Creativity is key to organizational and individual sustainability, says Annalie Killian

Creativity is not only essential to the sustainability of organizations, it's also key to individual health and happiness, points out maverick woman Annalie Killian.

Interview # 23 in the Creativity in Business Thought Leader Series is with Annalie Killian, who has made a career out of playing the role of “corporate maverick.” Since 2000, she has been the catalyst for magic at AMP, one of Australia’s most eminent financial services corporations.

In charge of innovation, communication and collaboration, she stirs up employee creativity, cross-functional collaboration and open innovation. She is also the creator of the unique Amplify Festival of Innovation & Thought Leadership, where over 3,000 of the company’s employees and clients participate with thought leaders and change agents from all over the world to explore and imagine the future in creative ways.

She is sought out as a Futurist and for her experience in effecting transformational change in complex systems. In her early career with BHP-Billiton, the world’s largest mining corporation, she pioneered innovation in social responsibility and business/ community partnerships and won numerous international awards for initiatives that helped the South African society transition from apartheid to democracy. Her work at the intersection of business and community laid the foundation for her early adoption of social technologies to harness the power of networked communities and the collective intelligence of the crowd. You can read more about Annalie on her blog, Catalyst for Magic.

Q: How does your work relate to creativity?

Killian: My starting point on creativity is that it already exists in everyone – it may just not be recognized, appreciated or given freedom to be expressed. So, the magic is already there, it just needs a catalyst to kindle it and bring it forth. My work focuses on how the inhibitors to the free-flow of creative energy can be recognized, reframed or removed.

Inhibitors can take the form of self-limiting beliefs at the individual level that need to be turned into confidence and courage to take risk, to the organizational beliefs, collective culture and practices that might demand perfection and certainty and discourage experimentation and learning.

To catalyze more creativity, we mix things up – a lot! We create safe learning spaces and a “permission to experiment” environment. From an innovation kitty to build and test business innovation ideas to an expo where ideas for investment are brought to life via visual metaphors, from teaching creativity through musical jamming, improv theater, story slams, painting, film festivals to social media cafes and Twitter “twaste-ups” (tasting nights where people learn Twitter through sharing their food/wine tasting notes).

Q: What do you see as the new paradigm of work?

Killian: The new paradigm is about life. One life, and work is part of that life, and increasingly these two blend like fluids. Much of this is driven by the exponential rate of technological advances, automation by machines of routine tasks and the unstable and unpredictable business climate (and in part, planetary climate conditions). The technologies we use for work and for socializing blend; the devices we use at home and at work blend; our networks blend; our hours of work and home-time blend in a ubiquitously connected global economy; our work spaces blend and even the boundaries between our professional personas and our personal reputations blend.

Increasingly, our employers blend as many people become self-employed or work on contract terms for multiple organizations. Over time, our careers will blend from one life stage to another, much like seasonal workers or the way in which actors work. In this new paradigm of work, where work and life are inseparable, happiness will only be possible if work blends with play, if passion blends with purpose, and if creativity is as vigorously cultivated as profitability.

Q: What do you see the role of creativity in that paradigm?

Killian: Creativity is essential for the sustainable health and survival of both the employee and the employer in the new paradigm of work. At the organizational level, collective creativity is essential for adaptation and innovating for opportunities and disruptions brought about by rapid changes in the environment.

At the level of the individual, the changing nature of work and automation of routine tasks by computers means the ability to differentiate oneself is critical for maintaining a predictable income stream and managing the stress that accompanies uncertainty. In other words, creativity becomes critical to the survival and happiness of the individual.

The reality for many people is that every job has its boring bits, and we can become blunt if we’ve done the same job for a long time. By providing avenues for creative experimentation or re-imagining approaches to tasks or projects, we can generate “fresh eyes” all the time.

In my work, we do this through our Amplify Festival, our film festivals, our Blossom at Work and IT Makes a Difference projects. These provide many avenues for creative discovery, new skill acquisition, cross-functional collaboration and edge-dwelling. This has a rejuvenating effect and high engagement factor for people and it increases their personal happiness as well as the mood and capability of the whole organization.

Q: What competencies do you see as essential for effectively navigating the new work paradigm?

Killian: The role of leaders in changing from commanders and controllers of tasks to coaches and catalysts of lifelong learning is essential to the new paradigm of work. At the individual level, there is also a personal responsibility to remain curious and keep learning, to stay abreast of one’s field, and to connect to the bigger picture.

Q: What is a tool or approach that people could start applying today to bring more creativity into their work or their business organization?

Killian: First, a tool: Because I see us moving more and more into a visual communication world, one tool that I think accelerates creativity in multiple dimensions all at once is the Flip Mini HD plug-and-play video camera. It’s simple to use, fits in your pocket and it develops and converges many creative abilities in the production of content – from conceptualizing, perspective-shifting, framing and composition to storytelling, acting, observation; from synthesis and meaning through editing to emotional intelligence via the impact on and feedback loops of viewers; from creative friction and collaboration with others to self-actualization for the creator. Not to mention that it provides hours of largely cost-free fun.

Second, an approach: My personal mantra for a DREAM career is a mnemonic that I aspire to every day. I don’t always get it right but it keeps me focused.

D – Differentiate yourself, cultivate uniqueness. Creativity plays a massive role here.

R – Relationships matter more than knowledge in a digital networked economy

E – Esteem and ethics. These go hand in hand, money can’t buy it and it takes a lifetime to cultivate it.

A – Amplify yourself, scale to punch above your weight, make a bigger difference, achieve more with the same effort. This is about leading and inspiring others to contribute to your vision.

M – Memorable – Make heart-to-heart connections, make people feel good about themselves

Q: What is creative leadership to you?

Killian: Leadership of others starts with leadership of self. Even if one has reached the highest rung of people leadership, it’s important to keep your own creativity juiced up by continuing to practice creation:

1. Create: Create something, change the world, make a difference. This is about applying your unique gifts. It can take the form of a vision, a company, a project, an artifact or an object.

2. Collaborate: This is about creating with others, experiencing creative friction, collective energy.

3. Catalyze: This is about letting go of self, being open and freeing energy, working through others, leading, teaching, developing.

4. Cultivate courage: Fear is the greatest inhibitor to human potential and a bigger limitation than any obstacle the world can put in one’s way. Creative leadership is about being personally courageous and helping others find courage and supporting their risk-taking.

The Creativity in Business Thought Leader Interview Series is conducted by business creativity catalyst, Michelle James, CEO of The Center for Creative Emergence and Quantum Leap Business Improv.

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