Thomas Brucia


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Are creativity and leadership overrated?

Isn't the ability to follow instructions equally important as being creative? The world is dependent on millions who do things over and over again: accountants, repairmen, farmers, and so on. The wages of innovation can often be dismissal or disaster -- whereas the rewards of doing one's job are significant. So too with 'leadership': leaders must always be a tiny minority, because without followers, they are nothing...... Or am I missing something?

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    Nov 16 2011: A very insightful comment. I think though that while repetition creates experience and skill creativity finds fulfillment in free expression - and the two work very well together.

    As for leaders - well I am with you - although it is the nature of human species (like apes and dogs) to arrange their societies with a leadership model - they are tribal - and tribal leaders are those with skills for protection and survival of the group - with experience to serve the needs of the whole from broader perspective. Many cannot be bothered investing that much energy and taking that much responsibility - are happy to be a follower only.

    I think our society falls down in the leadership area - in the way we have used the media and popularity ideal to appoint leaders in our current systemic model of governance. Our democratic model of governance tends to be around voting and popularity. Popularity is an overrated attribute for leadership in this arena because it has little to do with competency and ability to perform. It helps to be a popular leader but it is not the reason that a person should be given a job that involves serious responsibility for the greater needs of others. I know it arises from the local level - the representative who gets along with all the neighbourhood - and takes an interest in local issues. Great but are they competent to then rise and serve a national and/or international governance decision making - simply by being voted into the position? I think democracy leadership would work better if we built in accountability screening and pre-check competencies based on leadership values and qualities - for the nature and extent of the role likely to be filled - and then go to issues, policies - platform - and popularity is kind of the last part. This is how we'd take a job. Also Having a political degree does not fulfil all the pre-requisite competencies for good leadership. This is different from the hero model - who traditionally earn's his pop
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      Nov 16 2011: I would suggest you don't make our culture take enough responsibillity for itself. Democracy is the worst form of government except for every one we've ever tried. The basis of democracy is that YOU CAN trust regular everyday people to pick good leaders. The whole idea of America is that we don't need checks and balances on elected officials, because the courts already balance them out, and people won't elect incompetent boobs like George Bush and Rick Perry.

      Our generation of Americans failed to take their responsibillity for that trust. We proved that democracy makes big mistakes... That's our fault though as people. Our culture needs to change, we need to become a nation of engaged educated citizens that would never let George Bush anywhere near the whitehouse again. We need to earn the trust that democracy bestows upon us, or we're asking for someone to take it over.
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        Nov 27 2011: Hi David,

        With due respect, as i read your comments, i understand that if only we were engaged citizens, if only we spent the time to research our candidates and vote for the best one, then democracy would yield its fruits to us.

        I would borrow from the title of this question and say that voting is overrated too.

        Sometimes I see presidential elections through a little metaphor: someone has a million dollars in his hand and you get to decide whether he will give them to his cousin or to his aunt. Regular citizens have very little to say in terms of proposing candidates. Regular citizens have very little say in terms of legislation proposed or passed. They only get to decide between candidates imposed by others. So in a sense, many elections become a choice of the less of two evils.

        Another problem with vote is that you only get to evaluate presidents every 4 years and representatives every 2 years. In between, there is no vote required from your part.

        Maybe a good way to make democracy work a little better would be to vote as we do today, but then vote again every couple months (or every month) to decide whether to keep someone in office or be replaced. Maybe that way people would have a bit more control through voting?
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          Nov 27 2011: voting deminishes in value all the time, look at the percent of people who dont vote, But i realy dont see a beter way, still its radiculous that we can vote and still have no control of where our money is spent, i think the two are related, if voting became people being forced to choose where to best spend their taxes that would be best? like it or not money is the gasolline of the world mankind runs on it.
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          Nov 27 2011: I would only ask Andres... Over rated when compared to what? Yes, the voting model has been corrupted, by something we call capitalism, but doesn't even resemble capitalism anymore. I actually mention this once before... but Rome didn't collapse to a better philosophy, it collapsed to barbarism, tribaliism, and in fighting. Internally people began to hate the tyranny of the majority, and they turned against the democratic model, and gave it up... or more accurately, didn't fight to preserve it, it gave way to what? A period of time, known as The Dark Ages.

          I think America's most important place in the worlds future is in ensuring, that if someone else, or a conglomerate entity takes our leadership role away... It's actually a better model then our own. We have to make sure we don't let marxism, devolve into communism, and call itself better than democracy. We've already proven as a people throughout hundreds of years, that model isn't better, it makes people more miserable.

          It's important to recognize the inherent inequallities emerging in "capitalist democracies", and fix them... or stuard them and uphold them until we have something better... We can't be dragged backwards to a totalitarian state, because capitalism, and democracy are "over rated".

          The definition of over rated, would imply that there is a rating system in political philosophies, and there is another one out there that is unfairly low on the list, because the number one spot is over rated... I would like to suggest that both idealogies, are fantastic, number one, dominant dynasty teams... In the minor leagues. We're not at the right philosophy of governance yet... but democracy and capitalism as basic rhetorical models still easilly earn their number one spot... imho.

