A Creative Leadership Primer Based on Out of Our Minds, 3rd edition by Sir Ken Robinson

This article focuses on the impact of creative leadership and how it ultimately supports SKR’s roadmap to unlocking long-lost creativity.

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The book Out of Our Minds, The Power of Being Creative by Sir Ken Robinson explores creativity. In this book, SKR argues that all facets of life are restrained by a deficit of creativity. He suggests that organizations everywhere are struggling to fix a problem that originates in education. He strives to explain the necessity to cultivate creativity in education, work and personal life. And he aims to explain why so many people do not think that they are creative.

This article focuses on the impact of creative leadership and how it ultimately supports SKR’s roadmap to unlocking long-lost creativity. The essential question asked by SKR is that if we are all creative as children, where does it go? Out of Our Minds seeks to provide answers and solutions for regaining creativity and implementing it at work, at home, and community-wide.

“Creating a culture of innovation will only work if the initiative is led from the top of the organization. The endorsement and involvement of leaders means everything, if the environment is to change” (p. 187).

Chapter 9, ‘Being a Creative Leader’, addresses the need to strengthen leadership by engaging creative practices. When leaders cultivate a culture of creativity within their spaces, innovation results. SKR outlines 9 principles of practice for creative leadership. These practices are designed to imbue leaders and their organizations with:

Imagination – The ability to bring to mind things that aren’t present to our senses
Creativity – The process of having original ideas that have value, and
Innovation – Applied creativity
Establishing oneself as a creative leader requires an acute awareness of three areas of responsibility: personal, group and cultural. Each area is further subdivided into three core principles. These principles are not meant to be used as step-by-step instructions, rather they should support one another in a continuous reflective cycle. Below is an overview of these nine principles to support growth and achievement as a creative leader.

Personal – “The first role of a creative leader is to facilitate the creative abilities of every member of the organization.” (p.191)

Principle 1: Everyone Has Creative Potential

It is the responsibility of a creative leader to ensure that everyone is utilizing their creative strengths and feeling appreciated for their individual contributions to the overall success of the organization.

SKR suggests that rather than using formal assessments, or general tests to assess personal strengths, a better strategy is to engage participants in role-playing situations that could potentially unearth hidden creative abilities.

As a leader, offering flexibility in horizontal as well as vertical growth opportunities will allow your employees to develop a multiplicity of skills.

Principle 2: Innovation is the Child of Imagination

As a creative organization, it is the leader’s responsibility to create and protect an environment that engenders risk-taking and allows discovery and development of personal creativity.

This space should allow for a dialogue between question and answer that is lively, playful and reflective.

It is playfulness and curiosity which allows people to imagine new ideas and new possibilities, employ the creative process to determine solutions and take innovative actions.

Principle 3: We Can All Learn to be More Creative

There are several ways to facilitate creative thinking.

The generating of ideas is one of the first modes of creative thinking. But the desire to think creatively isn’t enough. Simply being inspired isn’t enough.

It requires work to hone your ability to work creatively. As a creative leader you must offer opportunities for people to exercise their creative muscles.

Group – “The second role of a great leader is to form and facilitate dynamic creative teams.” (p.198)

Principle 4: Creativity Thrives on Diversity

Leaders must bring together groups to examine tasks from multiple perspectives in order to identify a wide range of creative solutions. This requires forming teams who are diverse.

Diversity is inclusive of but not limited to age, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity, race, religion, cultural background, education and professional experience.

A diverse workforce also helps an organization evolve in an ever-changing cultural environment. The more varied the perspectives, the more likely creative solutions present themselves. In turn, a culture of innovation is sustained.

Principal 5: Creativity Loves Collaboration

While diversity supports creative work, it is not a guarantee of success. People need the space to collaborate successfully and to see their differences as strengths and not as impediments.

The goal of collaboration is to build upon each other’s ideas and not undermine them. Creative teams should be diverse and dynamic, and in constant dialogue to support the creative process.

The successful leader knows how to build that team, how to delegate responsibilities, and understands that when ideas plateau, it is time to shake things up or move on.

Principal 6: Creativity Takes Time

Successful creative leaders understand that time is capital.

Time is a resource for innovation because great ideas evolve.

While deadlines exist, offering as much time as feels necessary to the group will lead to a more creative culture.

Culture – “The third role of a creative leader is to promote a general culture of innovation.” (p. 201)

Principal 7: Creative Cultures are Supple

It isn’t just one straight path to developing a culture of innovation. Creativity can be quickly snuffed out when people feel that their ideas are not taken seriously by those higher up in an organization.

The creative process can also be stifled by applying too much pressure to deliver results prematurely.

Flexibility and adaptability are key to successful creative leadership.

Principal 8: Creative Cultures are Inquiring

To find a place of innovation requires in-depth trial and error as part of the creative process. Creative leaders must come to terms with being wrong at times and occasionally needing to start over.

Innovation requires calculating the risk your organization is willing to tolerate, in pursuit of success.

Leading from a place of curiosity and inquiry, regardless of where you are in the creative process, leads to not only a more enjoyable process, but also a more valuable creative solution.

Principal 9: Creative Cultures Need Creative Spaces

The workspace of an organization, the size, shape, the configuration, the furnishings and equipment, the lighting, the fabric and color all aid in creating a physical environment to facilitate creativity.

A default view of an office building is deeply rooted in industrial work, with an emphasis on efficiency, productivity and uniformity. These types of environments rarely spark imagination, creativity and innovation.

Blurring the lines between home and office, work and play and personal time allow employees a more personalized experience in their workplace. When people feel autonomy to organize their space, they will find ways to work that will be most conducive to creativity and collaboration.

As organizations grow and change, evolution will take place. Creative leaders find value and possibility in that evolution. They approach change with curiosity rather than fear.

Growth happens first and foremost by investing in the people who contribute to the organization. Successful creative leaders will invest in the creative powers of the people involved, who will reflect those values back into the work they produce.

When leaders employ these nine principles as a basis for organization strategy, growth and success will result. Moreover, by modelling imagination, creativity and innovation, there is a cyclical and constant promise of future creative leaders.


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