Creativity Depends on Leadership

Finding ways to increase awareness is the key to successful leadership development, executive coaching and team development. It also provides the foundation to enable businesses to create a strong competitive advantage. But it needs to be fully understood if the potential benefits are not to be sabotaged.

02nd July 2009 published by

 

Finding ways to increase awareness is the key to successful leadership development, executive coaching and team development. This is because it is awareness, not knowledge, that drives the majority of our decisions. Therefore, it is also awareness that determines the quality of the results that we will ultimately achieve.

 

The problem is that so many of us have been conditioned to believe that "knowledge is power." The western education system embeds in us from a young age the belief that if we want to be successful we can do it by learning and then regurgitating information. But it is only when knowledge is applied towards the achievement of a purpose or goal that it becomes useful.

 

This explains why so many traditional training courses are so ineffective, studies having found that less than 10% of people make significant and sustained changes after completing them. Their failing is not recognising that learning, which is the route to awareness, is a process not an event. It takes time, repetition and the willingness to step outside the comfort zone to do new things, risking failure in the process, for genuine learning to take place.

 

At this point you might be wondering what the difference between thinking and awareness is. Let me briefly give you my view.

 

Thinking relies on conscious knowledge. It draws on those things that we know we know and tends to take place in a fairly linear, logical fashion. It deals in specifics, and large problems must be broken down and analysed in a sequential way. Conclusions arrived at through thinking can be explained, argued and debated and have an emphasis on proof. This is the general approach taken to decision-making in business.

 

Awareness, on the other hand, is more of an internal "knowingness." It would be very difficult for most people, for example, to explain how they know where South America is. We simply accumulated all of the relevant data over a period of time and it is now easily available to us. It enables us to deal with problems in their entirety, giving us the capacity for spontaneous understanding. At the same time, this knowingness may be very difficult, or impossible to prove, but that does not make it less valid - quite the contrary.

 

Advances in awareness tend to come through revelation, allowing us to suddenly find we know the answer to a previously baffling problem. There is a word that sums this up - eureka - which is most famously attributed to the ancient Greek scholar Archimedes. He reportedly proclaimed "Eureka!" when he stepped into a bath and noticed that the water level rose, then suddenly understood that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. This meant that the volume of irregular objects could be calculated with precision, a previously intractable problem.

 

Unfortunately, many businesses tend to easily reject the kind of advances that come from awareness. The problem is that in any area where awareness is lacking it is literally impossible to comprehend the point of view, thinking or behaviours of someone with higher awareness. This it is beautifully conveyed by one of my favourite quotations, from Angela Monet:

 

"Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music."

 

Lacking the awareness of the music, which represents a more complete understanding of the total context, people of lower awareness are prone to condemn others whose behaviour is inconsistent with their own model of the world.

 

I wonder how often you have seen this happening in business? Probably a lot. In particular, if you are an innovator and creator, which is vital to great leadership, it is almost inevitably going to have been directed at you. It is also responsible for the still-birth of many great ideas because immediate rejection is the most common response to ideas that fall outside people's understanding or awareness. They will then ridicule the source of those ideas, dissuading the originator from ever mentioning them again.

 

There are literally hundreds of examples throughout history that show this normal human trait up all too clearly, from Galileo being arrested for suggesting that the planets revolve around the sun, to the general public's 5-year refusal to believe that the Wright brothers had achieved flight, to Marconi’s friends having him taken to a psychiatric hospital for proposing that radio would be possible. As Arthur Schopenhauer reminded us: "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

 

In companies, such opposition, often politely phrased as, “playing devil’s advocate,” cripples the primary source of innovation and growth: new ideas.

 

It is easy to recognise our own increasing awareness after it has happened. As we progress, we see things completely differently, recognising our previous thinking as limited, naive, short-sighted, or simply wrong. The critical thing to note, however, is that it was an increase in awareness that enabled this change in perspective. It then becomes clear that it is completely impossible to improve our choices or decision-making capabilities in any other way.

 

In this fast-changing world, probably the most valuable asset a business can develop is a culture of learning and growth. It enables the innovation necessary to beat the competition and the flexibility to respond to things happening in the external environment.

 

The best place to start is at the top. Through good quality leadership development programmes, team and leadership coaching, it is possible to stimulate the growth in awareness necessary to allow your organisation to greatly improve its results.

 

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