Leadership and creativity

Have I written about this yet? I’m not sure.

I’m a big fan of the work by Chris Bilton.  Bilton writes on management and creativity – or the management of creativity.  I can’t remember how I exactly fell across his ideas, but they resonated with me from the start.

In particular he writes extensively about how creativity is not an individual, but a collective, process.  The idea of inherent creative talent, or genius, is outmoded and creativity should be examined within a systems or ‘art worlds’ process.

I’ve used his work extensively in my Cultural Policy class, to critique the current funding mechanisms and the way they reward individual ‘talent’ over creating environments which help creativity flourish.  But now I’m looking at it from a leadership perspective and there’s a lot of cross over.

Like the examination of creativity, leadership was thought originally to be an inherent trait. There’s still debate even today over the born versus made leadership argument (it surprises me how many people still believe leadership is something you either have or have not.)  Scientists, according my Org Psych class in 2014, are close to locating the ‘leadership gene.’  Even though study of leadership has moved way beyond this born with it idea there has been a strong emphasis on individualism in leadership concepts and development – something I’ve definitely written about before. Bilton says about individuals within the creative process, and I like this: “Placing one’s gifts at the service of the project rather than using the project to showcase your talents.”  The same can easily be said about leadership. Too often we are about showcasing the leader rather than the outcomes.

Bilton’s sociological model of creativity requires diversity of people and interest in the environment or ecology that allows creativity to happen.  Increasing I think leadership is the same.  I’m more and more focussed on ‘new leadership’ one that is about influence and network capability over power and hierarchy, and my communities of practice approach is all about how groups of people come together to learn and develop leadership skills.  What I think (based on limited review of data) is also important is the ecology that Bilton mentions – some stimulate learning, some don’t. Which is why I see different levels of leadership identification depending on the creative sector.

My idea is that creating an environment to allow leadership to flourish is not unlike creating an environment for creativity to flourish (in fact maybe they are one and the same.)  Sometimes I think you could replace the word ‘creativity’ with ‘leadership’ in Bilton’s books and it would read equally as well. As an aside, one company that features heavily in discussions about both is Pixar.

I’m not sure where this is going yet.  I know I’m positioning my thesis as an extension of Jo Caust’s 2006 PhD on Leadership and Creativity in Adelaide, so it will beed to come in here somewhere, but I am wary of trying to introduce too many ‘big themes.’  I’m itching to get set up in my new place, which will have a whole study for me, and to get stuck into data analysis and post it not mapping ideas all over the walls.

Rethinking and plans

Second attempt.  My mother needed admin support and I exited without saving.  Idiot.

Here we are approaching the end of 2015.  Less than four weeks until we move.  I’ve completed my data collection and almost completed transcription – thanks to Olympus not upgrading their software to match the latest Mac iOS I can’t do any of that right now. Nothing like forced transcription avoidance.

Recently I met with my second supervisor. For only the second time in two years.  Despite the lack of contact when I do see her she zeros in on exactly my challenges.  She says I’m wasting my time attempting to publish or attending conferences.  I should concentrate on finishing the fucking thesis (she swears a lot) and not engage with the academic community until I know exactly what I’m talking about.

She has a point.  Clearly I have wasted a solid portion of this year in a futile attempt to get something published.  What for?  I’m not aiming for an academic job.  It’s PRIDE.

And also, I don’t really know what I’m talking about.

I know theory.  I can, hand on heart, say I’m approaching expert status on leadership theories and potentially even development.  That’s great. It helps make me a good teacher.

What I do not have, and I’ve known this all along, is a good enough grasp on methodological approaches and epistemologies.  I always feel I’m fudging this.  Consequently, as was made clear in France, I may indeed be writing a bloody consulting report. Unless I can really learn to talk the talk on my methodological approach and how I’m relating my data back to theory I will not get this done.

E2 also suggested that maybe academic publishing isn’t the way I want to go anyhow.  I’m writing about practical issues, with a desire to help the industry I study. So why aim to publish in academic journals that are not read by the industry anyhow?  Shouldn’t I be thinking about a book?

I am thinking about a book, and have been all along.  The lessons from this study on how to develop leadership capability, how leadership may be different in the creative sector and how to build a career are really valuable (in my opinion anyhow.)  So I would love turn this into a practical book.  That said I also don’t want to set my self up for a whole other avenue of failure.

