5 Essential Concepts For Creative Leadership

While fad and buzz words come and go, I thought I would at that I consider to be the main five concepts that the new generation of creative leaders need to master, in order to be able manage and lead with impact in complex and multi-disciplinary environments.

1. Paradigm

I have lost count of the number of talks when people say we need a new paradigm, but what they then propose is very much based in the old paradigm. Authentic paradigm shifts are rare because they entail an entire restructuring of our understanding, and if a period of letting go does not happen, and if we do not go through an experience of liminality, where nothing seems to make sense any more, we will never be able to enter a new paradigm.

Having said this, Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions does appear to use the word paradigm in many different ways, so if the grandfather of the word mixes things up a bit at times, we can’t totally blame others for their own lose definitions.

2. Experience

While customer experience is now becoming buzzy, the majority of communication problems we have in the workplace are a result of people not understanding the fact that our experience of life can be so qualitatively different to those of other people. In the philosophical tradition of phenomenology, practitioners often refer to the concept of lived experience, and when leaders take the time to really discover what this refers to, it can result in powerful new realisations and opportunities.

3. Consciousness

Often when people talk about conscious business they are actually referring to conscientious business, doing what is believed to be right. Consciousness is a huge word scientifically speaking, a mystery and a hard problem which in no way shape or form have we managed to solve. So we need to be conscious of how we are using the word consciousness, and if we do claim to be a conscious business, we have to really ensure that we are fully authentic at all times.

The reason is that our own personal customer experiences fully come to presence in the experience of those who are not our customers, so if we still have unresolved issues of ego, jealousy, fear and anger, these will come out, and will be noticed by those people who have done the personal development word necessary to overcome these.

4. Ontology

Despite the phenomenal success of the Business Model Canvass, many people do not know that this work was developed by Alex Osterwalder in his Postgraduate Diploma Thesis The Business Model Ontology – A Proposition in a Design Science Approach when he started to work as a research assistant under Professor Yves Pigneur. When their Business Model Canvass was launched, my reaction was how “obvious” it was, one of those ideas that someone else should have had long ago, in order to avoid long and tedious product proposition documents in Word which were often heavy on 90s old school clip art.

In this work, Osterwalder explicitly states that he set out to construct an ontology. What he is doing is mindful, in that he has the requisite level of self-awareness to know how he is going to use constructs, models and instantiations to develop a theory which meaningfully describes the reality of business modeling.

What made Osterwalder’s research so strong was that he was consciousness of the way we experience business models and developed constructs with the aim of developing theory which could help in problem solving. Osterwalder was concerned with discovering if he could create business theory which would fit with the scientific paradigm for problem solving. He was not saying that his work is a new paradigm. It is powerful and was readily accepted by the business community because it was ontologically sound – it was able to reflect the way in which different people in different parts of an organisation experience reality, and bring these together into a single canvas.

5. The Organising Idea

Like the word paradigm, I often hear people calling for a change in our mental models, only for me to realise that the people who do this are calling for other people to change their mental models, their own mental models being perfectly fine thank you very much.

My own teacher of philosophy, ontology, hermeneutics and phenomenology Henri Bortoft used the term organising idea which he distinguished from mental model. Mental models often refer to the idea of what is seen (i.e. a mental picture) but organising idea refers to fact that the act of seeing is already meaningful, and that we do not see visual images and then attach meaning.

In my work with leaders and developing creativity in organisations, I always start with the organising idea, reflecting on the dynamics of seeing. When I do this, it is not uncommon for people to have minor epiphanies, which builds a foundation on which to then explore their own personal onotology, consciousness, experience and operating paradigms.

The next big advance in leadership and management will come when we stop confusing the codification of reality with our experience of life.

The next big advance in leadership and management will come when we stop confusing the codification of reality with our experience of life. When we codify reality, we develop frameworks and flow charts and classification systems. If this is done mindfully, when we have that level of conscious awareness that what are creating are constructive conceptions and not dogmatic annunciations, then we can offer people new ways of seeing which will lead to genuine insights which do speak meaningfully about reality.

But if we just drop the latest buzz words into our business parlance without an appreciation of the ontology behind them, without doing the often difficult personal development work required to genuinely shift into a new paradigm, where with an expanded level of consciousness we are able to see and experience the world with new eyes, well, nothing will have been accomplished.

The new generation of leaders need to be creative, and this does not just mean developing new ideas for products and services, and an ability to develop new business models. The creative leader of the future will be a profound philosophical thinker, one who with a certain level of humility and empathy will be able to enter the lived experience of others, thus allowing them on their spiritual paths to become ever more conscious and therefore conscientious.

If we can master the meaning behind these big words, and not analyse them but enter into the experience of them, then we will begin to witness the next big advance in leadership and management.

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