After my talks on innovative leadership, I’m often asked whether innovation can be taught. My answer is always an unequivocal “yes.” Of course, innovative leadership is a complex concept with many underlying dimensions but you can train to ensure that these specific dimensions get better. Think of the personal trainers in the gym where they can devise specific exercises for specific parts of the body. Training to be an innovative leader is exactly just like that.
In this Wall Street Journal article, Jonah Lehrer dismantles the myth of “creative” type and suggests that anyone can be trained to be innovative. This message is congruent with what technology innovation researchers have been saying for a while: genuine technological progress is usually collaborative and attributing all praise to a “lone genius” is often fictionalizing the underlying truth.
Jonah makes a nuanced point about creativity. Different types of creative problems benefit from different kinds of creative thinking. There are the “nose-to-the-grindstone” problems wherein you need to keep pounding at the problem constantly to come up with the right solution. Then there are the “moment-of-insight” problems wherein you relax and get back to the problem later to come up with the right solutions. Good news is that the human mind is adept at identifying the specific type of creativity that we need.
The next time you are confronting a major creative challenge and you feel like taking a break, take a break. From Jonah Lehrer’s work, it appears that Einstein was right: creativity is the residue of time wasted.
Professor of Business Administration and
James F. Towey Faculty Fellow and
Executive MBA Academic Director