          Both of these philosophies rely on hero model ideology. We need the right people to be popular leaders. We need the right people to be rich creative industriallists. We need to make it happen... In my mind anyway.
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        Nov 27 2011: Hi again David,

        I don't think i can agree with your conclusion that the collapse of Rome was caused because the Romans wanted to get rid of democracy. But i will have to go back to read my history rather than giving you a half baked reply on that.

        Why would it matter what kind of model exists in a new conglomerate entity if it were to replace the USA's leadership? I mean, the USA is capitalist today and that has not prevented a socialist country from thriving (China), so if China were to take a leadership role, why that would prevent the USA from thriving?

        Progress moves forward, I fully agree with you on that. I don't think anybody advocates moving backwards to a totalitarian state. But that is not the only alternative available when people talks about improving capitalism. My suggestion, for example, does nothing suggest to change any of the basic premises of capitalism as it is practiced in the USA (even though i can think of a few suggestions). What i suggested was to vote more often to see if this would increase the voter's power over elected officials.

        My use of the word overrated had nothing to do with comparing capitalism against other alternative economic systems, but rather (from the definition overrate: to overestimate the merits of) my intent was to highlight the fact that we tend to think vote in the USA has more power than it actually does.
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          Nov 27 2011: Rome didn't fall entirely from this... but it basically lost to several weaker enemies, all at the same time, and the people didn't want to fight to maintain it's dominance. Barbarians eventually sacked Rome. I would have suggested Rome giving up it's empire, and losing a few wars of revolution... but even if you were going to let Rome be sacked, fight to bring back democracy.

          America today, is in no way shape or form capitalist. Capitalist implies a meritocracy where the government has little or no influence over purchasing decisions. We haven't been that... well, ever, but we were closer at different points in time. We have a mixed capitalist socialist model with a safety net, just like Europe. More importantly we're not capitalist because our government has a huge influence over what products are made and sold, what experiments are done... they have influence across the board, and their influence is usually funded by corporations.

          China, who you Cheerlead for a bit here, is a totalitarian state. I've been there. When engaged in a conversation with a local women, talking about the economy, I suggested "the american people really want you to start getting paid better here, and the corporations, and the government don't always want that"... then I realized that I might be being incredibly rude "Oh, I'm sorry, am I even allowed to say things like this here, I don't want to be rude"... See said to me "Yes... YOU... Are, allowed to say things like that here" with shame on her face... and I felt horrible.

          I don't want to live there... No one else does either, it's miserable, but they're doing the best they can. I would suggest that we progressed backwards and went too far towards communism, imperialism, and corporatocracy in the US... We've seen those things before and they don't work. Capitalism worked back when we had something close to it. We've devolved in America, towards a Chinese standard of living, I think something better is out there.
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        Nov 27 2011: Hi David,

        I see that you are talking about the laissez-faire austrian school of "pure" capitalism. "if only we could go back to... well... if only we could get rid of... maybe capitalism would thrive) You should talk a bit more to Krisztian Pinter. He shares many of your views, and i have seen he defends them fiercely in other TED conversations. I do not advocate for laissez-faire. But fortunately the definition of capitalism is not owned by the austrian school so capitalism can change and be improved.

        You misinterpret me if you think I advocate that every country should adopt china's government, or that it is better. I do not advocate that every country adopts the usa style government either. We were talking about leadership, not about government or economic system, I was using it as an example (given the fact that there is no other country that seems to be on the rise like they do).

        Actually, I was lucky and I lived in china for a few months. And I returned to visit 6 or 7 more times. I made very good friends that i keep even after more than 10 years. They did not have problems talking to me about their government, religious practices or other topics. There is illegal to speak in public against the government so most refrain to do so. Here is illegal to camp in a public space if your motive is protest the government so now people are starting to refrain from doing so.

        But I didn't want to stay with the media-distributed image so i traveled a bit more in-land to see what real chinese life was like. They got it pretty hard indeed. And my conclusion was that the major contributor to the problem is the combination of their government policies with the pressure that foreign enterprises put on young people to migrate to big industrial cities and work for miserable salaries. And it is not the government who dictates these salaries, by the way, pure supply and demand of cheap labor.
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          Nov 27 2011: I appreciate the "pure" austrian school, laissez-faire. I even have a bit of a sweet tooth for Ayn Rand and some of her Libertarian friends at times. In the culture war however, those people are on the wrong side, I'm not in that camp. I'm okay with a mixed economy... I like a safety net.

          I'm a fan of retirement benefits, but we should have a large insurance pool and constantly be adding to it, in case there is a glut of elderly in a generation. We have to pay what it costs. I want us to pay Chinese people what they SHOULD cost, as valuable human beings, not what they cost in the laissez faire system of a billion starving people will do anything cheap. I actually suggest an international minimum wage on products sold, and a public internet education system. I'm not a laissez-faire capitalist at all...

          In philosophy, and theory, however... I think in the back of our minds, we all know that the future system has to have some threads of that. It has to be closer to a merit driven economy, where hard work pays off. We can't let any country become a place where if you do nothing to contribute, you still get everything you want... Some people call that a heaven, I call it hell. I want to be good at something, I like competing a bit. I like the idea we're not all the same, and we have strengths and weaknesses... Without that, there's very little to look forward to.

