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    How Prospective Creative Leaders Experience Their Hero’s Journey

    How do prospective creative leaders experience their inner “hero’s journey” of undergoing a structured and creative training program in creative leadership? In collaboration with my colleagues Brian Hunt and Xavier Parisot (IKI-SEA, Bangkok University), I investigated this research-guiding question in a new research study titled “Creatively Developing Creative Leaders: Revealing the Inner Hero’s Journey.”

    Last week, I presented our paper at the ISPIM (International Society for Professional Innovation Management) Connects Bangkok Innovation Conference in Bangkok. What exactly did we examine in our paper? And what findings did we uncover?

    Research design of our study

    In our explorative empirical research project “Creatively Developing Creative Leaders: Revealing the Inner Hero’s Journey,” we investigated the experiential, emotional journey of creative leader candidates undergoing creative leader development program. The said program is based on the Genius Journey method that I created for Thinkergy.

    Our guiding research question was: “How did prospective creative leaders experience their inner hero’s journey of undergoing a structured and creative training program in creative leadership?” We used a qualitative research design to investigate this question.

    Between 2012 and 2015, we collected data from five 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’s in management program at a university in Bangkok, Thailand. We collected and extracted qualitative data from 35 participants (out of 102, thereby establishing statistical significance) about their personal experience of undergoing the Genius Journey program of creative leadership development. The aforementioned participants were primarily business professionals in their late twenties to mid-thirties from Thailand (55%) and a variety of ten other, mostly European, countries (45%)

    In their essays, the learners answered open-ended guiding questions related to their inner hero’s journey at the end of a 12-week long creative leadership development program. To structure the responses, we adapted Campbell’s Hero’s Journey scheme (more on this below) as a guiding model to extract key themes from the qualitative answers.

    Theoretical foundation of the study

    The present paper is part of an ongoing research program on creative leader development and builds on three earlier research papers: 

    • In the first paper, I conceptually introduced Genius Journey as a new creative leadership method at the ISPIM innovation conference in Budapest in 2015. 
    • In the second paper, Brian Hunt and I outlined the contents and pedagogical design of the related creative leadership development program. I presented the paper at the ISPIM innovation conference in Kuala Lumpur in 2017.
    • Finally, in a third paper presented at the ISPIM innovation conference in Stockholm in 2018, we confirmed both the efficacy and creativity of the Genius Journey program from the learners’ perspective using a predominantly quantitative research design.

    Our research program is theoretically founded both in the newly emerging domain of creative leadership development and in educational theories such as David Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. For this new research, we also chose Campbell’s monomyth theory (aka the ‘Hero’s journey’) as a framework to guide our investigation, including the formulation of subordinated research questions and a coding scheme to structure our data analysis. 

    Introducing Campbell’s Hero’s Journey model

    In his Hero’s Journey model, the American mythologist Joseph Campbell described the stages of a transformational journey taken by many heroes in the great stories of humanity (such as Odysseus, Moses, and even Lara Croft and Luke Skywalker). 

    In a typical hero’s journey, an Average Joe receives a Call for Adventure to enter a strange new world, where he has to face and overcome challenges on the Road of Trials. Eventually, the hero has to master the Abyss — a defining challenge leading to a profound personal transformation (called the Metamorphosis). Finally, the hero receives the Ultimate Boon (a freshly uncovered, previously hidden talent, a gift, or a significant prize) as a reward before voyaging back home to Return the Boon (i.e., sharing the newfound know-how and skills with others, now as a master. of two worlds).

    Revealing the inner Hero’s Journey of creative leader candidates undergoing the Genius Journey program

    How do participants go through these experiential stages of Campbell’s monomyth model in the Genius Journey method of creative leader development? We present our findings along the key stages of the Hero’s Journey, thereby also quoting candidates’ feedback verbatim.

    1. The Call to Adventure

    We inquired why learners accepted the “call to adventure” and enrolled in a new creative leader development program. 30% were motivated by developing their individual creativity or creative leadership potential. Roughly 20% each either were attracted by the appealing course packaging and title, or wanted to develop themselves, or were “repeat customers” who took courses with me before. The chart below reveals the detailed break-up of the sign-up motivations as well as sample quotations exemplifying each category.

    2. The Road of Trials

    In the Genius Journey, the Road of Trials consists of 10 Destination Stops, at each of which the candidates encounter a disempowering mindset limiting their creativity, and a corresponding empowering mindset that supports the development of their creativity and creative leadership potential. The prospective creative leaders get a more in-depth, experiential understanding of these mindsets through exciting excursions to “special places.” At each stop, they also experience eight Genius Exercises that they then have to internalize, conceptualize, and apply at work and in their lives. 

    Due to the sheer scope and richness of the data, we presented learners’ feedback on the different exercises and excursions as a separate attachment to our paper. The input from creative leader candidates suggests that on the “Road of Trials,” different learners love and loathe specific activities and excursions that lead them to an encounter with their abyss. 

    3. The Abyss

    In the Hero’s Journey, the Abyss is the moment of truth where the hero must overcome his nemesis. All previous steps lead towards this turning point, and all that follow will draw upon the essential empowerment gained from mastering this challenge. 

    In the Genius Journey, the Abyss waits for each learner at one of the ten destination stops. Here, the creative leader candidates must confront the limiting mindset that most holds them back and overcome their limiting power. To probe for the Abyss, we asked each learner to comment on their biggest challenge during their Genius Journey in their essays. 

    In our study, we found that all prospective creative leaders had to deal with their own personal “abyss.” The precise nature of their Abyss differed from learner to learner based on the unique mix of limiting attitudes and routines within each mind. Moreover, and as expected, each learner of the cohort encountered their Abyss at a different stop of the journey. For example, one learner noticed that he has become myopic and lost the power of his intuitive mind:

    “I found stop 6 quite challenging at times. I believe my imagination to be quite good but when we did the exercises of laying down, closing our eyes and going on imagination trips, I simply wasn’t able to do it. I found it very difficult to see anything. I don’t really know why, as I used to be very good at these type of things.
    However I believe that it might be related to watching too much tv & spending too much time on my cell phone or computer instead of reading. I am convinced that these means, as don’t require me to imagine anything while telling me a story, over a long time negatively impact my creative capabilities.”
     —Syrian Male 1 

    Another learner encountered his Abyss at destination stop 2 (and the related stop 3) when confronting his worst enemy (his ego — and connected to it, his inner voice of judgment):

    “Of course, I knew about the ego before and that it is present inside of me. But I didn’t realize to what extent it leads to a closed mind. It is the reason why I am very critical of myself and everything around me. This results in a very judgmental attitude. As soon as we reached stop 3 I started seriously thinking about – and changing – it.
    I somehow realized now that my ego and my judgmental attitude are one of my main obstacles and challenges that prevent me from realizing my inner genius and from unleashing my creative leadership potential.”
    —German Male 3

    Yet another candidate had to overcome his Abyss already at destination stop 1 when visiting the “House of Horror”:

    “My hardest obstacle was the haunted mansion. I lost my voice after joining the activity. This exercise almost resulted in having myself getting the hyperventilation problem in my breathing system. I learned the important thing that my real source of fear is not the ghost but it is the fear of the unknown. I get to learn this lesson in a very hard way. I finally realized that it all begins with the facing of the fear. If we did not start because of the fear, we will not learn or go anywhere since the beginning.”
    —Thai Male 2

    4. The Metamorphosis

    The metamorphosis is the next step in Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, where the traveler transforms into a new, better, more advanced person. We reviewed the essays for evidence of personal transformation, which often happened in connection with overcoming one’s abyss. 

    One creative leader candidate from Italy described her metamorphosis in vivid ways: 

    “Another challenging experience I faced was during Stop 3, when at the beginning of the class, Dr.D made us notice the way we were sitting, focusing on our body language and its meaning.
    I was then facing a very stressful and unhappy moment of my life, I didn’t like the way I was living my exchange experience and I reached the point the only thing I wanted was going back home. My body was showing that too, as I was ‘closing up’ instead of being open and willing to embrace diversity and novelty.
    I was shocked. I have always seen myself as an extremely open-minded girl, however, back then I was being really pessimistic, close-minded and arrogant, by not giving this experience the possibility to change and improve.
    When I realized this I decided it was time to change. I wanted to open up, and I can proudly say that I did. I started being more optimistic and relaxed, not letting any bad or stressful event bring me down. This helped me a lot changing my position toward life during that specific moment, and made it possible for me to live a totally different experience.”
    —Italian Female 2 

    Another prospective creative leader candidate from Germany describes a transformational moment at destination stop 2, when he realized the superficiality of an ego-driven society versus the importance of realizing one’s true self: 

    “Suddenly I even started thinking critically about Facebook (that was somehow a Wow effect for me): Its main purpose for most of the people (including me) kind of became the nonstop seeking for approval from others. This may be a big flaw of our society. It can be related to object-referred power, which relies on external approval. But real power comes from inside.
    Inner power is self-referred and can be seen as true power. Inner power is the power that draws people to you and makes them accept you as a leader. This mindset is very impressing to me and opened a novel insight into my personality. I took it away from stop 2.”
    —German Male 3

    Other candidates also reported transformational changes, such as this learner from Germany: 

    “I think I changed a lot during my stay in Thailand; the Genius Journey helped me taking a huge step forward in my personal development and thus to my career and my overall happiness. I have an overall plan for the coming year and really looking forward to have an exciting year. I feel more self-confident than I can remember in my whole life and am more curious to unconventional methods in thinking outside the box with simplicity.”
    —German Male 2

    5. The Ultimate Boon

    The ultimate boon represents a newly-found gift, reward, and prize that the hero gains after personal transformation. In the case of Thinkergy’s creative leader development program, the boon is represented by crucial learnings and newly acquired know-how, skills, and transformative experiences that learners take away from their Genius Journey. 

    For example, one learner reported how the lessons of the Genius Journey helped her succeed in a tough interview: 

    “I got an interview for a new position in London a few weeks ago. Before starting the Skype meeting with the HR manager, I forced myself to believe that I was able to compete for this position and that I shouldn’t underestimate myself. Besides, I remembered key notions taught in class such as believing in my ideas and dreams, daring to share my opinions, being self-confident and showing my true personality. I really tried to be positive and optimistic and I finally got the job.”
    —French Female 1

    Another learner shared how the course helped her manage her emotions through the active use of the body-mind connection: 

    “By understanding the relation between body and mind, I now have the right tool to overcome my negativity, because by relaxing myself, stretching and exercising my mind and thoughts are now more positive, and I feel more happy and willing to keep working hard, if I get my “playing” time as well.”
    —Italian Female 2

    The ultimate boon of Genius Journey is increasing the likelihood that creative leaders experience a Eureka moment of breakthrough creativity. Interestingly, and despite the short duration of a 12-week long program in creative mindset transformation, a few learners provide credible accounts that suggest they experienced a personal creative breakthrough such as this learner reportedly had: 

    “I had my business idea during my Genius Journey. It appeared, just as we even addressed in class, during a long conversation with a friend while walking from Khao San Road to Victory Monument.”
    —Syrian Male 1 

    6. Returning the Boon

    As we collected the feedback at the very end of their transformational journey, the candidates did not have many opportunities yet to “return the boon” to the benefit of self and others. However, we can present some verbatim accounts on how candidates intended to “return the boon” (or had already done so). Some learners developed concrete plans to become an entrepreneur and start their creative ventures:  

    “I can’t say that only due to this course, however surely through several aspects I’ve learned in this course, I have come to finally pursue my vision and will be launching my own company at the end of this year.”
    —Syrian Male 1

     

    “Genius Journey has made me realize that I really want to be an entrepreneur. I need to be in charge of my own life and this is definitely the way to do it. I have several ideas in my mind. I have decided that all my actions and choices will move towards this goal. I’m possible!”
    —Spanish Male 1

    Other candidates decided to “return the boon” by donating either money or their time or teach their newly found know-how to others:

    “Genius Exercise 2.7 Grateful Moments helped me realize how fortunate I am to have what I had. I realized the basic distinction of human needs & wants and learnt I already have much more than I need. So, I decided to donate clothes, books, and some money to old age home and an orphanage.”
    —Thai Male 4

    Conclusion: Send candidates on a personal Hero’s Journey to develop them into creative leaders

    Candidates undergoing a creative leader development program experience a transformational voyage that goes in line with Campbell’s monomyth model of the Hero’s Journey

    In the following, we summarize the main takeaways from our research. Our findings:

    1. Reconfirm the creative nature of both the Genius Journey methodology and pedagogy. 
    2. Reaffirm the journey metaphor underlying the Genius Journey methodology and pedagogy is indeed transformative and an effective and creative device for developing creative leaders.
    3. Confirm that Campbell’s Hero’s Journey model is a suitable framework to investigate, describe, and map out the experiences of candidates undergoing a creative leadership development program. 
    4. Provide examples of the personal challenges and inner demons that prospective creative leaders need to overcome while gradually metamorphosing their mindsets into those of a creative leader. 
    5. Suggest that the nature of the abyss is individually different. Hence, creative leadership development programs need to offer a wide variety of creativity-enhancing exercises and experiences that allow candidates to identify, confront, and overcome their abyss. 
    6. Support our earlier research findings that the ten stops of the Genius Journey are indeed a suitable framework to help learners acquire the advanced mindsets of creative leaders, and to overcome their abyss. 

