Long Term Business Solutions Start With Creative Leadership


The IBM 2010 Global CEO study revealed a very interesting and noticeable result that can change the world for the better.

A total of 1500 CEOs took part in the survey from 60 countries in 33 industries worldwide. The survey showed that less that half of the chief executives surveyed felt that they or their enterprises enterprises could successfully handle the growing complexity caused by the changes in global economic power centers, accelerated industry transformation, growing volumes of data and rapidly developing customer preferences.

The CEOs seem to believe that more that rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision are needed to equip them and their enterprises for this growing complexity. The only skill that could navigate business in an ever increasing complex world and business is CREATIVITY and this was identified as the number one leadership competency now and in the future.

The survey is critical evidence that the world is entering a new age where creativity is becoming more and more important. This finding also indicates that there is a need to discover innovative ways to manage an organization's structure, finances, people and strategy and that old business models can not offer all the solutions business needs to remain competitive, profitable and sustainable.

A challenge however exists ….

The challenge is the attitude, fear and perceptions people have towards creativity. People associate creativity with a particular personality or genius of a person, others see it as a specific thinking style (right brain directed thinking) and some see it that people are simply born artistic. So, defining and understanding creativity can be problematic. The idea that creativity is a predetermined personality trait benefits at a psychological level because it gives people an excuse for not innovating or initiating change themselves, reducing the problem of creativity to a recruiting challenge. This makes creativity in business a rare commodity. But this can no longer be accepted.

So what can business leaders do now?

This article aims to offer an interim solution. The article will firstly explain the link between creativity and innovation and then show how creativity and innovation can be implemented in the workplace.

The link between creativity and innovation

In literature various definitions exist to explain the terms creativity and innovation. For the purposes of this article, creativity can be defined as a mental and social process involving the discovery or new associations of ideas or concepts which is fueled by the process of either conscious or unconscious insight.

Three things are needed for creativity:

  1. Resources – knowledge, expertise and access to information.
  2. Creative thinking – a person's capacity to think outside the box and put existing ideas together in new combinations.
  3. Internal motivation – motivation from within; a person's personal needs and passion to be creative.

There are three very important aspects to take note of:

  • Creativity discards preconceived claims.
  • A Creative individual attempts a new approach or method that might seem unthinkable to others.
  • Creativity requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result). Creativity is therefore not only a right brain directed thinking approach but a whole brain approach.

In business, creativity is needed for innovation. Innovation is the process of generating and applying creative ideas in some specific context. In other words, innovation involves the introduction of something new and valuable – an artifact or a method – into a functioning production, marketing, or management system.

Three factors define an organization of strengths and weaknesses in relation to the innovation process, namely:

  • What a firm has (the importance of resources),
  • How a firm does its work (the importance of processes), and
  • What a firm wants to do (the firms values).

It is important to note that there are two stages in the process of innovation, namely:

  • Invention that consist of idea generation, idea evaluation and opportunity recognition (creativity), and
  • Exploitation that consist of development and commercialization (innovation).

Innovation is tied to behaviors, actions and personalities of the individuals, or actors, engaged in thevention and exploitation steps.

Implementing the creativity and innovation in the workplace

Creativity is the basis for disruptive innovation and continuous reinvention required in the volatile, unclear and complex business environment and starts with "creative thinking" leadership. Business leaders will need to encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They need to embrace ambiguity by exemplify breakthrough thinking. Business leaders will need to lead and interact in entirely new ways, shedding long-held beliefs and business models when necessary, challenging the status quo, be distinct and radical and look for solutions that will not become tomorrow's problems.

Business leaders will need to foster cultures of real creativity and innovation. This can be done by ensuring that organizations meet peoples core needs, previously physical needs, emotional needs, mental needs and spiritual needs according to Schwartz (2010: 1). This is the key to creativity. The more people are preoccupied by unmet needs, the less energy they will bring to their work and the less creative they will be.

Creativity can be taught and business leaders should put in the effort to teach creativity systematically to employees. Business leaders can use a six step approach to teach their employees to be creative and innovative. These six steps are a combination of Plsek's Directed Creativity Cycle created in 1992 and Luecke and Katz Innovation model of 2003 (Cropley 2008: 271). The first four steps involve creativity and the last two steps involve innovation.