          I think this all relates to the topic, because I think survival of the fittest, makes us love capitalism, and democracy. Capitalism and democracy, make us love hero myths, leadership, and creativity... and I don't think those ideas have yet been replaced by something better. We need a better myth to come along. If America loses it's dominance, which it likely, rightly should over time, and we should share the burden, it's going to be a difficult battle to make sure that this conglomerate entity is better at providing freedom, justice, and merit based wealth, than America ever was.
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          Nov 27 2011: My point with Rome, is that at some point in time, most of the world was united under a free market democracy. A corrupt, and often evil, and imperial democracy, but democracy at its core. Somewhere between there and the dark ages, everyone in the entire world had given up on the concept of self governance, and we had returned to Monarchy... That's my great fear, that we'll give up something messy and difficult to control, for something much, much worse.
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    Nov 16 2011: true...

    We need all kinds of people in this world.
    Though leadership and creativity are great values, follower-ship and executing are also very valuable.
    I don't always assume the role of a leader, and sometimes I just do mindless jobs, but on other times I like to get really creative or take the lead in a project...

    So a mix is possible, and allows for a majority of people to take up leadership (once in a while, or when needed).
    You follow the leaders you wish to follow, while you lead the people who wish to follow you... or you execute your own creativity, or add to another one's inventions (or copy it and do something with it).
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    Nov 27 2011: creativity is the ability to find new connections between ideas. Once computers can do that, we wont have to waste time thinking, but for the time being its the opposite. We have machines that can do repeditive tasks thousands of times better than humans, and continuing with the speiceis constant drive to efficiency, eventualy all the repeditive jobs will be done by robots. All we have to offer is creativity. then again, dont take this too seriously, i could be completly wrong, who can say what is better for the human race, one of creators, or of followers, we are the most effective bacteria in the known universe, and that must be because of the gift (or curse) of creativity. sorry about the length of the rant this is my first post
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      Nov 27 2011: I would only supplement that... with, as robots take those jobs, a larger niche market will emerge for things like creatively handmade furniture, clothing, etc. So as the corporate versons of those jobs die, we'll have to continue to respect that work, so that we get some cool beautiful stuff in our house. We'll have to be willing to pay extra for that stuff, more often than we do now. Creative labor, can be immensely beautiful, and fulfilling.
  • Nov 21 2011: Thomas Jones - I love this statement from your post:

    "Vision without action is an unfulfilled dream. Action without direction is a road to nowhere. Enterprise without creativity leads to stagnation and death."
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      Nov 22 2011: Hi Hardip,


      I collect quotes and even though I wrote that, I didn't consider it "a quote" until you mentioned it. Now, it is in my quote file.

      I also have a modified version:

      "Vision without action is an unfulfilled dream. Action without direction is a road to nowhere. Enterprise without creativity leads to stagnation and failure."

      Failure is a little less extreme than "death" and might be more appropriate in some cases.
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    Nov 27 2011: The first comment i'd like to make is hilter was creative, the people he lead had the ability to follow instructions. entreprenuers are creative, the people they employ are able to follow instructions. the fact is that creative people created this country, they had the ability NOT to follow masses but to find their own sense of direction. as systems are created to further advance society, such as government, schools etc. society advances past those systems yet politicians who are good at following directions keep those systems in place, becuase they cant see the whole picture. thefederal reserve and large corporations like monsanto, (some people say walmart), and pretty much every large company has aquired their status by cutting fat off the backs of people who have an "honorabe job". if our policy makers were creative our nation would not be in financial crisis, if enough of us were creative, we would have solved the oil crisis, found a cure for cancer, homelessness and resources would not be a problem if our society wasnt so full of people who conform to the norm! so to answer your question YES innovation can lead in disaster, but the average innovator today does work a full time job. and its the reason every species on the planet is headed for extinction, beucase these companies are creative enough to develop technologies to exploit resources and scour the oceans until they're void of life and extract wealth from your wallet without you ever finding out, meanwhile the majority out the world is making it their life purpose to go to college an get a degree $110k to work for the very same companies. innovation could not be more critical! millions of people are dying everyday and we are on the brink of extinction. a TRUE leader (Alexander the great, andrew carnegie etc) is highly creative. what most people percieve as leaders today are managers, to be a genuine leader you must be a molder of consensus. otherwise your just the head lamb
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    Nov 27 2011: To stir the pot a bit.... George Carlin's take: that we're to do as we're told. (Note: Carlin's choice of words may offend some). Reactions?!
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    Nov 22 2011: The term overrated speaks to a measurement of 'more than' which creativity and leadership are niether that prolific nor that valued in my view.

    However I would like to take this sideways for a moment and talk about creativity in leadership. We are not living in a world in which everyone can easily be a follower. We as individuals are already too aware of the implications of authority as an unwanted restriction or control in our lives or circumstances. For many people, I think, this is the root of their revolutionary passion. This is part of the protests going on globally.

