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#sowhoknew: ‘Creative’ Biz Leader? You have no idea

Common convention tells us that the best business leaders are creative, innovative and dynamic thinkers. Right? Wrong. According to a study featured in the Harvard Business Review their capacity to ideate is no better than the rest of us mere mortals. Let them lead a brainstorm session and apparently their performance will be worse than if they collaborated equally.
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The research conducted by the University of California Berkeley proves that leaders are less productive when asked to lead others whilst ideating and are actually more likely to generate conflict within a group than their compatriots.

Berkeley boffins Angus Hildreth and Cameron Anderson produced four studies which specifically tested how high-powered individuals perform in a creative thinking task.

The main task was simple. Work in a team of three to create a fictional new organisation and then create a strategy on how to run it (sounds a lot like ‘The Apprentice’ to me). But that’s when the real fun and games began as the group dynamics were all set up differently. Based upon some earlier team building tasks, some groups were assigned clearly designated leaders whilst other teams were briefed to be more equitable and share leadership responsibilities.
creative 2A team of independent judges assessed all the groups and determined that the groups of ‘leaders’ produced atrocious ideas, followed closely by teams with a single leader. On the flip side, the groups that had balanced the decision-making amongst themselves had developed strategies that scored highly for creativity and with far less internal bickering than the teams with leaders.

The most fascinating facet of their research is that it is counter intuitive and flies in the face of previous studies which have suggested the polar opposite of their findings. However, the belief is that leaders don’t necessarily lack the ability to be creative it’s just that they work much better on their own rather than in a group. Hildreth explained it like this:

“I think they’re looking for verification of their status. There are so many top dogs, maybe that provides uncertainty, and so they want their voice to be heard”

It makes total sense to me given some of the people I have had to work with over the years. Let’s face it, we’ve all been there at some stage. Brainstorming needs structure and some semblance of a process but what it doesn’t need (and all too often gets) is an overbearing, haughty, pompous buffoon who only wants their voice to be heard and their own ideas to be accepted (why am I tempted to put in that picture of Trump again here?).

So is being a ‘creative’ business leader simply a paradox? Well, I’m not so sure. if you take a look at the technology industry we have some extraordinary examples of creative business leaders. Bezos, Jobs and Musk to name but a few. But is their ability to be a creative leader the exception rather than the rule?
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Or could it be that this type of creative leader has a single-minded vision, work better in isolation and don’t need the consensus of a group to validate their own thinking? Well, if you have seen the Danny Boyle biopic ‘Steve Jobs’ then that is certainly what Hollywood would have you believe…

Steve Blakeman

Steve Blakeman is the Global Media Lead - Nestlé at Mindshare. Previously, he was the Managing Director - Global Accounts, OMD Europe. Previously, he was the CEO, Asia Pacific – OMD. Prior to that, he was Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). He has also had stints as worked as Managing Partner at Omnicom Media Group owned media agency, PHD where he successfully launched their second office in the UK. He began his career at JWT and has over two decades of experience in advertising, media and marketing communications.