. Going from an attitude of “I’m surrounded by imbeciles” to “I’m judging society for acting like I do half of the time in order to compensate for my fear that I have nothing worthwhile to offer” is humbling–no doubt. But it’s also wonderfully empowering to admit that I am the chief obstacle.

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