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How to Effectively and Creatively Develop Creative Leaders?

How to Effectively and Creatively Develop Creative Leaders?

To what extent can businesspeople be developed into creative leaders through a structured creative leadership development method and a related experiential course pedagogy? And how can we verify if the chosen approach is valid both regarding its methodological contents and its pedagogical delivery? Together with my colleagues Brian Hunt and Xavier Parisot (IKI-SEA, Bangkok University), I investigated these research-guiding questions for a new research study titled “Creatively Developing Creative Leaders: Learners’ Feedback on Methodology and Pedagogy.” Earlier this week, I presented our findings at the International Society for Professional Innovation Management (ISPIM)’s Conference 2018 in Stockholm. So what is our paper about, and what findings did we uncover?

The dawn of creative leadership

In IBM’s Global CEO Study 2010, CEOs of the world’s leading organizations named creativity as the most important leadership skill to master in times of complexity, disruption and rapid change. When one year later, IBM conducted a follow-up study with the Chief Human Resources Officers of the same corporations, they were surprised to discover that two out of three CHROs acknowledged they had no idea on how to develop creative leaders. IBM attributed this finding to the fact that traditional leadership development programs fail in developing creative leaders. Why? IBM suggested that “The learning initiatives that enable this objective {i.e., developing creative leaders] must be at least as creative as the leaders they seek to foster”. This intriguing insight inspired our research: How can we develop creative leaders in ways that are both effective and —especially— creative?

Enter Genius Journey: A new creative leadership method

Genius Journey is a comparatively new creative leadership development method that I’ve created for Thinkergy. The method aims to develop creative leaders by sending participants on a journey to visit ten plus one destination stops. At each stop of the journey, candidates learn about one disempowering mindset that stops them, limits them and keeps them thinking inside the box; and they also learn about a corresponding empowering mindset that unboxes their thinking and allows them to reconnect to their inner genius.

As such, Genius Journey uses a powerful creative strategy (a metaphor) to help candidates move towards higher levels of creativity and consciousness: “Acquiring the success mindsets and routines of genius leaders is like traveling a journey.” But is this creative approach also effective? With our research, we sought learners’ views on both the methodology and pedagogy of Genius Journey.

Background and research design of our study

Our new empirical study builds on two earlier research papers: The first one introduced Genius Journey as a new creative leadership method; thereafter, a second paper outlined the contents and pedagogical design of the related creative leadership development program. 

In order to investigate learners’ views on the efficacy and creativity of the Genius Journey program, we surveyed two cohorts of learners at the end of a 12-week long training program in creative leadership. The program was offered as an elective course as part of a master in management program at a university in Bangkok, Thailand. The learners were largely business professionals in the age range mid-twenties to mid-thirties from Thailand (54%) and a mix of eight European countries (46%). We collected opinions on the course methodology and pedagogy from 41 learners. 

Our survey gathered data following a combined quantitative and qualitative approach: We captured the creative leader candidates’ agreement to specific statements using 7-point Likert-scales, and also asked open-ended questions concerning the learner’s perception on the applied methodology and pedagogy. Apart from analyzing the quantitative data using descriptive statistics, we also extracted key themes from the qualitative answers. 

What are some of the findings that we were able to uncover relating to the efficacy and creativity of both the program’s methodology and pedagogy?

Findings 1: Learners’ feedback on the efficacy and value of the methodology

The chart below shows how the surveyed creative leader candidates assessed the value provided by the Genius Journey method, as well as their level of enjoyment of experiencing this journey: 82.9% of learners (very) strongly agreed that the Genius Journey methodology provides value (mean: 6.26 of 7), and three in four candidates (very) strongly enjoyed it (mean: 5.98]).

