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Inspiring

By Gloria Lombardi

“We need to step more regularly and more profoundly into the unknown. Then and only then can we truly value difference, play with new and novel intersections and lean into the void. For it is from these empty spaces that the future emerges.” Dr Nick Udall

If you believe that bringing creativity to work is a necessary prerequisite for achieving personal fulfilment and organisational success, then don’t miss Riding the Creative Rollercoaster. By emphasising the importance of both the highs and lows of the creative process, Nick Udall describes what leaders should do to “evoke the music of innovation.”

Evocative leadership and post-conventional worldview

It requires enormous amounts of energy by visionary leaders – not political statesmen – to build trust, engage talent and embrace difference. They accept that technology is omnipresent, pervading our work and life, and enabling us “to amplify, accelerate and cross-pollinate at the push of a button.”

Since we have only scratched the surface of what technology can bring to facilitate better conversations and creative exchanges, progressive leaders are ready to invest in new capabilities and skills. They see “leadership as a lifelong endeavour” and embrace the strategic challenge of our time, which is “to out-innovate and to out-learn.”

To catalyse creative insight and collective breakthrough, they move from a conventional to a post-conventional worldview: they are open to new experiences, seek meaning and discover purpose, and are able to free themselves from an attachment to the known and an aversion to the unknown. Their attention is positive, open and generative as opposed to defensive, selective and wary. They have an ability to play, and understand that it is through play that we discover ourselves. They also see potential and intentionally disturb the status quo to release the co-creative potential of the organisation.

The creative rollercoaster: from transactional relationships to creative partnerships

“Creativity is the dance between the known and the unknown, the conscious and the unconscious, the visible and the invisible, the tangible and the intangible. Creativity is born of this dance and oscillation.”

According to Udall, to be able to innovate, leaders and teams need to move into the unknown and tune into other ways of knowing, including gathering data from feelings, bodies and intuitions. At the same time they need to stop trying to solve ‘it’ themselves, and realise that “innovation happens at new and novel intersections.” The whole exercise requires staying present since “newness is momentary and fragile” and “easy to miss.” So, the challenge is to share and explore what people see and feel in real time, while being comfortable with not knowing and trying to “hold a beginner’s mind.”

The creative rollercoaster is therefore an “emotional rollercoaster” too, implicating the human dimension of change. While the entire process enables innovative outputs that can be executed upon and generate business tangibles, the real win is what happens when people have a shared experience of collective breakthrough. “Something reorders in their relationship. They start to see each other differently” moving from transactional relationships to creative partnerships.

When leading this human dimension of change leaders need to compassionately speak the truth. This means naming why the status quo isn’t good enough, enabling teams to let go of the past and the present to allow something new in. Compassionately speaking also requires leaders to stop talking and start listening when people naturally will get emotional and start mourning. “When you give people a damned good listening to, they start to feel heard, they begin to open, and they move to becoming part of the solution.”

Biological organising structures

“Post-conventional leaders raise their awareness, and focus their attention, on how organisations can be more like living organisms.”

Different from mechanistic matrices and silos that keep organisations stuck in conventional cultural forms, biological organising structures allow team to quickly adapt, change to the new and move forward. These are the structures where creativity and innovation excel, and these are the structures that progressive leaders appreciate.

Udall cites the five major characteristics of living systems as studied by the Leadership Centre’s Myron E Rogers:

Chaos and complexity: complex systems are characterised by ambiguity, uncertainty and unexpected connections. Order arises from chaotic and unmanaged micro-interactions.

Emergence: living systems seem chaotic and unpredictable but their patterns are created by simple underlying rules that are not usually apparent to the actors.

Cognition: no one person can ever ‘see the system’. Each person will have a different perspective depending on their place in the system and what they see determines what they do.

Networks: people are strongly linked by their informal ties and by the stories they tell. If the ‘official line’ does not fit with the lived reality of players, they will ignore or subvert it.

Self-organisation: social systems preserve their identity. Once a group or organisation has formed a loyalty, people will act to hold on to the identity they have created.

Udall challenges leaders to think how they can help to redesign new organising forms that are multinational, multi-locational and multicultural, “creating ecologies of innovation.”

There is no one right answer, concludes the author. “I really hope we see a plethora of experimental organisational forms in the next few years, designed to leverage diversity, focus on connection and intersection, hold creative tension and enable their people to ride both the high and lows of the creative process.”

Conclusions

Pointing people into the unknown and encouraging them to learn to unlearn in every moment of every day can look like a real challenge for leaders. Despite his over-use of management-speak and jargon, Udall does offer much practical advice to understanding and mastering the stages towards building moments of creative insight and collective breakthrough. Through this book, ‘evocating’ creativity becomes an experiential, exciting and discovery journey in which every individual can find its proper role within the overall innovation’s process. Enjoy the ride!

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This article originally appeared on simply-communicate