Unleashing Creativity in Executive Leadership: Fostering Innovation and Out-of-the-Box Thinking

Unleashing Creativity in Executive Leadership: Fostering Innovation and Out-of-the-Box Thinking

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Dr. Govardhan Singh Rathore saw a problem in Ranthambore National Park in India, where his father was a steward.

The park protected tigers, but farmers logged its trees to sell for firewood and to give their cows space to graze. As tigers and cattle continued encroaching on one another, farmers let poachers hunt the endangered animals, preferring to look the other way. 

Dr. Rathore used creative leadership to solve a multifaceted issue, said William McDonough and Michael Braungart in their book The Upcycle.

First, he set up a health clinic that helped him build trust with the local farmers. He then paid villagers to plant trees and keep them alive. Next, he taught farmers how to use cow manure as fuel and fertilizer. 

He also connected with poachers, offering them free education for their children and camels with which to earn a living. 

Both the book’s authors and Mark Vernooij and Robert Wolfe of the THNK Executive Leadership Program, praise Rathore for the complexity of his remedy. 

“Often, there is no clear right and wrong, and many problems have no clear-cut single solution. Our world seems to be filling up with these kinds of problems, and therefore the need for creative leadership that is capable of dancing with complexity and ambiguity is higher than ever,” they write. 

As a leader, you may want to develop a more creative outlook but feel stuck. In this guide, we’ll talk about the practices that can help you lead more with more creativity.


? Block out time and activities that let you be creative.

One of the problems that stop creative thinking is busyness.

If you book out every second of your day, you’re less likely to access the calm, meditative state of mind that’s so important for creativity. 

So, you should give yourself time and plan stress-free activities that encourage your creativity. 

“Quiet time exercising, being outdoors, meditating, and doing activities that quiet the mind can wipe the slate clean. In turn, this allows for time and clarity outside the busy day of running a company,” suggested CEO Lysa Miller.

You can also spark creativity in your team by creating an unstructured atmosphere for relaxing and connecting. For instance, you could host open-forum brainstorming sessions with small groups at coffee shops or restaurants. The less formal the environment, the more likely your team members are to share their most out-of-the-box ideas.


? Spur your creativity by asking reframing questions.

Whether you think of yourself as creative or not, you may find yourself falling into routine thinking patterns.

Management firm Arthur D. Little talks about how asking yourself three types of creative questions can help you reshape your thinking and jumpstart your creativity. 

First, you want to ask three types of questions: 

  1. Curiosity questions ask to be specific about a situation by asking why, what, and who questions, like “Who really are our clients?” 
  2. What-if questions help you identify hypothetical scenarios that get your thinking unstuck. For instance, you could ask, “What if we stopped selling our least successful product?” 
  3. Future questions help you consider the future. For instance, you could ask, what would our team look like in five years if we added this role? 

Little suggests that what you’re looking for here are surprises that you may not otherwise notice. 

“The challenge is to pay attention to these surprises and anomalies and be prepared to take time to explore them, pull the thread of the ideas they raise, and develop them: In other words, to be conscious of the value of serendipity and the combination of chance and sagacity, and exploit it where we can,” they note.


? Leave room for trial and error.

You may not be able to find the most creative solutions to problems if you don’t try and fail.

Company cultures that favor success and demonize errors may find that their employees don’t try new things in favor of familiar and sometimes ineffective solutions. 

To generate a more creative culture, leaders need to leave room for trial and error – making sure that error is acceptable, too. 

“Creativity involves trial and error to refine ideas derived from testing several solutions and expanding the progressive ideas again. Reiterate the process until there is a satisfactory outcome. Calibrate the process over time and improvise as required,” explained Janice Lum for Forbes.


Becoming a More Creative Leader


Why do executives need to use creative leadership?

Primarily, it helps them identify solutions that may not have been tried before. 

“When leaders innovate, they break the status quo to create products and services that differentiate them from others with a competitive edge. They build a culture of innovation by inspiring teams to exhibit their creativity collectively,” said Lum.

In our society, we often erroneously believe that analytical thinkers can’t be creative. If you’re in an executive role, then you may think of yourself as a logical leader, not a creative one. 

But creativity and analysis can go hand in hand. If you give yourself more opportunities for “free thinking,” ask more creative questions, and create opportunities for trial and error. 

If you’d like to learn more about the impact of creative leadership, read our guide, “3 Scientific Truths About The Role Of Creativity In The Workplace.”

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