Step 1: Preparation and activation

  • During this step, employees observe and collect data, problem awareness develops and analysis takes place.

Step 2: Imagination and generation

  • Here a range of possible solutions are generated

Step 3: Development and Illumination

  • One or more promising, novel solutions are harvested and enhanced

Step 4: Action and verification

  • Evaluate and analyze so that a single solution can be developed

Step 5: Communication

  • The product is disclosed to knowledgeable others

Step 6: Validation

  • The product is launched / implemented in the marketplace. The company has to live with it before improvements can be made

Business leaders should encourage employees to express their unique talent and nurture their passion by putting employees in roles that excite their imagination (Schwartz, 2010: 1-2). It is very important that business leaders ensure that employees know that their work matter because human-beings are meaning-making animals. Creative thinking is sparked when people know that their work and contributions make a difference.

Creative thinking requires time and business leaders need to provide uninterrupted time, free of pressure for immediate answers and instant solutions to encourage creative thought. The best way to encourage innovation is to schedule "special time-out sessions" on a regular basis. Employees also need time to recover and be renewed and can not operate continuously. They need to be able to step away from the problem to allow the unconscious mind to work and meditate and only then can creative breakthroughs occur (Schwartz, 2010: 1-2).

Business leaders can either enhance creative thinking and innovation in their organizations or crush creativity (Sloane, 2003: 1-2). The business leaders need to avoid:

  • Criticism,
  • Neglecting brainstorming,
  • Choosing efficiency over innovation,
  • Overworking people,
  • Not trying something because 'it is not in the plan' or have a mindset of 'why fix it when it works'
  • Laying the blame,
  • Wrong rewards,
  • Neglecting training.

To enhance creativity and innovation, business leaders need to:

  • Lay the foundations for change,
  • Make their vision real,
  • Ask searching questions,
  • Take a different view (not the status quo view),
  • Combine the unusual with the usual,
  • Break the rules,
  • Welcome experimentation and learning, and
  • Use the team and organize the team for innovation.

In implementing creativity and innovation business leaders need to:

  • Firstly, strategy and set their business strategy and mission regarding creativity and innovation for their organizations.
  • Secondly, share their vision and strategies with their employees.
  • Thirdly, explain to their employees that creativity can be taught and that each person possesses creative ability. This must be done convincingly because people tend to think that only certain people are creative and they will need to be persuaded otherwise.
  • Fourthly, explain their expectations, set the seen for success and clearly define the playing field. Business leaders need to encourage employees to find their creative potential and to experiment.Employees need to be guaranteed that risk-taking and failure is acceptable and that they will not be punished if they are not 'as creative' as other employees.
  • Finally, business leaders will need to guide, coach, monitor and reward creativity and innovation to ensure that it becomes part of the organizational culture. Intelligent usage of success stories and implementation feedback in the form of blogs, social media and team competitions can enhance creative behavior.


Old paradigms and fearing the "mystic creature" called "Creativity" is overrated. Creativity is crucial to face the challenges of growing global competition, technological development, unknown complexes and uncertainties in the business world. These challenges need to motivate business leaders to think differently and to break away from the old mindsets, business models and the status quo.

Edward de Bono said that "There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be never repeating the same patterns."

The time for change is now! Creativity is the key to unlock business challenges and to take businesses into the future. So indeed, long term business solutions starts with creative leadership …..

Creativity is the fuel to changing the world for the better, enabling people and businesses to meet the challenges and complexities of an unknown future.


Cropley, DH (2008) Fostering and measuring creativity and innovation: individuals, organizations and products . Creativity Research Journal

Schwartz, T. (2010) Six invisible secrets to fosting your creativity (Online) Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tony-schwartz/six-invisible-secrets-to_b_678444.html [Accessed on 20 August 2010]

Sloane, P. (2003) The leader's guide to lateral thinking skills – unlocking the creativity & innovation in you and your team (2nd Ed) London: Kogan Page Limited

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