Learners comments were: “It’s a great course. It trains people step-by-step to discover their potential and be creative”, noted one, and another added: “I do enjoy the way we learn and focusing on how to be a great thinker and doer! I enjoy the knowledge, methods and tools that are surrounded in daily life, but we never realize its potential before until I have learned this class.”  Another learner commented at the end of the course: “I felt great. I am glad I enrolled in the course, I personally interested in self-development and biography of successful people. This course has been designed in such a way to respond to my self-development step by step.”

Interestingly, the candidates consider all mindsets of the Genius Journey method to be critical for creative leaders. At the same time, they acknowledge how challenging it is to replace individually limiting mindsets with empowering ones. “I do enjoy the way we learn and focusing on how to be a great thinker and doer! I enjoy the knowledge, methods and tools that are surrounded in daily life, but we never realize its potential before until I have learned in this class.”

Findings 2: The Genius Journey pedagogy works — and can be optimized

One key aim of this exploratory study was to better understand from a pedagogical point of view how to develop creative leaders both effectively and creatively. For this reason, we asked learners for detailed feedback on various pedagogical tools used in the Genius Journey program. So how did the learners assess the value provided by each pedagogical tool, and to what extent did they enjoy it?


Genius Exercises: At each stop of the Genius Journey, the creative leader candidates come into contact with 8 Genius Exercises. These are practiced as in-class activities, in-the-field activities, and/or homework activities. Many learners pointed out that they loved the action-oriented activities related to these Genius Exercises (both in-class and outdoors). For example, one learner commented: “I love so many activities from this course. I do love out-of-class activities.” Another one added: “The outdoor class, it is not boring and make this class so different. Each special place put an anchor to my memory.”

Interestingly, however,  while acknowledging the value and importance of these exercises to cultivate a creative mindset, many learners felt less enthusiastic of the reflective “homework” part. This finding allowed us to design an optimized action flow for the Genius Exercises in line with David Kolb’s experiential learning cycle theory.

Buddy Coaching (& peer feedback): During the course, every participant was assigned a “buddy” with whom to review the course contents and Genius Exercises and have peer-level feedback and coaching sessions. Interestingly, learners opinions on the value and level of enjoyment of Buddy Coaching was highly varied based on the perceived quality, maturity and diligence of one’s buddy, as well as a mutual fit of personalities. Generally, however, candidates appreciated this approach provided they had a responsible, diligent buddy. So, to ensure a high quality of “buddy-ness”, a program facilitator has to review the results of each buddy pair on a regular basis to give immediate feedback to those individuals who slack; an even better buddy for those creative leader candidates with budgets to pay for this is to hire a certified professional coach as their buddy. 

Genius Journey Media (Slides, Handout, Check-in Audit): The saying “You eat with your eyes” doesn’t only hold true for the world of fine dining, but also for creative leadership programs. Learners confirm that they enjoy if the course media in their creative leadership programs not only consist of valuable contents, but are also present in creative, artistic and aesthetically pleasing visual formats. Learners commented in this context: “I enjoyed the visually stimulating and inspiring slides”; “All tools and media are so useful to help in better understanding”; “The handout / exercise / presentation was attractive and very useful. Most of them are very nice, I really want it.” 

Genius Leader Presentation: During the course, all learners had to self-study one creative leader of their own choice using biographical sources, and then to portray their “genius mentor” in a presentation and report to all other participants. Thereby, they were also asked to look for evidence that (dis-) confirms the creative mindsets of the Genius Journey methodology. Over 80% of learners (very) strongly valued these creative leader studies and pitch presentation, as these portraits animate and authenticate the Genius Journey method. Moreover, notwithstanding the significant work related to the self-study and portrait composition —and for some also the need to get out of their comfort zone in the presentations— almost 70% of candidates (very) strongly enjoyed these pedagogical features. One learner commented: “I enjoy the creative leaders portrait. I think it’s the best way to see and realize that the tools and methods used in the class is practical learning through lives is important.” 

Other creative pedagogical tools that most learners also approved of were the Creative Puzzles, the Check-in Audit, and the Course Review Games & Toys. 

