Last week, I presented new research on creative leadership development at the ISPIM (International Society for Professional Innovation Management) XXX! Innovation Conference 2020. Originally supposed to take place in Berlin, the conference for the first time unfolded as a virtual event following the COVID-19 outbreak. In our study titled “Developing Creative Leaders: Learner’s Reflections on Methodology and Pedagogy,” my colleagues Brian Hunt, Xavier Parisot (IKI-SEA, Bangkok University) and I investigated how learners qualitatively describe the methodology and pedagogy used by Genius Journey, Thinkergy’s creative leadership development program.
Theoretical foundation of the study
Creative leadership is an evolving field within management studies at the intersection of the domains of leadership, individual creativity, and innovation. The niche domain of creative leadership development combines the literature on creative leadership with educational theories (such as Kolb’s experiential learning cycle or action learning).
Our latest paper is part of an ongoing research program on creative leader development and builds on five earlier research papers:
- In two earlier conceptual papers, I introduced Genius Journey as a new creative leadership method (Reis, 2015) and described the chosen pedagogy used to animate the program’s contents (Reis & Hunt, 2017).
- In our first empirical paper (Reis et al., 2018), we asked learners to rate the methodology and pedagogy of the Genius Journey program in quantitative terms, thereby confirming the efficacy and creativity of the chosen approach in general terms.
- In a second empirical paper (Reis et al., 2020), we investigated how learners experience their inner heroes’ journeys while undergoing the program. The results offered deeper level insights on what excursions, exercises, and activities of the Genius Journey program resonate and add value to individual learners on a personal level.
With our new empirical study that builds upon our quantitative empirical paper, we aim to provide more qualitative insights and context to our earlier quantitative findings. To achieve our objective, we formulated our research-guiding question as follows:
How did creative leader candidates describe and exemplify ex-post their perceptions of those particular methodological and pedagogical elements that make the Genius Journey program both effective and genuinely creative?
Our new empirical study follows a qualitative research design. Between 2012 and 2015, we collected data in the form of reflective essays written by creative leader candidates at the end of a twelve-week long development program in creative leadership based on Thinkergy’s Genius Journey. The learners were business professionals in the age range 25-35 from Thailand (55%) and a variety of ten other, mostly European, countries (45%). We collected qualitative data from 35 participants who shared their thoughts on their personal experience of undergoing the Genius Journey program of creative leadership development. We reported these findings in our previous research paper (Reis et al., 2020).
Interestingly, and unprompted, many creative leader candidates chose to also comment on the methodology and pedagogy used in the Genius Journey program, and commented on the value of different pedagogical tools used to cultivate creativity in learners. Due to the richness of these data, we felt compelled to report this feedback because it exemplifies the learners’ responses (to the methodological and pedagogical value of the program) in more personal terms.
Creative leader candidates’ definitions of the Genius Journey program
Intriguingly, we observed that many prospective creative leaders chose not to merely repeat the given definition of the creative leadership course program. Instead, they developed their own interpretative —and even metaphorical— interpretations of what the Genius Journey program aspires to do. These informal, personal descriptions of the learners recast an abstract, theoretical definition into a more profound, more practical, and more applied format.
One example of how one learner personalized and “translated” the given definition of the course methodology for herself is shown in the chart above. Another prospective creative leader created the following definition:
“According to its formal definition, the genius journey is ‘an experiential, action-oriented individual creativity training program that enables you to reconnect with your creativity and your inner genius by providing you with creative mindsets and cognitive skills of genius thinkers and creative business leaders in order to transform into an authentic, creative leader in the innovation economy.’ In my personal opinion, the Genius Journey has been much more than that. It has been an on-going challenge with myself, an introspective itinerary where I had the possibility to face both my strong points and my limits, and of course, a path during which I learned a significant amount of new concepts and gained many relevant insights.”
—Italian Female 2
Feedback on the methodology of the Genius Journey program
The Genius Journey program aims to develop creative leaders by focusing on cultivating creative success mindsets. The program’s methodology employs a journey metaphor as a creative learning device. In more concrete terms, we figuratively send learners on a journey to acquire the desired success mindsets of outstanding creative leaders. At each of the ten destination stops of the Genius Journey, candidates learn about one creativity-limiting mindset that keeps them thinking inside the box, and they learn about the corresponding empowering mindset that gradually expands their creativity and consciousness. The ten genius mindsets unfold in a particular sequence and order. First, candidates learn how to reconnect to their creative identity (BE), then how to cultivate creative practices and routines (DO), next how to produce creative outputs (HAVE), and finally how to activate states of flow that may evoke Eureka moments of breakthrough creativity (WOW).