    Would you like to read our full paper on “Creatively Developing Creative Leaders: Revealing the Inner Hero’s Journey” with more verbatim accounts of candidates traveling the Genius Journey?

    • Get access to and download our paper by clicking here.

    Have you become interested to learn how to become a creative leader in the innovation economy yourself? 

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2020

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    Creativity in the Year of the Rat

    Recently, we celebrated Chinese New Year. On January 25, we started the Year of the Rat, or to be more precise: The Metal Rat. The rat is the first of the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac. As such, we not only began a new decade a few weeks ago, but the Year of the Rat also begins a new cycle of the animal signs in the Chinese Zodiac. Today, let’s explore what creative inspirations we may derive from the rat to succeed and create prosperity and goodwill in the year ahead.

    1. Plan for victory in the year ahead

    According to Chinese legend, the order of the animals in the twelve-year cycle was determined by a race between animal candidates. The Jade Emperor (the ruler of Heaven, Earth, and Hell) declared the sequence in the cycle would be decided by the order in which the animals arrived to a party at his palace. How could the small rat win the race against much larger and faster animals? 

    One myth goes that before the race, the cat asked the rat for a wake-up call to get to the starting line on time. Anxious of the competition, the rat did not wake the cat, which then overslept and missed the race. Another legend suggests that the rat also tricked the ox into giving it a ride by playing a song on a flute. Then, just as those two approached the finish line, the rat jumped off the ox’s back and landed ahead of the ox, becoming first and winning the race. 

    Creative Inspiration

    In the Year of the Rat, imagine creative and clever ways that allow you to win more business against much bigger and stronger competition. How could you win deals by enticing customers with “a special tune”? How might you get a “free ride to the party”? Who could you partner with to get ahead of others?

    2. Play to the zodiacal character traits of the rat

    Chinese astrologists assign the traits and behaviors observed in each animal of the Chinese Zodiac to describe personality characteristics of people born in the corresponding year. So how are people born in the Year of the Rat said to be? 

    People born in the Year of the Rat are instinctive, cautious, acute and alert in nature. They are intelligent, creative and quick-witted. They are flexible and adaptable, energetic and optimistic, outgoing and cheerful, which makes them much liked by others. They are also resourceful and thrifty, so people born in a Rat year are thought to be wealthy and prosperous. On the other hand, their love for hoarding can sometimes make them waste money on unnecessary things. As to their weaknesses, people born in the Year of the Rat are said to be timid, stubborn, querulous, greedy, devious, too eager for power and love to gossip.

    Creative Inspiration

    In the Year of the Rat, consider emulating the some of the positive ways and characteristics of a person born in the rat-year. Consider being thrifty and avoiding wasting money for non-essentials in 2020. If you invest in the stock market, cautiously follow your instincts and stay alert in highly volatile financial markets. On the other hand, stay flexible to the changing market environment as many industries will have to adapt to digital transformation and more regulatory constraints and trade barriers.

    3. Be more social in the Year of the Rat

    Rats often appear in a group called a “mischief”. Most types of rats live together in social communities. Rats sleep together, play with each other and even groom each other. On the other hand, being territorial animals, they can also turn aggressive toward unfamiliar rats entering their territory. 

    Creative Inspiration

    In the Year of the Rat, how can you care better for your customers and team members? How can you aggressively defend “your territory” (your core markets and core customers) against unfamiliar new entrants?

    4. Play and laugh more in the year ahead

    Interestingly, the Estonian psychobiologist Jaak Panksepp discovered that when experiencing a type of “social joy” during their playful activities, rats emit a high-pitched chirping noise that is a basic form of laughter. 

    Creative Inspiration

    In the Year of the Rat, regularly laugh and play — and consider pondering the following questions: In what ways might we make our value offerings more playful? How to present them in more playful ways? In what ways might we gamify our services? How can we add more “social joy” to what we’re doing? How can we laugh more at work? How can we make our clients laugh out loud in joy?

    5. Produce more outputs

    Rats are prolific procreators. A female rat can reproduce roughly every three weeks, then give birth to 6-10 pups. When they’re 3-4 months old, these pups become sexually mature and can begin bringing about their own offspring. So little wonder that you encounter them in every major city of the world.

    Creative Inspiration

    In the Year of the Rat, ask: How could we produce more outputs? How might we speed up production?

    6. Emulate the multi-functionality of rats' tails

    One of the most eye-popping —and most interesting— characteristics of a rat is its long, hairless tail. Did you know that a rat’s tail serves multiple functions?

    1. They use their tail for kinesthetic orientation in space.
    2. Rats can control their body temperature by expanding and contracting the blood vessels in their tails. So, rats don’t sweat like humans, nor do they pant like dogs to relieve the heat.
    3. Finally, rats have a unique defense mechanism known as “degloving.” Once a predator snatches into a rat’s tail, the outer layer of the integument automatically detaches from the rest of the tail to allow the rat to escape.

    Creative Inspiration

    In what ways might we design other useful functionality into a key feature of our product? How could we proactively prevent of, or creatively escape from, a predatory attack on our business?

    7. Grow your teeth in the Year of the Rat

    Another key visual characteristic of a rat is its long front teeth. Did you know that a rat’s teeth never stop growing? In  fact, their teeth can grow up to 5 inches per year. Because they have wear their teeth down, we can regularly spot a rat that is chewing on things. As the Anglo-Irish philosopher Edmund Burke put it: “By gnawing through a dike, even a rat may drown a nation.”

    Creative Inspiration

    How can we “show our teeth” in business? How can we massively grow our business in the next year?

    8. Conquer unknown territories

    Nowadays, with the exception of Antarctica, rats can be found wherever humans settle. But this was not always the case. Did you know that humans have indirectly caused the extinction of many species by accidentally introducing rats to new areas?

    Whenever ships set sail to conquer new continents or islands, rats were aboard. When arriving in a new territory, rats quickly reproduced and took advantage of the new food supply unfamiliar with their predatory behavior. Rats are omnivorous and feed on a wide range of plant and animal foods, including the eggs of birds and reptiles. So, some experts consider rats to be responsible for between 40-60% of all seabird and reptile extinctions. As the American psychologist Jeannette Desor noted, “You can drop humans anywhere and they’ll thrive—only the rat does as well,” 

    Creative Inspiration

    Evolution embraces the principles of survival of the fittest and of creative destruction. Ask yourself: What aspects of our business do we need to creatively destroy to make space for a fitter new idea? How can we quickly conquer new markets by using any opportunity to feed our appetite for new revenues and growth?

    9. Don’t be a pest to others

    Let’s admit it: Rats aren’t hugely popular with most humans. One of the reasons is that rats carry pathogens and thus spread over 35 diseases that can affect humans. Rats are said to be responsible for outbreaks of bubonic plague, Lassa fever, leptospirosis, the hantavirus, and monkey pox, among others. So, little wonder that many humans abhor rats and consider them a deadly pest.

    Creative Inspiration

    In the Year of the Rat, don’t become a pest to others. Don’t spread fake news, rumors, gossip and political spin. Don’t spam others with unwanted emails, messages and posts. And limit the cc- and bcc-addressees in your emails to an absolute minimum.

    Conclusion: Kung Hai Fat Choy, Happy Chinese New Year 2020!

    Are you ready to get creative in the Year of the Rat? To think, create and play hard? Then enroll your team, business unit company or team in of our creative Thinkergy training courses, or consider doing an X-IDEA innovation project to create new value offerings with us.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2020

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    How to Learn from the Best Creative Leaders

    Creative leadership is an evolving new domain at the intersection of leadership, individual creativity, and innovation. For more than 7 years, I have run creative leader development programs based on my Genius Journey method that teaches participants about the mindsets of top creative leaders. 

    When creative leader candidates undergo a longer, intensive Genius Journey program, I ask them to find themselves a “genius mentor”. The candidates commit to study the life, ways and achievements of their inspirational creative leader in parallel to the program. At the penultimate session of the course, all candidates give a presentation on their chosen creative leader, thus allowing the cohort to learn about the lives, success strategies and achievements of up-to two dozen creative leaders. Today, let’s understand more about how to best learn from accomplished creative role models — and why it is so beneficial.

    What is role modeling?

    A role model is a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated. Role modeling can be a powerful learning tool for learning about the knowledge, skills, values, and success strategies of top achievers and leaders in a given domain. Thereby, the idea is to adopt and adapt those attitudes and behaviors that are beneficial, while ignoring negative traits and non-conducive activities that many of those top achievers display at times, too.

    How to include role-modeling in creative leader development?

    Nowadays, many business leaders realize the importance of creativity in leading an organization successfully. Twenty-first century leaders need to be creative to effectively respond to rapid changes, mounting complexity, increasing risks, and daily surprises. Moreover, organizations need to develop more creative leaders to seize the opportunities of the fast-paced innovation economy. One way to do this effectively and creatively is to embrace the Genius Journey methodology. 

    The Genius Journey approach sends creative leader candidates on an experiential journey to learn how to adopt and adapt the creative mindsets and action routines of geniuses and outstanding creative leaders in business, the sciences, politics, sports, and the arts. Thereby, studying a role model is one of a dozen pedagogical tools I use to internalize the creative leader mindsets of the Genius Journey method.

    Why is it beneficial to learn from creative role models?

    Studying the ways and lives of outstanding creative leaders allows you to “get into their heads”: It enables you to find out how they tend to think about things (mindsets) and how they usually tend to do regular activities (routines). Equipped with these deeper-level insights into the ways of creative leaders, you may discern their success strategies and then adopt and adapt these. 

    Moreover, studying role models allows you to realize that for most famous creators, the road to success wasn’t an easy cruise on a straight highway. Instead, it was a rather bumpy ride on the path less traveled. It was a journey full of challenges, trials, twists, and turns that eventually led to mastery and outstanding accomplishments. (As such, most success stories follow Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” model that is also a conceptual framework underlying our Genius Journey approach). 

    Finally, getting intimately familiar with your favorite “genius guide” provides an opportunity to do a reality check on the creative mindsets and routines advocated in our Genius Journey model.

    How to study creative role models?

    In an ideal world, you would seek out and meet your favorite creative leaders in person and spend time with them. Unfortunately, in the real world, this isn’t normally a feasible option as most genius leaders are either difficult to reach — or, sadly, already passed on. So, what’s the next best way to study the ways of creative leaders and understand what’s going on in their minds? Reading biographies. And if you’re lucky, your favorite genius even wrote an autobiography that gives you direct access to her mind. 

    Other source materials you can immerse yourself in to learn more about the mindsets of  creative role models include semi-biographical books, videos and interviews, articles, and of course their own creations (such as books, music, movies, art pieces, videos on competitive events, products, and even organizations that they founded or shaped).

    Who are suitable role models of a creative leader?

    Creative leaders are outstanding creative personalities who’ve led an organization or a particular domain and contributed novel, original, and meaningful concepts that created significant value to their environment. What are examples of creative leaders that past candidates of our Genius Journey programs adopted as their “genius mentor”? 

    • Universal geniuses such as Leonardo da Vinci, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, or Benjamin Franklin.
    • Creative business leaders such as Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, David Ogilvy, Coco Chanel and Elon Musk.
    • Scientists like Albert Einstein, Steven Hawkins, Richard Feynstein, Charles Darwin, and Marie Curie.
    • Artists such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, John Lennon, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Steven Spielberg.
    • Political leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Thomas Jefferson.
    • Legendary sports icons like Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee, and Ayrton Senna. 

    How to find the right role model for you?

    Many creative leader candidates already have a “favorite hero” in mind who they admire and know a bit about, and they eagerly embrace the opportunity to study the life of this person in greater detail. However, perhaps an even better way to find a fitting role model is to settle on a creative leader who has a comparable personality like you and prefers similar cognitive styles. How can find a “cognitively fitting” role model? Complete a personality assessment test (such as MBTI) or a cognitive profiling tool (such as our TIPS innovator profiling test) that link famous role models to different profile types.

    For example, in TIPS, Winston Churchill or Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton are suitable role models if you profile as an Organizer, while someone coming out with a Conceptualizer-profile may want to study Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. In the TIPS profiling report, we suggest a list of role models who exemplify each TIPS profile type.

    How do we know that it really works?

    Research projects that we conducted to test the efficacy of the Genius Journey methodology and pedagogy confirmed the value of our Genius Mentor-approach. For example, one study revealed that four out of five creativ eleader candidates (very) strongly agreed that the Creative Leader Studies & Portrait Creations added great value to the program. Although it meant a lot of work for them, still two out of three learners (very) strongly agreed that they also enjoyed creating and presenting their genius mentor portraits.

    When asked for qualitative feedback on this pedagogical tool, one learner commented:

    “I enjoy the creative leader portraits. I think it’s the best way to see and realize that the tools and methods used in the program are practical. Learning through studying the lives of real creative leaders is important.”

