Are You Creatively-Challenged?

I’m convinced that the power of imagination and creativity is too often overlooked in leadership circles. Many times we relegate imagination to the exclusive domain of artists and creatives, forgetting that we are made in the image of God…the epitome of creativity. We have the same spiritual DNA, regardless of how artistically-challenged we consider ourselves.

Ed Catmull, the president of the creative powerhouse Pixar, began his leadership life in front of a computer with a dream: creating animation with zeros-and-ones. As a child, he worked his way through the comic-book-advertised Jon Gnagy’s Learn To Draw art kit. But over time, he discovered he would never reach the talent arc of Disney’s animators. Eventually he turned his attention to computer science and graphics.

Twenty-five or so years later he would help lead the creative team that developed the industry-changing movie Toy Story. He writes tellingly that after they released the movie, he “felt adrift”. Is this really what he wanted to do—manage a complex, messy company mixed with insanely creative people, bean-counters, bottom-line investors and now skyrocketing expectations? Would he miss using his own artistic, creative abilities?

Catmull ultimately made a paradigm shift in his thinking: he transferred his artistic juices to thinking innovatively about organizational structures, systems and culture. Management didn’t have to just be about maintenance and metrics; he began to see a larger picture for developing a culture of creativity. In his book Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, he writes:

. . . Figuring out how to build a sustainable creative culture—one that didn’t just pay lip service to the importance of things like honesty, excellence, communication, originality, and self-assessment but really committed to them, no matter how uncomfortable that became—wasn’t a singular assignment. It was a day-in-day-out, full-time job. . . . My hope was to make this culture so vigorous that it would survive when Pixar’s founding members were long gone, enabling the company to continue producing original films that made money, yes, but also contributed positively to the world. . . . That was the job I assigned myself—and the one that still animates me to this day.

How is your imagination being used in leadership? What kind of “what if?” questions are you mulling and tackling with your team? How much time do you allot for creative “organizational-thinking”?

~Dave Workman | Elemental Churches

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