How do learners describe the effectiveness and creativity of this methodological approach? One learner commented:
“Overall, I think the Genius Journey Method is great. The concept of Stops/Starts clearly explains the growth of creative leadership in everyone and shortcuts the learning process.”
—Thai Female 3
Another learner confirmed the effectiveness of the gradually building up one’s creativity and moving to higher levels of creative consciousness:
“The Genius Journey Stops are well structured to teach us the fundamental concept and bring us to the advanced levels with the help of the Genius Journey Formula BE > DO > HAVE > WOW.”
—Thai Male 6
Some creative leader candidates even noticed the interconnectedness and imminent sequence and hierarchy of the Genius Journey model’s ten destination stops:
“The fact that reflecting on one stop just made me jump back to another stop reveals the —in my eyes— most important thing about the journey to fully understand its meaning: It is not just a journey during which you pass through the first stop, then the second, then the third and so on until you reach your last and final destination where the journey is over. In my eyes, the opposite is the case. All stops interact with each other. Some are prerequisites of others. Starting with stop number 1 doesn’t mean that you will never come back to it at a later point in time. It is therefore not a journey that is traveled within 12 weeks; it is a life-long journey which has just started.”
—German Male 3
Feedback on the pedagogy used to animate the Genius Journey program
The creative leader candidates also shared their opinions on the overall effectiveness and creativity of the pedagogy used in the Genius Journey program that aligns with Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. One learner commented on how this pedagogical approach supports gradual creative mindset transformation:
“A big reason is the experiential approach. We focused more on cognitive thinking and mindsets of proven creative leaders (books and articles about them, their inventions, quotes), complemented by scientific material from Creative Leadership research. This mixture didn’t only increase my knowledge, but it changed my way of thinking. The Genius Journey content not only touched my surface but also drilled through it. Plain material only from scientific books may vanish pretty fast after the exam. But my learning outcomes from the Genius Journey will stay with me longer. If I follow my goal, seeing the Genius Journey as a long life voyage that has just started, they may accompany me through my whole life.”
—German Male 3
Other creative leader candidates emphasized experiential learning’s importance, which is a cornerstone of the Genius Journey pedagogy. Learners’ comments exemplified how the Genius Journey pedagogy supports creative mindset acquisition using the four phases of the experiential learning cycle (do and experience; reflect on the experience; conceptualize the learnings; apply the learnings).
For example, one learner noted: “You have practice how to learn. Learn how to fail, learn how to win, learn how to pause, learn how to start, learn how to be a success. Everything evolves with the learning.” (Thai Male 9) Another learner commented that “During all the weeks I enjoyed most to reflect myself and to learn more about me. I really appreciate these kinds of training because they help me become a more reflecting, open-minded, and creative person.” (German Female 1)
Many learners also highlighted the importance of experiencing this pedagogy both individually and as a member of a learning cohort:
“Therefore, the journey had two perspectives: the internal and individual one and the collective one. The former concerned the exercises in the Genius Journey notebook and the practice in my everyday life of what I learned during the class: it was sort of the interior dimension of the itinerary. The latter concerned the classes and the trips outside that we have done together and also the fact of sharing personal experiences and thoughts.”
