Leading in the Age of Creativity

Learn to lead in ways that help, rather than tell people to grow, and align personal motivations with what your company needs.

Leading in the Age of Creativity
[Image: Flickr user Thomas Frost Jensen]

Creativity and innovation are key to building any successful organizations. But organizational creativity comes from inspiring and leading people, which is anything but easy.


First, you have to appreciate the interior complexity of the people that you work with. Then, you need to make the links between a person’s individual motivations and what your company needs. In other words, link the individual–personal goals like career trajectories–to the collective, group goals like innovation, revenue growth, and impacting the world.

To do this we need to understand what people need from their work in order to do their best work–and how leaders can help arrange that for them. This distinction is rooted in intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. If people are intrinsically motivated, there is something inside of them that pushes them to their work; if they are extrinsically motivated, something outside of them brings them there. (Most people, of course, are both.)

As we discussed in my upcoming book, Everything Connects: How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation, and Sustainability (McGraw Hill, February 2014), the work of a leader, especially of an entrepreneur, often parallels that of the ancient maritime navigator, moving from port to port by drawing the constellations in the sky.

In order to connect individuals to the organization for creativity and innovation, leaders need to realize:

  1. Leaders curate talent. Building an organization is the gathering of people for a common cause. Gathering the right people together at the right time is curation.

  2. People need freedom. To do their best work, people need to feel like they’re able to bring all of their effort into the task, which requires an open, autonomy-oriented culture.

  3. People need structure. This is not anarchy; with freedom comes responsibility. Responsibility can be ensured with both quantitative and qualitative methods–and springs from a thriving culture.

What does a less rigid–but still rigorous–form of organization look like?

It looks like a Cluster of Talents: A loose, cross-functional method for creating and implementing ideas.

What’s unique, what shifts us beyond the job descriptions, is to recognize that the role that a person has in a given project depends on the project. It neither defines nor inhibits their professional self. Just as there’s a difference between a battle and war, the role for a project is not the role of a career.


In other words, working in clusters acknowledges the deeply relative nature of a given project: there’s the way you relate to the overall goal, the tasks within that goal set, and the way your work relates to that of your colleagues. Your place within the team is inspired by the assignment at hand and how you’re applying your skills in that context. And once that context–the goal of the cluster–completes, your role does as well. It is acknowledges that work is a performance; what you’re doing, to borrow the vocabulary of theatre, is playing.

Since we’re in this disruptive and disrupting working life, we need to optimize around the creation and implementation of new ideas, and with that being that case, we’ve arrived in a place where the engineering of a product includes its designing and visioning. The ways in which we work need new definitions, though what they are, and perhaps have always been, are roles.

We can loosely categorize them into four main roles:

  • Ideation roles: dream up, discover, invent, and spread ideas
  • Guiding roles: manage, navigate, oversee, and develop ideas
  • Building roles: implement, execute, and finish turning ideas into processes
  • Improving roles: expands, reduces, and tinkers with existing products and processes

Roles and clusters are alike in that they each are temporal, fitting the form of the task at hand, using no more structure than is needed to get the job done.

Many ways entrepreneurial leadership boils down to arranging circumstances for the people they are caretaking–or curating–so that they may flourish.

So how do we lead in ways that help people to grow, rather than tell people to grow? To want to work, rather than have to work? By leading and managing roles, not people.