Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: The Dark Side of Creativity

Kimberly T. Cardina, State University of New York/Buffalo State

The dark side of creativity does exist according to most chapter authors of this book and has been left aside in favor of positive psychology and consequent research in recent decades on it and its relation to creativity. Due to this lack of research and knowledge on the dark aspects of creativity, much of what exists tends to be primarily descriptive rather than knowledge in this area of creativity. This book represents the start of a movement towards more research and knowledge on it.

Knowledge basic to of the study of creativity may be helpful to the reader to understand relationships certain authors may make, but overall an individual interested in human behavior and characteristics that constitute the dark side of what otherwise is considered desirable for one to be, namely creative, is the primary requirement needed to read this material. Authors and the fields they represent encompass psychology, sociology, engineering, history, criminal justice, and education; in each area they encounter creativity and have demonstrated needs to understand its dark side as a result of these studies. Development of countermeasures to protect against negative and malevolent creativity have been proposed and addressed by many.

There are types of negative creativity categorized as either unintentional, or intentional, and have been termed as negative, or malevolent creativity. Unintentional creativity, that is negative, is labeled as such due to unintended outcomes of what was originally perceived as benevolent and useful, and, of course, is relative to a given individual or population. Examples of negative creativity are introduction of a predator species to a pest in an environment to naturally dispose of the pest, but results in overpopulation of the predator causing further damage, or the scientific creativity of Pasteur yet resulting in paving the way for biological warfare. Malevolent creativity involves the use of the person, process, product, and press, or any combination of, as do other forms of creativity, resulting in what is useful to the actor, or a group of individuals. For example, history has given examples of infamous leaders, such as Hitler who by most accounts is considered representative of the dark side of creativity. Prisoners or criminals use malevolent creativity in a domain specific manner, namely for criminal activity, and in response to combat this we need to learn to “think thief”.

The first chapter outlines what the remaining readings suggest and debate, giving readers an initial view of the many implications of the dark side of creativity. In Creativity has no Dark Side, Runco initially made me skeptical of the remaining content of the book, but upon finishing the reading, I understood how he makes his case against the existence of a dark or light side of creativity, by proposing that it is blind to the values and products of the person. Further issues addressed are positive and negative creativity and the factors at issue within each concerning a person and characteristics. History and biological weapons, warfare, and the atomic bomb generate good discussion especially if one has been less previously engaged by history, and may serve as motivational to someone’s desire to learn more about major historical events.

The Dark Side of Creativity also discusses the side of creativity in relation to politics and government, and the implications of creativity whether for good or less desirable intentions on its proponents and citizens. Then, the criminal element and the relation of the dark side of creativity are explored to help, or develop, countermeasures against harmful activities. Followed by criminal justice, discussion turns to neuroses and creativity less desirable and considered even negative. In the end, the book turns to education to what can be done to help creativity become positive when identified as negative, and support teaching of decisions and choices we encounter in our lives and others.

I would highly recommend this book to read about an aspect of creativity that needs to be addressed. The dark side of creativity, whether unintentional or not, does exist, and more research needs to done. The title of the book is simple enough to understand, and gives a thorough treatment of the issues negative to creativity; the content deserves more respect and acknowledgement than is currently given. If you read a chapter every night before going to sleep, bedtime stories will never be the same again.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Big Question: Hey, what's the big idea?

written by Melanie Rothschild
Defining the question.

The sacred foundation of creative problem solving is the essential importance of clarifying the question. Many are well acquainted with advice from a pretty solid thinker, “a problem well stated is a problem half solved” (Albert Einstein). To that end, I believe an examination as to the genesis of any big question is critical.

There is a formidable range of perspectives from which to discuss creativity: education, business innovation, organizational effectiveness, maximizing personal strengths, artistic pursuits, as well as philosophical and spiritual musings, offer an extremely brief, yet general overview. In accessing the value of a big question however, we might be well served by determining any commonalities which exist between these disparate views.

I believe it’s fair to say that all of the aforementioned “categories,” share a desire to improve human life in some fashion. This makes sense since all definitions of creativity ultimately refer to the human condition. Rollo May’s definition of creativity, “the encounter of the intensively conscious human being with his or her world” (May, 1975) is the one which I find most adroitly supports inquiry around issues of ultimate purpose. Perhaps a first attempt at a BIG question might be something like …. What is all this creativity ultimately for?”

Certainly, we’d like to assume that any large scale effort in the name of creativity is going to promote a “goodly” outcome. Although the word creativity may imply altruistic intentions of great vigor, creativity and morality are not necessarily on the same continuum.

On the Relationship between creativity and morality.

The word creativity has such a powerfully optimistic force for so many of us, however it is essential to be abundantly aware that, “The human power to be creative is morally neutral, and it is revealed as much in the novel practices of torture and human extermination as in the innovative practices of an inspired teacher” (Schwebel, 2009 p. 319).

Gruber (Gruber, 1993) discussed an inherent disparity between the concepts of creativity and morality and points out that tests of creativity do not correlate with tests of moral reasoning. He explained the distinct separation between those two domains: “It is claimed that morality is essentially a historically evolved, culturally determined code; in that case creativity seems to be entirely excluded from morality, and moral conduct consists in conforming to the code. Creativity is by definition innovative and idiosyncratic” (Gruber, 1993, p.7). Not at all content to accept an estranged relationship between these two domains, he stressed, “The creative person must compose or construct some relation between his or her moral thought and feeling on the one hand and his or her creative impulses on the other” (Gruber, 1993, p.7).

Yet, if building on a premise, at least for the purposes of this discussion, that the “good” of mankind is at the heart of the issue, the next word to explore is the meaning of good. Perhaps this is too formidable a task for the undertaking of a student paper as preceding thinkers have been mining this territory certainly for centuries. In the service of the scope of this paper, I will refer to the word good, as meaning morally excellent or virtuous, although certainly one could exert considerable reflections on the comprehensive meanings of good.