    Yet there is an old philosophical argument that put forward - that to exercise true leadership a person must be creative- here I am talking about visionaries who could persuade a multitude to follow through with significant national scales of change and they do this through creatively challenging their own pespectives and seeking something different. I think we are in need of visionaries who can illuminate possibilities of change on the global scale.

    The problem of underestimating creativity and leadership is that it leads to apathy and complacency which often is followed by violent revolt therefore I do not think it is actually possible to overrate creativity or leadership.
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      Nov 22 2011: Would the French Revolution, the subsequent rise to power of Napoleon, his failures and fall, the Bourbon Restoration and then Louis Phillipe's "July Monarchy" be relevant..... I really think they might.
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        Nov 22 2011: Hi Thomas,

        Could you expand a bit on what the relevance is I am unfamiliar with the history (appologies) and I would like to understand your thought.

        I have refered to revolution in my post and I see also that my statement about global visionaries coud become the misconception of a global despotism. However that is why I say a visionary by definition in my view can challenge and question their own perspective. The key of what I am highlighting is that change is and always will be inevitable therefore craetivity and leadership can be the agents of change. Otherwise violence and usurption can be like the sharp movement of a fault line accomodating a movement or a shift that was too long in coming.
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          Nov 23 2011: In France there seemed to be a sequence of periods of apathy and complacency followed by violent revolts. The creative leadership of revolutionary leaders led to many of them being consumed in the fires they lit (e.g. Danton and Robespierre) . Finally the 'leadership' provided by Napoleon united France -- in military adventures such as the catastrophic invasion of Russia in 1812, so well described Tolstoy in 'War and Peace'. It was only after Napoleon's second imprisonment (in Helena) and his poisoning there that France moved on.... until the Revolution of 1848. I suspect the French at this point were sick and tired of 'revolutionary change' and of 'creative leadership' and just wanted to emulate Candide and just garden....
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        Nov 23 2011: So then if apathy as you say actually breeds the violent revolution and the violent revolution breeds creative leadership anyway then there is nothing for this world but conformity, social order and compliance that there is a need for less inovation and more affirmation of the status quo. Some predictability and all together a reserved approach to thinking outside the square. This sounds very utopian and perhaps a little underrated?
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    Nov 17 2011: QUOTE: "So too with 'leadership': leaders must always be a tiny minority, because without followers, they are nothing...... Or am I missing something?"

    "Whenever it is obvious that the order arises from the situation, the question of someone commanding and someone obeying does not come up. Both accept what the situation demands. Our chief problem then is not how to get people to obey orders, but how to devise methods by which we can best discover what the order shall be. When that is found the employee could issue direction to the employer as well as employer to employee." – Mary Parker Follett
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    Nov 17 2011: One reason Creativity gets the attention that it does is that we see around us a host of serious problems and sources of pain to people the world over and to the planet on which we live. Some of these problems have persisted over very long periods of time, from disease to violent discord among peoples, to resource mismanagement that threatens to choke our ecosystems.These problems will be solved only with a serious injection of creativity. While knowing how to follow instructions, and beyond that being willing to follow instructions, are important, a culture focused on following instructions does not sound promising for addressing these very pressing problems.
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    Nov 16 2011: I believe leaders are the tiny minority, but that shouldn't be the case. Everyone is born to embrace themselves and others with love, ultimately leading to a greater cause as one. But somewhere between giving the world what your have to offer and receiving negative energy for it, people lose hope.

    A leader should never lose hope!
  • Nov 30 2011: I believe that leadership is a very important trait to be successful, yet to a point, leadership does become overrated. On the other hand, creativity is not overrated. Without creativity we wouldn't be on TED, coming up with new ideas, or even meeting new people. Creativity is a necessity in life, while leadership is a great thing to have, but not as important as creativity!
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      Nov 30 2011: Is a solo backpacker who walks the entire 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail successful even if he leads no one and no one follows him?
      Is following the whole trail instead of creating one's own path to be denigrated?
      Is cutting a trail through virgin Arctic tundra to be emulated?
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    Nov 29 2011: Creativity and leadership are just only tools that help people achieve goals. Before people use the tools, they have objectives set to be the goals. If we focus on a single part of the process, then our actions seem to be meaningless.
  • Nov 28 2011: I'd go with "ratings are overrated" and then vanish in a paradox ;-). But really, measuring creativity or leadership, is just a little to difficult to be of any practical use.
  • Nov 28 2011: I feel that leadership is definitely over rated but creativity less so and in fact could be viewed as underrated in certain cultures. My dad is constantly remarking on leadership skills and if a certain achievement is great leadership wise he will care even more and praise the idea or achievement with some excess. The term leadership is important but only on a high end level and of those who are willing to lead and wan't to become a future leader or those with the natural skill to do so ad shouldn't be imposed onto the children as of extremely high expectations of the parents. Which are usually imposed due to the culture or ideology of the parents. Being an asian kid of 15 the term of creativity is seemingly underrated as the way that asian culture teaches children, though it is slowly changing, is through "dead memorization" this way of learning makes it so that the child is only taking things in through the teacher and textbooks. Very few of these children are able to take this information and apply it in their own way through their own learning and make something cool. The children who can are then viewed as natural leaders who can accomplish much and through them their teachers, parents and organizations are receiving more praise and encouragement then the students who actually achieve and then they deserve. This leadership skill is, due to this, subsequently pushed into the minds of other parents to forcedly increase the leadership skills not realizing that this links greatly with creativity but they are ignoring creativity directly which is sometimes viewed as rebellious and is at most times discouraged as it may not meet the expectations of the parents future desires of the child's place in society. That is also why the arts in chinese schools, probably except of singing, are not taught. If parents view leadership as such an important thing to impose on children why not view creativity similarly as to be creative will give you an easy leg up to leadership.
  • Nov 28 2011: i think that's a great question. not everybody will make a good leader, just like not everybody will make a great musician (i myself am terrible...), and so rather than encouraging leadership we should be encouraging improvement in whatever it is that each person is particular good at or is especially interested in.