    Another creative leader candidate commented the following on the value of the assignment:

    “Asking us to talk about our creative leader was a relevant idea. It made me realize that even the most prominent and most influential leaders went through darker moments before accomplishing outstanding achievements. If I take the example of Yves Saint Laurent, he managed to be one of the most influential fashion designers of the 20th century despite several faults such as the lack of self-confidence and shyness. That’s why we have to keep dreaming and believe in our future.“ 

    Yet another candidate summed-up both his approach chosen and benefits achieved as follows: 

    “I highly enjoyed preparing the presentation on Salvador Dali. For a long time, I’ve enjoyed his art and have several replicas of his paintings in my home. I also visited his museum and his house in Spain, which both gave me good insights into his person. By doing this project, however, I was able to view him from an entirely different angle than I had viewed him before. I learned several new things about him and now see how he and I can relate to one another. Seeing how he faced different challenges in life, how he harvested his creativity, lived with his ego, etc. gave me a lot of insights into how I can become a better leader and what things I will have to focus on in the future.” 

    Conclusion: Learn from the best, forget about the rest

    Role-modeling is a powerful pedagogical tool that can legitimize the mindsets and routines of geniuses and outstanding creative leaders. Unfortunately, the candidates need to do secondary research on their chosen “genius mentors” in our role model assignment instead of going into a real-life apprenticeship with them. But fortunately, they can observe and question the creative ways of one weird creative leader while undergoing the creative leadership program — and that’s me.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2019. 


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    From Effective Managers to Authentic Creative Leaders

    Many of you know that I am not only the creative leader of Thinkergy, but also a professor at various Asian universities. Over the past couple of weeks, I taught both an introductory course in Business Management and Business Innovation in the Master in Business Innovation program of Bangkok University. Interestingly, teaching these two courses back-to-back, I noticed that the former describes the dominant management perspectives of the 20th century, while the latter focuses more on the new paradigms and imperatives needed to succeed in the highly dynamic business environments of the 21st century. Moreover, teaching the said two courses also gave me a chance to reflect on how the emerging new domain of creative leadership relates to —and complements— more traditional management and leadership theories.

    A brief history of management thinking

    Management is a comparatively young knowledge domain within the social sciences:

    • Interest in the domain began around 1880-1890 with the so-called “classical period” of management thinking, which included Frederick Winslow Taylor’s Scientific Management, Max Weber’s Ideal Bureaucracy, and Henri Fayol’s Administrative Principles approach. 
    • Between the 1930s and 1950s, the Human Relations Movement highlighted the importance of also considering human needs and motivations to contribute to performance and productivity; prominent contributions here were Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y
    • In the second half of the 20th century, many other theoretical management perspectives emerged that resonated with management researchers and practitioners for more extended (e.g., Systems Theory, Contingency View) or shorter (e.g., Learning Organization, Total Quality Management, and Benchmarking) periods. 

    From managers to leaders

    “To manage is to forecast and plan, to organize, to command, to coordinate and to control”, noted Henri Fayol. For decades, these so-called managerial functions dominated the view on what managers are supposed to do. Then, in the 1970s, Henry Mintzberg contrasted this “management folklore” with the reality of what managers do in their everyday life. He created a model of ten managerial roles, one of which is the role of a leader. 

    In the 1980s and 1990s, the domain of leadership studies emerged based on the work of the “leadership guru” Warren Bennis and other prominent leadership thinkers such as John Adair, John Kotter, James Kouzes and Barry Posner. During that time period, the “management guru” Peter Drucker also defined the term leader in a simple yet powerful way: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”

    Following his studies of 90 leaders from a wide range of professions, Bennis identified four key competencies of a leader – the ability to manage attention, meaning, trust, and self. Bennis emphasized the paramount importance for a leader to first develop an ‘integrated self’ before leadership qualities can emerge. Thereby, he also identifies certain character traits of a leader, such as being persistent, self-aware, courageous, optimistic, and willing to learn in general and to learn from mistakes in particular. As such, Bennis identified certain mindsets that describe how most leaders ARE.

    How leaders differ from managers

    Based on his research, John Adair described how managers and leaders differ in what they DO (action routines):

    • The word “to manage” goes back to the Latin word “manus” (hand), linking it to the handling a weapon, a tool, or a horse. In contrast, “to lead” is rooted in a Nordic word that denotes “road, way, or path of a ship at sea”. The  etymological roots of the two words indicated that leaders give a sense of direction, while managers handle more operational tasks and tools.
    • Managers tend to care more for operational and administrative details. They think more in terms of systems and processes and have a strong sense of directing and controlling the work of other people. Managers tend to delegate and get things done through the efforts of others.
    • In contrast, leaders tend to be visionary big-picture thinkers who can envision possibilities of an exciting, more meaningful future. They have a talent for inspiring people and creating teams and often lead major efforts from the front. They use the words “we”, “our” and “us” rather than “I”, “my” and “me”. Because they often dislike “sweating the small stuff”, they are not necessarily good at administration and managing resources. Leadership also incorporates the neighboring skills such as communication, decision-making, and time management.
    • Last but not least, managers gain authority through an official appointment to a managerial position. On the other hand, to become a leader, you need to be ratified in the hearts and minds of those who work for you (over and above any formal authority).  

    To sum up: leadership sets the direction and motivates people to achieve it, while management contributes to organizational stability and efficiency. Both are needed for successful performance. However, leadership is more important in the context of rapid change and a highly dynamic business environment. Warren Bennis condensed these differences in one neat sentence: “Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing.” And the American computer scientist Grace Hopper added the following important distinction: “You manage things. You lead people.”

    How exemplary leaders lead a meaningful transformation

    In their book The Leadership Challenge (originally published in 1987) James Kouzes and Barry Posner developed a model that described how to become a transformational leader. Here are the five practices of exemplary leadership that they identified in a book of the same title:

    1. Model the way: Leaders clarify values by finding their inner compass and affirming shared ideals. They talk openly about personal and shared values. Then, they set the example by aligning actions with shared values. In other words, they do what they say they’re going to do, and thus model the way authentically and genuinely. They live by the maxim of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”.
    2. Inspire a shared vision: Leaders envision the future by imagining exciting, meaningful possibilities while keeping an eye on the ‘big picture’ (emerging future trends and possible discontinuities). They enlist others in a shared vision by appealing to joint values and aspirations.
    3. Challenge the process: Leaders search for and seize opportunities by questioning the old ways of doing things, by fixing bugs that need to be fixed, and by looking outward for innovative ways to improve and being open to new ideas. They pursue meaningful challenges. They courageously take the initiative and experiment to learn from experience by debriefing failures and unexpected successes. Thanks to this process, they continuously generate small wins that reinforce shared values and propel the team forward towards the desired direction.
    4. Enable others to act: Leaders foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating good relationships. They use “we” instead of “I”. They co-create and collaborate to seize opportunities and solve problems. Leaders strengthen others by boosting their self-confidence and developing competences. They teach and coach others by being clear on their strengths and weaknesses. They share power and are open to learning from others.
    5. Encourage the heart: Leaders create a spirit of community and make work enjoyable and productive for everyone on the team. They celebrate the values and victories by giving rewards and recognition. They catch people doing “the right thing” and praise them, thus recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence.

    How creative leadership expands on traditional leadership principles

    “Exemplary leaders know that if they want to gain commitment and achieve the highest standards, they must be models of the behavior they expect of others,” emphasize James Kouzes and Barry Posner. This means that to gain commitment and achieve the highest standards, creative leaders must BE CREATIVE and DO CREATIVE things themselves. Here is where creative leadership comes in: Creative leaders must genuinely possess a creative mindset and consistently practice creative action routines.

    Prominent leadership thinkers such as Warren Bennis, John Adair, and Chris Argyris all insist that leaders can be developed. Based on research I’ve conducted with colleagues, we have evidence that the same holds for creative leaders. However, to develop authentically creative leaders who ARE creative and DO creative things, we need to transcend traditional leadership development programs. The authors of the IBM Global Chief Human Resource Officer Study 2011 put this sine qua non of creative leadership development as follows: 

    “To instill the dexterity and flexibility necessary to seize elusive opportunity, companies must move beyond traditional leadership development methods and find ways to inject within their leadership candidates not only the empirical skills necessary for effective management, but also the cognitive skills to drive creative solutions. The learning initiatives that enable this objective must be at least as creative as the leaders they seek to foster.” 

    To develop authentic creative leaders for the innovation economy, and help solve the significant challenges that humanity faces, I’ve created Genius Journey, the truly creative and effective creative leadership development method of Thinkergy. Genius Journey expands on the character traits identified by Bennis and other leadership thinkers by also including those mindset factors that specifically support individual creativity and breakthrough thinking. (These creativity-specific traits reside outside the traditional leadership theory in the domains of creativity and innovation).

    Genius Journey teaches creative leader candidates the creative success mindsets and action routines of geniuses and creative business leaders. We do this by sending them on the journey to reconnect to their inner creativity and personal ingenuity. In other words, with  Genius Journey, we teach prospective creative leaders on how to genuinely BE creative and consistently DO creative things. Only authentic creative leaders can model the way needed to build truly creative teams and outstanding creative companies that can create these bold new solutions for a more meaningful world. Again, let’s say it in Mahatma Gandhi’s words: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”.

    Conclusion: From management over leadership to creative leadership

    Humanity faces a set of massive challenges that we need to successfully resolve in the coming 2-3 decades, such as digital transformation, climate change, sustainability, labour redistribution, the debt mountain, and the singularity challenge, among others. If we want to rise to the occasion, we need to develop a phalanx of new creative leaders who approach these immense problems from a higher level of consciousness. As Albert Einstein put it: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” 

    20th-century management thinking has brought us the problems that we’re dealing with right now. I believe that 21st century-style creative leadership needs to create bold new solutions to effectively deal with the mess before it’s too late. Moreover, being an optimist, I believe that together, a sufficiently large group of authentic creative leaders and their teams can innovate us out of the mess again. Do you want to join us in this worthy effort by becoming a creative leader yourself?

    Contact us to tell us more about yourself so that we can jointly explore how we may help you develop creative leaders for your organization.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2019

  • Taking Creative Leadership Lessons From My Baby Girl

    “The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm,” noted the British novelist Aldous Huxley. Unfortunately, most of us have no recollections of our early childhood. Hence, we don’t have any remembrance of our own innate spirit of genius in us. According to Albert Einstein, “There is a genius in all of us,” and we showed it as a young child.

    Infants and the very young children are still closest to their true selves. So, observe their behaviors to get a better grasp of the concept of genius. Becoming a Dad somewhat later in life, I have the privilege now to study the ingenious ways of a very young child: Zoë, our 16-month old baby girl. Admittedly, I do it with a hidden agenda: I am curious to find out to what extent Zoë’s ways overlap with the mindsets and routines of geniuses and top creative leaders. I’ve studied these mindsets for over a decade and modeled them in Genius Journey, Thinkergy’s creative leader development method. 

    Today, I share what genius mindsets of Genius Journey I’ve also spotted in Zoë,  (I share my observations solely our baby girl. But I noticed that most other babies exhibit the same ways and behaviors. And I invite you to observe infants in your family or environment to form your own opinion on the ingenious ways of very young children). 

    Lesson 1: Young children take action, and persist until they succeed

    Zoë observes her parents and other grown-ups doing certain things. If it’s exciting, she desires to do this, too. Then, Zoë boldly takes massive action. She persists in the face of —at times painful— temporary failure until she succeeds.

    Take the example of how infants learn to walk. Babies spend most of their early days laying flat on their back or being carried around. All the while, they see their parents and other humans walking on two legs. Babies seem to have an inherent belief that they too can master the art of walking. So, they take action one step at a time: First, they learn to sit. Then, crawl. Next, they pull themselves up. At some point, they stand. Finally, they begin to walk their first steps.

    In the process, they fall many times. According to some books, babies fail a couple of thousand times while learning how to walk. Like Zoë, they persist until they succeed. Nowadays, Zoë confidently walks —and often runs— around her little world. Why? Because she’s a courageous, action-oriented and persistent believer. Are you?

    Very young children tend to exhibit the foundational success mindset of genius. Here’s what we teach at Destination Stop 1 of Genius Journey:

    “Stop your doubts, worries, and fears. Start to be a courageous, action-oriented and persistent believer.”

    Lesson 2: Young children are simply themselves

    Zoë naturally expresses her true self and her unique personality. She is original and insists upon herself. Unlike most adults, she has no desire to hide her true essence behind a mask. She has no intention to play a role that pleases the expectations of others. She confidently shows her talents, ideas, feelings, and true colors. She just is.

    No doubt about it, Zoë and other young kids live in harmony with the tenet of Destination Stop 2 of Genius Journey:

    “Stop your ego. Start being yourself.”

    Lessons 3 and 4: Young children have a beginner’s mind

    “Children are the most learning-hungry beings in the world,” said the American anthropologist Ashley Montagu. Why do babies and young children learn so much so fast? They have what Zen Buddhism calls a beginner’s mind. They are open, curious, and playful.

