In many cultures that are based on ancient traditions, there is a large emphasis placed on wisdom.
For many of us in the West, "wisdom" has become synonymous with "knowledge" - thinking that someone who is wise can speak at length about a range of topics, or know a lot about a specific topic. Wisdom conjures up images of academics, business gurus and inspirational leaders.
Things are a bit different in other cultures. The Jewish people have a word for wisdom - chokmah - which roughly translates to "Skill in living". The Maori of NZ have a collection of whakatauki, or proverbs, which the wise elders would know and share, guiding their tribe to living well. Many ancient cultures - including the Egyptians - worshipped a god of wisdom, and sought wisdom as their goal in life.
This definition of wisdom is very different to our understanding today. The Jewish Bible shows this difference in it's collection of proverbs, including: A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
By this definition - many of whom we consider wise today may have been considered fools in the Ancient Near East!
What has all this got to do with creativity? Before we begin discussing how to transform yourself into a creativity inspiring leader, we have to remind ourselves of two very important truths. They may seem simple but upon reflection - they will help you perceive how you can improve as a leader.
1 - Wisdom is active.
So much of our learning today is passive learning. We sit in lectures and hear about business management, marketing and ethical practices - but we are not invited to practice them. Most of our education system is based on knowledge - leading to essays and exams that test your ability to remember and articulate ideas.
I don't want to suggest we throw the baby out with the bath-water, but true learning is active and involves change. I can read countless books about basketball, learning about the history of the game, individual skills that are required and the finer points of the 2-3 zone. I can read from great coaches and players, and acquire knowledge about creating healthy team dynamics.
Yet none of this makes me a better basketball player or coach. It is only when we take the knowledge and act upon it that we actually begin to transform.
If you are brushing over this paragraph, I encourage you to pause and answer this question.
"What deliberate actions and changes have you made in your life in the past three months based on something you have learnt?"
For many of us, the answer will be a resounding silence. We are happy to read books and blogs, attend seminars and discuss theories and cases - but we get uncomfortable with change. Until we can welcome change and approach life with an attitude of a "playful tinkerer" - excited to try embody new learning - we will stay the same, and creativity will be much more difficult to induce in ourselves, let alone in others.
2 - Leadership is about People
The Maori wisdom collection includes this insightful proverb:
He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!
This translate to: "What is the most important thing? The people, the people, the people!"
Again, this may sound like common-sense, but many of us forget that - at its core - leadership is not about bottom lines, vision planning and strategy. It is about people. Without any followers - you are not a leader.
Since the Tayloristic management theory was developed over the past century, we experiencde a cultural hangover to view leaders as rulers over cogs in a machine. It is tempting to reduce people to their output and productivity - forgetting that they are human beings.
The oft-quoted research from Teresa Amabile has revealed that people are most creative when they are happy, and making measurable progress in meaningful work. Cogs are not happy. Cogs do not care about progress or meaning. Cogs are not creative.
If people are at their creative and productive prime when they are happy and feeling human, then leadership is about making that a reality in your organisation. Wisdom is about living well - and it is only as we begin the journey of wisdom that we will see the impact of a life lived well on ourselves, and on our followers.
These two points may sound simple, but it is imperative that they are stated, reflected upon and accepted before progressing on. The future blog posts hinge on these facts - that wisdom is active, and leadership is about people - and I encourage you to reflect on these in your own life.
The next post will begin to define Servant Leadership, and it's potential for transforming your organisation.