Possibly we can at least construct a general, overarching schema of what would pose a good outcome for mankind. Surely effective methodologies and practices engendered by creative approaches to benefactors of industry and trade, give way to benefits for a host of recipients; but not everyone. As an artist, I believe with certainty that the profoundly nourishing gifts yielded by the arts, add a spiritual dimension, which undoubtedly serves life’s ultimate values. Once again, my passionate perspective may have far reaching effects but the arts are not a fully comprehensive representation of creativity’s potential harvest.

Proposals around the idea of insuring good health may start coming closer to an all-inclusive approach, yet good health, definitely a top priority from this writer’s outlook, is still susceptible to complete negation of purpose if supplanted by the effects of warfare. While Alex Osborn reminds us that, “the history of civilization is a record of man’s creative achievements” (Osborn, 1953 p. 3), we must also take heed from this initially inspiring observation and be keenly aware of the perils associated with a creative spirit.

After centuries of homo sapiens on earth, how developed are our collective creative gifts if our governments are still issuing large scale kill orders for other creative human creatures? Our methods of preparing food, of transporting ourselves, of sharing information, of tending to our illnesses, of recording our achievements and amusing ourselves have all been dramatically developed by our creative abilities. We both educate and entertain ourselves with enduring sights and sounds bestowed upon us by previous generations and are ever increasing our collective pool of academic and aesthetic contributions. There are few systems in our world, with the exception of biological functions, which remain “as is” from our ancestors of previous millennia.

There is one exception: war.

To be more precise, creativity has enabled our methodology of killing to become more efficient, effective and devastating, but the basic approach of man killing man is still firmly in place.

I cannot help being left with the persistent din of why this is so. How creative can we fancy ourselves to be if we are still killing one another, as did our ancient predecessors who did not have the benefits of our sophisticated ways? In a response to the celebrated “swift success” of the Persian Gulf War, Ruth Richards brings a different perspective: “It involves war in general. Surely, in an ideal world, we could find saner and safer ways of resolving international conflict. Why, in the present, case, were we not more aware of the human toll in the Persian Gulf? What forces keep us from seeing the realities around us? And to what extent can creativity help us, both to see more clearly and to act in morally responsible ways? (Richards, 1993, p.166)

In this light, would not all creativity which has been exemplified thus far fall under what Csikszentmihalyi would consider, “little c” creativity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996)? Compared to finding an elegant alternative to stopping wholesale murder, I’d contend there are essentially few creative accomplishments which might really be considered worthy of a capital C.

If the task at hand is to define a BIG creativity question, then I can think of none bigger in actuality than, in what ways might we take advantage of our selected gift of creativity to stop attempts at wiping ourselves out of existence? Perhaps the question might be refined somewhat as … what is the role of creativity in the pursuit of bettering the human condition?

A “culture of creative thinking.” “Do your duty” rants Kant.

Emmanuel Kant’s ethical teachings admonish each of us to act on what he believed is our intuitive sense of morality as a categorical imperative (Goswami, 1993). Similarly I would posit that inherent traits which define creative behavior such as a tolerance for ambiguity and risk, the ability to imagine the unimaginable, capacity for dogged persistence and a propensity for exuberant play - whether intuitive or learned - are key ingredients in contributing to solutions in contexts which are often dominated by fixed paths. Those who are capable of operating in such “enlightened” realms, those who can claim membership in what I’ll call a “culture of creative thinkers” are charged with a moral responsibility to consider the broad potential of their contributions and take action.

Ruth Richards explained (1993): “Creative persons may have an edge in addressing these limitations because of their sustained cognitive-affective awareness, creative courage and resilience, and capacity for universal perspective-taking” (p.165).

All right. With task in hand, we can get to work: what is the role of creativity in the pursuit of bettering the human condition?

What to do: Education.

Living in Los Angeles, I have spent an excessive amount of time in traffic behind rear bumpers which make a stand for Peace. Many of us are also acquainted with the efforts toward world harmony as sported on t-shirts. Intuitively and through experience, we know that these efforts are not enough to effect real solutions.

Education seems like a good place to start, but what of the details? We live in a numbers- driven society and as Ken Robinson reminds us repeatedly, we have by and large restricted ourselves to one definition of intelligence … that of academic prowess, which severely limits development of so many potential strengths and talents within our reach (Robinson, 2000). By subscribing strictly to classic models of education, which enforce conformity to existing paradigms, we immediately threaten to undermine one of creativity’s greatest components … aptitude for seeing things from a different perspective.

Bronk’s (Bronk, 2010) studies among high ability adolescents would no doubt be simultaneously satisfying yet depressing to Robinson. Bronk concludes in his study about purpose amongst this population of high ability adolescents, several revelations: “This result suggests that particularly strong academic abilities are not required or even preferred for the pursuit of purpose” (Bronk, 2010 p.142). A possibly counterintuitive observation which speaks further to the importance of appreciating a range of abilities: “A related study determined that youth with particularly intense commitments to purposes varied widely in terms of their academic achievement: one purpose exemplar was a Rhodes Scholar while another was a high school drop-out” (Bronk, 2010 p.142). These findings are closely aligned with the work of Kyung Hee Kim who presents a crucial statistic, “Many gifted students are underachievers and up to 30% of high school dropouts may be highly gifted” (Kim, 2008, p.234).

Our assumptions about words like gifted, best and success need to be addressed, head on. “In sum, these findings suggest that high ability youth are on an accelerated path toward conventional aims rather than purposeful ones” (Bronk, 2010 p.142). It’s not unusual for parents in L.A. to find a way to live in Beverly Hills during years they perceive as critical to their children’s education so that they can partake of that school system which, because of the association with wealth, they assume is “the best” there is. “Educational settings specifically designed to cater to the needs of high ability youth may send an implicit message that students should be highly concerned with promoting their own welfare and best interests” (Bronk, 2010 p.142). Is it fair to suggest that someone should have taken the time to clarify the question about what all this education is really for?

