Aug 032011
Boy with a bucket on his head

Creativity at its finest!

It struck me yesterday that vision in a business sense requires creativity, but that vision is not creativity.

That is, we can certainly be creative without having vision. We could, for example, run around in our jammies with buckets on our heads.

One space for creativity in business and technology is the space of “design”. To design anything is to plan, fashion or sketch out, so designers of strategies and designers of software plan or sketch out what they are producing.

They take what is abstract and give it real properties, and they refine the starting point, giving it “shape” by in the face of restrictions, limitations, threats, obligations, opportunities and timing.

Creativity is defined as:

the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination: the need for creativity in modern industry; creativity in the performing arts.

So… check the box if you do that when you design or write software or develop a strategy for your customer. My hunch is that you do.

Moving on to vision

Those with vision anticipate future situations

Whether or not “the customer is always right”, it stands to reason there is always the chance that what you produce for yours may not meet with their satisfaction, simply because your vision of the solution and theirs could differ.

You “hope” your client has a vision of what they want produced, but in my experience they often look to external help in order to refine that vision.

Again, creativity is called to act, but we have to go beyond creativity to provide the additional vision. (A colleague and friend of mine calls this “conspiring for their success”.)

One distinction for vision is:

the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be: prophetic vision; the vision of an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurship aside, the more general distinction about “anticipating that which may come to be” requires insight into threats, obligations and opportunities and a fundamental knowledge about mechanisms for change.

In this, I wonder if the consultant may actually have an advantage over their client in part because their insights span other businesses and other domains.

Expertise in specific areas contributes to powerful thinking in those areas, but it can be difficult to anticipate anything specifically if you haven’t already experienced it.

The Visionary

Here I will draw a distinction between “visionary” as an adjective and as a noun. This is important, because we often speak of “visionary leadership” as in the title of this post, but the adjective form of the word literally means:

purely idealistic or speculative; impractical; unrealizable.

The 1985 Chevrolet Cimarron

"Visionary" look - the 1985 Chevy Cimarron had a bag phone and TWO console TVs!

Here is where my thinking can get self-defensive. As a consultant, I have made comments that were idealistic. I have spoken in abstractions that others have found “impractical”.

I have to guard against that, and sometimes it means taking my customers into a visionary space for a while and then letting us drift together gracefully back to the planet. Anyone working in a highly creative capacity may need to do that from time to time.

So coming back to visionaries (as a noun), we have “a person of unusually keen foresight”. That is the nice version of the definition… there is another that is essentially “dreamer”. Regardless, the key is that “unusually keen foresight” may show up as “idealistic” or “speculative” to those who are more practically-oriented in their thinking.

Meanwhile, the visionary “sees” the outcomes as totally producible, even inevitable or unavoidable… and just needs someone pragmatic to make it happen.

A blend of visionary and pragmatic

In his “Enterprise Design Map”, Dr. Fernando Flores balanced the concerns for visionary and pragmatic leadership. In that kind of situation, deep domain expertise and institutional knowledge on the practical side meet with the speculative plans of the visionary to produce a winning situation.

The moral of the story – vision and creativity are not the same, though vision requires a degree of creativity. On an executive team, in a client/vendor relationship or within a software development team, look for combinations of visionary and pragmatic people who can work together to make the insight, foresight and anticipations of the visionary into real value for your business.

  2 Responses to “Creativity, vision and visionary leadership”

  1. On LinkedIn Group C-Level Executive Network, Jose Bordetas wrote:

    Interesting article. I agree that a blend is the right approach. A cross functional team will allow for better overall strategies to be created and visions to be tweaked.

    In my experience I’ve have been party to some high level strategic sessions and almost to the T we have encountered stalemates when too many team players have the same profile. For instance in my experience again, you want nothing to be done for hours, ask a group of engineers to draw a line on a whiteboard. They will sit there for hours analyzing what sort of line, on what plane, angled or straight, thickness of line, function, what color marker to use and why and does the line really need to be drawn in the first . (no offense to any engineers reading this).

    Do the same to a team of purely creative people and you will get questioning whether the line would not look better curved than straight, should it have a pastel background as it may be more appealing to the inner psyche of those that are stressed, studies show that adding music to the viewing of the line really increases a person’s ability to interpret the meaning of what the line is truly trying to impart. Do we need to go with a full media blitz to show off the line and explain to the world why this line is indeed required. (no offense to those creative reading this)

    I know I am really exaggerating here, but… My point is that a balanced approached is incredibly important to the creation of a vision, design of a strategy and implementation of a plan. I think that with every great team there needs someone that can come to the session and impart a dose of control and sanity. Someone needs to be in charge, to orchestrate between the purely creative thinkers, the pragmatic players and even the cynical team members. In my opinion a leader that truly understands the trigger points of each of his team members, the vision of the plan and the strategy on the tactical approach to deploy will probably be more successful than a leader that is boxed in to one only one way of thinking.

    I have always said that the approach I favor is to look at your team as musical instruments. The end result is to play stairway to heaven, but in order to do this, you can’t play the guitar as you would play a drum, can’t get keyboard sounds from a bass etc… A visionary leader needs to look at his team, and try to mold the vision and resulting plan into something that is easily understood by each member of the team at their level. That way you get the most out of each and in the end up with a result that matches what was proposed and requested in the first place. I know this is easy to say, but in my experience truly difficult to do.

    Congrats again on a good article.

    • Thanks for reading and for your thinking about the article, @Jose.

      Though you mentioned “cross-functional”, I read into your thinking something even more than that. If you get a room of engineers and “creatives” together, might they not all have that creative quality that generates a lot of ideas but makes them hard to act on? At the same time (especially in companies that grow leadership together over long time frames), the power of history and tradition might also stifle creativity.

      I really like your musical instruments metaphor, because it suggests to me blended harmonies and “resonance” that amplifies the meaning and action that a team produces together. Once in a while you might have to tune an instrument, or you might have players come and go from the band… and the music doesn’t have to stay “the same”, but takes on its own value based on the players over time.


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