    on the creativity part though i wholeheartedly disgree. accountants, mechanics and farmers all need creativity. without creativity we would be unable to solve any unforseen problems or aberrations - what could an uncreative mechanic do to fix a car for which parts are no longer made? - and also nothing would ever improve. by its very definition improvement of any kind requires creativity, and someone in even the most repetive job will never advance that job if his creativity doesn't exist or is suppressed.
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    Nov 27 2011: I've recently heard creativity bandied around a lot when it comes to education - I think there's a shift in what people think we should value. The pendulum has swung. It'll be back.

    I think the issue here is that "creativity" is said when, often, "independent thinking" is meant. Both are wonderful attributes to possess and probably actually cross into each others' realms quite a bit.

    But when creativity is thought of as "applied mind" it becomes less to do with needing tight parameters and guidelines and more to do with relying on the person in the position, whatever it is; leader or follower, teacher or student.

    Obviously, some folk are creative in the boardroom, some are creative on the sports-field, some on the stage, others in the lab, in retail, hospitality, farming, nursing, and so on; whatever.

    A very few are 'creative' across all fields because it is not an attribute that you roll 3 six sided dice to determine. I don't believe you've got it solely in your Nature's Denim either.

    I think it's a combination of myriad attributes, experiences, desire and situation.

    Leadership and creativity can be, and are often, mutually exclusive.
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      Nov 27 2011: I would go further, Scott. I am a very creative person and a *horrible* leader. I suspect that creativity and leadership are almost never found in the same person since creativity is disruptive and leadership involves minimizing disruption. Most people like order and continuity in their lives and 'creativity' (like bringing in new software to a company, or moving the family off to a high mountaintop in Montana) just upsets them. Also, bringing new ideas together in novel ways frequently confuses people whose minds are channeled in narrow and familiar stream-beds.

      It's unnerving to be categorized by conservatives as a liberal and by liberals as a conservative when one is just creating one's own 'mash-up' from ideas on both ends of the spectrum. They want conformity to their ideology -- not innovation. Ditto religion(s). I frequently upset people by admitting that my religion is a unique mix of Buddhism, Bokononism, Sufism and Stoicism.
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        Nov 28 2011: Politics is one area that desperately needs an overhaul. Like religion, it tends to use ideals and grandiose rhetoric to win your allegience. It's insulting to anyone capable of thinking for themselves.

        I am sick of the way generalisations and statistics govern everything and meaningless soundbytes win elections.

        If you're talking 'leadership' in political sense, it doesn't exist. I agree with your opinion.

        We've just had the general election in New Zealand and the whole process smacks of being outmoded and pointless. I've not been inspired by any politician ever. They just keep pushing the buttons and ticking the same old boxes. It's not leadership, it's maintaining the status quo, aka bullshit.

        When I can have my say on individual issues affecting me and my country instead of 'picking a team', then I might feel that democracy is more than a gilded joke..
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        Nov 29 2011: I just called myself an ancient relic, a blend of stoicism, Joseph Campbell hero mythology, and Buddhism, on this site a few days ago... Very funny to hear another person anywhere near that.

        I would like to suggest actually that you're both a bit right, and a bit wrong. I would say that leadership is dying, because creativity in leadership is dead. I would say that you're probably not a *horrible* leader, just a horribly unpopular one.

        Creative leaders always start horribly unpopular, then they get results. I think we need a great creative leader right about now, someone that people self report as "crazy, or outside the box", then poll or vote for. Closest thing in America nowadays has to be Ron Paul. I think a few things he says are nuts, but when he starts talking about economic policy, or American Imperialism, he actually has a creative vision for the future that makes sense.

        I think we could do better though. I'd say the last creative leader we had, was another upopular one, the peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter. Raise China's standard of living before you trade with it, stop buying Saudi Oil, buy solar panels in DC even though they're useless to set an example... He was only about 40 years too early, and what was it 9 hostages too late?
  • Nov 22 2011: A fellow Houstonian! Howdy! :-)

    Is creativity/leadership just as important as conformity?

    Yes and no...

    They're equally "important" in the sense that they are equally necessary.

    But as you said, "leaders must always be a tiny minority." So, it's appropriate to place an increased sense of importance on the leaders since they are relatively rare, correct?
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    Nov 22 2011: No!

    Creativity & leadership are the two qualities the world is desperate for at the moment. Right now there are no "instructions to follow".