—Italian Female 1
Feedback on the creative pedagogical tools used in the Genius Journey program
In our new research, we also scanned the data for revealing prospective creative leaders’ views on the usefulness of different pedagogical tools used in the Genius Journey program. This qualitative feedback ties into the corresponding quantitative feedback gathered in an earlier study
In a previous research project (Reis et al., 2018), we had investigated the effectiveness of different pedagogical tools used by the Genius Journey program in quantitative terms. In our current study, we gained deeper qualitative insights into why certain tools work and how to improve on others:
- For example, one creative leader candidate highlighted the usefulness of being asked to maintain a notebook during the course: “One key thing I will take from this course is also that I enjoy having a notebook to write down my thoughts. I find the idea of writing down all my thoughts in itself very intriguing and am certain that this will help me grow substantially.” (Syrian Male 1)
- Another learner underscored the relevance to ask candidates to study and analyze the life biography of their favorite creative leader: “What has also been extremely helpful to learn the importance of believing is analyzing the journey of my creative leader, Coco Chanel, and listening my classmates’ leaders journeys.” (Italian Female 2)
- Yet another learner commented on the significance of exposing creative leader candidates to an open-ended creative puzzle every week, and asking them to creatively solve the challenge by the start of the next session:
“The creative puzzles are one of the best tools that encourage me to think outside the box. They help me realize that if I keep doing things in the same way or the same as the others, I will get the same result, no improvement. Hence, I need to step outside my comfort zone, my cozy box, and look at things from different perspectives to gain creative solutions.”
—Thai Female 9
Feedback on the overall value of the Genius Journey program
In our earlier paper describing the inner hero’s journey of creative leader candidates (Reis et al., 2020), we cited vivid examples of the “ultimate boon” that prospective creative leaders received while going through the Genius Journey program. Some of the significant takeaways that learners reported included: acquiring knowledge of advanced creative thinking strategies; using the ‘body-mind’ connection to change emotional states; inducing states of flow; and in a few cases, experiencing a Eureka moment of personal creative breakthrough.
Our present study extracted more general comments on the impact of the Genius Journey program on prospective creative leaders. One learner commented that the program “has been extremely touching and it had a strong impact on my life” (Italian Female 2), “helped me find out who I really am, what I really want to do and what I want to be in my life which other business courses can’t give me” (Thai Female 10), “helped to fight a few demons and to feel better, stronger, and more open — to feel more creative and self-confident.” (French Female 1), and made them do “many things that I have never thought that I will be able to do it.” (Thai Female 1).
One learner described the impact of the Genius Journey program in greater detail as follows:
“I thoroughly enjoyed the Genius Journey. Knowledge gained from the Genius Journey was beyond expectation. It is much more than learning something for career growth. It was about being able to live a happy life. The dynamics of the Genius Journey are vast, covering and touching on much at all levels (body, mind & soul).”
—Thai Male 4
Another learner relates how the program touched her as follows:
“In this course, I have learned a lot! During the 12 sessions and the eight weeks of this course,
I almost constantly think about the Genius Journey Stops, the exercises, and what we discussed in class. Because to me, this course is not only about «course material»; it is about a way of living your life.”
—Dutch Female 1
Finally, yet another prospective creative leader candidate realized by traveling the Genius Journey that true treasures and genius resides in herself:
“I strongly think that the content of the course is very valuable. It is like a journey that takes me through dreams and treasures I seek elsewhere and then find on my doorstep. I can be a genius, and I can be a creative leader.”
—Thai Female 3
Conclusion: Use a creative methodology animated by a creative pedagogy to develop creative leaders
Our present study confirms the findings of our earlier studies (Reis et al, 2018 and 2020) that creative leaders can be developed effectively and creatively with a training program that blends a literature-based creative methodology with an experiential creative pedagogy. Our findings from our new research:
- demonstrate the importance of the different elements of both the course methodology and pedagogy, which integrate into a “Gestalt” that jointly induce a transformational effect on a prospective creative leader as the course program unfolds over a couple of months.
- confirm the effectiveness of many pedagogical tools used by the Genius Journey program to develop creative leaders (creative leader study and portraits, notebook, in-class & homework exercises, open-ended creative puzzles, check-in and -out audits, review toy), and a potential to evolve further others (buddy coaching, open peer-to-peer experience sharing);
- indicate that learners make sense of formal definitions and theoretical constructs by personalizing these into more practical interpretations; and
- suggest that Reis’ (2015) Genius Journey model and Kolb’s (2008) experiential learning cycle pedagogically align both on a macro-level (overall program) and a micro-level (session introducing 1-2 destination stops of the Genius Journey).
Would you like to read our full paper on “Developing Creative Leaders: Learner’s Reflections on Methodology and Pedagogy” with more verbatim accounts of candidates traveling the Genius Journey? Download our full conference paper here.
Are you interested in becoming a creative leader so that you can lead yourself and your team to success in the disruptive 2020s?
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2020