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“Surf’s Up!” for Organizational Creativity — It’s Sink or Swim!


What do creativity and innovation have to do with making businesses, nonprofits, governments, and schools maximally successful?  Lots!  And because they play such key roles, in this Riding the Wave (RTW) blog, I'll be touching on a range of topics related to creativity, innovation, organizational culture, morale, and best practices in management.  One of the many gifts of cultivating our innate Wave Rider

creativity is that it allows us to see connections and patterns that may not be readily apparent — but are there.   It is my hope that readers may see a few additional dots connected and then find that some intriguing new angles and ideas emerge…


Part of the timing for the roll-out of this blog has to do with a landmark IBM Global CEO Study released in 2010 entitled “Capitalizing on Creativity.”  It was drawn from interviews with over 1,500 organizational leaders from around the world.  These managers concluded that the ability to think creatively is the most necessary competency for leaders to possess in a global environment that is changing at break-neck speed and becoming exponentially complex.  3,600 "Next Gen" business students concurred.  –What is also interesting is that over 51% of the leaders interviewed admitted that they did not feel that their organizations were equipped to succeed.  

A brief summary of key findings is posted at the bottom of this blog: "In a Nutshell…"  To get a copy of the complete report, go to:  

The "stand-out" leaders who had profitably applied creative thinking and innovative practices over the previous five years stated that one of the additional benefits of fostering creativity across their organizations was that the streamlining of operations and greater efficiency also resulted.  (No surprise to some of us creative types!)  

The second most important leadership trait, according to these managers: integrity.  The stand-out leaders pointed to a connection between creativity and integrity.  Now what do those two practices have to do with one another?  Hmm… Sounds like a good topic for an upcoming blog-post!

In the first installment to follow, I will encapsulate the findings of the IBM survey as presented in its executive summary.  RTW’s “Kowabunga!” blog will regularly refer back to this important study, because it is ardently hoped that in this case, “When CEOs talk, people listen!  

Most organizations have long disregarded the value that truly creative thinking offers.  I find this to be tragic on oh, so many levels because we have all missed out on the invaluable contributions that could have been made.  "Creative types" that don't fit the mold or into “the boxes" have often found their ideas marginalized — that is, if they were hired at all.  The state of many of our current affairs in business and society reflects the corners that convergent “group-think” has painted us into.

All of us were born with imaginations and the ability to think creatively, when we also believed that many things were possible.  But our educational systems and various forms of peer pressure "trained" that out of most of us.  From then on, there was only "one right answer," and most individuals and groups “settle,” and perhaps grumble, but they stopped allowing themselves or others to be open to other possibilities long ago.  But creative imagination does still exist in all of us.  It just takes the will and some intentional practices to bring it back to life. 

With the convergence of IBM’s important new study and the Obama administration's push for the reemergence of American innovation, now is the time to cultivate unfettered creativity and innovative solutions and to allow them to lead us back to what is possible in our workplaces, communities, society, and our world!

Ship in Wave


“Capitalizing on Complexity

This study was conducted through interviews with 1,541 CEOs, general managers, and senior public sector leaders from around the world.

I.  Leaders’ Primary Concerns:

  • Global Climate Change.
  • Geopolitics related to energy and water supplies.
  • Vulnerabilities to the supply chains of food, medicine, and talent.
  • Global security threats.
  • Unprecedented rapid escalation of Complexity, due to increasing layers of interdependencies, environmental uncertainties, and the speed of technological change.

II.  Key Findings:

  • Only 49% said their organizations are sufficiently equipped to succeed in this increasingly complex environment.  In other words, more than half of the CEOs expressed doubt in their organizations’ abilities to meet today’s challenges.
  • Given that the rate of complexity is expected to accelerate, Systems-level thinking is required.
  • Most important leadership ability: Creative Thinking.

“They identify ‘creativity’ as the single most important leadership competency for enterprises seeking a path through this complexity.”

… Events, threats and opportunities aren’t just coming at us faster or with less predictability; they are converging and influencing each other to create entirely unique situations.  These first-of-their-kind developments require unprecedented degrees of creativity – which has become a more important leadership quality than attributes like management discipline, rigor, or operational acumen.”    Samuel J. Palmisano, Chairman, President and CEO, IBM

  • 3,600 students agree, rating creative thinking as the most important ability.

III.  Successful Organizational Leadership Applications:

“Standout” leaders who have leveraged creativity
to financial advantage over the last five years:

1.  Cultivate innovative organizational cultures:

  • They encourage experimentation and innovation throughout their organizations.
    • Versus relegating a few “creative types” to siloed departments.  
    • They encourage an organizational mindset of questioning and challenging assumptions.

2.  They continuously solicit new and original ideas.

3.  They regularly re-conceive their strategies, versus relying solely on formal, annual planning.

  • “With margins of error and windows of opportunity shrinking, they recognize they can no longer afford the luxury of protracted study and review before making decisions.” 
  • Top performing organizations are 54% more likely to make rapid decisions.

4.  They simplify and streamline operations in order to make their organizations more agile.

5.   They are comfortable with ambiguity and ongoing experimentation.

  • They take more calculated risks.

 6.  They are prepared to upset the status quo, even if it’s successful – no “sacred cows.”

 7.  They continually innovate with how they lead and communicate to better engage with new generations of employees, partners, and customers.

  • 58% prefer to persuade and influence versus  
  • 17% who prefer command and control

8.  Customer “intimacy” is of high priority.

  • They identified getting closer to customers in imaginative ways as most important strategic initiative of the next five years.
    • Using the Web and interactive and social media. 
    • Bringing customers “into” the organizations to “co-create.”

9.  They stressed the relationship between creativity and integrity.

  • They rely on deeply held values and a well-defined vision to provide the confidence and conviction needed to exploit narrow windows of opportunity.

IV.  Study recommendations for CEOs and leaders:

  1. Integrate creative elements throughout your organization.
  2. Form unconventional partnerships.
  3. Eliminate all communication barriers to improve the ability to handle the unforeseen.
  4. Use scenario planning.
  5. Question industry practices that seem obvious.  When you think you have the answer, ask “Why?” again. 
  6. Push tailoring to the extreme.
  7. Borrow from other industries’ successes.
  8. Strengthen your ability to persuade and influence:
  • Lead by working together toward a shared vision. 
  • Dare to relinquish some control in favor of building more mutual trust throughout the organization.
  • Don’t present your logic; discover logic with your team. 

     9.   Coach: Spark the imaginations of others.

    10.  Use a wide range of communication approaches.  Accept that for customers and employees alike, blogs, Internet presence, instant messaging and social networking are more credible—and often faster—than top-down communications. 


Embody Creative Leadership:

Reinvent Customer Relationships:

Build Operating Dexterity:

  • Embrace ambiguity
  • Take risks that disrupt business models
  • Leapfrog beyond “tried-and-true” management styles


  • Honor customers above all else
  • Use two-way communications to sync with customers
  • Profit from the information explosion
  • Simplify whenever possible
  • Manage systemic complexity
  • Promote a mindset of being fast and flexible
  • Be “glocal”



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