Co-creative leadership; the death of the hero and the need for permeable societal membranes of relevance

 by Irma Wilson 24 April’14 Jhb.


The kind of leadership that engenders co-creation is an emergent field.  Or perhaps it has been there, working in small ways, all along, unnoticed.  Now it is what we need more of in the world.

Co-creative leadership is really an art to be danced: she is the weaver of networks, the tiller of soil preparing fertile beds for ecologies of seeds to grow; he is the combiner, the great big magnet, the flow director; she is the talent spotter & place finder, the phase thermometer, the esteem lifter and the process designer; he is the vision combiner, the worldview translator, the space holder and the boundary patroller; this is the effervescent host and the masterful enabler.   These are the people that can pull many together, empower them and hold them for as long as they need to get on with it themselves and in turn become full of leaders embodying these qualities.

It is an art to be able to see what different people bring ‘to the party’, to value their differences and identify what motivates people.


Here are two of the things we need in order to engender more co-creation:                                       (it also helps to define what this kind of leadership looks like)

1/. Overcome the hero mentality

This culture of individual & fame glory that we grow up in teaches us habits that are hard to break.  All our focus on the achievements and prestige of the individual leads even those who want to contribute positively to the world to land up competing against one another. There is much talk of collaboration; actual dropping of private agendas is few and far between. This points to the depth of the cultural shift we have to undergo, even those working at the edges building the alternatives and bridges for others. The objective is to scale this out, fast.

We live in a world where the CEO, the IP holder, the owner, the organisational Director/Founder, the individual brand is what gets chased and rewarded. This branding mentality and the need to be ‘the hero’, where everyone wants to put their own brand on something, is holding us back from co-creating. In addition, it increases noise and competition for resources and attention. Without intending it so, people pushing for change land up speaking against one another. This is the ‘death of the hero’ I refer to: to drop the old ideas of leadership and adopt new strategies for getting done what needs doing.

Co-creative leaders find ways that enable people to not merely collaborate but to work side-by-side, think together and allow for the incredible power of co-creation to kick in.


2/. Permeable societal membranes of relevance

We need to develop the systemic infrastructure to foster co-creation. Currently our institutions and legal entities requires all kinds of formalities and then, once it’s put up, it gets locked in. The way we have legally organized ourselves means things are not permeable or agile. Our ability to act gets inhibited by institutions and these perceived ‘ways of doing things properly’ lands up acting like barriers. This makes it hard for people to get together, do stuff co-creatively and then disband. We need more agile structures that give boundaries/membranes for as long as they are useful.

“Societal membranes of relevance” sounds like a mouthful, but really it just means (for instance) that the people in a suburb have structures for finding each other around shared purpose/activity.

Like cells and organs in the body, which has membranes or boundaries, which can be crossed. One can come in, do the work and leave, participate at several places simultaneously and move around with great agility.  If we can get better at signaling one another what we need, what we’ve got to contribute and find new ways to name various functions and exchanging this information, plus have ways where this work can take place (physical infrastructure to support this) and processes in place to help people get to a co-creative state, we could find astounding levels of ‘productivity’ and creativity. In addition, this could be fun!

Co-creative leaders are those who hold the membranes and structures in place.


My next bit of writing about co-creation, will focus on some of the methods and processes we’ve come across so far, that gets people to be less opinionated and more open to each other, to questions, to becoming comfortable with ambiguity and “living in the leap”.

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