Creativity is not just for artists and performers

We talked to Philomena Leung, Associate Dean of International Engagement at Macquarie Business School (Australia) about creativity, innovation and the 4th industrial revolution.

We live in a globalised world, where companies have a chance to develop new products and entering new markets. How is creativity a means to this end?

First of all, creativity is not something which lies outside the person, but within them. So, you can’t really learn it. It is really about trying to unlock the potential within you, about looking at relationships. If a company really wants to be creative, it has to look at what they do and then at what other businesses do, then figure out ways to connect with one another. Organisations need to create this connection, just like the right side of the brain; and then there’s the left side —what tools can we use to address an unmet need? How can we improve?

So, creativity is about unlocking what’s in your mind and looking outside for factors, knowledge, insights, data analytics, and at the same time what’s missing and how we can find a solution that meets some of our needs.

Another important aspect of creativity is networking and talking. I feel you can learn a lot just from talking. You learn about how people do things. Since we live in a globalised world, we have to relate and collaborate, experiment, and identify areas where we can complement one another.

So, creativity is nurtured by social skills rather than by isolation.

Absolutely. You are very right in using the word “nurtured”. Improving and nurturing is the way in which you can see the world differently. That’s how you can see areas where you can offer a particular solution. Creativity is not just for artists and performers. It has to do with design thinking and with relating things. It’s not about coming up with a brand-new solution, but about figuring out the causes of the problem and how to benefit from the existing practices.

How can teams be motivated towards creativity?

If you look at a lot of the newer companies like Amazon or Apple, you can see they dismissed a lot of the older compartmentalised thinking. Their organisations don’t really have a hierarchical network. The managers work with the juniors and teamwork is encouraged, so that the whole company is full of new ideas and collaborators have spaces where they are free to talk about them. In this way, those companies can find new ways of doing things. By creating a supporting environment, they motivate networking and at the same time they allow fresh ideas to come in.

The most important step to encourage teamwork is to break down barriers. In a lot of those companies’ offices they use flats. In this way managers can sit with the rest of the workers and listen to them. Instead of interacting with them only in meetings, they eat together, play together and share. People tend to feel more relaxed and to work out ideas together if they stop seeing their jobs in terms of “you are the boss and I am the junior”.

How does Macquarie promote creativity in its MBA students?

Macquarie has a large piece of land and an excellent location. We are right in the middle of what we call the Macquarie Path Innovation District. We are surrounded by over 200 large STEM companies. At the same time, Macquarie has 42,000 students who think outside the box. We combine these opportunities by motivating these companies, our students and the researchers to work together. We have an incubator, and we use it to allow our students to come up with new ideas and propose real solutions.

We also have curricula with a new design which took us over 15 months to create. We do not design programs by setting a foundation and levels. There is still a disciplinary knowledge that students have to learn sequentially, but we also make sure that students can exercise their flexible thinking in a way in which, for example, you can learn arts and science together. Our new programs are flexible, future-looking and also shorter in duration. We have over 50 one-year masters programs in which you combine topics and then look at the knowledge you need to build to develop your own passions, so you can build up your own degree.

You are giving the students an opportunity to relate their learning to their own interests.

Yes. And also, of cultivating their leadership. Leadership is not about finding who is a leader and who isn’t, but about becoming one by managing your life, and identifying knowledge you’ve acquired. In these times, the internet is full of knowledge, but how do you assimilate it and distil it into something that you’re passionate about? We try to help our students to actually use that knowledge to provide value for society.

What is the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution in the training of leaders and business executives?

The 4th industrial revolution is all about concept and building new ideas. It comes from the Information Age, which used to be about accumulating knowledge. But now we are talking about how to actually use it. On one hand we have automation, design thinking, machine learning and such. But on the other hand, we, as human beings, have to ask ourselves where we can find value to contribute to this. I believe the impact of the 4th industrial revolution is finding the relationship between humans and machinery. We have to figure out how to continue to cultivate our emotional and relational intelligence and maintain our empathy, so that we can best utilise all the information out there.

Like a missing link between the mechanical aspect of knowledge and its human side.

Exactly. The mechanical aspect is very sequential and based in algorithms and formulae, where understanding comes in a very logical way like in the left part of the brain, whereas the human side is what we can offer in addition to that. I have a work on the ethics of robots; it’s about how we have a more advanced way of understanding our relationships and experiences and how that helps in enhancing the efficiency of robots. That’s where we add value —we have the right part of the brain. Humans can integrate everything together, we have a world view. Robots may not. And I say “may not” rather than “don’t”, because I do not know if they will in the future.

What potential do you see in the Latin-American market in terms of entrepreneurial creativity and innovation?

I am very impressed. This is my fourth visit to Latin America and I see that a lot of the younger generations are putting much effort, energy and investment on creativity, on new ways of doing things. And these ways are not just about building a new product, but rather about how to teach, how to relate and how to create environment so people can work together. I must say the innovative nature and the ideas that come from this part of the world are something I have to keep on learning from.

Interview conducted by Sandra Mifflin and Daniel Zúñiga exclusively for MBA International Business (Published in issue No. 71/2019 of MBA International Business)

Creativity is not just for artists and performers