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Creativity is now considered by chief executives worldwide as the number one quality that leaders need to possess, with 60 per cent of them naming it as their top priority in an IBM study. (“Capitalising on Complexity”, IBM, 2010).

But are organisations really on track to recruit and develop these
high-calibre future leaders?

A conference at Cass Business School, London, has found that worryingly, in spite of an unprecedented rise in the perceived importance of creativity to leadership, the simple answer is no. In fact, the conference concluded that global companies, including many in Britain, are woefully
ill-equipped to nurture such leaders.

The case for innovation is clear – 78 per cent of UK businesses now recognise that innovation is vital to their future survival and success. However, research (“Everyday Innovation”, Nesta, 2009) shows that less than a third of British organisations (29 per cent) include innovation or creativity in any way in their recruitment selection criteria, which are primarily focused on operational effectiveness.

How can countries develop creative leaders for the future when those with the most creative minds out there may be struggling to get a foot in the door?

Organisations need to realise that creativity and innovation is no longer only needed in a select few industries. Employing creative, innovative staff is a necessity for all businesses, especially in these tough times when the development of new strategies, products and ways of working are so vital.

If the forecasts of the chief executives surveyed by IBM are correct, it is these creative individuals who will be particularly sought after as leaders in the future. Organisations would be well-advised to ensure they have such talented individuals in their workforce rising through the ranks sooner rather than later.

Businesses are experiencing an undeniable dichotomy between the desirability of creativity and their willingness to encourage it. This is because, until recently, the true value of creativity was grossly underestimated across the board. Even now, recruitment and appraisal processes favour “conscientiousness” over “innovativeness” (Nesta, 2009). Times have changed and business must too.

Organisational processes should be reviewed at every stage to ensure talented, creative individuals are welcomed and then encouraged and supported at every step to become business leaders of the future.

And what about the institutions whose job it is to hone the creative and other talents of future leaders?

Business schools also have an important role to play. It is their duty to ensure courses are, in reality, equipping their students with all the skills they will need to become future leaders. MBAs and leadership programmes need to pull out the stops to ensure creativity and innovation are at the forefront of business education.

Creativity has been as relatively unimportant to business schools as it has to other organisations. But this needs to change. Once business school graduates truly appreciate the importance of recognising and fostering creative talent, they can act as trailblazers in their own organisations to revolutionise the outdated processes that block the path of innovation.

Unless these issues are addressed, there will not be the creative leaders and innovation needed to help countries move out of the economic doldrums.

But it is not only chief executives and business schools that need to realise the importance creativity plays in leadership. Governments can also play a more dynamic role in reshaping attitudes and behaviours by stepping up their own approach to creativity and innovation – not only in industry and commerce but throughout the education system.

In Britain, a greater focus on creativity from all corners of business is necessary to ensure the nurturing of the creative leaders needed to safeguard the future of British business and the sustained growth of the economy as a whole.

Roger Neill is director of the Centre for Creativity at City University London and managing partner of Per Diem Projects.

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