Are creative people less likely to become leaders?

Excerpt from the recent article “A Bias against ‘Quirky’? Why Creative People Can Lose Out on Leadership Positions” in Knowldge@Wharton.

“Creativity is good — and more critical than ever in business. So why do so many once-creative companies get bogged down over time, with continuous innovation the exception and not the norm? Wharton management professor Jennifer Mueller and colleagues from Cornell University and the Indian School of Business have gained critical insight into why.

In a paper titled, “Recognizing Creative Leadership: Can Creative Idea Expression Negatively Relate to Perceptions of Leadership Potential?” to be published in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Mueller and co-authors Jack A. Goncalo of Cornell and Dishan Kamdar of ISB undertook three studies to examine how creative people were viewed by colleagues. The troubling finding: Those individuals who expressed more creative ideas were viewed as having less, not more, leadership potential. The exception, they found, was when people were specifically told to focus on charismatic leaders. In that case, creative types fared better. But the bottom line is that, in most cases, being creative seems to put people at a disadvantage for climbing the corporate ladder. “It is not easy to select creative leaders,” says Mueller. ‘It takes more time and effort to recognize a creative leader than we might have previously thought.'”

If this study is correct, could this be the reason why innovation in many companies has yet to reach to secior executive levels. Or has the study missed important points. What is your opinion and have you ever met a truly creative senior executive? Would Apple’s Steve Jobs from the viewpoint of the studybe the exception rather than the norm?

Have your say here?



Reclaiming the Co-creation Process from the Public Sector by Frode Lundsten

Reclaiming the Co-creation Process from the Public Sector

Public sector innovation is a necessity, if we are to reduce public spending and address changing demographics. The public sector is lagging behind the private sector in transforming ideas into innovation, which made me question whether we are pursuing the wrong approach. This is not to say that I am questioning the abilities of people working in the public sector, but merely provoking a dialogue with the reader. You are all invited to join in!

News headlines are often based on statements made by politicians about the need for public sector innovation if we are to reduce public spending, improve public services and/or transform our welfare societies to address changing demographics. The same media also publish articles and reports highlighting that the public sector is lagging behind the private sector in terms of transforming ideas into innovations. This apparent divide in the mindset towards innovation between the public and the private sectors raises the question of whether we are pursuing the wrong path. Are we right to assume that a sector subject to the influence of politicians and thus popular opinion, can foster a culture that is truly innovative?

I do not question the abilities of the people working in the public sector; I want only to spark debate among the readers of InnovationManagement about what we might expect if the current innovation context remains unchanged, or what could or should be expected were the innovation context to change.

Innovation leadership lacks vision and clear objectives

I attended a recent conference on user-driven innovation in the public sector; a cross-border initiative of the Nordic countries. The conference agenda revolved around showcasing of success stories from Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

One takeaway from the conference was that in spite of presenting a success story, the innovation objective of the project was still unclear based on the presentations formulated to meet some political objective. How can creative, enthusiastic people – read public sector employees – sustain their enthusiasm and creativity levels if the innovation objective is primarily serving a political aim? Let me be more specific.

During the current financial crisis many countries experienced massive layoffs and spiralling unemployment rates. This made it political suicide publicly to pursue, sponsor and implement innovations (e.g. new processes) aimed at reducing public sector employment. Contrast this with the fact that the same countries are experiencing dramatic shifts in their demographics, and within the next decade at most, this will radically reduce the size of the total workforce threatening the public fiscal budget and tax revenues. This gloomy situation requires political attention today, if the transition period as people leave the job market, is to be smooth and gradual from a society perspective.

From a societal perspective only the addressing long-term challenges makes sense as an innovation objective, whereas the cyclical hiccups are likely to be resolved through market forces as the global economy picks up. The shift in demographics is a perfect platform for a visionary politician to launch a programme of reform for the public sector; however, if budget allocations are based upon popular opinion, which changes as the news media changes focus, the cyclical issues are likely to receive proportionally larger funding than the latter, which will be difficult to promote political momentum.