Milton Schwebel brings a salient perspective about the “culture of creativity,” with his thoughts on the nature and intent of education:
The oppressed require what they have always needed and never been given, namely, quality liberal education. On the contrary, they have witnessed poor quality made poorer as governments have emphasized accountability, testing, and more testing, all with an emphasis on basics, while reducing a focus on the humanizing experiences of art, music and literature; on discussion, debate, and critical thinking. The highly advertised No Child Left Behind program represents the very opposite of the need, for this, like other accountability programs that invested in testing but not in smaller classes, expert teachers, and subject matter that touched the children’s lives, have reinforced racial and ethnic bias. (Schwebel, 2009)

Off Campus.

The fictional albeit brilliantly real character of Don Draper on the currently popular Madmen television series, is a sleek embodiment of a creative, yet morally neutral entity. His ad agency has no concern with issues of morality, yet he is revered and abundantly rewarded for his remarkable creative aptitude.

Not a television version, but in the real world Global Journal of Business Research, in its first issue of 2011, will be a paper about the developmental stages of adolescents for the purpose of harnessing their “substantial purchasing power” as they are appreciated in the context of marketing (Jackson, 2011). Creative efforts exerted in the direction of controlling developing youth for profit is not generally what many of us may picture when contemplating the relationship between kids and creativity.

Haste’s discussion of moral creativity, outlines three essential components for moral commitment and responsibility: vision, efficacy and responsibility. She describes vision as, “the ability to take a wide view, to see beyond the conventional constraints of the situation” (Haste, 1993, p.154). “Seeing possibilities,” is how Robinson described the process of imagination, which is a fundamental principle of creative activity (Robinson, 2000). Yet we are living with abundant educational environments which are ultimately slaves to a continuing flood of standardized tests which edge out more nuanced and complex modes of understanding and the kinds of pedagogies associated with creativity. People who study creativity and understand the potency and potential power of developing creativity skills, must take responsibility for including a moral orientation in their actions and teachings.

Keyword: Empathy.

As glue is used to join two pieces of paper, the social and emotional skill of empathy might be considered the connecting material between various aspects of creativity which can serve to further insightful moral sensibilities. Victoria Stevens (2000) spoke of empathy as an expansion of imagination … a key component of creativity. We can only reach that emotional attunement with another person if we can imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes; our imagination is the glue that connects us to them. Empathy is the opposite of stereotyping, racism and violence and is crucial for democracy. Theatrical play she explains is an excellent vehicle for teaching empathy. An empathetic perspective respects diverse points of view, enabling persons of divergent opinions to work together.

Richards believed that empathy, “a complex process requiring a high level of psychological development” (Richards, 1993, p.176) alone is not a total guarantee of moral behavior. However, those qualities associated with empathy, of sensitivity to similarities and differences in others, “should at least make more likely the seeing of the commonality across humanity, while minimizing paranoid visions of persons who seem ‘different,’ such as the always-alien ‘enemy’ (Richards, 1993, p.176).

Engaging a highly creative re-framing of the term empathy is the concept of inclusive cultural empathy as explored by Pedersen and Pope (2010). Their plea is to associate empathy deeply with multiculturalism. Each of us brings thousands of “teachers” with us, resulting in the person we ultimately become. The authors believe that living in a world with so many cultures interacting so very closely with one another, a “one-size-fits-all” approach completely misses the point and a practice such as this, which requires highly complex and messy thinking in order to incorporate all the pertinent information inherent in the cultural countenance of any individual, will be an increasingly essential component of successfully co-existing. (Pedersen, P. and Pope, M., 2010)

Deliberate teaching of empathy was the focus of students at a university in Finland who have devised a program called The Empathy Project. In “playshops,” they teach children to observe, experience and act on empathy, using games to propel the activities. Their approach of acting with tiny steps as opposed to a more grandiose approach has been hailed by Howard Gardner as potentially much more promising than programs which are overly ambitious. http://aaltosi.org/2010/06/lecture-with-professor-howard-gardner-and-great-results-from-the-how-to-change-the-world

Right This Way.

In The Skilled Facilitator, Schwarz (2002) presented a single nugget, which may just be the best, possibly the only “fire starter” around. He points out that a leader can be anyone who chooses to lead based on the example she sets as opposed to a formally anointed position. I would heartily encourage creativity practitioners in whatever capacity, to include in their teachings and trainings, meaningful content as to the abundant applications which speak to the weighty potential inherent in the DNA of creative behavior. People trained in creative problem solving techniques for innovation in industry, may not necessarily realize the rich connections that can be made in additional settings and situations pertaining to issues around social justice.

Traditionally, moral reasoning had been considered to be predominantly based on reason. Pizarro and Detweiler-Bedell however point out evidence revealing that other processes are significantly at work in determining moral judgments. Apparently, the process is less rigid and more emotional than had previously been thought and as such, there is much more room for creativity than had been assumed earlier. “Creative appeals are often at the forefront of moral movements, although the domain of moral judgment making has traditionally been thought of as not very creative at all (Pizarro, D. and Detweiler-Bedell, B., 2006).” People who are talented at “making us see things in novel ways, creative communicators whose skilled recruitment of emotion” play a large role in reaching and touching our ability to make moral judgments are key players in shaping our ideals (Pizarro, D. and Detweiler-Bedell, B., 2006, p.96).