Findings 3: So is the Genius Journey program both effective and creative?

An idea or product is deemed creative if it is at the same time novel, original and valuable. Our study reveals that not only did learners confirm the value of the Genius Journey methodology (as outlined before), but also affirmed the other criteria of creativity. When asked what they liked about the course, learners commented: “The originality of teaching: that was just great!”; and “The unique non-formal class experience with surprises and activities.” Another learner elaborated in greater detail: “It is a completely different course in terms of the teaching method. It is a course to make you aware of things you have inside but you don’t realize you have them yet. And it is a course where, even if there is a therapy, you are not passive but you are an actor, which is highly enjoyable.”

While the journey metaphor is clearly creative, is it also effective in developing creative leaders? Here is what one learner commented in this context: “It’s a great course. It trains people step-by-step to discover potential and be creative”; another echoes this sentiment: “I felt great. I am glad I enrolled in the course, I personally interested in self-development and biography of successful people. This course has been designed in such a way to respond to my self-development step by step”; and a third noted: “I am very happy and enjoy with this course. I can know myself more after I walk along with the Genius Journey Method”.

Findings 4: Impacts of the Genius Journey program on creative leader candidates’ creative confidence

Can a well-structured creative leadership program that is both effective and creative boost both learners’ creative confidence (i.e., the self-belief in one’s creativity) and creative competence (i.e., knowledge and skills in the fields of creativity and innovation)? YES. 

Almost all learners (very) strongly agreed with Einstein’s comment of a “genius in all of us” (mean: 6.68) and acknowledged their own genius potential (mean: 6.44). For example, when asked for their greatest insight gained from the program, one candidate responded: “I am a genius! I can do everything just only I believe in myself.” Another learner added: “It’s a great course. It trains people step-by-step to discover their potential and be creative”. “It helps you know how to think ‘out of the box’ systematically. It helps you explore your inner potential, and you will find yourself to be more powerful than you ever think of. And you will find that you can be a genius.” Yet another learner noted: “Dr. Detlef’s Genius Journey has modeled me into becoming a much better and productive all-round person.”

One commented on her feelings at the end of the course as follows: “I feel like I was about to start a new chapter of my life. I learned important things and lessons. I have more faith in me and my skills. And like we make wishes at New Year’s Eve, I am very excited to apply the lessons I have learned and pursue the journey to discover where it could lead.” Yet another candidate summed-up his feelings as follows: “(1) Motivated to start a great business in future. (2) Confident: I have now a lot of concrete methods to find innovation and to develop them. (3) Inspired: because aware I have opportunities to make this work better through responsible business.”

At the same time, agreement to the statements “I am highly creative” and “I consider myself to be a leader” are noticeably lower (mean scores: 5.38 and 5.27), indicating that the learners have also gained greater self-awareness of where they are now when compared to outstanding creative leaders and top achievers.

Conclusion: Creative leaders can be made

We summarize the five main take-aways from our research as follows:

  1. Creative leaders can be developed in a program employing a structured, effective methodology animated through a mix of truly creative pedagogical formats.
  2. Candidates consider all mindsets of the Genius Journey method to be important for creative leaders, while acknowledging the challenge to replace individually limiting mindsets with empowering ones. 
  3. Creative leadership isn’t a quick-fix training program, rather it requires time for action and reflection that encourages mindset transformation and consciousness expansion to become a creative leader. 
  4. Learners pointed out what pedagogical tools for creative leadership development they deem either valuable or enjoyable, or both. 
  5. We concur with Kolb that active experimentation and self-reflective observation are key components of successful learning;  learners’ feedback on the pedagogical tools  used in Genius Journey allow me to  optimize the program and method delivery in line with Kolb’s experiential learning cycle..

Have you become interested to learn how to become a creative leader in the innovation economy yourself? Then contact us to find out more about our respective Genius Journey Training courses.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2018

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