Article | Harvard Business Review | October 2008

Creativity and the Role of the Leader

by Teresa M. Amabile and Mukti Khaire

Abstract

In today's innovation-driven economy, understanding how to generate great ideas has become an urgent managerial priority. Suddenly, the spotlight has turned on the academics who've studied creativity for decades. How relevant is their research to the practical challenges leaders face? To connect theory and practice, Harvard Business School professors Amabile and Khaire convened a two-day colloquium of leading creativity scholars and executives from companies such as Google, IDEO, Novartis, Intuit, and E Ink. In this article, the authors present highlights of the research presented and the discussion of its implications. At the event, a new leadership agenda began to take shape, one rooted in the awareness that you can't manage creativity - you can only manage for creativity. A number of themes emerged: The leader's job is not to be the source of ideas but to encourage and champion ideas. Leaders must tap the imagination of employees at all ranks and ask inspiring questions. They also need to help their organizations incorporate diverse perspectives, which spur creative insights, and facilitate creative collaboration by, for instance, harnessing new technologies. The participants shared tactics for enabling discoveries, as well as thoughts on how to bring process to bear on creativity without straitjacketing it. They pointed out that process management isn't appropriate in all stages of creative work; leaders should apply it thoughtfully and manage the handoff from idea generators to commercializers deftly. The discussion also examined the need to clear paths through bureaucracy, weed out weak ideas, and maximize the organization's learning from failure. Though points of view varied, the theories and frameworks explored advance the understanding of creativity in business and offer executives a playbook for increasing innovation.

Keywords: Leadership; Commercialization; Managerial Roles; Creativity; Innovation and Management; Social and Collaborative Networks; Diversity Characteristics;

Citation:

Amabile, Teresa M., and Mukti Khaire. "Creativity and the Role of the Leader." Harvard Business Review 86, no. 10 (October 2008).