In the 1993 special issue of the Creativity Research Journal on “Creativity in the Moral Domain,” Howard Gruber, who edited the compendium, closes his article with these words:
In a time of multiple crises, however, our knowledge of the possible alternatives and of their combined consequences has its limits, and it is at this point that creativity is called for; to scan the horizon for new alternatives, to detect and amplify them, to clarify and perfect them to the point where they enter the arena of limited rationality, the world of the possible. The improvement of means for rationally combining the knowledge of scientists and policy makers would itself be a major creative act. (Gruber, 1993, p.14)

Maybe the best question would be: Ask not what creativity can do for you, ask what you can do for creativity?

Written by Melanie Rothschild
Artwork copyright Melanie Rothschild
Artist, Los Angeles

Melanie Rothschild is an artist who decided to pursue a degree in the Study of Creativity since it is the call to creativity, for ideas leading to art-making as well as social action, she finds most compelling. Since the early 90’s, Melanie has had a line of interior accessories sold nationally and has been showing fine art since 2003. A decade ago, she began a middle-school in her community which focused on principles of social justice. Currently, she is making a documentary about mistakes and how our attitudes around them impact our creative abilities. She is the mother of boy/girl twins and lives with her husband in Los Angeles.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Big Question: What are the Natural Relationships between Creativity and Leadership?

written by Amy Frazier

Every two years, IBM undertakes a global survey of CEOs on the most pressing issues facing organizational leaders worldwide. The 2010 report, entitled Capitalizing on Complexity, lists three best practices for succeeding in an increasingly complex environment. Their top recommendation: “embody creative leadership” (p. 10).

Two impressions jump out from this compact phrase. The first: the implication that leadership itself must be creative, beyond––but certainly including––the need to employ creative thinking; the second: the notable use of the word “embody” to convey a deep-seated sense of both creativity and leadership as arising from within the self, permeating behavior and bearing, and informing engagement with the world.

To discuss creative leadership is to invite questions on the connection between the two constructs. How might creativity and leadership be related, and what might be the elements supportive of or relating to their connection? I approach the question from three angles: what are some of the internal mechanisms creativity and leadership share in common; in what situations might we naturally find creativity and leadership working in tandem; and finally, how do creativity and leadership align with personal development in the embodying of creative leadership?

Identifiable, but Eluding Definition

While we implicitly recognize both creativity and leadership when they occur (Sternberg, 2003; Bass, 1990), in their study they have been subject to numerous definitions, diverse theories, and occasionally contradictory historical perspectives (Bass, 1990; Davis, 2004, Sternberg, 2003). Among current attempts to integrate various theoretical strands of creativity include the work of Sternberg and Lubart (1995), Woodman and Schoenfeld (1990), and Puccio and Murdock (1998). Similarly, Avolio (2007), Bennis (2007), Fleishman, Mumford and Zaccaro (1991), Mumford, Zaccaro, Connelly and Marks (2000), and Sternberg (2008) are recent contributors to the effort to integrate leadership theory. Yet universally agreed-upon definitions of both remain elusive. As Warren Bennis (2007) put it, “it is almost a cliche ́of the leadership literature that a single definition of leadership is lacking” (p. 2). As for defining creativity, “it’s like nailing jello to the wall” (Murdock, 2009).

Given that both creativity and leadership are multivariate constructs, their connections will manifest in a variety of ways. While far from comprehensive, we can begin with an exploration of some of the mechanisms supporting creativity and leadership by looking at cognitive and affective dispositions, keeping an eye on the issue of complexity.

Cognition in Creativity and Leadership

Approaching creativity from a cognitive perspective involves looking at how cognitive processes “operate on stored knowledge to yield ideas that are novel and appropriate to the task at hand” (Ward & Kolomyts, 2010, p. 93). Associative mechanisms play an important role in linking various cognitive elements of stored knowledge in the form of images, thoughts, memories, etc. (Kaufman, Kornilov, Bristol, Tan & Grigorinko, 2010). The ability to broadly associate is also linked to cognitive and creative development: “cognitively complex individuals...use more categories or dimensions to discriminate among stimuli and see more commonalities among these categories or dimensions” (Hooijburg, Hunt & Dodge, 1997 p. 378).

Similarly, effective leadership in a complex environment requires pattern recognition and the ability to spot opportunities others may miss (Mumford, Connelly & Gaddis, 2003), as well as being able to transcend cognitive traps which may block these insights (Katz-Buonincontro, 2008). Gardner (1995) has heralded the cognitive role of frames of reference, especially those encoded in stories, as being key to leadership effectiveness. Duggan (2007) suggested that when faced with novel and complex situations, the leader’s encoded knowledge and pattern recognition is made available through creative recombination, in an phenomenon he calls strategic intuition. Caughron, Shipman, Beeler and Mumford (2009) proposed that people who use mental models to “draw attention to change indicators relevant in the situation at hand will be more likely to recognize emergent change events” (p. 15). This ability to identify and draw attention to emerging events was echoed in the IBM (2010) report: “both new threats and emerging opportunities require an ability to see around corners, predict outcomes where possible, act despite some uncertainty and then start over again” (p. 27).

In both creativity and leadership, cognitive complexity, including the ability to relate across frameworks and categories, paves the way for new thinking, innovation, sensemaking, story-making, and the ability to identify creative and leadership opportunities.

Affect and Emotional Intelligence in Creativity and Leadership

Affect, our emotional or attitudinal valence, serves not only as an inner thermostat of our felt experience, but is also linked to cognition. Developing our emotional intelligence provides us “with the capability to use emotions to contribute to the effective cognitive processing of information” (Zhou & George, 2003, p. 554). In his work with emotional intelligence, Goleman (1998) stated that “coming up with a creative insight is a cognitive act––but realizing its value, nurturing it and following through calls on emotional competencies such as self-confidence, initiative, persistence and the ability to persuade” (p. 100). Zhou and George (2003) echoed Goleman: “Creative activities are affect-laden” (p. 545). Puccio, Murdock and Mance (2007), in their Thinking Skills Model of Creative Problem Solving (CPS), plumb this territory in identifying key affective skills which support each of the six CPS creative-thinking process steps, from “dreaming” to “sensing gaps,” as well as singling out three overall affective skills necessary for productive creative thinking throughout the process: openness to novelty, tolerance for ambiguity, and tolerance for complexity (p. 52).

