The world of business has never been more volatile or unpredictable. Sources of competition and disruption can appear anywhere—not just disruption in products, services, and technology, but also in channels to market, policy, talent, brands, and supply chains.
In order to survive in today’s complex world, organizations need to generate, embrace, and execute on new ideas. That takes creativity and a creatively capable workforce. It’s the secret sauce, or in evolutionary terms, it’s what keeps you fit. Organizations without it can’t compete.
When we first think of creative organizations, design firms, advertising agencies, or tech startups typically come to mind. Building a creative workforce takes more than hiring a bunch of designers and hosting happy hours. It requires a mindset shift that begins with leadership.
I’ve observed leadership styles across diverse industries: teams in financial services, working with frontline customer support; healthcare organizations, improving patient experiences; and tech companies, learning new ways to retain talent. These team leaders didn’t come from “creative” backgrounds — they weren’t innovation experts, designers, or writers; they were sales leaders, human resource specialists, and software engineers. And they led their organizations in ways that allowed every individual to participate creatively and arrive at better solutions, even when the path was unclear.
Creative leadership isn’t about leaders simply becoming more creative. It’s about individuals leading for creativity. That means you, as a leader, must unlock the creative potential of your organization, no matter the industry. It’s your job to set the conditions for your organization to generate, embrace, and execute on new ideas. It’s a competitive imperative that will keep you ahead in the marketplace.
Holding a curious mindset is a great starting point when you’re leading your team or organization. If you’re in a truly new space, you won’t always know the answers. Your team won’t either. You’re going to venture into the unknown together. Asking questions is one of the best ways to practice a curious mindset—questions that challenge assumptions, inspire others, open up a broader context, and cause reflection.
Supporting creativity requires a suite of approaches that empower individuals and teams to search for solutions and take ownership of what they do.
- The explorer. Leaders need to have an inspiring vision and set the course for a new direction. If they don’t, people won’t follow their lead. They hold to that vision and take risks to get that much closer to their destination.
- The gardener. Leaders need to set the conditions for creativity to thrive, such as providing inspiration when energy is low. When challenges crop up, they act swiftly to address them and make necessary adjustments.
- The coach. Leaders need to stay present and engaged. They’re on the field, at eye level, offering guidance on the fly. They help their team navigate ambiguity, learn from mistakes, and ask the right questions.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to explore on this topic. If you want to continue this conversation, I hope you’ll join my course, IDEO U’s Leading for Creativity, and help your organization thrive in today’s complex world.