Sunday, November 02, 2008

Not Chief Executives, but Chief Creators we need!

The leaders of today’s companies are still called CEOs, Chief Executive Officers. “Nomen est omen”, the CEOs put their emphasis on execution, and not on creation. They hire management consultants to create their new strategies for them, which they then “execute”. They have obtained their MBA from top-ranked business schools in the US or Europe, where they were taught the ropes of management and leadership. This also means that they all lead in the same way, following the ‘best practices’, blueprints and rules they got hammered in at business school. There they were asked to study zillions of ‘cases’ of how the most successful among them did it ‘the right way’. Not surprisingly, they all were like lemmings, following the management gurus and each other into the abyss of today’s financial crisis, teetering along and pulling each other down to the brink of bankruptcy.

I propose a totally different style of leadership. This new style of leadership is based not on ‘best practices’, not on cookbook recipes of how to do it ONE right way, but on creativity – individual creativity, and swarm creativity. The step I am proposing is a bold one – empowering individual people at the company, instead of massing all the power in the hand of the Chief Executive who is also the Chief Executor. In this new type of organization there is no Chief Executor anymore, this role has been given away to all the stakeholders in the company. Stakeholders are the employees, the customers, the suppliers, and yes, also the management of the company. The managers are not CEOs anymore, but they are “Chief Creators”, Chief Creative Officers. Being highly creative themselves, they really stand out by unleashing the creativity of their swarm – their employees, their lead users, their customers, and anybody they touch through their vision and products.

If we look at the leaders who stand out today, Steve Jobs at Apple, the founders of Google, or Oprah Winfrey, all of them leaders of multibillion-dollar businesses which are highly resilient in today’s acid economic climate. None of them has come the conventional management way. They were never the CEOs of their companies in the conventional sense, never the chief executors. Rather, they are the chief creators of their respective enterprises. They might have assumed the CEO title to make them recognizable in their role to the rest of the world. What they really did however, is not execute somebody else’s strategy, but create radically new products, and create real, sustainable value. They did what they thought would be the right thing, listening first and foremost to themselves and to their swarm. Instead of listening to management gurus, business school professors, and strategy consultants, these leaders not just listen, but immerse themselves into their swarm. While conventional businesses like Motorola, GM, Ford and Chrysler, not to talk about the once mighty banks at Wallstreet, are foundering, the businesses of these creators are thriving. Leaders like Oprah or Steve Jobs are not afraid to go to the front line every day, listening to what their swarm has to say. When Steve Jobs started Apple, instead of obtaining an MBA, he immersed himself into his swarm. He first listened to what others did in the same space, visiting world famous Xerox Parc to learn about personal computers and computer mice, and hitching a job at a computer company to learn even more, until he had figured it out and was ready to start building his own computers at Apple.

These creators also give back to their swarm. Google famously encourages its employees to be creative, come up with new product ideas, which are then given away for free in some form, until the company has figured out a way of making money from it. Google acquired picture sharing Web site Picasa, set up the social networking community Orkut, and converted a startup into Google Docs, the Web-enabled office suite, all available for free to the end user. When Steve Job’s swarm of fanatic iPhone owners complained about a new price cut, he immediately gave back the difference in price to anybody who had bought the iPhone at the old, higher price.

In short, Chief Creative Officers, other than CEOs, immerse themselves into their swarm, they share with their swarm, and go where their swarm wants to go. Just like great farmers, their main task as coolfarmers is to provide a nurturing environment, and let the swarm do it by and for itself.