Leaders, too, benefit from awareness of affect, emotional intelligence, and understanding of the way in which emotion impacts cognition. “Emotions have the potential to effect leader cognition and behavior in a number of ways,” (Hoojiburg & Hunt, 1997, p. 383), including when the leader reverts to familiar emotional scripts; relies upon emotion as a method of interpreting others (especially when the information presented is novel and complex); and when faced with high-emotion situations. Zhou and George (2003) propose that the missing piece in understanding the basis of leadership behavior is to be found in a deeper appreciation of emotional intelligence. Their exploration centers specifically on the ways in which the leader’s emotional intelligence may support and enhance employees’ creativity.

To take an example in the context of leadership theory, transformational leadership has been identified as a style of creative leadership (Sternberg, Kaufman, Pretz, 2003). It would be hard to imagine how transformational leadership could be effective in the deep work of “elevating the follow’s level of maturity and ideals as well as concerns for achievement, self-actualization, and the well-being of others, the organization and society” (Bass, 1999, p.11) without the leader’s skillful use of affect and emotional awareness.

With respect to the issue of managing complexity identified in the IBM (2010) report, we return to Puccio, Murdock and Mance (2007) who stated that the affective skill of tolerance for complexity reflects the ability “to stay open and persevere without being overwhelmed by large amounts of information, interrelated and complex issues, and competing perspectives” (p. 53). The link between this affective awareness and effective leadership is clear.

Creativity and Leadership in Tandem

Having explored how the internal mechanisms of cognition and emotion interact in the dimensions of creativity and leadership, a natural next step is to then take a look at the types of situations wherein the two seem naturally to occur. To return to the earlier observation that such complex constructs as creativity and leadership will manifest in multiple circumstances, I’ve selected three categories: theoretical perspectives which blend the two constructs; deliberate problem solving methods that implicate creativity and leadership in a duet of process; and the particular nested dynamic found in the creative leadership of creative people.

Leadership is Creative; Creativity is Leadership. Sternberg (2003) counted creative intelligence as one aspect of an overall theory of successful intelligence which can be lived out in the domain of leadership: “the three key components of leadership are wisdom, intelligence, and creativity, synthesized” (Sternberg, 2008, p. 361). Deepening the connection, Sternberg (2003) also related a symbiotic relationship between creativity and leadership: creativity “is by its nature propulsion. It moves a field from some point to another. It also always represents a decision to exercise leadership” (p. 125). Therefore, even a creative act which is merely replicative (reproducing a known work or process with slight variance) is “at least, a weak attempt to lead” (p. 141). In their discussion of skill-based leadership, Mumford, Connelly and Gaddis (2003) carve out a specific hierarchy in context: “leader creativity can be viewed as a unique domain-specific form of creative thought” (page 415). Lastly, in a statement that evokes a sense of creative intentionality and leadership self-awareness, Puccio, Murdock and Mance (2007) returned to the question of embodiment: “Effective leaders embody the spirit of creativity” (p. xii).

In this sampling of examples, creativity and leadership in practical context are related by degree: wholly coexisting, but varying in the amount of force (or propulsion); as a skill-based subset of creative thinking; and as a way of being, in embodying effective leadership.

Creative Problem Solving. Leaders are charged with problem solving in multiple contexts, across various and shifting time-frames, impacting diverse stakeholders. Deliberate creative processes such as Creative Problem Solving (CPS) offer a natural opportunity to link the actions and motives of leadership with the dynamics and skills involved in creative thinking. As research and theories continue to build out this connection, a process-based duet between leadership and creativity can be heard.

Puccio, Murdock and Mance (2007) mapped the process steps of Creative Problem Solving onto a template for leadership in the service of change (one which, not incidentally, also interweaves cognitive and affective skills). Interestingly, it was their deep exploration of CPS which drew into the authors’ awarenesses the understanding that leadership and creativity engage certain shared mechanisms, intentions and behaviors. Basadur (2004) advocated the use of creative problem solving processes as a focus of leadership effort, encouraging leaders to move beyond content influence and into creative process leadership. Notable in Basadur’s position is that effective leadership emerges through developing competency in creative process. Similarly, Reiter-Palmon and Illies (2004) dig into creative leadership opportunities and the phases of creative problem solving (which they broadly categorize as idea generation and idea evaluation), both as a descriptive analysis of leader behaviors and to advocate for the process and techniques. In their clear summation: “leaders must understand the cognitive requirements of creative problem solving” (p. 55).

These examples illuminate the natural fit between the leader’s bailiwick of the skillful management of change, and the process dynamics of creative problem solving, and argue for a conscious application of creative thinking in leadership.

Leading Creative People. While some leadership writings seek to merely offer techniques for directing creative employees––such as the slightly tone-deaf advice that the management of “clever people” includes being aware that they “know their worth...have a low boredom threshold...(and) won’t thank you” (Goffee & Jones, 2007, p.6)––Mumford, Scott, Gaddis and Strange (2002) provided more tooth to the topic. “Leadership of creative efforts seems to call for an integrative style—a style that permits the leader to orchestrate expertise, people, and relationships in such a way as to bring new ideas into being” (p. 738). They identified three crucial areas where leadership both allows for and is deeply implicated in organizational creativity, specifically in the creative work of the employees and teams: idea generation, idea structuring and idea promotion (pp. 738-739). In each of these areas, the leader’s own engaged creativity, particular to the leadership position, is essential for success––whether it is in establishing the conditions for productive idea generation, establishing “action or project frameworks” (p. 739) as guidance supports during idea structuring, or in promoting and advocating for the efforts within the organization. Similarly, for Mumford, Connelly and Gaddis (2003), the leader is “a collaborator who provides a critical perspective” and whose value “derives in part from the unique way in which they generate their contribution” (p. 427), akin to those just described.

