By: Chuck Frey
Futurist Frank Spencer believes that the global economic recession and mechanistic organizational structures have driven creativity out of most firms. It’s time for a resurgence in creative leadership and processes that will transform our thinking and actions.
My twelfth interview in the Creativity in Business Thought Leader Series is with futurist Frank Spencer, Partner at KedgeForward, an integrally-oriented foresight consulting firm that collaborates with organizations, social entities, and policy-makers to facilitate the development of adaptive strategies and create new ways of thinking throughout the organization, embedding an innovative foresight capacity that seeks out long-term opportunities and transformational futures.
KedgeForward helps organizations to map out the landscape of their short-range “blue oceans,” and create spaces for them to inhabit and realize their long-term “blue skies.”
Frank spent 15 years as a leadership coach and developer with social communities and networking initiatives, helping to create an online venture community dedicated to the advancement of human development, global innovation, and entrepreneurial collaboration among non-profits and small businesses. He has a Master of Arts in Strategic Foresight, having graduated with top honors from the Regent University School of Global Leadership and Entrepreneurship.
He has helped clients such as Marriott, Mars, Kraft, and a collection of knowledge-based economic incubators and creative businesses to establish adaptive and transformational strategy through both rigorous methodology and collaborative creativity. One of his favorite quotes from theorist John Schaar sums up Frank’s creative approach quite nicely: “The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created; created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating.”
Q: How does your work relate to creativity?
Spencer: One of the greatest deficits in our time is an impoverishment of “creativity generators” or cultures of creativity within organizations. By becoming so captive to the “bottom line” of Wall Street, our organizational and governmental expressions fell prey to extremely linear and mechanistic ways of thinking, and fashioned the pace and values of our society accordingly. As a result, our innovation and creativity processes have become stagnant, and a major symptom is that we have suffered from a lack of accepting and implementing new ideas and visionary leadership.
Through our work at KedgeForward, we are attempting to engage organizations, business leaders, and society at-large in creative processes that transform their thinking and actions, freeing them from those linear and mechanistic world-views so that they can think and act in alternative, aspirational, and transformative ways about the future. We help clients to uncover internal and external assumptions through engaging inner essence models and imaginative scenario building processes, and teach them how to continually create transformational strategic maps that will reveal critical points of breakthrough for product development, business growth, emerging capacities, unforeseen opportunities, and ongoing innovation.
Q: What do you see as the new paradigm of work?
Spencer: Opening up “imagination incubators” within existing organizations – spaces to unlearn, reframe, de-stress, and open up to new possibilities and aspirations. Making this a routine part of organizational culture also opens groups up to new ways of working – tele-working, new aesthetic spaces, workplace protocols, and the use of “third places” such as new coffee shop designs or collaborative work-club spaces within cities.
Besides thinking of work in more organic terms that are conducive to human development, social capital, and creative thinking, the new paradigm organizational model promotes internal and external collaboration. We are entering an age of much greater multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary work environments in order to solve 21st century dilemmas and to expand our creative boundaries. Therefore, models that build atmospheres that are conducive to shared ideas and practices across domains – often creating new products, services and even industries – are vital to our increasingly complex and volatile world of change.
We offer one such model that allows organizations become more generative and to move toward such transdisciplinary learning environments that we call “Holoptic Foresight Dynamics” to position clients to operate at the front edge of the new workplace paradigm.
Q: What do you see as the role of creativity in that paradigm?
Spencer: What we just described would make creativity the key in the emerging new paradigm of work, and the currency for collaboration and leverage in the new work economy.
With creativity, organizations have the crucial tool to open up new possibilities via digging deep and envisioning alternative scenarios. Creativity becomes the rudder that can turn organizations around – or in our parlance, it becomes the kedge that anchors us forward into new territory. Creativity, foresight maturity, and new paradigms of transformational human development are all integrally linked.
Q: What attitudes and behaviors do you see as essential for effectively navigating the new work paradigm?