    There is an essay I read quite awhile ago entitled, "Sign You Work" that I still refer to often in my training presentations. It talks about the importance of putting your own personal stamp on the work you do. No many people are invested enough in their work to "sign" it.
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      Nov 22 2011: I worked for 17 years in a firm that had plenty of instructions to follow... and the operation ran and runs like a smooth machine. I also vividly remember basic training for the Air Force (many years ago) and being shocked at how hard my instructors came down on 'individualism'. I learned to appreciate the value of structure when I saw an entire unit of 72 aircraft and all the support people deploy from South Carolina to Thailand -- and be fully operational in three days. Having a lot of 'creativity' would have crippled the operation.... As for leadership, it was formalized, pyramidal, and effective. 'Following orders' was the glue that made it all work. I was both astounded and freaked out when I left the military and saw all the internal chaos, delay, waste, and confusion characteristic of my first 'civilian job'.
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        Nov 22 2011: I would suggest it depends on the leadership, and how it's decided. If you have good leaders, dictation is the most efficient and effective form of leadership. Steve Jobs was a great dictator.... Under pyramidal, "just follow orders" leadership paradigms with bad leadership however, Nazi's for example.... you create the most brutal inhuman monsters that have ever existed.

        I think because the leaders of the US millitary, in a way, have to answer to the people, through pollitical leadership... We tend to have competent, decent people giving orders... That is a constant struggle though, and I don't believe our men and women in uniform were led well for the last ten years. I would also suggest that the whole philosophy, of the millitary, as it relates to individuallism, is absolutely hypocritical. Pyramidal, top down leadership, where you place an entire organizations trust on 1 persons judgement.... It doesn't get more individuallistic than that. Armed Forces are a do as I say, not as I do system... They love individuallism, as it relates to problem solving abillity in their leadership. They know that when a team succeeds over and over again, while another team fails, it's mostly an individual leader who needs to be promoted, who is responsible.

        That's may be an outsiders perspective though, and inaccurate, I'd be interested to see if you agree.
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      Nov 22 2011: Jim you said instructions to follow...theres no such thing as a path or road, the leader build his own path. Thats the creativity and take the risk to trace your own way.
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    Nov 22 2011: Leadership can be a good thing or it can become very ugly when linked fully with politics. Creativity is a good thing that can be led astray by politics and leaders. In a company/school/business etc. all jobs are equally important. We have made cultural hero's out of leaders and that maybe the down fall of our society to some degree. IF everyone is a leader then no one is taking care of the work that needs to be done. There needs to be a balance as in everything. Mindless following leads to disaster just as much as every person trying to be the leader.
    Innovation goes on all the time. We each innovate or act creatively as we carry out the jobs that form our work life. We seek more efficient ways to accomplish the work. We take pride in our work and try to improve the product we produce. Even here there must be a balance.
    As a teacher I serve both as a leader and a follower. I strive to learn more about learning and be innovative in the way I teach lessons to my students. Working with parents I try to be creative in helping them help their student be successful. Working with my principal I understand she gets direction from those in the District Office that must follow the guidelines given to us by the California Education Department. When requested to do a task I am creative in getting it done as quickly and efficiently as possible and yet balance it against the need that my principal has to fulfill the requirements placed on her. It is closing the circle and being a leader of myself and creative in the way I get things done that helps achieve the balance we need.
    Leaders out of balance are either dreamers or dictators, followers out of balance can become mindless drones. It is all in attaining balance I think.
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    Nov 18 2011: Just a thought: the late Eric Hoffer had lots to say on topics raised in this discussion. Since he's no longer about to give a TED talk (death does that), perhaps its time to re-read his thoughts......
  • Nov 18 2011: It's not about quantity. You're measuring in terms of numbers. Both roles are needed to make the kind of desired changes. However we do need to understand followers need someone to follow and leaders can't lead without followers. Both are interdependent. However, we shouldn't forget when leaders fail, followers can also take their own stance. Ex: Arab Spring, Irish Spring etc.

    Plus i think you're viewing leaders as people who only dictate, talk, make speeches etc. But that's only one side of the role. A real leader also walks the talk. He sets an example by doing those same things. Every manager, team leader, needs to roll his sleeves to show his followers what is needed to be done.
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      Nov 18 2011: Perhaps the word 'leader' has become so contaminated that it simply brings up images of "people who only dictate, talk, make speeches, etc." I'm reminded of the debasement (in America) of the word hero... and of the concept in Spain that putting out a Spanish flag means you're an ultra-rightist. (All topics not under discussion, but which suggest another discussion: debasement of words -- and symbols).
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        Nov 22 2011: Thomas the topic suggested is so why we dont start a new conversation about the Spanish presence and influence? Words and symbols are my speciality.
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        Nov 23 2011: Barack Obama has demonstrated everything I think is important to being an effective leader, yet there has been little change -why? Look in the mirror, masses. There is your answer. It takes two.
  • Nov 18 2011: Interesting question! It has a true point and irony in today's politics and American Government. I have no idea, if this is what you are thinking? We have NO creativity or leadership in our government. I will wait and see, if I am off topic? With Respect to your post. :)
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    Nov 18 2011: I think creativity and leadership are often underrated. As is "getting it done" - the people who simply buckle down and do the work (wash the floor, deliver the product, collect the money, design the brochure, make the deposits and so on.)