Creative leadership, as these writings suggest, is creativity manifested by the leader while engaged in leading creative efforts. In order to effectively lead creative people, the leadership, too, must be creative.

Inner Source

Sustained creativity and leadership efforts are time intensive and require focused personal energy (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Maxwell, 2007). They also represent a decision to manifest change within one’s environment. (Puccio, Murdock & Mance, 2007; Sternberg, Kaufman, & Pretz, 2003; Sterberg & Lubart, 1995). Since change is implicated, a deep awareness of and sensitivity to the process of change is required, as well as the will to trust that what appears to be stasis, may in fact be in the midst of transformation; and, conversely, to recognize unproductive or untimely changes as they emerge, in order to trim back, pause or redirect. Creativity and leadership also both involve working on an edge between what is and what is emerging on the blank canvas (Scharmer & Kauefer, 2010); the change leader/creator is thus often responding to inputs that others may not perceive, and may be met with resistance (Karp, H.P, 1996; Sternberg & Lubart, 1995). Courage is called forth in both.

All of these aspects highlight, at minimum, the benefit of being well-centered in oneself; at the maximum, the necessity of it. Greater understanding of oneself may be deliberately cultivated through conscious self-development. Of self-development and creativity, Maslow (1962) proposed that the frontier-crossing new ideas sought on both an organizational and personal level arise from the deeper self, which is accessed through self-development and integration. Of self-development and leadership, Joiner & Josephs (2007) offered that “agile leadership and personal development go hand in hand’ (p. 226). Both creativity and leadership can be said to share in the ability to effect personal transformation through self-development.

Creativity and Self Development. The link between creativity and self-development has been elaborated to the point where “the relationship is both a semantic trend and virtually a given” (Davis, 2004, p. 2). Early work done by humanist psychologists such as Maslow (1974) and Rogers (1961) advanced the belief that creativity is not only linked to self-actualization, but in Maslow’s (1976) words “seems to be synonymous with health itself” (p. 92). In the words of May (1975) “The creative process must be explored...as the expression of normal people in the act of actualizing themselves” (p. 40).

Leadership and Self-Development. While historical approaches to leadership include the Great Man theory (Bass, 1990), recent explorations attune to more democratically distributed questions of self-awareness and self-development, in a manner akin to the creative self-actualization theories of Maslow, Rogers and May. Among these are:
• transformational leadership, mentioned earlier as being concerned with “achievement, self-actualization, and the well-being of others, the organization and society” (Bass, 1999, p.11)
• integrative leadership, which, according to Avolio (2007) addresses how leaders and followers “view their actual self and translate that into what could be their possible self or selves,” (p. 30)
• intelligent leadership (Sydänmaanlakka, 2008), integrating practical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual components
• transcendent leadership (Crossan, Vera, & Nanjad, 2008), where leadership of others is interwoven with leadership of the organization and, importantly, leadership of the self, evinced by “a high level of self-awareness and deep judgment” (p. 576)
• spiritual leadership (Fry, 2003) which draws upon a leader’s self knowledge
• transformative leadership, whose central focus is on self-creation (Montuori, 2010)
• the Leadership Maturity Framework (Cook-Greuter, 2006), which describes a vertical development of leadership, where the leader is increasingly capable of holding paradox and complexity through self-actualization and the transcending of the ego

All of these theories not only align leadership with personal development, but position such development as fundamental, calling upon the fabric of one’s deep personal orientation to life and the construction of self, meaning and behavior. Taken together, in these examples we can see both creativity and leadership as being rooted in an internal locus, evoking self-development, maturation, mastery, and spiritual growth.

Coinciding, but not Connected?

Whereas the preceding discussion has explored the shared ground of creativity and leadership, the two constructs part ways in at least one significant aspect: that of how the focus of expression involves others. While a person may be creative on his own, purely for his own benefit toward the enhancement of quality of life such as is found in the “happy path” of everyday creativity (Richards, 2007, p. 47), “the only person who practices leadership alone in a room is the psychotic” (Bennis, 2007, p. 3). Leaders attend to, interact with, support, communicate with, redirect, authorize, guide, mentor, regulate, inspire, empower and evaluate those whom they lead. Put another way, while with leadership, you cannot “tickle yourself” (Bavelas, as quoted in Bennis, 2007, p. 3), with creativity, you certainly can.

Following on this distinction, might it be that the two constructs merely coincide under certain conditions, without being fundamentally connected? Or, to go further, might there be situations in which creativity and leadership actually stand in each other’s way?

Clearly, there are areas within each construct which operate powerfully without influence of the other. Everyday creativity need not evoke leadership; well-regarded components of leadership such as trustworthiness need not depend upon being creatively deployed, counting more upon consistency of character and stability of execution. Further, acts representative of the dark side of creativity (Sternberg, 2010) not only may be executed without any of the developmental goals of creative self-actualization, but also absent the transformative goals of many contemporary leadership theories as well.

The act of leadership is associated with influence (Bass, 1990). Not necessarily so the act of creativity. Despite Sternberg and Lubart’s (1995) emphasis on the difference between creative thinking and successful creativity, in that the latter is the actual product of the creative thought and is often brought to bear through skillful influence, it remains that the creative idea may be vital and useful on its own, as in the case of everyday creativity. Creativity is concerned with the new; at times leadership must build upon the stories of tradition and the past (Gardner, 1995). The creator who inappropriately prioritizes influence may fall prey to some “outside temptations and interruptions” thereby squandering precious energies which are best devoted to the act of creating (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996, p.551). The leader who promulgates change and novelty for their own sake risks depriving their followers of the establishment of a stable shared ground of meaning, especially if the leadership story keeps changing (Gardner, 1995).


