Editor's Note: Andrew Razeghi is an adjunct associate professor at the Kellog School of Management at Northwestern University and the author of the book "The Riddle: Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones" (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, February, 2008). Mr. Razeghi also is an advisor to corporations and organizations on creativity, innovation and leadership. His clients have ranged from Pepsico and World Kitchen, to General Electric, Motorola and Darden Restaurants, among others. Fast Company magazine recently selected "The Riddle" as one of its "Smart Books for 2008."
In his essay below, Rezeghi says America needs an overhaul in leadership--from Washington D.C, and the country's statehouses, to it's corporate boardrooms and elsewhere. More importantly though, Rezeghi argues this new leadership--America 2.0--needs to be fueled by a creative imperative. It's this creative spark that's needed to create a new leadership style and new leaders.
This creative imperative requires a jump from America 1.0 thinking to America 2.0 thinking, while drawing on the original creative leaders, like the founding fathers, to go "back to the future" in a sense, the author suggests. In order to achieve America 2.0, the U.S. needs more modern day dabblers or dilettantes like Benjamin Franklin, the polymath who not only invented bifocal eye glasses and the lightning rod, but created America's first fire department and public lending library, while still managing another couple dozen innovations on the side. He even found time to get himself put on the $100 bill, after all.
In his essay below, Andrew Razeghi offers a smart and timely argument for what it just might take to make the transition from the end of America 1.0 to the creative and successful new era--America 2.0. You can learn more about Andrew Razeghti here. We thank the author for his essay.
America 2.0: The Creative Imperative
By Andrew Razeghi
Outsource high-wage jobs to lower-wage nation. Check.
Extend homes loans to people who can't afford them. Check.
Wage conventional war on unconventional enemies. Check.
How did we do? Let's see: 7.7 million people unemployed, 2.2 million foreclosure filings issued by banks and lenders (a 75 percent increase over 2006), and 3,974 U.S. servicemen and servicewomen reported dead in Iraq (up from 139 since President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" on May 1, 2003).
The dollar's weak. Bankruptcies are strong. And Rambo is back in theaters.
Sure we need hope to deal with all of this, but mostly we need creativity. We need a new Eureka moment like the one we had on July 4 - 232 years ago.
As the economic spotlight fades and flickers on the U.S. economy and the balance of power finds its new fulcrum point between the Middle East and China, now is America's chance to reinvent itself. Now, while no one is looking, is our chance not only to elect new leaders, but to create new leaders - leaders who are enlightened, broadminded, and able to offer unconventional solutions to unconventional problems. The challenge however is this: Somewhere between the late 18th century and today, all of the great dilettantes died and those who espoused their beliefs have been deemed dabblers - not serious professionals with serious opinions. If history is any guide, however, it will not be the experts, but rather the dabblers who help reinvent America.
Consider the success of America 1.0 and one of its master architects, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin's resume reads like a Denny's restaurant menu: activist, author, diplomat, inventor, philosopher, printer, publisher and scientist. Today, we'd likely accuse Franklin of being indecisive in his career choices. "Ben, when are you going to settle down?" we would likely ask. However, consider Franklin's achievements. He invented bifocal glasses, the lightening rod, swim fins, the glass harmonica, and the Franklin stove. He published Poor Richard's Almanac, promoted colonial unity, founded the first American fire department, and created the first lending library. If that were not enough, he brokered the French alliance that helped make the American Revolution possible and then went on to serve as the postmaster general under the Continental Congress. He died an abolitionist. Oh, and somewhere along the way he became fluent in five languages. And we wonder how Benjamin Franklin was so very good at thinking outside the box.
Franklin lived broadly. The only reason that history holds out Benjamin Franklin as an outlier - a lone genius in a sea of mediocrity - along with Sir Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, and most of the enlightened leaders of the Enlightenment is that today we believe you must find your interest and dedicate your entire life's work to it. Don't dabble. Become an expert.
We like our leaders to be experienced, educated, and - when possible - tall. Focus: that's what we value. And focus is what we get.
We can outsource (jobs), pass the buck (subprime paper), and fight wars with intense concentration. After all, it's what we were trained to do. Focus. Execute. Do whatever it takes to get the job done. Whatever you do, just don't dabble.
If you want to be a serious politician or business leader, why waste your time as a radio broadcaster or a Hollywood actor (Ronald Reagan)? Why split rails or get lost among the pages of Aesop's Fables (Abraham Lincoln)? Why become a lawyer when you could be fighting for peace (Mohandas Ghandi, who, by the way, was nominated five times, but was never a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Martin Scorsese: you're in good company.)
History's greatest leaders were also history's greatest dabblers. They were great problem-solvers not only because of how they thought (big) but how they lived (broadly). In order to nurture a brave new world of creative problem-solvers, we need to train leaders who can think "sideways" (across conventional boundaries and between the lines). We need creative leaders not experts. The only effective way for America to remain relevant in the 21st century is to reinvent itself through creativity and innovation. The mandate for America 2.0 is a creative imperative.
Where to start?
First, we need to go back to school - not the institution, rather the mentality. The origins of the word "school" meant "serious activity without the pressure of necessity". In ancient Greece, this manifested itself in schools as places where students had the opportunity to read, to contemplate, and to bask in knowledge from a variety of disciplines. Today, schools have become vocational training grounds - graduating specialists instead of generalists, technicians in lieu of leaders, and managers instead of creators. We desperately need a return to broad-based education - programs that educate the whole child, not just help to promote his or her natural strengths.
Second, we need to give people more time and space to think. That involves unshackling our corporate leaders from the death knell of quarterly earnings calls, increasing our funding of basic science, and encouraging a spirit of entrepreneurship that made America 1.0 the killer application of 19th and 20th century governance.
And finally, we need to encourage innovation that creates more than cool gadgets like iPhones and flat-panel televisions (although, Apple, please don't stop, we love you), but innovation that also improves how we govern, how we teach, and how we lead. In search of the next Eureka moment for America, we need to bring back the dilettante.