    I have noticed, we tend to see a company from the perspective of our own jobs - leaders see long-term vision and direction, creative types think, "What can we do?" (but not necessarily why should we do it;) and "the troops" often just want something they can do that makes a contribution of sorts (even if they do not see the "big picture.")

    In my opinion all of that (and more) is important and no part is more or less important than any other part.

    Vision without action is an unfulfilled dream. Action without direction is a road to nowhere. Enterprise without creativity leads to stagnation and death.

    Creating an environment where true collaboration is possible is a goal worth pursuing. [Toyota might serve as a reasonable example.]
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      Nov 18 2011: " Vision without action is an unfulfilled dream. Action without direction is a road to nowhere." And yet I wonder: isn't most human life just 'visions unfulfilled' and 'actions leading nowhere'? Aren't visions fulfilled and actions leading somewhere just as ultimately unimportant and disappointing as their opposites? I'm not proposing so... just looking at my life and those of the people I know.

      I can't help thinking of the conversation between Nately and the 107-year-old Italian man in Catch-22: .
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        Nov 18 2011: QUOTE: "isn't most human life just 'visions unfulfilled' and 'actions leading nowhere'? Aren't visions fulfilled and actions leading somewhere just as ultimately unimportant and disappointing as their opposites?"

        It depends on context. Are we speaking in "biological" terms, mercantile, social, psychological, or "spiritual" (if we are so inclined.)

        From a biological perspective, all that really matters is if we produce progeny or not. Vision and action deployed to any other purpose would be seen as "a waste."

        In a similar way, we could see vision and action as, more or less, useful depending on the optimum outcome as defined by context.

        If we are looking to maximize (or optimize) outcomes in the area of industry, then clear vision and effective action are indeed, meaningful. An error in either domain would be, or could be catastrophic.

        If we see human life as somehow affording an opportunity for transcendence, actualization, or enlightenment, then success in business could be seen as somewhat meaningless. As could producing heirs.

        Where we stand determines what we will see (and value.)


        I train business people so vision and action are important within that framework.
  • Nov 17 2011: I think that there is a certain point where the over hype of creativity and leadership do come in. it is true that sometimes you do just have to be a follower and that can be a great asset to a person, but we are entering the age of creativity. people with the repetitive jobs are getting replaced by machines. pretty soon companies will require a fraction of the number of employees that are doing those mindless repetitive jobs, while the leaders will do nothing but become more important. i do agree that "leadership" may not be the right word because it's less "leading" and more being your own person with your own ideas. innovation is accelerating and while the wages may be disaster but they are also leaps and strides in everything from healthcare to understanding the fundamentals of our universe. innovation as a whole has never been a bad thing. creativity fuels innovation and being your own person has just become more and more important.
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      Nov 18 2011: Perhaps flexibility and adaptability are as important (or more important) than creativity? To simplify, do the economic and political machines *not* need 'new ideas' as much as a labor force/citizenry able to discard the old and adapt to the new? I'm thinking of Charles Darwin's (famous?) quote: "“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
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    Nov 16 2011: Creativity under rated, leadership properly rated, but underutillized. For example... World of Warcraft, has something like 13 million subscribers, and none of their artists, writers, or designers names are known to the general populace, yet everyone in wow knows who Lebron James is. Most people can't name the woman who does almost all the voices on The Simpsons, or a single artist on the show. Lots of people on TED have done amazing creative things, and no one can tell you there name... in the general populace. The guy who started wikipedia is finally starting to get some cred, but you know what i'm saying, the really creative people that make the world we all love so much, are no where near as famous as most pretty people, so I find it difficult to say creativity is overrated.

    Leadership on the other hand you could make an argument is overrated, but only because we have such terrible pandering leaders for the most part. I don't think truly great leadership is overrated, I think Martin Luther King, and both Kennedy's, even Jimmy Carter, gave a few speeches that have led people even in my generation to be more active and engaged citizens, so I don't think that kind of leadership can be overrated. Leaders that for example "Choose to go to the moon... not because it is easy... but because it is hard". Maybe it would be much easier for me to side with "Management is over rated'.
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    Nov 16 2011: Leaders are and will be the tiny minority. Beeing a leader is a talent, you're born a leader..... or not.
    That doesn't mean everybody else is a loser. This doesn't mean either that ALL leaders are intelligent, creative or goodwilling .... looking around I would say it's the opposite.
    This world depending on millions who do things over and over again ... well, what if we would have millions and millions of creative accountants, repairmen, farmers ans so on? Probably chaos, but who really knows?
    I believe creativity is a skill that can be developed and a way of live. A creative person does what? Creates? What's wrong with that?
    Getting back to you - What if ALL our leaders would lack creativity, doing just their jobs because the rewards a r e significant? Whose contribution to humanity is most important - creators or leaders, or followers? From where I stand, it is obvious - everybody has it's role but creativity is king.
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    Nov 16 2011: You are not missing anyong. You have tapped into a cultural abnormality, in which this society suddenly praises individuality above community. Basically, everybody wants to be the hero, when in reality for anything to function ere needs to be a support team of at least ten sidekicks for every hero.

