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  • Bolor Amgalan

Thoughts on the Propulsion Model of Creative Leadership

This paper, I thought, presented an interesting way to look at creative leadership in its most holistic sense. I enjoyed the diversity of examples from different disciplines and the comparisons that were drawn to other taxonomies of creativity, from science and business.

Two quotes I especially wanted to take the time to digest are:

"People typically want others to love their ideas, but immediate universal applause for an idea usually indicates that it is not particularly creative."

"Creative innovations spring from one or more of four sources: unexpected occurrences, incongruities, process needs and industry & market changes."

The authors quote Amabile (1999) in saying that creativity is at the intersection of 'expertise', 'creative-thinking skills' and 'motivation'. They then elaborate that although all three components can be important to creativity, expertise may be one component that is likely to encourage individuals to stick to so-called tried-and-true paradigms - to work within the boundaries set by whose work one has studied. Amabile also echoes this in saying that managers can kill off creativity by emphasizing extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivators.

This part inevitably reminds me of an experience from a while back. A few years ago, I was working on a project involving wearable sensors. I was by no means an expert in sensors or data analysis. I just knew that some kind of insight can be extracted from data produced by sensors if the data is analyzed. At this point I did not know much about the complexities involved in data analysis and how much more advanced techniques in pattern recognition would be necessary compared to what I had the time to research, understand and implement at the time. In addition to this, the project was trying to combine data from multiple sensors to extract meaning that itself was not properly defined at the time, and still is not now. Emotional data is what I had been trying to work with and understand. But my naive perception of the what information sensors can give me led me to strap myself with multiple sensors and collect as much data as I could while going about my life. I was performing very specific tasks during this time to understand my own emotions in quantified form. Obviously the project did not succeed in the way I imagined it to: I could not understand what the data was telling me. But the absurdity of a person strapping on multiple sensors to their body and performing those very specific actions became the concept of the project and the entire thing became a commentary, a type of critique of where the quantified self movement was going at the time.

What I wish to point out through this example is that 'expertise' is not always necessary for a designer to be creative. In MFADT, we are hardly the experts in computer science or psychology or woodwork (although there may be experts in DT who ARE experts in these areas), yet we embrace the techniques from these disciplines and work as synthesizers as Robert Sternberg put it. But this is not to say that I reject Amabile's definition of creativity. I think the absurdity of what I was doing could be easily classified as 'creative-thinking' approach even though at the time I was aiming to understand the technology better (a move towards 'expertise'). As well, I do think that a designer needs a solid foundation in something - a thing that they can latch onto for stability and certainty when navigating the complex landscape of creativity. This is I think why DT works (perhaps more visible after a few years from graduation than immediately after graduation). Everyone here comes with a background in something. Through undergraduate education, we have already become the experts in something and we should be embracing that and using it as a foundation, a source of certainty, but not to the extent that we end up 'killing creativity' with it, to quote Amabile.


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