    Zoë is no different. She embraces her world full of curiosity. She openly approaches a person, animal, plant or other new experience with a spirit of wonder and awe. She wants to play with all other young kids without judging them based on their color of skin, nationality or religious belief. She displays an open body language. Often, she is in a “hero’s pose” with widely opened arms and legs. And very soon, she is likely to bombard her parents with lots of questions about this wondrous world. 

    “Play is the work of children“, noted the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. Like other young kids, Zoë uses every opportunity to play and often is absorbed by this. She plays with toys and stuffed plush animals, pans and pots, bottles and boxes, in short: everything she spots and deems worthy of playing. She loves to laugh and have fun with her parents, other caretakers, and other kids. She enjoys dancing and humming along with a song (in her baby language, as we expose her to English, German and Thai). She loves to run around and ride on every toy on wheels. In short, she’s immensely playful and radiates pure joy and positive energy.

    How does this curious, playful behavior of Zoë contrast with the ways of many managers? They often critique and lecture others (instead of listening to ideas and asking questions). Many go through their days with closed minds and bodies. Their hands, arms, and legs are crossed when encountering people or a new situation.. After all, many consider life and work to be serious affairs, and tend to see the glass to be half empty. So it isn’t surprising that they often use the words “No”, “don’t and “but”.

    By the way, Zoë only loses her positive mood when her Mom —and admittedly, at times her Dad, too— stop her from doing something by using the words “no”, “don’t” and “stop”.

    All these observations connect to the creative mindsets at Destination Stops 3 and 4 of Genius Journey:

    “Stop being judgmental and closed(-minded). Start being curious and open(-minded).”

    “Stop being negative and serious. Start being positive and playful.”

    Lesson 5: Young children are full of love and passion

    “Passion is the genesis of genius,” noted the American life coach Tony Robbins. Like other very young children, Zoë approaches every new day full of passion, zest, and energy. On most days, she’s the first to wake up and jump out of bed. She immediately runs to her indoor playground, where she enthusiastically greets, kisses and hugs her teddy bear. She radiates joy and love from the word go. It’s part of her essential nature. So, it’s not surprising that she also seems to love everything that she’s doing. Zoë loves playing with her toys or with other kids. She enjoys messing up the room as much as tidying it up again. She takes pleasure in giving a hand to her parents or grandparents. In short, Zoë is passionate about what she does every moment. 

    How does this contrast with how the average working adult approaches a new day? Many businesspeople drag themselves out of bed in the morning, especially on Mondays. It’s the day of the week that many adults say they dislike most because it’s the beginning of a full new week of work. These people hardly can wait for the weekend to begin. What does this tell us about their attitude towards their work? 

    The genius mindset at Destination Stop 5 of the Genius Journey captures this notion:

    “Stop being indifferent or working only for the money. Start being passionate and love what you do.” 

    Like other young kids, Zoë lives by this motto. She’s full of love and loves what she’s doing. Are you?

    Over the past months, I have observed the behaviors of Zoë, my 16-month-old baby girl.  I found that her natural ways go in line  with the foundational genius mindsets and routines of Genius Journey: 1) Be a courageous, action-oriented believer. 2) Be yourself. 3) Be open and curious. 4) Be positive and playful. 5) Love what you do. 

    Now let’s continue exploring if and to what extent the itsy-bitsy ways of our little ones correspond with the success mindsets of genius. (I share my observations solely on our baby girl. But I noticed that most other babies behave and do things in the same way. I invite you to observe infants in your family or environment to form your own opinion on whether the very young children carry the spirit of genius inside).

    Lessons 6 and 7: Young children possess a broadly interested creative mind

    Zoë is still too young to express her thoughts verbally. But observing her gives hints of what may be going on in her mind, and what interests her. So what have I noticed? 

    Young kids take an interest in almost everything. They enjoy learning broadly about the world, instead of profoundly focusing on one subject as most experts do. In their early years, young kids engage in a broad range of activities: playing alone and with other kids; running and riding wheeled toys; dancing and singing; and drawing and building things, among many others. To sum-up, Zoë and other young kids enjoy developing a broad range of skills and talents. They naturally follow Howard Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences.

    Our little daughter Zoë has a highly-developed intuitive mind, too. In many situations, I can spot how she uses her innate creativity to have fun and get her way. When watching her playing with her doll and plush pets, I am positive that she imagines them to be real. 

    Zoë also frequently does things that surprise me — another sign of her high innate creativity. For example, one morning, she carried my mobile phone to our bed in an affectionate attempt to wake me up. After I got out of bed and —still tired— sat down on the sofa, Zoë brought me all my clothes. Then, she fetched the backpack we carry along when taking her out. Suddenly, I realized what’s going on. Zoë communicated that she wanted me to bring her to the nursery now. (Then, she can still play with her friends there before they all go for their morning nap.) So, I complied, got dressed and walked to the door, and she followed me all smiles and bright-eyed. 

    How does this all compare to the world of business? Over the past two centuries, our western education system has emphasized the development of logical-mathematical intelligence (IQ) and a predominantly rational, analytical mind. This focus equipped workers and managers with functional knowledge and skills needed to function well in the industrial and knowledge economies. 

    Moreover, the modern western education system encourages and celebrates domain expertise. Many experts are so specialized that they know everything about their tiny niche — and almost nothing about the world. In contrast, a classical education used to favor a polymath or homo universalis.

    Stops 6 and 7 of Genius Journey advocate to live and learn both deeply and broadly, and to cultivate a balanced, integrated mind: 

    “Stop being myopic and thinking with only half of your mind. Start thinking integrated with your whole mind.”

    “Stop being stuck in the expert tunnel. Start collecting and connecting the dots both deeply and broadly.”

    Lessons 8: Young children are living change

    Most parents try to establish daily routines for their little ones (e.g., when to eat; take a nap, go to bed). Why is it advisable to create such an orderly framework? Regularity counter-balances the innate drive and high energy of young kids. Infants tend to move, play and do something continually. Such sustained activity allows them to practice and learn new things. Young kids are very flexible in their body and minds, enabling them to evolve so rapidly. Babies personify continuous change. They embody the creativity-empowering mindset at Destination Stop 8 of Genius Journey: 

    “Start to move, change and flex yourself.” 

    How does this compare with a typical businessperson? Many not only do not adhere to healthy routines but rather are slaves to their daily habits. They do the same things over and over again without embracing the variety of life. While habits can simplify life, they also tend to make our bodies and minds inflexible and inert. They prevent us from trying something new in an ever-changing world. So, avoid the creativity-inhibiting, limiting mindset at Stop 8: 

    “Stop being so rigid, inflexible and inert.”

    Lessons 9: Young children are present with all their senses

    “No Columbus, no Marco Polo has ever seen stranger and more fascinating and thoroughly absorbing sights than the child that learns to perceive, to taste, to smell, to touch, to hear and to see, and to use his body, his senses, and his mind. No wonder that the child shows an insatiable curiosity. He has the whole world to discover,” noted the American psychoanalyst Ernest Schachtel.

    Very young children perceive and interact with the world using all their senses. They not only see and hear but also want to touch, smell and taste everything. (Ask any parent how often babies put things in their mouths). Young kids are also fully present in the now. Neither do they reminisce of what they did yesterday nor do they worry about, or look ahead to, tomorrow.

    In contrast, many adults often miss out on what’s going on now. At times, their minds look back into the past full of nostalgia (“These were the days…”) or with regret (“I should have …”). At other times, they look forward to the future, either full of worries whether they will still have enough money or good health, or in hopeful anticipation of what they will do when reaching a certain point in future (such as, when the kids flee the nest, or when they retire). In any case, they miss out on the present moment, on what’s happening right now. So, it’s not surprising that their sensory acuity has atrophied, too. Most adults overemphasize their visual and auditory senses, while neglecting the others.

    So, young kids like Zoë live by the motto of Destination Stop 9 of Genius Journey:

    “Stop living in the past or future. Start focusing on the now with all your senses. Be mindful.

    Lesson 10: Young children apply and then relax themselves

    Zoë is action pure and simple. She plays, runs, climbs, and carries things around until she’s completely exhausted and tired. Later, Zoë falls asleep in an instant. In downtime, she recharges and processes everything she’s encountered and learned anew. When she reawakens, she goes back to active mode right away. She applies herself to the activity of the moment until her battery runs down. Then, it’s time again to relax and recharge. 

    Our little ones seem to intuitively balance periods of intensive action and total relaxation (sleep). Thereby, complete application and relaxation alternate in a harmonious rhythm. This pattern likely helps kids to get absorbed in an activity and experience states of flow (or be in the “zone,” or find their “Mojo”).

    In comparison, modern businesspeople are busy almost all the time. They engage in countless activities at a frantic pace. Nowadays, even if they get a moment to take a breath, they glance at their smartphones. Busy-ness and overload lead to what Marshall Goldsmith calls “No-jo”: no relaxation, no rhythm, no flow, and no breakthroughs. 

    Like other young kids, Zoë enjoys the ebb and flow of total action and relaxation that produces flow. So, she naturally embraces the lesson of Destination Stop 10 of Genius Journey:  

    “Stop your busy-ness. Stop doing, doing, doing something all the time. Start balancing doing and being in a harmonious rhythm to induce states of flow.”

    Conclusion: Learn the ways of genius from our little ones

    “Grown men may learn from very little children for the hearts of little children are pure and, therefore, the Great Spirit may show to them many things which older people may miss.” Take in these words of wisdom from the Native American Medicine Man Black Elk. 

    “If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses,” noted Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Being a genius himself, Goethe recognized genius in the eyes of very young kids. So, I invite you to do as the German playwright and philosopher. Openly and curiously observe the ways of babies and young kids. Sooner or later, you’re likely to spot the genius in their eyes, too. And by recognizing and appreciating the ingenuity of very young kids, you take the first step to acknowledge your genius that you exhibited as a very young child, too.  

    Are you interested in reconnecting to your inner genius?  Contact us to learn more about Genius Journey and our creative leader development programs

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2019


  • What Words Reveal About A Leader's Creative Consciousness Level

    Creative leadership development is all about replacing a someone’s disempowering mindsets and action routines with empowering, creativity-inducing ones. While as a creative leadership coach, I can observe the actions of disciples, I cannot directly intercept their thoughts. Fortunately, however, I can get valuable hints about the thoughts of potential creative leaders by paying close attention to, and intently listening for, the words they regularly use. Why are certain keywords so revealing? 

    “Watch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny,” noted Lao Tzu. Words are verbalized thoughts that have positive or negative energy that sooner or later translate into life-enhancing or -diminishing actions. Today, let’s understand with the help of a little imaginary scenario what certain words can tell us about the creativity and consciousness levels of a leader and ourselves.

    Scenario: The introductory speech of two potential business leaders

    Suppose you work at the head office of a large corporation undergoing a leadership transition phase. Your supervisory board has asked the two shortlisted candidates to introduce themselves as potential new CEO to all head office staff at a town hall meeting. So, listen to each candidate’s introduction, and ask yourself: Who would you like to work for? Who do you think is more of a creative leader? Who’s operating on higher levels of consciousness?

    Candidate A

    I feel privileged of the chance to serve you as your new leader. I believe that we are eternal, egalitarian spiritual beings on a human journey. All of us are created equal, and all of us are significant to our future success. 

    While being patriotic to our home country from where we originate, we’re intentionally choosing to contend in a free, open, global market space full of abundant opportunities. We optimistically envision making meaning by inventing ingenious, beautiful new products that empower our customers and make the world a better place. Thereby, we want to be aware of, and responsible for, the long-term implications of all we’re doing. We optimistically believe that we can invent excellent new value offerings that are natural, essential and timeless.

    How will I strive to lead you? By being an ethical, principled, tolerant and consciously aware leader. By being self-confident and humble, unselfish and modest. By sharing my experience, educating you and being helpful to you. By being thoughtful and considerate. By treating you respectfully, fairly and truthfully. By confronting you kindly, honestly and candidly when your ego takes over, and by patiently and gently healing conflict with humor and harmony.

    By cherishing your work and appreciating and accepting your constructive opinions. By openly and impartially inviting your brilliant ideas, and then being agreeable to them and approving them as much as is possible and feasible. By encouraging you to courageously try something new, and when you fail, by not only forgiving but praising you for taking initiative. By valuing your virtuous efforts and trusting in your intuitive decisions.

    By being determined to our noble, holistic goals while staying flexible to our actions and spontaneous in our responses. By diplomatically defending our peaceful, democratic ideals and emphatically, generously and charitably caring for all of our stakeholders,

    I am grateful to leading our unified efforts.

    Candidate B

    I am proud to be your new superior. I am important and ambitious. After all, I am indebted to being part of a small, arrogant, dogmatic and luxurious elite who is entitled to call the shots and to enjoy the pleasures of life. 

    I forcefully insist on being the boss. I urge and coerce you to follow me. At times, I may be flattering to persuade you. But most of the time, I will be dictatorial, condescending, harassing and belligerent. Take note that I am rigid and hard, rough and punitive. Because I am impulsive and easily irritated, I can be critical, cynical and at times even cruel. Better beware. 

    Once I’ve made up my prejudiced and judgmental mind, I tend to be rigid, inflexible and stubborn. Expect me to reject and attack your ideas, and to resent you if you argue with me. It’s my way or the highway.

