By: Chuck Frey
According to leadership author Seth Kahan, navigating uncharted waters which often gives rise to anxiety and uncertainty. Visionary leaders learn to work with that energy and transform it inside themselves into creative progress.
Interview #20 in the Creativity in Business Thought Leader Series is with Seth Kahan, President of the Performance Development Group, Inc. Seth writes for the Fast Company blog, Leading Change; is a regular contributor to the Washington Post’s On Success; is the author of the book, Building Beehives: Creating Communities that Generate Returns; and recently published his latest book, Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations from the Inside Out.
Seth works with visionaries to help them bring their dreams to life. His work since 1996 has focused on leaders of large, global initiatives, including Jim Wolfensohn while he was president of the World Bank, Gaddi Vasques while he was director of the Peace Corps, and Tom Moroney while he led a $20 million program at Shell. Since 2009 he has been working with entrepreneurs and consultants who want to grow their business, doing creative things to enhance the world. You can read more about Seth at VisionaryLeadership.com.
Q: How does your work relate to creativity?
A: Everything I do is creative! My work is all about bringing new forms into the world that don’t exist yet, that is the definition of generative behavior and activity. I help leaders, entrepreneurs, and consultants imagine thoroughly what they want to generate, taking them in through new windows and frames so they map out the social systems that will give birth to the world they imagine. Then, I work closely with them to take the steps on the ground that lead to success.
All of this requires innovative approaches, door-opening conversations, building new relationships, bringing to life new structures of interaction. All of this is creative. It can feel quite uncomfortable, yet at the same time there is a tremendous amount of hope and enthusiasm that drives deep participation.
True creativity is about navigating uncharted waters which often gives rise to anxiety and uncertainty. Visionaries learn to work with that energy and transform it inside themselves into creative progress. They read their inner signals to know where to focus their attention and how, so their heart’s work comes into existence completely and intact.
Q: What do you see as the new paradigm of work?
A: There is no one thing that is going to break open the way we work. Instead there are millions if not billions of new ways of thinking, working, acting, and generating results. That, perhaps, is a way of understanding how work is changing. Work is going through a major transformation. If you could take a visit to the top of any organization you would find senior managers grappling with huge questions in ways they never have before, re-creating strategy for a constantly moving world. Sooner rather than later, this will show up at every level of the organization.
The rate of change has increased dramatically and that is impacting everyone. Organizations that can surf change will stay on top of the waves. Organizations that are sitting it out are going down, even if they don’t yet recognize it.
Q: What do you see the role of creativity in that paradigm?
A: When the rate of change increases, only those who are creative or lucky survive. Those who embrace innovation personally, who take it seriously and make a point of practicing their ability to adopt and adapt will be those who come out on top. So creativity is becoming a necessary competency at the personal level.
Q: What mindsets and behaviors do you see as essential for effectively navigating the new work paradigm?
A: Taking personal responsibility for your relationship to the ever-shifting, often awkward lurches of organizational structure. Reframing skills, learning to reframe experience so you generate optimism, performance improvement, and dream achievement.Patience, compassion, caring as a compass in the chaos.
Q: What is an approach that people could start applying today to bring more creativity into their work or their business organization?
A: Here are eight conversations that you can use to generate the future. For each of these conversations you must establish an atmosphere of genuine exploration. These eight topics are meant to open the doors of perception to new possibilities, creating an environment where half-baked ideas can emerge for examination and development, insights can form, and new possibilities can edge their way into view.
1. What is the best possible thing that can happen as a result of our efforts?
a. What performance improvement is possible as a result?
b. What could this mean to you, me, and us?
2. How do new ideas successfully take root in our culture?
a. Where has success happened in the past? b. What innovations have we operationalized with good results before?
3. Where do the trajectories of our efforts converge?
a. What are the possible synergies if we are both successful?
b. How can we leverage each other’s results?
4. What motivates you to succeed?
a. What is the source of your inspiration, your motivation?
b. How can this be leveraged for even greater returns?
5. What would be the consequences if we were both successful?
a. Can we describe this world?
b. How would individual and organizational work be improved?
6. If we were to generate dramatic results, what partnerships would we rely on?
a. Who else must be involved in our achievements?
b. How do we provide returns to them?
7. What prerequisites do we both rely on to achieve big wins?
a. What can we do to ensure we have what we need?
b. Where can we combine efforts to ensure success?
8. How can our interdependence be improved?
a. What are the opportunities for mutual leverage?
b. Where can we exceed expectations by working together?
Q: Finally, what is creative leadership to you?
A: Keeping your eye on the horizon and your feet on the ground. Disciplining yourself to dream big, but stay connected to the hard work of today.
You can reach Seth at his website. The Creativity in Business Thought Leader Interview Series is conducted by business creativity catalyst, Michelle James, CEO of The Center for Creative Emergence and Quantum Leap Business Improv.