Research conducted at the Center for Creative Leadership in the mid-1990s found that in order to be an effective leader of a technical organization charged with innovation, leaders need to discover their own aesthetic competencies and learn how to apply these in order to revitalize themselves, their work, and the organizations they serve. This belief is taken from such business leaders as Drucker, who in 1994 stated “the essence of management is to make knowledge productive. Management in other words is a social function. And in its practice management is truly a liberal art”. Likewise Zaleznik in 1992 felt that “business leaders have much more in common with artists and other creative thinkers”.
The four competencies most important to innovation leaders are: perception, integration, insight, and visual thinking. The first of these, perception, is about engaging perceptual sensibilities and applying imagination, senses and intellect as a neglected aspect of cognitive growth. Perception is also about perceiving the issues of self-work and those of the community. It’s raising the level of inquiry to higher levels of thought.
The second element of integration is about integrating the senses and imagination with intellect. Becoming integrated is a prerequisite for true creativity to emerge from one’s own intrinsic imagination. This activity is about spanning in connecting domains of knowledge with one another. It’s also about making connections, recognizing patterns so that for example when can anticipate the same event occurring again. Integration is also about the wisdom to perceive a deep human need which must be met.
The third element of insight is about understanding history and the relevance of unconscious processes as natural creative phenomena. It also relates to the ability to interpret clues, use of metaphor, meditation and dreams to inform our thinking.
The fourth element of visual thinking covers the ability to understand the strengths and development needs for thinking visually. It’s about broadening access to visual thinking across a continuum of internal and external imagery, including music and poetry. It’s about expressing issues in a visual form.
Ways in which leaders can express aesthetic competencies include personalizing work. Redecorating offices to reflect tastes and interests is one way to make visitors feel more welcome and to learn more from them when they are present. Playing music for presentations can also be used to set a mood. Being able to see and understand coworkers as actors in a drama is a useful metaphor to gain greater insight and intrinsic motivation. Personalizing work helps link individual inspiration to community goals.
Using rich metaphors and better use of metaphors is also useful competency for technology leaders. By tailoring separate metaphors for initiatives being proposed to the audience involved improved understanding. Utilizing details of the metaphors to explore generative connections was also a useful tool for enhancing audience comprehension of the proposals.
When conducting strategic planning or project prioritization exercises, improved results can be obtained when the use of intuition is legitimized. White space analytic figures such as the star or radar diagrams described in the strategic planning section of this Compendium are examples of this. Using intuition allows teams to honor intuitive leaps with good enough data.
Accurate rendering involves paying attention to subtle detail, the relationships among parts, and the relative parts of a whole. It requires slowing down at times to really notice sensory input. It requires putting symbolic shortcuts aside.
The appreciation of each other’s highly invested products and expressions is also important in innovation organizations. By appreciating the details and means of each other’s “analog (childlike) drawings” of an issue, team members can probe for understanding while being respectful as well as challenging.
Another important aesthetic element is the art of noticing more about at least some aspects of a person’s environment. In doing so individuals will slow down and take in more of an image or scene and intending to its various facets and meanings.
Utilizing more “frames of mind” allows leaders to explore issues kinesthetically as well as verbally. This is particularly important for managers and leaders engage with design, patterns, and symbols.
Effective leaders also utilize inquiry as a way to construct understanding of issues. Utilizing images such as collages, drawings, dreams, and poems that are created by coworkers often surface tensions, apparently incompatible elements, or mysterious elements worthy of pursuit. The desirability here is to hold such elements in some kind of metal container without prematurely discarding them. Utilizing teams to then use all the images to show development or movement among the elements is a powerful insight tool. When organizations construct a series of images over time which show how tensions within the images transform themselves, conflicts among customer and/or coworker groups can be understand well enough to find solutions.
Serious play is also useful tool to uncover new solutions to problems. Serious play means being playful with materials that has serious implications. It is a way of learning that admits free exploration, robe working, and limited testing. There are many workshops, books, websites and software that support such activities.
Journaling is also part a successful technical leadership. Journals typically can bind ruminations on work with personal observations. Journaling often also makes use of images, drawings, this metaphors, and dreams.
Finally technical leaders often free-write material first in an uncensored flow, saving editing for later. Commercially available voice-recognition software facilitates this process. The advantage of this method is the use of intuition, emotion, and a connection that labored-over writing often lacks. Fresh writing retains the capacity to surprise the writer.
All these skills and attributes are both learnable and desirable. Strong technical leadership involves engaging oneself and members of the organization in improving aesthetic competencies. Because not all these competencies are yet regarded as important in business organizations, some of the training and utilization of aesthetic skills has been hidden from the general business literature.