    What is my false, calculating scheme? Picture the company promoting the latest fads that persuade unaware consumers to feverishly buy our ordinary, artificial and cheap products. We immediately grab their money and use some of it to seduce nationalistic regulators to legally restrict better competitors. That way, we can recklessly exploit the local market, and I can get an excessive bonus. After all, I am a selfish, lustful and materialistic taker who hoards all I have.

    Fortunately, only a few people know why I am so serious, suspicious, secretive and controlling, and it’s none of your business. (It’s because deep down inside, I am pessimistic, confused, and preoccupied — always worrying that someone eventually sees that I am just pompously and glamorously playing a role.)

    I’m done. Now back to work. 

    So, how did the two candidates’ speeches make you feel? What candidate would you prefer as your new CEO? And who is more of a creative leader? A or B?

    What words reveal about creative consciousness

    Of course, the two speeches are fictional and intentionally exaggerated to make a point. I wrote them by using a list of word pairs from David R. Hawkins’ fascinating book Power vs. Force, which discusses the consequences of operating on different levels of creative consciousness. (I introduced you to the concept of consciousness levels in a previous blog article). 

    As you’ve realized, Candidate A uses largely life-enhancing, positive words that, according to Hawkins, calibrate on high levels of consciousness (which in Hawkins’ anatomy, includes the levels courage, neutrality, willingness, acceptance, reason, love, joy, peace, and enlightenment). These powerful words indicate that she qualifies as a genuine, creative leader to successfully spearhead a company in the innovation economy. 

    In contrast, Candidate B relies almost exclusively on forceful, life-diminishing and negative words located on the rudimentary lower consciousness levels, expressing negative emotions such as pride, anger, desire and fear. (And if you couldn’t help thinking of a prominent reality-TV showman turned politician who now sits in an Oval Office while listening to Candidate B’s pitch, take comfort that I too couldn’t help thinking of him while writing this article.)

    Conclusion: Replace negative, destructive thoughts and words with positive, creative ones

    So what can you learn from this? Lao Tzu is right: Watch your thoughts and your words, as your acts, habits and destiny flow from them. Become aware of negative words you regularly tend to use. Then, whenever you catch yourself thinking the negative thought preceding such a negative word, replace it in your mind and communicate the positive equivalent. 

    Becoming aware of the negative, destructive vs. the positive, creative power of words is subject of one of the 88 Genius Exercises that are part of Genius Journey, our creative leadership development program designed towards elevating competitive, scheming business leaders into contending, ingenious creative leaders. Named “The Well is in Your Words”, this Genius Exercise invites you to: 

    • replace disempowering, negative words with empowering, positives ones (in the spirit of Hawkins); 
    • avoid the “Fatal 6” (could, would, should, may, might, must); 
    • refrain from using the most dangerous word (but); and 
    • beware of the most life-suppressing word (no) and it’s variations (don’t, won’t, can’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t), among others. 

    (These linguistic communication tips were also featured in an early Thinkergy blog article published in January 2008). 

    When are you ready to develop into a creative leader? Contact us to find out more about Genius Journey and our related creative leadership development programs

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2019

  • Who Do You Consider To Be A Creative Leader?

    What creative leaders do you know and admire? What makes them special? Why do you admire them? Take a few minutes to think about these questions.

    At Thinkergy, we often set the scene for a session on creative leadership —or a full-fledged Genius Journey training course— with a little warm-up exercise. We break up the learning cohort into small groups and let them work on the above questions. The exercise and ensuing discussions create curiosity for delegates on how they may further their individual creativity and develop their creative leader potential.

    Would you rate these people as a creative leader?

    In a course in creative leadership, the delegates naturally think first of well-known creative business leaders,such as Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, David Ogilvy, Edwin Land, Charles Kettering, Nikola Tesla, Jeff Bezos, Masaru Ibuka, Akio Morita, Jack Ma, or James Dyson.

    But is the concept of creative leaders limited to business leaders only? How about leaders in other fields, such as science, the arts, in politics and in sports:

    • On almost every list of creative leaders, a few universal geniuses such as Albert Einstein or Leonardo da Vinci feature prominently somewhere close to the top.
    • Other universal and/or scientific geniuses such as Benjamin Franklin, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Aristotle, Isaac Newton, Richard Feynman, Charles Darwin, or Richard Buckminster Fuller are also widely considered to be creative leaders in their field.
    • How about creative leaders, top achievers and geniuses in the creative arts in the widest sense? Would you rate  the painters Pablo Picasso, Salvatore Dali, and Vincent van Gogh as creative leaders? How about the writers William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, and Ralph Waldo Emerson? Or the musical geniuses Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and John Lennon? How about the movie directors Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas and James Cameron?
    • How about if we consider spiritual or political leaders, too? Do Jesus of Nazareth, Gautama Buddha, or Lao Tze qualify as creative leaders for you? How about famous political leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela?
    • How would you rate outstanding top achievers and kinesthetic geniuses in sports? Would you consider Mohammad Ali or Bruce Lee to be a creative leader?

    If you asked me, I’d loudly say “yes” to all the creative leaders listed above. You may disagree with me in some cases, and that’s fine. It’s all depends on how we define the concept, and we will come back to this point below. But first allow me to share with you what I take away from the little warm-up exercise.

    So what does this exercise teach us about creative leader?

    In the past years, I’ve asked the above questions to workshop participants from different parts of the world. The exercise has provided me with some interesting insights about the concept of a creative leader:

    1. Creative leaders abound in many fields. When working on this exercise, the groups suggest a similar selection of creative leaders from a wide variety of fields. The concept of a creative leader seems to be universally understood and interpreted in a multifaceted way. It is not limited to business leaders only, but also extends to geniuses, top achievers and extraordinary creative leaders in science, the arts, spirituality, politics and in sports.
    2. Creative leaders can be found on all levels all over the world. Most lists also include a few creative leaders that are known only locally, nationally or regionally — such as founders of innovative start-up ventures or creative agencies, renowned artists and entertainers, and the like. Do those people also qualify as creative leaders? Probably yes. Someone who creates extraordinary outputs or creatively influences others in a field at a local, national or regional level can qualify as a creative leader, too. The concept of a creative leader does not require a person to be world famous.
    3. Creative leaders stand out from the crowds through their deeds and their minds. How do people justify why they rate someone to be a creative leader? Typically, they make their case either by pointing to breakthrough ideas or the extraordinary outputs that the creative leader created, or by citing some unusual, “abnormal” creative mindsets that differ from those of normal people. Because they create standout outputs, and because they think and do things differently, creative leaders influence and inspire others to be more creative, too.
    4. Calling someone a creative leader doesn’t make them a creative leader. Do I agree to every person listed as a creative leader? Nope. In some cases, I have my reservations or even openly disagree. For example, while I admire Mark Zuckerberg’s achievements as leader of Facebook, I also take note that the original concept behind his social networking site is rooted in the ConnectU concept from the Winklevoss twins. Moreover, the assessment of why someone qualifies as an authentic creative leader may change over time. In the end, it all depends on how we argue our case, and how we define the concept of a creative leader.

    What is a creative leader?

    At Thinkergy, we define creativity as an idea, product or other concept that is at the same time novel and original and meaningful. This definition ensures that we exclude concepts that are secondhand, copied, and unethical or meaningless.

    A leader is often defined as “a person who leads or commands a group, organization or country”. However, expanding on this narrow view, some define a leader as a “person that holds a dominant or superior position within their field, and is able to exercise a high degree of control or influence over others.”

    Let’s combine both aspects into one definition and define a creative leader as:

    “a person who creates extraordinarily novel, original and meaningful outputs in a particular field, and/or creatively leads or influences others to create novel, original and meaningful outputs.”

    Conclusion

    In many creative leadership sessions that I ran in recent years, I noticed that there seems to be an universal, almost intuitive understanding of what the concept of an authentic creative leader encompasses. Take a look at the people who you listed as creative leaders. Are some of your favorite geniuses and creative leaders on my list? Chances are that we have a couple of exact matches.

    In any case, creative leaders think and act differently. They are courageous and curious, confident and positive, inspiring and passionate, creative and all-embracing, flexible and present, focused and balanced. And because they work and live their lives creatively, they are able to come up with breakthrough ideas and create extraordinary outputs that delight and influence others to follow them in their creative footsteps.

    Do you want to become an authentic creative leader yourself? Then, check out Genius Journey, our creative leadership development method. And consider booking a Genius Journey training for your organization? Contact us to tell us more about we can help you begin your creative leadership journey.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2018


  • Creativity in the Year of the Dog

    Kung Hai Fat Choy, Happy Chinese New Year! Tomorrow marks the start of the Year of the Dog, or to be more precise, the Brown Earth Dog. The dog was the first species that humans domesticated, and thanks to this long bond with humans. dogs are uniquely accustomed to our behaviors. What creative inspirations can we obtain from “man’s best friend” to help us flourish in the coming 12 months?

    Being of value

    Compared to other animals, dogs have developed a strong influence on human society because of both their practical usefulness and the emotional companionship they offer. Dogs serve a wide range of practical roles: hunting, herding, guarding and protection, pulling loads, assisting the police and military, rescuing people in emergencies, aiding the disabled individuals and in other therapeutic roles.

    Moreover, dogs are loyal companions who can light up the day with their playful enthusiasm, sincere affection and emotional sensitivity towards their two-legged friends. As the humorist Josh Billings noted: “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”

    Creative inspirations

    Wouldn’t you enjoy doing business with someone who is helpful and at the same time fun to be with? So, ask yourself: How close are we with our customers? How intimately do we know their true wants and needs? How can we become more useful for our core customers? What other roles may we perform for them to make ourselves more useful? How can we design better emotional experiences for the users of our products and services? How can we better satisfy both the functional and emotional wants and needs of our customers?

    “Breeding out” meaningful new ideas

    Humans have selected certain dogs to breed with each other, due to particular physical and behavioral characteristics that support desired functional roles. This selective breeding has led to the hundreds of modern breeds that are classified into certain dog types (such as companion dogs, guard dogs, or herding dogs). These types vary greatly in size, character and behavior and functional roles — from the tiny Chihuahua to the tall Great Dane, or from the stubbornly-dopey Bulldog to the energetically intelligent Border Collie. By the way, did you know that most dog breeds are only a few hundred years old?

    Creative inspiration

    The breeding process is similar to the approach taken by a classic creativity technique, Morphological Matrix. So in the Year of the Dog, how can you engage in morphological thinking? First, create a matrix listing all the morphologies covered by your value offerings. Such categories might be: product features (functional and emotional benefits), service types, customers types, related promotional activities, etc.). Then, list elements under each category (B2B, B2C, NGOs in the customer category, for example), and add as many new elements as possible into each (don’t forget that we’re in the digital age). Finally, ask yourself: How to create meaningful new product and service “breeds” by connecting certain desired features and elements?

    Being a smart dog

    Are dogs intelligent creatures? If you’ve ever owned a dog, you’re likely to nod affirmatively. While breeds vary in intelligence, dogs can perceive information, retain this as knowledge, and later apply it to solve certain problems. They can also learn to respond to different body postures and voice commands. But how do dogs fare when compared to other canines?

    Although dogs and wolves share a lineage, there are noticeable differences between the two species. Free-roaming wolves have longer teeth, bigger skulls and also bigger brains than their domesticated fellow canines. Moreover, experiments have shown that Australian dingos outperform domestic modern dogs in non-social problem-solving.

    Likewise, researchers have found that when presented with an unsolvable variation of an original problem solving task, socialized wolves tried to find a solution themselves, while dogs looked to a human for help. Domestic dogs seem to have “outsourced” more advanced problem-solving to humans, which is convenient but makes them highly dependent.

    Creative inspiration

    Many multinational and large corporations today outsource internal competencies and certain functional roles to outside suppliers. While outsourcing has reduced headcount and —to some extent— overhead costs, it has also led to an organizational brain drain. The situation is comparable to a dog turning to humans to “do the thinking for us”, “solve our problems on our behalf” and “tell us what to do”. But just as a dog is dependent on the smarts of others, so do companies depend on the intelligence of their outsourcing partner. So, ask yourself: “What problem areas and functional roles are so important for our business that we should “insource” the ability again? What topics do we want to resolve by ourselves to control our fate?”

    Staying healthy

    Dogs are often plagued by parasites such as fleas, ticks, mites, and worms. Parasites live in or on another organism and obtain nutrients at the host’s expense. While they typically don’t cause severe harm, they steadily impair health, energy and performance levels.

    Creative inspiration

    Just as you want to keep your dog parasite-free, you may use the Year of the Dog to rid your business of parasitic elements. Ask yourself: Who has benefited from us and derived monetary nutrients at our expense without returning an adequate benefit? Such freeloaders may be suppliers and service providers, advisors and lobbyists, and maybe even certain managers and staff. Investigate how much benefit each derived from you, and what you really got in return. If you notice a gross mismatch, clean out the parasite.