Creativity and leadership can operate independently of each other; in some occasions, they need to. The question is not, therefore, whether they always march hand in hand, but whether a compelling case can be made for their natural intersections. This returns the conversation to the IBM (2010) findings and the need for leaders to successfully deal with situations of increasing complexity. By understanding certain similarities in complex cognitive and affective processing, by attuning to the situations which invite a synchrony of creativity and leadership, and by drawing awareness to the internal self-development that supports creativity and leadership, capacities for responding to complexity emerge. From our thinking and our feeling states, our problem solving strategies, our leadership with and not just of creativity, and an attention to self-development, the embodiment of creative leadership arises to inform engagement with the world.

Amy Frazier is an organizational development consultant based in Seattle. Her work is focused on organizational creativity, leadership development, Creative Problem Solving, and the role of the arts in exploring complexity, releasing creativity and developing vision. She holds a certificate in Creativity and Change Leadership from SUNY Buffalo, through the International Center for Studies in Creativity.


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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Big Question: What is the role of creativity in talent development?

Alison Sellers has always enjoyed solving puzzles and problems. When she graduates from college with a degree in political science and gender studies, she plans to continue on to graduate school and hopes to help tackle issues involving violence against women. (Photo ©2010 Lee Anne White)

Written by graduate student Lee Anne White

What is the role of creativity in talent development?

Giftedness isn’t what it used to be. For the better part of the 20th century, giftedness was equated with high general intelligence by the fields of education and psychology (Moltzen, 2009). But in 1995, Feldhusen reported that a “major theoretical change” (p. 92) was taking place in the field of gifted education: “We are finally beginning to recognize that giftedness is not a unitary trait, not just intellectual ability, and not diagnosable at one point in time with a particular set of tests and rating scales” (p. 92).

Theoretical changes, however, take time. These changes have their roots in the structure of the intellect model (Guilford, 1967), Taylor’s multiple talents (Taylor, 1969), the theory of multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1983), and the triarchic theory of successful intelligence (Sternberg, 1985)—each of which challenged the concept of intelligence as a single construct measured by IQ. Changes have also been spurred by Torrance (1962), Renzulli (1978), Sternberg and Lubart (1993), and others who have delivered compelling research on the role of creativity in giftedness.

Davidson (2009) calls giftedness an “odd construct” (p. 81), noting that “even though exceptional abilities have been acknowledged for centuries (Ziegler & Heller, 2000), there is still no consensus on what it means for someone to be gifted” (p. 81). Without a doubt, the terminology has become more confusing as the concept has shifted from a single type of intelligence to multiple intelligences and from a notion of giftedness as a fixed trait with which one is born to that of talents which are developed over a life span through hard work and determination (Arnold, Noble, & Subotnik, 1996; Bloom, 1985; Feldhusen, 1995; Keating, 2009; Matthews, 2009; Piirto, 1998; Reis, 1996; Subotnik, 2009; Sternberg, 2005).

It is common for professionals in this field to lump the terms gifted and talented together, using them synonymously (Moltzen, 2009). However, some argue that gifted and talented have distinct meanings. Gagné (2004), for instance, believed that “giftedness designates the possession and use of untrained and spontaneously expressed superior natural abilities” and that “talent designates the superior mastery of systematically developed abilities (or skills) and knowledge” (para. 2-3). Others, such as Reis (1998), use gifted for “those with high abilities or potentials in several areas or in general,” and talented for “individuals with distinct abilities in one or two areas, such as science, math, and art” (p. 4). And there are holdouts, such as the National Association for Gifted Children, which continues to use the term gifted, defining gifted individuals as “those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude or competence in one or more domains” (NAGC, n.d.).

Perhaps Renzulli (1978) said it best when he explained that one way of viewing such definitions is along a continuum from conservative to liberal. The good news is that while far too many educational programs still emphasize academic giftedness, the bar is clearly moving in a more liberal direction—one that is much more inclusive rather than exclusive. Also, no matter what they call it, the leading experts in this field have embraced a developmental perspective on giftedness and talent, and most have begun to integrate talent development into their vocabulary.

A Top Down Look at Talent Development

If the construct of giftedness is shifting toward a developmental model in which talents are developed over a lifetime, then much can be learned by looking at the lives of talented adults. Such individuals are most frequently identified by such factors as eminence and high levels of achievement or productivity. Davidson (2009) noted that “adult giftedness is typically based on extraordinary discovery of a new way to conceptualize information in a specific domain” (p. 81). Such domain-altering contributions, by definition, imply creativity—the development of original products, systems, or ideas that are valued by others (Ochse, 1990; Sternberg, 2005).

Researchers have, of course, been fascinated by high achieving and eminent individuals for centuries. Yet more recent studies (Arnold, Noble, & Subotnik, 1996; Keller-Mathers, 2004; Reis, 1996; Reis & Sullivan, 2009; Renzulli, 1986; Sternberg, 1986; Tannenbaum, 1991; Wallace and Gruber, 1989) have given us a better understanding of adult giftedness and the factors that contributed to these individuals’ successes. What they’ve found is that intelligence is not the only driver in an individual’s realization of talent. Indeed, there are numerous contributing factors, and both creativity and intrinsic motivation have been identified by most as being at least equally important as, if not more important than, intelligence or ability (Kaufman, Kaufman, Beghetto, Burgess, & Persson, 2009, Renzulli, 1986).