Innovation management within a culture of ‘no mistakes allowed’

One hallmark of most Danish public sector institutions is the commitment to a culture of no mistakes allowed, nulfejlskultur in Danish, which essentially wipes out the incentives for civil servants to experiment. During a conference held in 2008, this culture is seen as one of the four barriers to public sector innovation in a conference, the other three being knowledge management and dissemination, lack of cross-sector collaboration, and lack of competencies.

Readers of InnovationManagement will know that innovation involves experimentation and making mistakes. The trick is demonstrate rapid learning from these mistakes. If a ‘no mistakes allowed’ culture predominates, then there can be no experimentation without putting one’s career at risk. And if knowledge management and dissemination or lack thereof is a barrier to innovation within the sector, how can mistakes be turned into learning, and then value?

When ideas management begins to resemble budgeting

The writer has participated in an innovation management process in a public sector institution, aimed originally at collecting and qualifying ideas from all parts of the organisation, but which developed into a study on how to instil trust and create transparency about the organization of a new ideas management process designed to reduce the internal politics governing departments that perceived ideas management as being similar to the annual budgeting process. The root cause of this lies usually in the way that most public institutions are organised into ministries, departments and institutions, each responsible for only a small part of the puzzle, but publicly liable for the finished puzzle. The second barrier identified above, of lack of cross sector collaboration.

If the ideas management process lacks transparency and trust, it can hardly be expected that the innovation management process will be embraced and used? Most companies have mechanisms for proposing new ideas and seeing their progression to maturity; however this does not apply to most of the public sector. Studies show that people are motivated by intrinsic factors, such as seeing one’s ideas taken up and developed. If the innovation management process is fragmented and lacks transparency, then it cannot be expected that ideas will flow within the sector: they are more likely to be buried or spun off as a private sector company.

For example, was talking to the CEO of a UK-based consultancy firm which assists public healthcare administrators collect and patent ideas conceived on healthcare premises. The biggest problem for this company is the lack of incentive for healthcare personnel to present their ideas to the administration rather than developing them externally – and selling them back to the healthcare system.

Taking control of the user-driven innovation process

In Denmark, and most Nordic countries, public sector innovation is frequently based on user-driven innovation projects. The object often is the beneficiary of the public services, e.g. the elderly. If the four barriers to public sector innovation are so strong and so difficult to break down in the near term, could a reversal of the user-driven innovation project be the solution? Should we be trying to apply anthropological methodologies to understanding how the sector works, and presenting our insights as the basis for public sector innovation? Should we be trying to take charge of the co-creation process, but from a civic perspective? Tell me what you think!

By Frode Lundsten, Contributing Editor, Denmark

Tilmeld dig Vækstdagen 2010, hvor vi er del af programmet

Vækst en ny udfordring – Har din virksomhed oplevet hurtig vækst, og er det tid til at gentænke din strategi og ledelse?

Denne workshop vil give dig værktøjerne til at få et nyt og friskt kig på organisationen, målsætningerne, ledelsesformen og kreativiteten, så du kan fortsætte vækstkursen og fastholde succesen.

Man finder sjældent en virksomhed flere år på gazellelisten. Dette vidner om, at der er noget, som går galt i virksomheder, der oplever hurtig succes og vækst. Dette kan skyldes, at der ikke er opbygget de nødvendige strukturer til at fastholde og bygge videre på denne vækst, og opgaver bliver løst fra hånden til munden i en travl hverdag.

Workshoppen vil få dig til at stoppe op og tage et frisk kig på din virksomhed. Du vil blive præsenteret for en ny tilgang til ledelse, struktur, målesystemer og kreativitet, så den fortsatte succes kan fastholdes.

Der vil blive gennemgået eksempler på måleværktøjer til identificering af mangler, anvisninger på hvordan resultater kan fortolkes, og nogle af de konkrete udfordringer, du måtte sidde inde med, vil blive adresseret.
Workshoppen er af praktisk karakter med et teoretisk islæt.

Forud for workshoppen skal alle anonymt udfylde et online spørgeskema med 10 spørgsmål. Resultatet vil danne rammen for diskussion i plenum.

