The Role Of Creative Leaders

“The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued. So it’s much more about creating climates. I think it’s a big shift for a lot of people.” – Sir Ken Robinson, author and creativity expert


One theme I’ve trumpeted over and over in my career is that everyone has creativity. The challenge has been that if people don’t believe their creative their right, that people don’t have the confidence necessary to be creative, and that creativity is some form of loosely define chaos. If we could overcome those three barriers we’d have a lot more creative people coming up with creative solutions.

But instead we tend to think of creativity as an off-or-on button. You either have it or you don’t. In reality, however, different people are creative in different ways. So, if you acknowledge that, and treat them as creative people, you’ll find they are so!

But there is, of course, a problem with raw creativity. Without creativity being funneled into a desired output, it’s not going to help. As I read somewhere once, creativity without strategy is like a spark plug without gasoline. It makes a loud, bright spark, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.

Creativity is also much more effective when combined with it’s cousin, innovation, which is taking someone else’s creation and making it better. A great example of that is Apple, which didn’t invent the computer, the MP3 player, or the PDA, but instead applied their special brand of magic to them, and wound up being a dominant force. The “creative” people were IBM. Rio and Nokia (remember the 9000 communicator). But those companies didn’t get value from their creativity.

Meanwhile Steve Jobs and Apple saw the need made significant improvements in each area, with a focus on user experience, and re-imagined the entire company. Strategically they built on the phone/PDA’s that had gone before them, and created the iPhone. They knew if the could get the iPhone into enough hands it would demonstrate the usability, effectiveness, and simplicity of Apple products. The essentially created new product category – the iPhone vs. the phone.

The iPad wasn’t the first tablet, but the design and ease of use has swept the world and dominated the category, to the point that HP has decided to back out of the product category.

If you look at the results, you’ll see that Apple is also shipping and selling more computers than ever, a classic flanking maneuver. Steve Jobs has created that culture by expecting, and even demanding innovation as well as creativity.

My point isn’t that creativity isn’t important or valuable, it’s just that it provides the most value in concert with innovation and strategy. Unbridled creativity can cause more problems in chaos and “firefighting” that it does positive benefit.


Get Out Of The Box! NO…REALLY…

“It’s easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago, but will soon be out of date.” – Roger von Oech

No, I mean it…literally.  I recently spent a day with some smart radio people, including Mark Ramsey, and we discussed future concepts and remaining successful.  It struck me after the fact that we were talking about things and sharing ideas that would never have happened if we’d been inside the station.  In order to “think outside the box” we literally had to get out of the box.

All of us work in a box of some kind.  The day-to-day distractions and the call of the urgent keeps us focused on the present, and keeps the future a hypothetical concept.  We’re all busier than ever before, but to keep sight of the goals that are just over the horizon – and coming at you at light speed – you need to budget those out of the station days.  There’s always enough activity to keep us busy, and convince us we don’t have the time, but without that breathing room these outside days give, you could wind up being carried by momentum instead of creating momentum.

Yes, it’s cliche and maybe even trite to suggest someone get outside the box.  But what if it’s a physical reality as well as a creative one?  Are you willing to step out and take a different perspective on everything?

Let’s Take A Trip

What do you want to achieve or avoid? The answers to this question are objectives. How will you go about achieving your desire results? The answer to this you can call strategy. – William E. Rothschild

Imagine this, you live in Seattle and you’re planning a trip to Orlando.  You pull out a map, or in these days maybe you run a Mapquest or Google, and it shows you the best route their based on your needs.  Maybe you want the least use of freeways, or the quickest route, for example.  You figure it’s going to take a few days, so you pick where you want to stop overnight.  Maybe you even see something you could see along the way, so you note those.

Congratulations, you’ve just organized a strategic plan.

Sometimes it seems we spend more time planning our vacations than we do our future.  I don’t know why some people are so afraid of strategic planning, or why some people who think they are doing it have no clue.

These are the same people who wouldn’t think of just wandering over the highways on their way to Orlando, or would decide they want to take a side-stop at Niagara Falls just because they felt like it.  Some way they don’t like being “boxed in” by a written plan, but they wouldn’t consider keeping the plan for getting to Orlando in their head, without consulting a map or the printout from Mapquest.

Strategy is simply your unique plan for getting from the starting point to the ending point, with benchmarks in between.  The best strategies are so unique to your station that another station who tried to copy it would fail.

Experience has shown us that stations with a clear strategy do better than those who don’t.  It’s that simple.  So it’s not a case of just deciding you don’t like strategy, it’s a case of deciding to over-perform or under-perform your goals.  Strategy is your friend, not your enemy.

Have a social media strategy?  Think social media is a fad or just a way to promote the station?  Take a look at the video here.

We Put The “No” In Innovation

”Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat.” – Unknown.

The line is from a TV commercial for a cereal, but it could be applied to much of todays radio too.  We’ve been so concentrated on cutting cost in the name of shareholder value that we’ve overlooked the simple truth that without innovation there is no value to the shareholder.  People aren’t going to invest in a “product” that simply keeps cutting costs.  Innovation is mandatory to long term success, so being able to create innovation to keep the “product” continually viable is essential.

But if cutting cost is all there is, there can be no innovation, because innovation contains an element of risk.  If you innovate you could fail.  And that’s all people concentrate on, minimizing risk and not making a mistake.  But on the other hand, you could succeed, and be out in front of the pack, a true leader.

The interesting thing is that many innovations aren’t expensive – they’re creative.  A group of people who take time to think and create in a focused, strategic way are the most important asset of any organization.

So how about it, think you could find some small area where you could innovate and move your station ahead of the pack?  Can we put the “yes” back in innovation?  Because it’s certainly missing now.