    In short, creativity and leadership are not overrated. They are however overEMPHASIZED.
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    Nov 16 2011: Hi Thomas,

    Great question! In my opinion, there is definitely a need for more balance in the emphasis on certain character traits. This is because everyone’s contribution is needed. We need leaders, followers, creative thinkers, and creators. We NEED thinkers and doers, and having both, we should be held more accountable for the ways in which we train each.

    My answer to your question however is no. I don't believe they are overatted I believe they deserve the respect and attention they receive because they create steps on the ladders of life so we don't remain stagnant, or nonprogressive. Great question! Definitely an idea worth sharing!
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    Nov 16 2011: I worked in a firm for many years where the (very experienced!) employees would experience problems, discuss possible solutions, and then (if possible) just implement them. Where management was needed -- usually to provide resources -- someone would go to them, explain the situation, outline the possible solutions, tell the manager(s) what the consensus was and then explain what was needed to implement the solution. Since most of the time management didn't have a clue that there even was something that needed fixing and since they had zero ideas about what to do, it was usually not that hard to get management to sign off on our 'recommendations'. I have told folks about how strange -- at first -- and how nice -- later on -- to work at a company that was 'managed from below'. (Of course the strategic decisions came from the top: markets to be addressed, financial record keeping, construction and expansions, etc). One of the greatest benefits was that we had very few meetings (one or two a year) and in my area (sales) we went years without any 'formal' meetings. Coordination was usually just sticking your head in someone's office and asking, "Hey, can I talk to you about something for three or four minutes?" The answer was invariably "Well, I'm pretty busy, but if you can keep it short, I guess so" or "Can you see me in two hours?" I stayed there for 17 years. We had very, very little turnover!
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      Nov 17 2011: Interesting Thomas, little turnover in human capital or revenue?
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        Nov 17 2011: Ha! I keep forgetting the British use of the word... Human capital! Actually, the firm has (for years) moved slowly ahead of its competitors through a combination of integrity, reputation, intense concentration on 'keeping promises', and ignoring the short-term in favor of the long term. When folks plan to stay 10, 20, or 30 years, they all tend to focus further out and act strategically rather than get sucked into tactical distractions and traps.
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          Nov 17 2011: Creativity/ Innovation is about taking new ideas through to satisfied customers (internal or external) and good leaders make this happen. Creativity happens at all levels (follower or Leader) I would say emphatically both are lifeblood of any organization today. The accounting profession is currently talking about International Integrated Reporting, It is about focusing on business sustainability against a back drop of short-term-ism tendencies which has proved disastrous in the current economic environment. This is a good example of innovation and leadership on the part of the team that is selling this idea.
    • Nov 18 2011: Your company's upper management indeed believed in empowering its people. That's a good example of leadership. A successful leadership is even when the leader leaves, the followers are empowered enough to take responsibility, choose better and take better decisions. Or else these people are simply "influential." And we all know even a bad person has his/her influence.
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        Nov 18 2011: Interesting points, Tanzi! In fact upper management did/does believe in empowering its people. More than once both they -- at the top -- and us -- at the bottom -- realized that we both felt the same way about our clueless middle managers. We both pretended to respect the 'clueless middle'....
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    Nov 16 2011: I believe you raise an important point, Thomas. I think there tends to be a problem with sustained leadership. From my observation, many people who stay in leadership roles, have a tendency to become more self-centered and out of touch over time.

    I facilitated an empowerment program run by people in poverty during the 1990's. All decisions were made by consensus of management teams with final authority resting in consensus at the weekly meeting with 60 to 80 participants. Leaders would emerge who had passion for a particular issue but they would blend back in once that was taken care of. People who sought to lead because they wanted to never seemed to generate a following.

    I believe the only way to effectively follow a leader who is self-serving is to have the capacity to remove them from leadership. Unfortunately, one of the first things most leaders do is try to insure that they keep their jobs.

    I believe we need a new model for leadership that is less hierarchical and more responsive to the needs and capabilities of the followers and those they serve.
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    Nov 16 2011: Hi Thomas! I think this is an astute point. I have wondered why there is so little attention given in research to the attributes of 'followership'. Why do we only focus on leaders when there are so many more who make very important contributions as those who implement, safeguard and follow through? In addition, there are vast numbers of people for whom creativity is part of a hobby or a passtime not about their work life or their responsibilities.

    I think, though, that the answer to your question is that north American societies have sold everyone the idea that everyone has a shot at being the 'boss'. This idea that everyone will be part of management has been used as a tool to keep workers in their places. We cannot raise a complaint or we will lose our chance to be part of the elite. In fact, most people spend their lives in systems where an Ivy League education is a prerequisite for upper management and those schools are reserved for those who are connected, legacied or in on scholarships and those on scholarships are marginalized because they have to work rather than serve the correct unpaid internships. In reality these fictions are in place to hide the blatant fact that we do indeed have unstated forms of caste systems in our supposedly classless societies.