[From Vækst en ny udfordring – FORSIDE]

Why Diversity Can Backfire On Company Boards – Business Insight – Wall Street Journal / MIT Sloan – MIT Sloan Management Review

Read an interesting article from MIT Sloan about enforcing diversity for diversity’s sake.

WHEN it comes to corporate boards and diversity, the conventional wisdom is simple: Diversity is good. When directors are too alike, the thinking goes, they look at problems—and solutions—the same way. There’s no one to challenge prevailing ideas, or to speak out on issues important to certain groups of customers and employees.

[From Why Diversity Can Backfire On Company Boards – Business Insight – Wall Street Journal / MIT Sloan – MIT Sloan Management Review]

Innovation Management or Leadership: A difference? |

My first article as Guest Editor on Read it directly at

The countdown has started; the last bilateral negotiations are becoming frenzied as we approach the opening date for the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. A pattern is emerging where countries are embracing this opportunity to show leadership and managing the event as a contingency. The pattern is one of A and B teams of countries, a pattern similar to that in Danish companies investing in innovation.

[From Innovation Management or Leadership: A difference? |]

Aligning strategy: Looking back at 2009

Year 2009 was a dreadful year
I believe most senior management would agree that 2009 will stand as the worst year in recent history. As we are preparing to close the fiscal year, we look to 2010 with caution in search for signs of optimism. However, we should not forget to look back on 2009 and reflect on how we handled the challenges of the year.

It has been said several times over that the current crisis is not a market crisis in the textbook meaning of the term. The current crisis is or at least started as a financial crisis, where in spite of business opportunities, liquidity was not available or difficult to get at. However, reflecting on the predominant reactions to the crisis, many companies defaulted to actions of past times. Defaulted to crisis management instead of change leadership (see my previous post on this topic).

The issue of strategy execution
If the current crisis is predominantly a financial crisis then the existing corporate strategy may not be wrong by assumption. However, the strategy will require alignment to new external factors. If the strategy is robust then changing external factors ought not necessarily change the strategic goals pursued, merely the path towards them. The reaction of many companies to continuously change or reformulate their strategy may be indicative of another problem. The problem of executing the strategy.

Higgs and Rowland, 2005, conclude in their research of strategy implementation in international companies that 70% of all change initiatives fail to produce expected results. Norton and Kaplan, the authors of The Balanced Scorecard, claim this number to be closer to 90%. Regardless of the exact figure both studies paint a gloomy picture of the challenges of implementing a corporate strategy.which highlights the problem of strategy execution.

Implementing strategy in uncharted waters
I have during the past months spoken to executives in companies of varying sizes, industries, and complexities. Most recognizes the issue of strategy implementation. Summarizing the key two current reasons behind the issue, the predominant reason is the difficulty of translating the strategy into tactics plans and subsequently specific projects. As many companies has downsized their organization during 2009, the same companies now face the lack of resources and competences to execute and implement the strategy. And senior management simply does not have the time or spare focus to undertake this task amid dealing with the crisis.

The second reason is related to the organization context. The severity and speed of the crisis has forced many companies to react swiftly and dramatically. This after a period of growth and prosperity. The many downsizing of companies have created a misalignment in how organizations perceive themselves. Successful strategy implementations require a solid grasp and understanding of the change context; hence the issue when designing the optimal path for pursuing the strategic goals.

A hybrid approach to change management
One remedy is to bring in outside assistance, which has its benefits and drawbacks. The benefits are the influx of required competences, resources, and insight to implement the strategy. The drawbacks are the associated cost and the fact that outside consultants are external to the organization, which can result in a lack of organizational commitment to the change program. Another remedy is to sit the crisis out, which is likely to result in loss of competitive edge and market shares.

I propose a hybrid approach, where external assistance is brought in only to address the two key issues mentioned previously.

The external consultants represent the extra resources required to bridge the step from strategy to tactical plans, where they because of their external perception of the company are able to provide the critical insight of the “new” organization as input to designing the change program. Their involvement would then only be in the early phases of the strategy implementation like catalysts of change.