In the October 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review, Teresa M. Amabile and Mukti Khaire report on a colloquium among business leaders and scholars that invited conversation about the role leaders play in fostering and maintaining creativity in organizations.
The article got me to thinking that too much of the conversation about leading is wrapped up in this business of categorizing, too intent on setting up binary relationships that enable us to anchor ourselves in comfortable positions. In this article, for example, here’s how those relationships played out: Creativity is mass customization. Process is scalability. Creativity is energy. Process is entropy. Creativity is autonomy. Process is control.
What if creativity and process are none of those things? Or what if creativity and process are all of those things, but at different times, in different contexts? What if it’s not possible to separate them? As one of the colloquium’s participants noted, at the first stages of creativity, at that inchoate end of the Gaussian curve, you need a big mindspace, different angles, and minimal censoring. When innovators engage in the commercialization of ideas, they lose interest and energy. Another participant suggested that managers realize that process is the kryptonite to innovation and work hard to contain its destructive influence.
But what if process and creativity exist in the same curve?
Inspired by Jessica Hagy’s Indexed blog, I tried to draw an answer. I saw quickly how one curve unfolds to another one, a mirror, maybe, reflecting, or a shadow, revealing the form from another angle. And although I drew two curves, I could draw more. It’s not binary — it’s not the metaphor of a mirror that’s important, it’s the unfolding consequences that become possible only when we set aside the categories we depend on so much for defining the world around us in a way that suits our particular frameworks.
So these are just questions. Seems like it’s just plain hard to create leadership when the world around us refuses to center, when categories cannot fix, when everything is up for negotiation. But the fact that it’s hard isn’t a reason not to try.