As a result of these findings, numerous models for talent development have evolved in the hopes of better identifying individuals with high potential and finding ways to help nurture their talents. Significantly, almost all of these models include creativity, which tends to be viewed in one of four ways: 1) as an important personality trait of highly talented individuals (Piirto, 1998; Reis & Sullivan, 2009), 2) as a key factor in the development of talent (Renzulli, 1978, 1986; Sternberg, 2003), 3) as a type of talent or intelligence, such as creative giftedness (Gagné, 1995; Renzulli & Reis, 2009; Runco, 2005; Sternberg, 1985; Sternberg & Lubart, 1993;), or 4) as the principle objective of talent development (Gowan, 1980).
Many researchers embrace creativity in each of these ways. Renzulli and Reis (2009) are good examples. Their work with the Schoolwide Enrichment Model and Renzulli Learning is based on Renzulli’s three-ring conception of giftedness, which includes the interaction of three factors: above-average ability, task commitment, and creativity. Yet they also write about creatively gifted individuals and the personality traits that distinguish them from those who are academically gifted. And they evaluate giftedness based on creative productivity—projects, ideas, and products that address real-life challenges. It is important to note that they talk about a fourth aspect as well, which is also common in other models, and that is the impact of the environment on individuals and their ability to be creative. Environmental factors include such aspects as home, school, community, and culture. The way they view creativity in talent development closely aligns with Rhodes’ (1961) four Ps of creativity: the creative person, process, product, and press. This way of looking at talent development allows many educational strategies currently being developed for students with advanced learning abilities or specialized talents to be adapted for all students.

Wisdom, Leadership, and Social Capital
Why does any of this matter? “What could matter more than understanding how people can fulfill their extraordinary potential?” (Dweck, 2009, p. xiv). As parents, teachers, and friends, we want to see children grow up to be healthy, happy, and succeeding at what they enjoy and do best. As employers, community leaders, and as a society, we are searching for tomorrow’s leaders—those with vision, insight, and passion who will tackle challenges and create positive change in their fields—whether in the arts, sciences, public service, or other area.

The concepts of leadership and social capital currently interest researchers in the fields of both talent development and creativity. Renzulli (2002) highlighted the decline in social capital in the latter half of the 20th Century as evidenced by a decrease in involvement in community and church organizations, politics and voting, parent/teacher associations, and fraternal groups. He also pointed out that such declines “have been paralleled by an increasing tendency for young people to focus on narrow professional success and individual economic gain” (p. 34). He posed the following:

"Research on the characteristics of gifted individuals has addressed the question: What causes some people to use their intellectual, motivational, and creative assets in ways that lead to outstanding creative productivity, while others with similar assets fail to achieve high levels of accomplishment? Perhaps an even more important question, as far as social capital is concerned, is: What causes some people to mobilize their interpersonal, political, ethical, and moral lives in such ways that they place human concerns and the common good above materialism, ego enhancement, and self-indulgence?” (p. 35)

Sternberg (2005) explored this question from another angle. He argued that the most important kind of giftedness is that of leadership, noting that “gifted adults—certainly those who are remembered—are those who take a leadership role” (p. 37). He proposed that a synthesis of wisdom, intelligence, and creativity results in effective leadership.

Puccio, Murdock, and Mance (2007) cited the important relationship between change, leadership, and creativity—comparing them to the intertwining strands or a rope. It is their belief that creativity is a core construct that distinguishes leadership from management.

Self Actualization and Gender Differences
Eminence, recognition, leadership, and high levels of productivity, however, are not the only measures of achievement. Kerr (1994) defined achievement in self-actualization terms, calling it “the use of one’s gifts and talents, as one understands them, to the fullest. Achievement means being all that one can be, according to one’s deeply held values” (p. xi).

Over the years, many have made strong connections between self-actualization and creativity (Maslow, 1971; Rogers, 1962; Runco , Ebersole, & Mraz, 1997). Davis (2004) called the relationship between the two “one of the most profoundly important concepts in the field of creativity” (p2). Maslow (1971) said, “My feeling is that the concept of creativeness and the concept of the healthy, self-actualizing, fully human person seem to be coming closer and closer together, and may turn out to be the same thing” (p. 57). Runco, Ebersole, & Mraz (1997) acknowledged the need for additional empirical evidence on this subject, but observed, “There are clear parallels between the traits that characterize creative people and the traits found in self-actualized individuals” (p. 266).

Some also suggest that there are gender differences in terms of how achievement is defined. Kerr (1994); Reis (1996, 1998); Arnold, Noble, and Subotnik (1996); and Keller-Mathers (2004) have found that women value achievement in the personal realm just as much as they do achievement in the public realm. It is not unusual for family, home, and relationships to be viewed as more important than and just as creatively challenging as more public accomplishments, even among women who have achieved according to more traditional standards.

Indeed, giftedness is not what it used to be. Research has shown that it is not merely intelligence, but the combination of above-average levels of appropriate intelligences or abilities, a creative mindset, and intrinsic motivation that lead individuals to extraordinary achievement and self actualization. Whether one views talent development as becoming all that one can be from a public perspective of extraordinary achievements and leadership or from the more personal perspective of self-actualization, creativity is an essential ingredient. Piirto (1998) believed creativity is “the underpinning, the basement, the foundation, that permits talent to be realized” (p. 42).

Others agree. Kim (2009) observed that “Striking advances in human affairs such as the creative arts and political and military leadership, as well as in scientific discovery and invention are mainly due to a few exceptionally creative gifted individuals (Weyl, 1970; Taylor, 1972; Toynbee, 1964)” (p. 571). Taylor (1984), in reference to a speech given by historian Arnold Toynbee, described creativity as the “history-making ingredient” and “mankind’s ultimate capital asset” (p. 106).

Although he isn’t part of the current discussion on talent development, perhaps Pearce (1917) said it best when writing the guiding philosophy for a small, liberal arts college in Georgia. As president of the college, he encouraged students “to be modestly conscious of the limitations of human knowledge and serenely confident of the limitless reaches of human endeavor.”

Talent development is an evolving theoretical construct of which creativity is a key component that should be nurtured in ourselves and in others. Knowledge and intelligence help us understand and evaluate what is. Creativity allows us to imagine what might be and how to get there. Passion, drive, and motivation are what make it happen.

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