Interview with Per Ericson, Executive Vice President, Head of Group Human Resources and Sustainability at Autoliv.
Have you ever been part of a creative process where one person’s ideas are valued higher by the group, not because of the value of the idea itself, but because of that persons position or status in the group?
If so you know about the dangers of “creative gravity” and the risk of it getting out of hand and creating a Black Hole of Creativity.
I learned about creative gravity from Per Ericson, Executive Vice President, Head of Group Human Resources and Sustainability at Autoliv – the world leader in safety solutions for transportation. (Their airbags, seatbelts and other products save more than 30 000 lives per year.)
“The Black Holes of Creativity” is the name for the situations when the gravity of the leader’s creativity takes over so much that it stifles the creativity of the rest of the group. Leaders have power and that power, just like gravity, can shift things in powerful ways.
As a leader you need to be aware of this “gravitational pull” you posses which could give your ideas unfair support.
In a worse case scenario a creative black hole is created where all the creativity energy is sucked away from all others and only the leaders creativity is rewarded.
In a best case scenario the leader understands the power that comes with his/her position and surrenders some creative force to spread the creative energy to the whole group.
Spiderman knows that with great power comes great responsibility.
But leaders also need to know that with great position comes great creativity powers.
Your ideas might “win” simply because of your position. That might feel good for your ego, but as a leader your focus should not be on yourself, but on the group and its mission – and if it is you will quickly realise that having your ideas win when they really shouldn’t have is actually really bad.
So how can a leader reduce the risk of The Black Hole of Creativity?
Per mentioned three things:
1) Ask more questions, give less answers.
By asking questions to the group you can get people to develop and expand on their ideas. If you give answers people might resign their own ideas and just go with yours.
2) Hold back on your ideas.
Let all others present their own ideas before you present yours. That way everyone’s ideas get exposed. (And a bonus effect can be that you realise that your idea was not the best, and then you can just choose to not give yours and instead support the best idea.)
3) Focus on helping others.
When you become a leader your role in creativity changes, from being the one who comes up with ideas, to being the one who helps others come up with ideas. Spend more time thinking about how to develop the team and the process than on pushing your own ideas.
Per reminded me that great leaders can keep their focus on two things at the same time: both the mission of the group (what the group is supposed to work on), and also – at the same time, on how to develop the group and it’s processes (how the group does what it is supposed to do).
When you are in a creative process with your group one of your most important roles as a leader becomes to make sure the group is as creative as it can be. This does, of course, not mean that you as a leader is not allowed to have ideas any longer. It just means you need to be conscious about making sure that your ideas suffocate other’s.
Sometimes that can even mean leaving the room. Per gave an example of how he has sometimes excuses himself from meetings if he feels that there is a risk that the groups creativity will be stifled if he stays. (This could be in a group of junior leaders, of people who are new to the organisations etc.) He does it to give the group the freedom to be creative and because he is aware of the power that a title/position and how it can mute the ideas of others.
Per explained, “When you are in a creative process there is rarely a “right” and a “wrong” and that makes it more likely that the ideas from the person with the higher position gets selected. It’s safer to accept that idea (from the boss) than to risk status, or relationships and/or position in the organisation.”
A leader should – of course – have the respect of the group and be seen as, well, the leader. But to lead is not always to have all the answers, or to always tell people what to do – or, in the case of the creative process: to have all ideas. When it comes to the creative process leadership has to be different than when leadership is about steering the organisation or controlling processes. As a leader you need to be aware if this.
So be aware of how your title, position can kill the creativity.
Do not become a Black Hole of Creativity.
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