Weak signals, connections and leveraging networks are keys to creativity: Smyre

To creatively prepare for the future in an era of great transition, we need to pay attention to weak signals and look for conections in everything, says futurist Rick Smyre.

Interview #24 in our Creativity in Business Thought Leader Series is with Rick Smyre, an internationally recognized futurist and founder of Communities of the Future (COTF), a futures-focused collaborative network in 46 states and seven countries. He’s best known for his pioneering work in the emerging field of Community Transformation.

Rick is an author, keynoter, consultant and coach. He has presented hundreds of keynotes, seminars and retreats to include sessions at the last 16 World Future Society Conferences. Widely respected for his radical innovations and creativity related to community transformation, he is published in four countries. Before founding COTF, Rick was president of a textile yarn-manufacturing firm, on staff at the national Economic Development Institute, and Chairman of the American Association of Retirement Communities.

Q: How does your work relate to creativity?

Smyre: To prepare for a constantly changing world, leaders of local areas need to learn how to think about emerging issues within a “futures context.” Transformational creativity – the capacity to identify emerging weak signals and to connect different “idea spaces” among different disciplines that challenge traditional principles – is a key. As an example, the mashup of mobile technologies and a new concept called direct consensus democracy leads to mobile governance – a creative new system assuring citizens are in control of the most important decisions at the local level.

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

Smyre: We live in a time when there are three economies in churn – the last stages of the industrial age, a bridge economy called the knowledge economy, and the early emergence of a creative molecular economy. A new paradigm of work will focus on global innovation networks, instant manufacturing, genetic engineering and crowdsourcing of capital worldwide. It will be a time of constant innovation requiring a future forward workforce able to adapt to all three at once.

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

Smyre: The ability to connect radically new ideas, diverse people and interlocking networks within parallel systems of transformative thinking and action will be a key foundational principle of continuous innovation. Traditional critical thinking (rationally analyzing existing knowledge) will shift to a new concept called dynamic criticality that will focus on imagination, intuition and insight applied to emerging knowledge. The capacity to see connections in everything and the use of interlocking networks will differentiate the 21st century “creative adapter” from the industrial age worker.

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

Smyre: The characteristics of an industrial age, hierarchies, standards outcomes, and predictability, already are morphing to interlocking networks, multiple choices and being comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. As a result, an openness to new ideas, a willingness to take expanded risk, a passion for learning and an enhanced spirituality and concern to help others succeed, will be important for success in this new work paradigm. Such attitudes will lead to the ability to adapt to changing conditions, a persistence search for new knowledge and a capacity for deepened collaboration. Throw all of these into a “futures vat” and constant creativity will explode.

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

Smyre: One technique is futures generative dialogue:

1. Have any individual develop a 3-to-5 member “futures generative dialogue” group.

2. Have each member of the group identify two to three new ideas that are emerging “weak signals” from Fast Company, Wired, Business Week or Fortune, and various technology web sites, etc.

3. Have the group interact to answer the question, “What transformative project can be designed connecting two or more of the ideas that will create a new business opportunity?”

4. Design a transformative strategy that uses start-up funding crowdsourcing such as www.kiva.com and/or www.kickstarter.com and implement a startup. Of course, the same four principles can be used by any individual without creating a dialogue group and develop a creative approach based on connecting totally disparate ideas.

Q: What is creative leadership to you?

Smyre: Creative leadership helps establish a culture where people become connective thinkers; where failure is eliminated from the vocabulary and redefined as a learning experience; where appropriate questions are asked; where no idea is squelched, and important ideas are identified as they emerge, and then focused; where transformational change is the norm and reforming change seen as a search for short-term efficiency; and where continuous innovation is not seen as an objective, but as a natural part of what emerges from the interaction of the talents and interests of motivated, future-ready people.

Most importantly, creative leadership is humble, indirect, connective and burns with pride when others are successful. It combines knowledge, heart, intuition, and an understanding of what it means to rethink the future, replacing obsolete principles, values, concepts and methods with a quest for what can be aligned with an emerging world, society and economy that is in a period of historical transformation.

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

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