It is difficult to know how to assess your work when you are working creatively and innovatively. Creativity in whatever endeavour or context is ruled by small continual loops of perception, judgment and reflection. It is not until you create a body of work in whatever practice or context over a period of time that you, as a creator, gain distance from your work. Even then you begin to wonder whether the work has any immediate or long term value or has made meaningful connections or sense with or for others. As a creator, it is not you who judges the effectiveness and quality of your work, it’s others.
So, against this backdrop, it was very nice to suddenly be approached by IBM saying I had been selected to be one of the 100 IBM Global Creative Leaders and would I be happy to participate in their on going global study on human capital management coming off the back of their 2010 Global CEO Global Study - Capitalising on Complexity: Creative Leadership is the Way To Go!
I was honoured they had found me and accepted and spent a most informative 2 hours being grilled about my own thoughts on creative leaders and leadership, creativity and complexity which became a learning exercise for me in its own right.
The question I found most enlightening and, quite by accident, most enjoyable to answer was “Is there a creative leader you would single out who most influenced your thinking or gave you some initial insight around creative leadership and creativity?”
I was stumped at first, then relaxed a bit and trusted my brain to speak its mind. Malcolm McLaren it shouted out loudly.
Malcolm McLaren’s work as the Svengali of the punk movement in the UK with the Sex Pistols, his work in bringing politics into popular culture through his writing and recording of Duck Rock in Soweto immediately prior to the collapse of apartheid, his composition of the award winning soundtrack "Aria" for the global award winning British Airways television commercial and his re-interpretation and popularization of opera as a modern idiom in 90’s set the scene for the emergence of a new type of business entrepreneur for the 21st century and the first digital age business models.
McLaren was the first to stand up to the stranglehold of the major record companies, recording his underground bands and his own material in garages using the new wave of digital technology, technology that had previously only been accessible to the music acts who could afford it, such as the Beatles. He was the first to reveal the potential digital media had to change existing business paradigms and create new business models, paving the way for all those young "punk” creative garage based internet and software coders, hackers and would be entrepreneurs, to break the rules because as McLaren exhorted, they could and to find ways to make money out of doing that - think Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter. “Cash for chaos” was his mantra.
Like all great entrepreneurs, McLaren was a racconteur who understood strategic thinking - what made McLaren stand out was his ability to recognise his strength as an ideator, to see "ideas" as an artform in itself and their manifestation being their successful implementation artistically and commercially. Like all great innovators, he failed regularly yet always restlessly sought the next new idea, forever honing his craft - whatever you may label that!
Unfortunately McLaren passed on in April this year at 64 – way too early for such a genius. Here is an epithet I wrote to him and his final lecture “the Magnificence of Failure” which he gave at the Handheld Learning Conference 2009 in the UK.
McLaren influenced me to think about “ideas” as an artform and like all artforms; “ideas” have to have tangibility! Art without tangibility does not exist. Ideas not implemented are hot air!!
The art of a great creative leader is to be sufficiently practised to recognise his/her own good ideas; to be able to ignore those ideas that are not relevant to the core of his/her purpose or being; to know if the idea will stand close personal moral and ethical scrutiny and finally to have a strong philosophical understanding as to why the particular idea chosen is the right and good one to focus on.
An idea with strong philosophical support will allow the creative leader to go on a journey with it, along the way slaying the impediments, nay sayers and enemies and causing the idea to change shape in the heat of the battle, whilst simultaneously graciously and at times unconsciously accepting contributions of guides and mentors who believe in its form, until ultimately it is given birth with tangibility and meaning so the process of creation can begin all over again.
McLaren taught me those tenets.
In receiving this acknowledgement from IBM, I have to thank all those who stood in my way, made me question what I was doing, forcing me to see the darkness, fear and uncertainty “ideas” can produce and to all those who have mentored and guided me consciously and unconsciously supporting and nurturing my “ideas” along the way, this acknowledgement is for you!!