    Rewarding loyalty

    Chinese astrology tends to ascribe characteristics and behaviors observed in an animal of the Chinese Zodiac to sum-up personality traits of people born in the corresponding year. People born in the Year of the Dog are said to be loyal and honest, amiable and kind, responsible and prudent, lively and courageous. Due to having a strong sense of loyalty and sincerity, dogs will do everything for a person —or business— who cares for them.

    Creative inspiration

    Who are key members of your company or team who have loyally and responsibly worked for you for a long time, and contributed to the success of your business? Who are your long-term customers who loyally continue buying from you? Who are other loyalists who have served your cause as loyal suppliers, advisors, advocates, opportunists and cheerleaders? In the Year of the Dog, think about ways to say “Thank you” to these loyal, dependable and sensible companions.

    Learning from Abraham Lincoln’s dog

    Let’s end with a little riddle relating to dogs. Here’s a question of the famous US president Abraham Lincoln: “How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg?” Think about this question for a moment, then settle on a number.

    Got it? Say it out loud. Now here is “Honest” Abe’s answer: “Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

    Creative inspiration

    Nowadays, people are very quick at attaching labels to people or things (this even happened before Donald Trump popularized “fake news”). But notice that, for example, calling something going on that affects your business a problem doesn’t mean that it’s really a problem, or that it is the real problem your business faces. So in the Year of the Dog, ponder these questions: What things are we labeling or framing in ways that prevent us from noticing what’s really going on? What uncomfortable realities do we shy away from —or label as “fake news”— so that we can continue staying in our comfort zone? What are the real problems we’re facing and should tackle in the next 12 months? And aren’t these real problems rather opportunities to make a giant leap into a better future?

    Are you ready to get creative in the Year of the Dog? Why don’t you enroll your team in of our Thinkergy training courses?

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2018. 

  • Is your mind set on a genius mindset?

    In September 2018, Motivational Press will publish the first part of my book trilogy “Genius Journey. Developing Creative Leaders for the Innovation Economy.” At the moment, I update and refresh the copy that I originally drafted in 2013-14, and I see this also as an opportunity to simplify how I present key concepts of the Genius Journey method in my creativity and leadership book. So in simple terms, what is the Genius Journey Method? How does it work in general terms, and how can it help you to transform your mindset into the genius that you are?

    What is Genius Journey?

    Genius Journey is a highly effective, experiential and enjoyable creative leadership development method that I created for my innovation company Thinkergy. The method is based on three key insights that I uncovered by reading biographies of geniuses and creative leaders in business and other domains, by studying psychological accounts on traits of highly creative individuals, and by comparing these findings with my experiences during my own personal genius discovery journey. What are these three insights?

    • First insight: Geniuses produce extraordinary ideas and results because they think and work and behave differently than ordinary people. We can also say: They deliver abnormal results because they are not normal, they are abnormal.
    • Second insight: Most geniuses share a similar set of abnormal action routines and mindsets that vary noticeably from those of normal people.
    • Third insight: Normal people can reconnect to their genius if they adopt and practice these abnormal creative success mindsets of geniuses.

    In short, ordinary people share a set of common, normal, usual, expected and conventional attitudes and action routines that disconnect them from their creative source. In contrast, extraordinary creative leaders have acquired and automatically practice a set of uncommon, abnormal, unusual, unexpected and unconventional attitudes and routines that allow them to reconnect to their inner genius and to produce extraordinary ideas and results.

    So Genius Journey is all about transforming your mindset and routines to elevate you to higher levels of consciousness and reconnect you to your creative source, to your inner genius. This leads us to another important question that we discuss in the following.

    What are mindsets and routines?

    A mindset is made of “the established sets of attitudes held by someone”. So what then is an attitude? The word attitude can be defined as “a settled way of thinking or feeling about something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior”, or “a position of the body proper to or implying an action or mental state”. Interestingly, attitude is also an informal way to express “individuality and self-confidence as manifested by appearance or style”. Think of your favorite genius or creative leader — does this person have an individual, self-confident attitude? I bet.

    Likewise, the word routine can be defined as “a set of actions regularly followed; a fixed program”. We routinely undergo certain daily activities, and often routinely respond to a particular situation we experience.

    Note that the unified set of attitudes that forms a certain mindset relates to mental states (cognitive activities taking place in your mind, such as thoughts, beliefs, emotions), while routines are more linked to things we do with our bodies (physical actions or activities such as working, moving, exercising, etc.). Of course, body and mind are interconnected. Your body (posture, facial expressions, pitch of voice, etc.) reflects what’s going on in your mind, and vice versa: Your body can influence through certain actions what the mind thinks and feels.

    In her excellent book titled “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges”, Amy Cuddy explains how power posing can positively charge your mind: the simple action of assuming an outgoing, empowering pose with your body raises the levels of the dominance hormone testosterone in the body while at the same time lowering those of the stress hormone cortisol, which tends to make you think, act and perform in more empowered ways. (Amy Cuddy also shares key concepts of the book in a highly inspirational TED talk that I recommend you to watch.)

    To sum up, people’s set attitudes and action routines that are connecting mind and body characterize their settled way of thinking and feeling about particular people, things, situations and circumstances they encounter, what thoughts they repeatedly tend to entertain, and what actions they routinely practice while going through a typical day or responding to a particular stimulus.

    How about your mindset and routines?

    Are your attitudes and routines normal or abnormal? Common or uncommon? Do you follow the usual layperson’s way or the unusual genius way? To get your mind primed and curious to partake in this journey, allow me to ask you a few questions related to your mindset:

    How do you typically think and/or feel about:

    • having to encounter an unknown challenge, event, or situation?
    • yourself?
    • making a mistake? Or failing in a project you undertake?
    • life in general? And your life in particular?
    • your work?
    • your domain of expertise?
    • your levels of rationality and responsibility — and of creativity and empathy?
    • change?
    • events in your past?Or about the future?
    • how many hours you must work to be a successful person?

    If you were to travel the Genius Journey, you would encounter questions like these — and your answers determine your current level of genius and how common or uncommon you are. Fortunately, we’re not stuck on a certain level for good. We can always choose to upgrade our mindsets to genius level by working on transforming our minds.

    So how does Genius Journey work?

    The Genius Journey method takes you on an imaginary journey were you visit 10 destinations. At each of the ten destination stops, you learn about one mindset or routine that stops you, limits you, confines you, keeps you small, keeps you thinking inside this tiny little box, keeps you producing normal ideas and normal results. And at each stop of the journey, you will also discover the corresponding mindset that sets you free, unboxes your thinking, expands your consciousness, empowers you to become outstandingly creative and successful, and reconnects you with your inner genius. As such, traveling the Genius Journey gives you the chance to become aware of your typical attitudes and routines, and if they serve or limit you. As you progress in your Genius Journey, you gradually adopt the empowering abnormal attitudes and routines of genius that build upon each other and reinforce themselves in a virtuous cycle that expands your consciousness, thus opening your mind to reconnect to your inner genius.

    Are you ready to become and be abnormal? If yes, consider preordering a copy of Part 1 of the Genius Journey book trilogy, which is titled “The Journey to Your Self”. Or would you be more interested in booking one of our Genius Journey training courses to experience how to think like a genius and develop a creative genius mindset? Or do you rather prefer to stay a normal person, continue thinking and doing the same normal things that everyone else is thinking and doing? The choices are yours.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2018.


  • Why so afraid? Human up! (Part 2)


    In the first part of this article, I pointed out that we are all descendants of brave, action-oriented and creative primal humans who boldly acted, created and collaborated to make humanity rise to the pinnacle of the evolutionary pyramid. I was moved to explore this subject because I’d been encountering so many businesspeople who seem paralyzed by doubts, worries and fears. Why so scared, I wondered?

    In order to remain the dominant species (in light of the onset of robots and artificially intelligent machines), we had better learn how to rein in all those doubts, worries and fears, and reconnect to our essential core of being courageous, action-oriented and creative humans. But how exactly can we “human up”? Here are ten tips.

    1. Let go of the illusion of total control of your destiny. “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans,” said Woody Allen. We’re living in a highly dynamic world with too many variables beyond our control. So, while I endorse making plans, I recommend executing them in a flexible way to respond to changes and surprises.

    2. Believe all will work out well in the end. Have you ever experienced a negative incident that in hindsight turned out to be a blessing in disguise? Start seeing setbacks and temporary failures as what they really are: feedback to stir you forward towards personal happiness and success. Don’t be afraid. Honestly confront the facts of your present reality, do what’s needed to survive now and increase the odds of future success, and believe that in the end, everything will turn out well. Consider living by the following mantra: “Everything that happens to me is the best possible thing that can happen to me.”

    3. Realize most doubts, worries and fears aren’t real. They are just disempowering, limiting thoughts going on in your head. As Mark Twain put it, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

    So, instead of entertaining fearful thoughts about a distant future, focus on what you need to do now. Practice mindfulness to gain more awareness of your inner dialogue, let anxious thoughts pass without attaching energy to them, and to pay attention to the present moment.

    4. Just do it. “Always do what you fear”, recommends the American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. So, human up. Proactively facing a fear is the fastest way to overcome it, and to turn the unknown into a new experience. So, why not human up and finally ask your boss for the raise you both know you deserve?

    5. Be bold but don’t be stupid. The Greek philosopher Aristotle considered courage  “the mean between fear and recklessness.” For example, if you’re afraid of snakes, consider visiting a snake farm to encounter and learn about their ways, and maybe touch a non-poisonous one — but don’t be reckless and step in front of a cobra.
 In business, courageously take action on new projects, but don’t engage in activities that may bring you into serious trouble, such as: doing things that are illegal, highly speculative or unethical.

    6. Shape up. Getting and staying fit will not only make your body stronger, leaner and more flexible; thanks to the body-mind connection, it will have the same effects on your mind. Physical exercise positively changes the neurochemical balance in your brain to make you more confident, courageous and happy. As the ancient Romans already knew, “Mens sana in corpore sano” (A sound mind in a sound body).

    7. Open up. Anxiety is a sign of a closed, judgmental mind. It’s the opposite of the curious, open and flexible mindset of primal humans who explored the world and learned how to seize its opportunities. So, open your mind to new trends, ideas, viewpoints and ways of doing things to keep from falling behind in a fast-changing world. As the American social philosopher Eric Hoffer said: “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

    8. Relax, recharge and sleep. Sleep is crucially important to ensure optimum physical and cognitive performance. Consider taking a power nap once you notice your energy levels are down, and plan for enough downtime in your day to recharge and relax. But most importantly, ensure you get 7-8 hours of reenergizing sleep every night.

    9. Reconnect to the hunter in you. Nowadays, too many businesspeople have become “farmers”: they passively sit back, hoping to perpetually reap the rewards of the seeds sown long ago, and to squeeze the last drops of milk out of ragged cash cows. Recall that primal humans were hunters. It’s in our essential primal nature to move and actively hunt for —and bring down— prey that often is much bigger than us. Become a hunter again, too: life is full of new opportunities once you venture out.

    10. Move on when too much is wrong. When you work in an  environment that regularly fills your mind with doubtful, worrisome and fearful thoughts, it’s a sign that something is seriously wrong. Whether you feel afraid of a venomous colleague or drained by constant political manoeuvring, acknowledge persistent feelings of anxiety, stress and unhappiness for what they really are: a signal to make a change.

    Leave that poisonous, energy-sapping or stagnant environment behind for a new hunting ground. Join another firm, found or join a start-up, or dedicate your talents to a meaningful non-profit organization. Life is too short to waste on a cause that doesn’t feel right for you. So if its time for you to move on, human up!

    Want to learn more about how to human up? Enroll in one of our Genius Journey training courses.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. 

  • Why death is the unlikely ally of creation

    The email is titled “2017 Creative Mornings Themes” and opens with the question: “Interested to talk about one topic as keynote speaker?” I go through the list of themes: mystery, moments, taboo, beyond, serendipity, survival, equality, genius, compassion, pioneer, death, and context. Instantly, I am attracted to “genius”. After all, reconnecting to our inner genius is what Thinkergy’s creative leadership method Genius Journey is all about.
    But one topic in the list surprises me and makes me feel uncomfortable: death. Does the Grim Reaper have a creative side? I begin thinking about it — and indeed, death is an unlikely ally of creativity and creation.

    What are Creative Mornings?

    Creative Mornings is an hour-long creative speaker held in cities across the globe once a month. In each city, invited keynote speakers discuss one theme in the context of creativity. The organizer in Bangkok is the Institute for Knowledge & Innovation – South-East Asia (IKI-SEA), Bangkok University organizes the Creative Mornings events, which I have just joined as an Assistant Professor on a part-time basis. Bangkok University positions itself as “The Creative University”, which seems like a good fit to my innovation company Thinkergy and our mission to create more innovators.

    What are the creative dimensions of death?

    Death is the action or fact of dying or being killed; it can also be the destruction or permanent end of something. Death and destruction are antonyms of life and creation. So how can they have a creative side? Interestingly, these opposites seem to feed on each other in three paradoxical ways:

    1. Creation and creative destruction (death) complement each other, depend on each other, and complete each other.
    2. While we cannot avoid death, creation is the way to circumvent it.
    3. In order to a that, death can remind us to focus our creative energies wisely.

    Let’s discuss each of these three insights in greater detail in the following.

