WHY do some people reach their creative potential in business while other equally talented peers don’t?
People with a growth mind-set tend to demonstrate the kind of perseverance and resilience required to convert life’s setbacks into future successes. That ability to learn from experience was cited as the No. 1 ingredient for creative achievement in a poll of 143 creativity researchers cited in “Handbook of Creativity” in 1999.
Text as prepared follows. Copyright of JK Rowling, June 2008
President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of
Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all,
The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has
Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and
nausea I’ve experienced at the thought of giving this commencement
address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have
to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and fool myself
into believing I am at the world’s best-educated Harry Potter
Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I
thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The
commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher
Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me
enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t
remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me
to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to
abandon promising careers in business, law or politics for the giddy
delights of becoming a gay wizard.
You see? If all you remember in years to come is the ‘gay wizard’
joke, I’ve still come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable
goals: the first step towards personal improvement.
Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say
to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own
graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years
that has expired between that day and this.
I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are
gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to
talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the
threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the
crucial importance of imagination.
These might seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me.
The ability of a group working iteratively and collaboratively to seek, model and put into place higher-order solutions. Time compression, systemic work-flow, dynamic feedback, individual creativity and collective creativity are core features of group genius.
"Simply stated, the
person who can most clearly see the next step is responsible for
communicating this step and facilitating or leading the group through
it. In an age as complex as ours, it's unreasonable to imagine that any
one person has all of the questions and all of the answers. To invest
individuals with such responsibility creates unnecessary burdens and
pressure and debilitates the creative edge of other members of the team.
kind of leadership always resides within Group Genius. It is a kind of
leadership that allows space to play, iterate, design and learn the art
of flow as team. One of the MG Taylor Axioms speaks to this:
Everyone in this room has the answer. The purpose of this intense
experience is to stimulate one, several, or all of us to extract and
remember what we already know."
This is my favorite creative process model. It was introduced to me by Gail Taylor of MG Taylor and Tomorrow Makers. It is a one of many models from the MG Taylor modeling language. This is one of the oldest of the MG Taylor Models, developed in
1979 by Matt Taylor and Richard Goring as part of an unpublished book entitled
Designing Creative Futures.
Where are the opportunities now?
What needs to happen to bring about those changes?
Who will support them?
What makes this organization strong?
What makes this easy?
What makes this complex?
Why does this company exist?
What are you good at?
Who (really) are your customers? And why?
What do your customers really want?
How do you intend to make money?
Where are your vulnerabilities?
How do you intend to grow?
Who’s driving the bus? (How is the company really organized?)
What can you not afford to do now?
What must be done?
What happens then?
The seventh and final leadership skill is really very closely connected to emergence. It’s about self-organizing. As all this emergence is happening, how do you self- organize? As an individual system, as a team, as an organization, how do you self-organize? How do you come together and figure out all this complexity and change?
System thinkers, and self-organizers, and people who have an ability to see the whole picture, are able to look for the interdependencies. They are all seeking to create meaning. These are the meaning-makers, the creators of understanding, who can intuit that small changes can create big shifts in a system. As a system thinker, you’re able to change perspectives, to see how there are new leverage points in your system. Go wide. Go wide, go scan, go surface up, and really explore: What are these new conditions? What are these new needs?
There is, at heart, an order in the midst of all of this chaos and madness and messiness. If you look carefully, and if you allow the patterns to emerge, there is a structure underneath this. There always has been. There always will be. There's a great book that Meg Wheatley wrote, co-authored with Myron Rogers, called A Simpler Way. It’s probably my favorite book in my library of hundreds, and it basically says that we live in a universe that seeks organization and that, in all forms and in all systems and in all nature, we are seeking self-organization. It's an eloquently written book, and I would encourage you all to buy it. It's a pleasure to read. It's full of poetry and pictures and very graceful writing that can help anyone understand that there are structures, there are patterns, and there is a simpler way to figure this out. And in The Simpler Way, it is about playing with the problem.
And so, as leaders, I’d ask you to consider how you play with your problems. Ask yourself: How do you scan? What is your creative process? How do you engage in your team's creative process? How many times are you iterating this problem? And are you getting to a higher order solution?
The results of all of these seven skills, of scanning, of framing, of opening to multiple perspectives, to iterating, futuring, emerging, and all that goes into self-organization, is this: if you slow down and create your time to really think and scan, you will find a process within yourself, and you will find some very deep answers. And this is the most important renewal practice that you have to take as leaders. You must reclaim your time to think and reflect and figure out, in the midst of all this messiness and uncertainty and chaos, what is really underneath all of this. There is something there. And it’s deeply, profoundly important.
I'd also encourage you to find your thinking partners inside and outside your organization. Don't go alone. Find a strong scanning team, and start connecting the dots. Host Open Spaces and unconferences. Create a zone of emergence. Create a knowledge wall. Start mapping into your organization. If you are a dispersed team, start a blog or a wiki. There are so many tools that can help with emergence. And, if you create some breathing room in your head, in your heart, in your soul, in your spirit, and if you manage yourself and others—you have to better manage yourself AND your team, and teach them some of these techniques and skills—you will create the acceleration necessary to sustain your organization within this time of flux.
You can create acceleration. You can figure it out. And you can be the leader your organization needs you to be. You may not be the CEO. You may not be the VP. You may not be the Senior VP. But you can be a sapiential leader. Sapiential leadership is the leadership that steps forward in a group, that knows that you need the space to play, to iterate, design, and to figure out the problem. It is the leadership that arises out of the group. No one person is going to figure this out. There is too much change and too much complexity and too much uncertainty. At the speed at which things are happening, it will take far more than one person to hold this.
So, this is about stepping forward, or about getting tapped on the shoulder. You're it. You're up. And if you're listening to this conference call, I would offer that you’re already thinking about this stuff. You're being called upon in your organization. Learn to be good scanners, understand your creative process, iterate multiple times, parallel process, bring big teams of people together—and you’ll get acceleration.
There have been multiple times that I have been asked to come into organizations and help organizations figure this stuff out. And it works, and it works over and over again. Trust me. Trust the process. And trust yourselves.
Emerging, and understanding the patterns of emergence and the zone of emergence, is the sixth leadership skill. This is what happens when we come together as a system and see patterns and interconnections. This is about feedback and self-organization and adaptive learning.
It's important, as leaders, to create a time and place for your team, for your people, and for your organization, where they might have a zone of emergence. Where do you have a place for your patterns to unfold, to make connections, to connect the dots? This is really the place for innovation and creativity to occur. I think blogs are a particularly interesting zone of emergence. The whole blogging phenomenon is an online zone of emergence. In teams that still have the ability to sit together, there'll be somebody's cube wall or hallway where stuff will start to get posted—diagrams, drawing, comments, reports and pictures—and you're able to visually map what it is that you're trying to figure out, be it a new market, a new industry, a new product introduction, or a new service.
These zones of emergence happen in lots of different systems, from biology to geography to societies, all the time. As leaders, I’d encourage you to be really aware of emergence. Again, how do you create a zone of emergence for your team?