I would like to conduct two thought experiments to illustrate the power of creativity for leaders in an increasingly complex world.
Scenario A, imagine I present you with a jigsaw puzzle as a gift. I mean one with lots of small pieces. The type that comes in a box with an image on it which the small pieces are meant to look like once fitted together. Do you think you will be able to put them together with relative ease?
In scenario B, I simply present you with lots of small jigsaw pieces without the box and the image on it. Now do you think you will be able to put them together with relative ease without the picture on the box to guide you?
I suspect not.
In the first scenario, you need a high degree of logic and perseverance to succeed while in the second scenario, you need a high degree of creative imagination to be successful. Scenario A is relatively straight-forward and predictable because you have the picture on the box to guide you. Scenario B is unpredictable, ambiguous and complex because you are presented with all the pieces without the picture and hence have to deduce the whole from the fragments at your disposal.
Leaders are confronted with more Scenario B challenges than Scenario A ones. They are finding out that what was predictable and straight-forward in the past is not so anymore.
We live in an information rich world and leaders, like the rest of us, are simply overwhelmed by the amount of data they have to process. It takes great creative skill to filter the information flood in order to separate the essential from the irrelevant. Leaders have to make educated decisions on the basis of their interpretation of these pieces of information. They have to spot future trends that can affect and disrupt their organisations.
Art Fry said that ‘the creative mind doesn’t have to have the whole pattern—it can have just a little piece and be able to envision the whole picture in completion.’ The rules of the game are rapidly changing and only forward-looking creative leaders and their organisations will survive in the coming years and during the global recession.