Friday, December 26, 2014

Knowledge Leadership in Innovation and Creativity Conference

By: Rumman Ahmad
Graduate Student
International Center for Studies in Creativity
Buffalo State College

“If you're working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.”

This quote by Steve Jobs rings very true for my Masters Project. A few weeks into my studies at the International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC), I had this dream of organising a conference in my country, with the objective of introducing the subject of creativity to a corporate audience. It would have international speakers, preferably professors or graduates of my program, and consist of presentations and workshops on the subject. Prima facie it doesn’t seem like much of a vision, except that my country is Pakistan. Not exactly the most favoured destination for international speakers! Yet the vision pulled me and I lived with it all through my graduate program, silently devising plans to make my dream a reality.

Two years later in November 2014, it happened. Seven graduates (two joined in by video) from ICSC came down to Karachi and delivered a conference that has been hailed as a pioneering effort, and compared to a TED event in terms of look and feel. 180 people, mostly top managers and CEO’s from over 50 Pakistani corporates attended a six hour plenary session followed next day by ten workshops. And a few weeks later three companies have contacted me, asking for proposals for interventions to build creativity into their organisations.

Along the way I ran the gauntlet of the affective skills required for being creative - tolerating ambiguity, accepting complexity, and embracing novelty. From my original list of presenters three dropped out early, and from the substitutes one dropped out within days of confirming, one at the last minute, and one could not get a visa. Every day was a new day with new challenges to overcome.

After over four months of planning and sales calls, with just three days to go, only ninety people had registered to attend. But the vision stayed firm. I was willing to present a world class conference to an audience of one, if that was what it took to convert him into a believer of creativity. Surprisingly, ninety more turned up in the final three days.

The story of my conference, Knowledge Leadership in Innovation and Creativity (KLIC), is also the story of a journey in creative leadership, of discovering a potential for change, for pushing boundaries and achieving excellence, and for growing and learning. KLIC was two years of my graduate education condensed into four months of intensive experiential learning. The foremost thing I learnt from organising this conference was that the creative process really works. Starting with clarifying an objective, to brainstorming a name, to developing an action plan, and finally to implementing it - everything that I did used the tools and processes of creative thinking. And the results vindicated their worth admirably. A smoothly organised conference with little or no stress, for which I must also credit a wonderful team of people who rallied around my vision.

Which is not to say that it was perfect. The were some key learnings, one of which was that due to requirements of visas and clearances the speaker list must be finalised a lot earlier preferably with backup candidates. Hence, a list for KLIC 2015 has been prepared and they are being approached starting now. The other key learning was about content. The most common comment that came from the audience was about the lack of local content at KLIC - in the shape of examples, success stories and experiences. With the track record already created by KLIC 2014 it should not be very difficult to incorporate this type of content in future editions. I would also create and communicate a catchy theme for the conference that reflects its objective. There were other learnings too such as those from technology failures and technical glitches and positive ones about how one can swim against the current and yet succeed.

But in the end, KLIC was about making a difference. And it has - to all the people around me, and to some of those who attended. And I hope that gradually - with a few more editions of the conference under our belt - to the people of Pakistan.

As Mother Teresa said, "If I look at the mass, I will never act, if I look at the one, I will.” I have experienced the change creativity can make to the individual, and KLIC is my vehicle to effect change in my country.

Welcome to vision 2.0!

Conference website: 

View the full Master's Project Paper here.

Rumman Ahmad is an MBA from Karachi and manages a luxury product import and distribution business in Pakistan. He moonlights as a student of creativity at ICSC, Buffalo, New York, focussing on organisational creativity and innovation and helping top management find their creative strengths. One day he will write an airport novel!
He is also living proof that creativity and creative thinking can change lives. In a span of two years he has worked with corporate clients and helped them (at least some of them) change the way they think and lead. Along the way he changed his own life and, on the cusp of turning 50, has managed a late-in-life addition to his career and skills.
Using Rumman for a training, facilitation or problem solving session can change the way you look at issues and problems, make you a better leader, a better follower, and a better person. Guaranteed! Go to his website

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