For more than a decade, leaders across industries and across
the globe have identified creativity as the most important
skill and strategic imperative in a world where constant
change is the new normal. But their actions don’t follow
their words. There are 7 key reasons that needs to change.
I’m going to cut to the chase before I give you the facts:
There is an enormous and concerning gap between how highly we
claim to value creativity, and what we actually do to invest
in, nurture, and practice it.
This is a troubling opportunity – troubling in the
sense that while we know what we want and need, we largely
ignore both, and an opportunity because we can change
this status quo if we change our habits.
There you have it. Now, let’s dig in.
For more than a decade, some of the world’s leading collectors
of data on leadership have been steadily conducting the same
study: asking leaders across industries and around the globe
this question – “What is most important to the future of your
Why continue to ask this question? Quite simply, because the
threats and opportunities leaders face today are unlike any in
history. Without exception, every organization faces the
whirling blender dynamic of rapid change, increased
connectivity, shrinking resources, and the dominant expectation
of immediate gratification. The signals are loud and clear: if
we don’t learn to do things differently, we’re going to be in a
heap of trouble.
The folks asking the “what’s most important” question are among
the “big hitters” and the studies they conduct are worthy of
the names behind them – from Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC),
Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and Ernst & Young (E&Y),
to IBM and Adobe. On average, each study has a thousand
respondents. The samplings are most often taken across dozens
of industries and in dozens of countries. The phrasing of the
question may change slightly – ‘What’s the number one skill
your company needs in the future?’ or ‘What’s your key
strategic priority?’ – but the thrust is the same. And, as it
turns out so is the answer. The most important competency,
strategic priority, or point of competitive advantage is:
Across these reports, seven supporting themes emerge.
Creativity clearly surfaces as:
1. A Key Quality. It is consistently cited as
the most important leadership quality for success and a primary
strategic aim (more than even the important skills of global
thinking or management discipline).
2. Relevant at Every Level. Creativity isn’t
simply a necessity at the top – every employee in every
industry encounters challenges and opportunities, and a
practiced creative mind is the most important tool for
capitalizing on both.
3. Critical in Every Sector. Every industry
and sector of society (not just business, but education,
government, and more) faces an escalation in the speed,
complexity, interconnectedness, and temporariness of what they
do. Simply put, our environments are and will remain disruptive
ones. The choice is whether to assume a defensive posture, or
learn to thrive in this new world.
4. A Motivator and Value Maker. What draws
employees to organizations in the first place and drives them
to learn, grow, innovate, contribute, and want to stay? An open
and flexible culture. The opportunity to create ’new’ and also
to create meaning. A sense of autonomy. Work environments that
invite and support these hallmarks of creativity are proven to
be far more innovative, stable, and profitable.
5. One of the Few Things You Can Actually
Control. While perhaps initially counterintuitive,
instilling a culture of creativity is considered one of the
very few proactive strategies that an organization can take to
stimulate growth or stave off decline. Ironically, resources
(time, money, training, and more) for supporting creativity and
innovation are the very ones most organizations don’t provide
or cut first.
6. The Telltale Sign of an Effective Leader.
Confidence. Courage. Curiosity. Openness to ideas. Optimism.
These things fuel innovative team members, partners, customers,
and reputations. When a leader models these behaviors they
become both priorities and realities. When they do not,
organizations are destined to stagnate.
7. A Greater Social Need. It’s worth noting
that the importance survey respondents attach to creativity
isn’t limited to their work environments. Parents – male and
female and with children of any age – overwhelmingly rank
creativity as one of the most important experiences and skills
their children can have. They view creativity as key to healthy
development, problem solving skills, and balance and success in
life. And a growing litany of scientific studies across
multiple fields supports this parental intuition. See this for
what it is – today’s leaders understanding what’s vital for
And yet, even with all the agreement and evidence, a
substantial gap still exists between what we want, value, and
believe creativity’s importance to be and what we actually do
to encourage and fuel it.
Few organizations hire, train, or create environments that
promote and prioritize creativity. Few leaders set an example
beyond their declarations of creativity’s strategic importance.
And the few exceptions? Not surprisingly, they are the leaders
viewed by their industries, the market, their employees, and
their customers as having the highest likelihood of thriving in
a disruptive world.
One leader, in a single organization, could read this and seek
change. That would be good, but the need is far greater.
Collectively, as human beings, we need to bridge the gap
between “perceived need and actual use” when it comes to
creativity. The very best way to do this – in other words, the
path with the highest odds of success – begins with better
understanding what creativity is. We must recognize the
patterns across creativity in actual practice; share
unambiguous knowledge of when it works why it does; and
assimilate insights into how creativity can become more than
just a gift we admire in a rare few, but instead a practiced
skill that becomes our collective habit. We all have
the capacity for creativity. Understanding that forges the
first link in the span across the gap and raises the odds that
the future we lead ourselves to will be one in which we thrive.
Larry Robertson is an Innovation Advisor and the author of two
award-winning books. For more information, please visit
or purchase The Language of Man: Learning to Speak
Creativity at the same site, or wherever books are sold.