The last thought she left me with is about my data approach and themes.  The big themes I wrote about in August may not actually be my big themes.  She said to write a chapter on the rejection of leadership, possibly creating a continuum of rejection, would be a valuable addition to knowledge.  With nine primary subjects, most of which who rejected the role of leader to some extent, I could see this working.

This has lead me to think about ‘leadership’ terminology in the sector.  Thinking about the role of gatekeepers and powerful organisations.  This is probably too much for this post – but it might be coming soon.

Additionally E2 said the career development approach is a good one.  And the feedback I’ve received from the journal I submitted too also said it was a worthy study.  So I may be cutting of my nose, academically, but avoiding this? But how do I bring it in without straying too far from my research question – that is the challenge.

For now this is on the back burner as it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of writing.

For the next few weeks I’m finishing 10,000 words on my context.  Maybe it’s a chapter, maybe it will become part of another chapter, but it’s an important start.

Then, over December and January I am going to nut out this methodology stuff. Really.  Once I have a practical process and an epistemological approach I’m going to set down and get into my data. Reading, rereading, coding, cutting up interviews and reading them randomly, categorising and trying to look at without blinkers.

Then from February I start rewriting my literature chapter and writing all the others.

This is the hard stuff.



I’m reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear at the moment.  I was wondering if it fall into the Gilbert that I love (The Signature of All Things) of the Gilbert that I loathe (Eat, Pray, Love), but given my current state of mind and academic pursuits I felt I needed to try something to jolt myself out of the mental rut I was in last post.

The book is actually a bit of a cross between Brené Brown and Joan Didion. Leaning toward the Brown side, which makes it a little too self-helpy in some respects.  But it’s done a couple of things to my thinking that I thought worth noting.

Firstly, it has me questioning what I hated Eat, Pray, Love so much. And I really, really did.  I felt it smacked of entitlement. Of course you could write a great memoir if you have a six figure sum to travel the world.  But Gilbert tells a story in Big Magic about how a woman came up to her and said the book changed her life, it gave her strength to leave an abusive relationship, just like Gilbert herself did.  Which Gilbert did not. Nor did she say she did in the book.  It got me thinking about how we read into texts our own personal experience, whether they are written in there or not.  My dislike of Eat, Pray, Love stems not from the fact that Gilbert received lots of money to travel the world for a year and write about how it changed her, it stems from the fact I never travelled around the world for a year and wrote about how it change me (publishable or otherwise.)  It’s still self-indulgent, and smacks of white privilege, but I’m self-indulgent and ooze white privilege too – but I haven’t spent a year travelling (which is my biggest regret in life.)  So I have to hand it to Big Magic, not only have I got something out of it as a text, it made me reevaluate Gilbert’s other books – pretty good job for a book really.

Secondly, there a lot of discussion about why and for who you create and dealing with rejection. Clearly this is an area I grapple with constantly.  I’ve embraced a three to four year intellectual pursuit, one that has me pretty isolated from people.  I’ve also re-embraced a lot of creative activity as I’ve got older – singing, dancing, photography, yoga (I’m including yoga in here as I do find it’s closely linked to creativity for me.)  I plan to start learning guitar soon.  Gilbert writes that most creative people lead creative lives, but choosing a creative career can be dangerous.  Requiring yourself to be successful in a creative endeavour, with success defined as money, fame, public recognition, is putting a lot of pressure on yourself to succeed. And circumstances of this success may be beyond your control anyhow. She says creative success about dedication, luck and talent.  Only one of those things is really in your control, so work your ass off.

I sing, occasionally dance, take photos daily and hopefully soon play the guitar not for any material gain. I just like it and I think it makes me a better person to do this. I meet people, I laugh, and I enjoy it.  I started doing the PhD because I wanted something. I wanted that new career, I wanted public recognition that I was an expert in the field.  And not getting it makes every day harder.

What I’m going to do?  Just get this fucking thing done.  If that means getting nothing published and being rejected from every academic journal I contact – so be it. Because, and this has been echoed by some of Nick Hopwood’s seminars, often the rejection has nothing to do with you anyhow.

The image above is from Beautiful Pages, and I’m currently looking at a framed version that is sitting on my printer.  Even though I really shouldn’t be buying house stuff, because I technically do not have a house to live in after Dec 5th, I needed this. I need to stare at this every day (even though it’s really hard to see being black on black.)

Time get back on the horse.