    Insight 1. Death completes and supports creation, and vice versa

    “For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.” Just as the writer Khalil Gibran noted in The Prophet, life and death are intertwined in a never-ending cycle. Every form of life passes through this cycle of creative conception, birth, growth, maturity, death, and decay. The cycle of life applies to human beings, animals or natural phenomena like plants, typhoons or galaxies, and it also holds true for an idea, a theory, a product, a technology, a company, or an industry.

    What if this cycle had no end? What if there were only creation and life without any destruction and death? We would live in a world overcrowded with people and stuff. And old people, things and ideas would suppress the new, and limit its ability to develop, thrive and mature. Apple’s Steve Jobs put it this way: “No one wants to die… And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”

    Insight 2. Creation is a way to circumvent death

    While none of us can avoid death, we can live on after we’re gone. How? By using the force of creation. Human beings are the only species that can employ two creative strategies to prolong life after death:

    1. Procreation. “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them,” noted the British author George Eliot. So, procreate. Start a family and having children that live on and remember you once you’re gone. It is likely to prolong your life for one to two generations before you will be eventually forgotten and dead for good.
    2. Creation. In this life, focus your work and energy on creative output in a field where your talents, skills and passions intersect. The more outputs you create during your life time, the greater the odds that at least one of your creations becomes an eternal masterpiece and you  live on in the hearts of present and future generations, just like Steve Jobs does.

    Insight 3. Death is a tool to focus creative energy

    Use the prospect of death as a tool to focus your time and energy on those things that are most important for you. Steve Jobs said in this context: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

    Sadly, most busy businesspeople use time management systems to deal with their schedules. What they forget is that “busyness” (filling hours with activity) doesn’t equate to productivity and creativity (producing results and creative outputs). Moreover, how can you manage time if you don’t know how much time you have left? Here’s Steve Jobs again: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

    So, “carpe diem” — use each day wisely. Make each day you’ve left count by living your life instead of living up to the expectations of others. Make it count by spending time with people you love and who bring out the best in you. Make it count by procreating and bringing up functional children. Make it count by following your passion and doing what you think is important. Make it count by leaving a lasting legacy. Then, when you have your appointment with death, you can look back with a gratifying smile, and look forward to a new adventure.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2016.

  • A Creepy Creative Story

    Have you ever wondered what it feels like to check-in at Bates Motel? Or to wander the dark corridors of Dracula’s castle on a stormy night? Earlier this year, I got a taste of it. Allow me to share with you a strange, creepy, and maybe even slightly embarrassing personal creative story, and explain how it connects to one of our innovation methods.

    Last September, we launched Thinkergy US, a network of licensed Thinkergy innovation trainers to help spread our innovation methods across North America. It was my last day in Minneapolis after eight days of highly intensive —and successful— train-the-trainer workshops. All I longed for was a drink and a comfy bed for the night before flying on to New York the next morning.

    Unfortunately, the hotel I had stayed at all week was fully booked on my final day. I needed a five-star hotel close to the airport. Kevin Ehlinger Wilde, my host and local business partner, hadn’t booked a hotel yet, but with over 200 four- and five-star hotels in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, we foresaw no problem.

    We checked out all the four and five-star hotels near the airport. All were fully booked. We widened our search online and no luck. The only place with a vacancy was a country club close to Kevin’s home at Lake Minnetonka. “I know the place,” he told me. “Let’s bring you there for the night.”

    As we drove towards Lake Minnetonka, the sky darkened. Night was falling fast. Thunder rolled in the distance. A tremendous thunderstorm was about to break lose. Five miles later, a torrential rain set in. We had to maneuvre around large puddles and storm-tossed trees. “It seems I’m doomed”, I remarked. Finally, the outline of a large mansion emerged. “Here we are. This is the country club you’re staying tonight”, said Kevin. The building lay in complete darkness. A line from the Eagles’ song “Hotel California” entered my mind: “You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

    We parked the car under the roof terrace and entered a dark hotel lobby. “Sorry, we have a brownout,” was the receptionist’s welcome message: “Probably some trees crashed on the electric cables.”

    “How long does it take to bring the power back,” I asked.

    “Maybe an hour or two. Maybe the whole night. But we have a flashlight for each guest to take to their rooms.”

    Kevin comes in: “We’ll take one room for my guest. Here is my credit card.”

    “Sorry, Sir, we can’t do a check-in now as the computers are down. Here’s the key to the room on the third floor. Sorry the elevators don’t work, so please take the stairs.”

    Like the thunder, my gut rumbled: “This all feels bad.” But Kevin had already taken one of my bags. I grabbed the other one and followed him upstairs. Reaching the third floor, we pushed open a heavy wooden door. A loud, creaking noise reverberated. My room was right opposite. I entered the pitch dark room and dropped my bags. In the glow of the flashlight the room looked luxurious, but my gut was now rebelling and yelling: “Don’t stay here.”

    I followed Kevin back to the lobby. I had a really uneasy feeling. We had a quick chat on our pick-up arrangement for the next morning. Suddenly, four firemen, drenched from the storm and armed with heavy axes, entered the lobby. Without a word, they walked upstairs. I commented on the absurdity of the situation: “The Ghostbusters have arrived. Finally!”

    Kevin started laughing, but now my gut told me: “Walk away.”

    I mastered all my courage and went to the receptionist: “Sorry, Ma’am, may I ask you a stupid question: Is this place haunted?”

    She looked at me in surprise: “How did you know?” Then, looking down, she said: “We occasionally have sightings on the third floor, but down here it’s safe.”

    “Thanks for your honesty,” I replied. “I can feel it. Sorry, I won’t stay.”

    We went back to the room, grabbed my bags, and drove off to Kevin’s apartment. He put out an air mattress on the floor for me. It felt simple, humble and good. Opening my phone to check for messages, I noticed that, by accident, I seemed to have recorded a short video at the time I was in the room at the country club. It showed a door handle repeatedly moving up and down. I deleted it to put the incident out of my mind. Finally, feeling safe and sound, I drifted off into a deep sleep.

    So why do I tell you this creepy creative story?

    It relates to Genius Journey, the creative leadership development method that I created for Thinkergy and will publish as a book mid of next year. Genius Journey teaches how to identify and discard disempowering mindsets and action routines and replace them with corresponding empowering mindsets that set you and your creativity free.

    On the foundational level, Genius Journey asks you first to stop your doubts, worries and fears. Instead, become a courageous, action-oriented and persistent believer. Now guess how I train candidates on the Genius Journey to fight their fears? I take them through a fake haunted house. Now you’re asking: Why did I chicken out at the country club at Lake Minnetonka?

    Creative leaders trained in the Genius Journey method are integrated whole-mind thinkers. They’ve built-up a highly attuned intuitive, creative mind that complements their well-developed rational, scientific mind:

    • My rational mind knew that statistically, it’s highly improbable for so many unlikely events occur all at once: my hotel is fully booked on my last day; my host forgot to book another room; all but one of more than 200 hotels are fully booked; a heavy storm knocked out the power to my last-chance hotel; and so on.
    • But more importantly, my intuitive mind signaled me that something felt wrong all along. It took real courage to ask if the hotel was haunted. I felt stupid, but it would have been more stupid, even reckless, to ignore my gut feeling.

    What would you have done? Stayed the night with a flashlight in a dark room? It all comes back to our beliefs, the starting point of Genius Journey. 

    Personally, I believe in the existence of a higher spiritual force for good that guides and protects me on my path. I also believe in the Yin-Yang principle: Where there is good, there are also dark, evil forces somewhere at work. And I have learned that if trust my inner sense of self and listen to my gut, all things turn out well in the end — and even a strange, creepy creative story will have a happy end.

    Happy Holidays to all of you!

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 22 December 2016.

  • How Muhammad Ali exemplified the genius mindsets of creative leaders (Part 2)

    Two weeks ago, we discussed in this column how Muhammad Ali epitomized the genius mindsets of creative leaders that I identified while studying the biographies of geniuses, creative business leaders and top achievers. These genius mindsets help form my creative leadership development method Genius Journey that features 10 destination stops were you learn more about how to reconnect with your inner genius.

    In part 1 we discussed how Ali, “The Greatest of all times”, truly exemplified the four foundational mindsets that we encounter on destination stops 1-4 of the Genius Journey. Today, let’s continue honoring the legend of Muhammad Ali as we learn more about the remaining six genius mindsets of creative leaders.

    Stop 5: Intrinsic Motivation, Passion and Purpose

    The fifth destination stop on the Genius Journey reminds you to stop working only for the money, and to start loving what you do — and knowing why you do it.

    Ali wasn’t fighting for the money only, but because he loved boxing. It was his natural talent, which he jokingly expressed as follows: “Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.” But he became a legend not because he was a world champion. He transcended his passion of boxing by also having a purpose of why he did it: “I wanted to use my fame and this face that everyone knows so well to help uplift and inspire people around the world.”

    In and out of the boxing ring, he fought what he believed was the good fight, the just fight, the right fight. For example, fighting for more civil rights for Afro-American citizens was a good fight, while fighting an unjust war in Vietnam was not.

    Ali was doing what he did because he wanted to help and inspire ordinary people. In a tribute, a reporter recalled how on a joint tour through South America, he saw Ali giving away 100 dollar each to beggars lining up outside his hotel in the morning. “Champ, why are you doing it?” Ali responded: “For me, it’s just a 100 dollar, but for them, it’s worth here as much as ten thousand dollars for me at home.”

    Stop 6: Integrated Whole Mind

    Stop 6 of the Genius Journey invites you to start becoming an integrated whole-brain thinker and stop using only half of your mind.

    Muhammad Ali was an ingenious boxer who employed his creativity not only to come up with witty entertaining sayings and one of the shortest and most impactful poems of all times (“I shook up the world. Me! We!”), but also to devise creative tactics that won fights everyone expected him to lose.

    Before the epic “rumble in the jungle” with George Foreman, Ali announced that to win the fight, “I’m going to dance”. But to the surprise of everyone, he switched in round 2 to a new creative tactic, the “rope-a-dope”, leaning back against the rope for three rounds and absorbing punches while protecting his head. Soon Foreman was tired and Ali went on the offensive, ending the fight in round 8 with a knockout to regain his World Championship title. “The man who has no imagination, has no wings”, he said, and elaborated further: “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it.”

    Stop 7: Expert & Generalist (T-Shaped Leader)

    Stop 7 of the Genius Journey asks you to stop getting trapped in the expert tunnel and start living, working and learning as a modern renaissance man or woman with many talents and interests.

    Muhammad Ali exemplifies the concept of a T-shaped person who combines expertise in one focus domain (boxing) with a broad repertoire of knowledge, skills and experience. Outside the ring, Ali was a civil rights fighter and political activist, a religious disciple and preacher, an entertainer and joker, a magician and poet, a promoter and businessman. Ali sought to experience life in all it’s dimensions: “Live every day as if it were your last because some day you’re going to right.”

    Stop 8: Movement, Flexibility & Change

    Stop 8 of the Genius Journey reminds you to stop being habitual, rigid and fixated; instead, start to change, move and flex yourself.

    Ali had a very unorthodox boxing style he described as: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. You can’t hit what your eyes don’t see.” In his fights, Ali was constantly moving, dancing through the ring and doing the “Ali shuffle” (a famous series of boxing footwork he created as a taunting mechanism), making it difficult for his opponents to strike and pin him down.

    Stop 9: Mindfulness & Present Moment Awareness

    Stop 9 of the Genius Journey asks you to stop acting mindlessly, and instead start taking focused actions now.

    Clearly, as one of world Champion in boxing, Ali tuned into the moment and pay attention with all of his senses to what’s happening right now.

    In a famous footage showing him training for the “rumble in the jungle”, he boxed against a camera to demonstrate from an unusual perspective what it would mean every moment for George Foreman to fight against Ali: “Now you see me, now you don’t”, Ali joked as he appeared and disappeared out of the camera’s field of sight.

    Stop 10: Focused Doing, Relaxed Being (Balance, Rhythm & Flow)

    At the tenth stop of the Genius Journey, you’re prompted to stop doing, doing, doing something all the time. Instead, start harmoniously balancing focused doing with relaxed being to develop a rhythm that brings you into flow, the state of optimal experience were everything flows easily and you perform at your very peak.

    A box bout follows an inherent rhythm of focused action (the fighting in each round), alternating with breaks for the fighters to recharge and get advice. Interestingly, Ali used the breaks for being with himself and reconnecting to his inner core, his inner self, his beliefs and willpower — and not for strategizing: “My trainer don’t tell me nothing between rounds. I don’t allow him to. I fight the fight. All I want to know is did I win the round. It’s too late for advice,” he said.

    Stop 11: Subconscious Creativity (Preparation- Incubation-Illumination- Verification)

    For some people, the Genius Journey may reveal a secret eleventh stop. When all genius mindsets are in sync, you may experience a moment of breakthrough creativity, where you receive a breakthrough idea in an instant moment of flash illumination, which typically happens in a moment of flow. While there is no account of Ali sharing a Eureka experiences, he probably had moments of sparks in those split seconds when he intuitively unleashed his Championship-winning knockout punches.