Spencer: As I stated, we need to encourage winsomeness, play and “gaming,” peer-to-peer processes, and appreciative inquiry. But so-called “hard” values like vision-logic and visionary leadership are also important.
In the shift from modern workplaces to postmodern or postmaterial worldviews, some workplaces have lost their raison d’être – while we’re big fans of self-organizing, bottom-up, organic workplace collectives, we also find that clear visionary leadership – non-possessively applied – can create rather than limit cultures of creativity in the workplace. “Porous-but-real” boundaries help to fertilize organic growth. In other words, the toolbox is much more expansive, connected, and open-sourced for the new work paradigm, but also more intentional.
Q: What is one approach people could start applying today to bring more creativity into their work or their business organization?
Spencer: Applying natural growth dynamics to your work or leadership will make a huge difference, helping you to envision new capabilities, enlarge your present mission, awaken your creativity, and launch into transformative spaces that you never thought possible – thinking in terms of organic rather than the mechanistic patterns that have dominated modern lifestyles and business practices.
Nature isn’t linear, but developmental. So, if I expect life, vision, or a product to simply grow without any creative change, I’m headed for some serious disappointment. If I don’t prepare for that change ahead of time, I’m going to see a “death” or collapse without transformation. For instance, in the first stage of life, a baby takes in nourishment and grows in size. In the next stage, she grows by replicating the behavior of peers. You can see this in the division of cells, creating literal extensions of themselves. Third, she matures by maximizing differences to create a higher social order in life or business. And, lastly, as with all of nature, she dies – birth, adolescence, maturity, decline.
However, a fourth stage exists in nature where a new growth curve encompasses the former curve, and this is what is known as the “transformation factor.” In other words, nature builds resiliency and “next order creativity” into its processes, and so can we! To begin thinking and acting from a natural growth dynamic, we can build a “T-factor map” that helps us to intentionally create transformational potential and breakthroughs in terms of emerging futures:
1. Gather: This is the first stage in the mapping process in which you generate creative thinking in order to give birth to a vision, imagine a preferred future, or innovate for a new idea, concept or product.
2. Repeat: In this stage, you allow the new vision or idea to grow and “produce after its own kind” by fostering an environment of collaboration and designing pathways for success.
3. Share: Next, you move your vision or idea to a higher level of maturity by allowing it to grow in scope through diversity of thought and multidisciplinary involvement. This stage can be a hard transition for many, as we desire see our vision remained unchanged (just as we often wish our precious children would never grow up).
4. Transform: Lastly, you purposefully plan for your idea to move into a completely higher order of existence that supersedes the original form. You achieve this by building this stage into your original “map” from the very beginning, allowing you to become adept at knowing when the time of “breakthrough” into a new creative cycle has arrived.
Q: Finally, what is creative leadership to you?
Spencer: Creative leadership is being about to think in an aspirational manner – “big picture thinking” – about short and long-range futures. Yes, creative leadership definitely has to do with present activity and “innovation in the now,” but the way that we think about our future determines the way we will act in the present.
For instance, if we see the future as being a place of increasing uncertainty, and believe that we have no power to direct and design the future – then we will act in the present as overly cautious, with loads of fear, producing very little imaginative creativity, and focusing on risk management and reduction.
Now, some of that has its place, but will not stop the future from coming at us full-force. In order for leaders to approach the future with success, they need to have the ability to adaptively and creatively navigate their way into transformational development, purposefully building pathways for human, social, organizational, and governmental emergence.
This stretches far beyond simple trend analysis into “generative foresight.” As author Ray Bradbury said in his book Beyond 1984: The People Machines, “People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it. Predicting the future is much too easy, anyway. You look at the people around you, the street you stand on, the visible air you breathe, and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I want better.”
Bradbury understood that creative leadership could not think and act in a linear fashion; creative leadership requires a new mindset for a new world!
You can reach Frank Spencer at KedgeForward and on Twitter at @KedgeForward. The Creativity in Business Thought Leader Interview Series was developed and conducted by business creativity catalyst Michelle James, CEO of The Center for Creative Emergence.