    Conclusion: Muhammad Ali was not only an iconic boxer, he was a true genius who exemplified all genius mindsets and action routines of outstanding creative leaders. “I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way, but if I have changed even one life for the better, I haven’t lived in vain.” You have touched the lives of millions of people and inspired them to the better. R.I.P. you legendary genius, you were truly The Greatest.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. 

  • How Muhammad Ali exemplified the genius mindsets of creative leaders (Part 1)


    I was half-way in an exercise set at the gym when my eye spotted the breaking news on CNN: “Boxing legend Muhammad Ali dead at 74″. I feel great sadness that one of my heroes has moved on to a higher place. Muhammad Ali was one of the creative role models I studied when I was devising Genius Journey, my creative leadership development method. “The Greatest” exemplified all genius mindsets that most great creative leaders share.

    The Genius Journey sends people in search of their creativity on a journey to visit 10 destination stops. At each stop, they learn about one mindset that stops them, limits them, keeps them small, keeps them thinking inside the box. And they learn about 10 corresponding mindsets that allow them to unbox their thinking, expand their consciousness, and rediscover their creative selfs.

    To honor the life of Muhammad Ali, and to inspire more businesspeople to build-up their genius mindsets and reconnect with their inner genius, let’s tour the 10 destinations stops of the Genius Journey together with Ali today and in two weeks from now.

    Journey Stop 1: Belief, courage, action-orientation and persistence

    Muhammad Ali is a role-model for the foundational first stop of the Genius Journey: Stop your doubts, worries and fears. Start to be a courageous, action-oriented and persistent believer.

    “I am an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given. I believed in myself, and I believe in the goodness of others,” he once said, and he also noted: “It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself.”

    Ali knew: “It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.” Hence, he used affirmations as a tactic to convince himself and others that he is the greatest indeed: “I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest.” And the greatest he became, true to his belief that, “What you are thinking about, you are becoming.”

    Ali was also aware that belief powers courage: “It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges.” His faith gave Ali the courage to go into the ring against towering champions like Sonny Liston and George Foreman, and to win fights most experts considered impossible for him. But Ali looked at an impossible as a motivating challenge: “Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

    His faith also gave Ali the courage to refuse to be drafted to fight in what he saw as  an unjust war in Vietnam. That conviction would cost him his title, his money and his freedom: “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? … I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But … I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”

    “He who is not courageous enough to take risks, will accomplish nothing in life,” noted Ali. His courage gave him the willpower to act and persist in the face of hardship and pain that every champion and genius leader needs to master: “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them-a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” He admitted he hated every minute of training, but told himself: “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”

    Journey Stop 2: Self-confidence and individuality

    Stop 2 of the Genius Journey is where you learn to stop your ego — your false self, the role you’re playing to please others — and start being yourself.

    “I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want,” said Ali. Instead of copying the thoughts, values and opinions of others, he insisted upon himself: “My principles are more important than the money or my title.” His insistence on his individuality even made him change his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali (which means ‘beloved of God’). When people continued calling him with his old name, he responded confidently: “I’m not your slave. I’m Muhammad Ali.”

    While extremely self-confident, Ali was also humble and respectful to ordinary fellow humans. He admitted once: “At home I am a nice guy: but I don’t want the world to know. Humble people, I’ve found, don’t get very far.”

    Stop 3: Curiosity and open-mindedness


    Stop 4: Playfulness, positivity & optimism

    The genius mindsets at the stops 3 and 4 of the Genius Journey are located at the same consciousness level. Here you’re asked to stop being judgmental and closed, a negative, serious pessimist. Instead, start being open and curious, a positive playful optimist.

    Muhammad Ali was open and curious to meet people and learn: “I sought the advice and cooperation from all of those around me – but not permission.” He became popular because he loved people and entertained them with funny rants against  opponents (“I’ve seen George Foreman shadow boxing, and the shadow won”) and witty poems (“I’ve wrestled with alligators, I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning, And throw thunder in jail.”).

    Clearly, throughout his life, Ali maintained a curious, open, positive and playful beginner’s mind of a child, which explains while disease ravaged his body in his last decades, it “couldn’t take the spark from his eyes”, as US President Obama said it his tribute.

    In two weeks, we will continue the remaining stops of the Genius Journey to see how “The Greatest of all times”also epitomized the other genius mindsets. Contact us if you want to learn more about how you can become a genius and discover your genius mindsets with our creative leadership method Genius Journey.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. 

  • The Creator-Manager Dilemma


    In my work, I play two major roles. One is as an innovator, creating new ideas and products. But I am also a manager. Thinking about these roles has made me aware of a dilemma facing creators, and the companies that employ them.

    Working styles
    There are as many work styles and cognitive preferences as there are people, but there are some clear categories into which they fall. One major division is what I call “brain vs. brawn”. Do you engage in abstract conceptual thinking (brain), or do you prefer to do things (brawn)? Are you a “brainiac” or a “brawniac” based on your thinking style and work style — or a mix of both?

    Braniacs are more abstract and strategic in their thinking, and look at the big picture. They think about the medium to long term, and enjoy pursuing and achieving what are often ambitious and challenging goals. They enjoy difficult conceptual problems, and are often the ones with breakthrough ideas.

    Brawniacs, on the other hand, focus more on operational issues. They take care of the details. They enjoy completing a list of tasks, and their short-term focus gets those tasks done quickly and efficiently.

    Creators and managers
    As you may already have guessed, brawniacs make excellent managers. They are good at identifying and solving operational issues, paying attention to detail, ensuring that things are working smoothly, and producing results, at least in the short term. They are good at these things because they enjoy them.

    In contrast, due to their conceptual cognitive preferences, brainiacs enjoy both thinking and creating new things. They don’t like dealing with the nuts and bolts. They are not managers, and they are unlikely to enjoy being managers, as it forces them to do things they don’t enjoy. Brainiacs can become great strategic leaders, but they will be, at best, competent managers.

    The dilemma
    Consider a hard-working, talented brainiac. The quality of her work brings her to the attention of higher management, who decide to “reward” her with a promotion to a managerial position. While she may enjoy the additional authority and status — not to mention an enhanced paycheck — she may soon come to regard her “reward” as a curse rather than a blessing. Now she has to direct and monitor the efforts of others, instead of doing the conceptual, analytical, and creative work she enjoys. She has to focus on short-term goals, and get her team to meet them. She spends much of her time in meetings. She has to pay attention to details, not only in her own work, but also in that of her team. She is likely to become frustrated and annoyed, perhaps even depressed, because as a manager, she can no longer do the conceptual, analytical or creative work that she enjoys and is good at.

    This is the dilemma: in most organizations, brainiacs need to become managers if they are to advance their careers. They don’t enjoy being managers, and would add significantly more value to the organization if they did the work they are best at. This is a problem not only for the brainiac; it is also a problem for the organization, even for society at large. Requiring creators to become managers to rise in an organization is a misuse of talent, and risks losing valuable ideas from a creator-turned-manager who no longer has time to create.

    The solution
    Because they cannot execute their preferred work style and cannot play out their preferred conceptual thinking style, many disillusioned creator-managers wind up leaving their managerial jobs and becoming free agents, or starting new ventures where they can do the strategic, creative work they love, and hire others to take care of the operational details. In this way, many organizations lose top talent, and with them the investment they have made in them.

    How can an organization resolve this problem? In industries such as software, some firms have dual career tracks. Employees can advance either as managers (e.g., managing a team of programmers) or as creators (e.g., writing software). Both the manager track and the creator track offer equal rewards, and those rewards are based on the value the individual adds to the organization, rather than, say, how many people work for them.

    Are we likely to see many organizations adopt dual career tracks to resolve the creator-manager dilemma? Probably not. Measuring the value added by individuals is in general very difficult. But more importantly, even though a dual career track program may be desirable from the perspective of the shareholders of a firm, the managers of that firm are unlikely to implement it, as they would see it as threatening their own status and rewards.

    If you’re a brawniac — a pragmatic doer and talented manager — be happy: you can do the managing that you love and that fits your cognitive preferences, and get both honored and paid well. But if you’re a brainiac, a conceptual thinker and creator stuck in a managerial role that doesn’t fit to your preferred thinking style and work style, think about whether you should stay for the money or cash out and start doing what you love and what is more in line with your cognitive preferences. That’s what I did, and it was the best decision I ever made.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis

  • Creative Leaders and Innovation Managers: Same but different

    Do creative leaders and innovation managers perform the same innovation role? A few months ago, I had an interesting conversation related to this question with the global head of idea and innovation management of a tech multinational. When we talked about the responsibilities related to his role, my counterpart revealed to my surprise that he sometimes has to key in ideas into his organization’s idea management system. Now know that this particular innovation executive is a strategic big picture thinker who is ideally suited for creatively driving major innovation initiatives across his organization. Sweating the small stuff is a waste of his time and talent, if you ask me.

    Many organizations seem to interpret the role of the executive spearheading corporate innovation function as a “Mr. Know-it-all-do-it-all”. I believe that’s wrong, and how I believe we must make a distinction between the role of a creative leader and that of an innovation manager. Let me elaborate by discussing the responsibilities of each role and, with the help of my innovation-people profiling method TIPS, make a case for why these roles suit fundamentally different personality types.

    Creative leaders: driving innovation from the front

    Creative leaders run the “innovation front-office” of their organization:

    • They set or influence the innovation agenda by identifying new trends and technologies to focus on.
    • They spearhead or participate in innovation initiatives of business units or dedicated innovation teams, such as new product development or product design teams.
    • They participate in innovation events and conferences to promote innovation within and outside of the organization.

    Creative leaders inspire and drive innovation teams towards excellence to bring truly novel, original and meaningful ideas to life in the form of new products, new services, new solutions or new customer experiences. They look for new business models, strategic partnerships, networks and channel solutions to multiply revenue from innovation. Finally, they drive campaign, packaging and branding initiatives that magnify the innovation in the eyes of customers.

    Creative leaders ought to be at the very top of the executive structure, whether as CEO or chief innovation officer (CIO). This allows them to drive or at least influence the top management agenda, and to intervene and remove any internal barriers preventing innovation. Famous CEOs who exemplify the role of a creative leader are Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs (Apple), Jeff Bezos (Amazon) or Jeffrey Immelt (General Electrics), among others.

    Innovation managers: driving innovation from the back

    Innovation managers run the “innovation back-office” of their organization. They take care of certain internal responsibilities related to innovation, such as:

    • organizing and administering the formal innovation management system (how innovation is organized and formalized within the organization);
    • managing the corporate innovation pipeline (top ideas earmarked for activation);
    • administering and maintaining an online idea submission and evaluation system;
    • organizing and coordinating innovation events and project initiatives;
    • developing and fine-tuning an innovation measurement system; and
    • measuring and controlling innovation performance and efficiency.

    The innovation manager heads a dedicated administrative innovation team that supports and directly reports to the creative leader. A good example representing the systematic, reliable mindset of an innovation manager is Tim Cook, who took care of Apple’s “back office” to support Steve Jobs before rising to CEO when the latter passed away.

    Why does the innovation function benefit from two separate lead roles?

    Thinkergy’s Innovation Profiling System TIPS (Theories, Ideas, People, Systems) helps us to understand why it is beneficial to separate the two roles of a creative leader and an innovation manager: They draw upon diametrically opposite base energies, and should be staffed by different profiles:

    • Creative leaders are all about the TIPS base “Ideas”. Ideas people innately drive change, innovation and progress. They are strategic visionaries who enjoy focusing on boosting corporate performance, profitability and margins through innovations. TIPS profiles that naturally cater to this energy —and thus qualify to be a creative leader or be developed into a future one— are Ideators, Conceptualizers, Promoters and Imaginative Experimenters.
    • In contrast, innovation managers draw on the TIPS base “Systems”. Systems people enjoy managing, organizing, directing, coordinating and controlling internal activities. They take pleasure in setting-up and administering an innovation management system, including defining measures that allow them to check-on innovation performance and efficiency (How to increase our innovation outputs? How to more efficiently employ internal and external resources for innovation?). TIPS profiles that innately operate on Systems energy —and thus make dependable innovation managers— are Systematizers, Organizers, Technocrats, and Systematic Experimenters.

    But what if you insisted on keeping the two roles together? One compromise would be to staff the role of a “creative innovation manager” with a balanced Experimenter or an All-Rounder, both of whom can bridge the divide between the two polar energies “Ideas” and “Systems”. But, as with most compromises, you end up with a suboptimal result, because one person will be less effective than a real S-based innovation manager supporting a real I-based creative leader.

    Conclusion: Not either or, but both 

    Both creative leaders and innovation managers care for driving innovation in an organization. But they do it by different means and by focusing on different ends. Both roles support and complement each other by letting each person play to their strengths while compensating for the weaknesses of each others’ shadow-side. So, separate the two functions of the creative leader and the innovation manager of your organization. And consider using TIPS to find out how to out the right person in each role.

    Contact us if you want to learn more about how TIPS may help you getting the people side of innovation right in your organization — or if you’re curious to find out what’s your TIPS innovator profile. Our TIPS online personality test is going live soon.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 4 August 2016.