Mrs T =MC2

January 13, 1995

Simon Targett reports on the link between creativity and leadership.

Einstein and Thatcher. Two names to conjure with, for sure. But in the same breath? That is what Harvard professor Howard Gardner has contrived to do in his whistle-stop tour of the British Isles. Renowned for his theory of multiple intelligences that challenges the traditional idea of a single human intelligence measurable by IQ tests, he has been tearing round the country with his latest work on the mind, which embraces creativity and leadership.

Gardner is fascinated by the human prodigy, the extraordinary being, the individual who precipitates change. Not for him the "unhistoric acts" of Dorothea, George Eliot's heroine in Middlemarch -- or, as he put it in a lecture to the Royal Society of Arts, "the mundane activities that fall within the purview of the proverbial man on the Clapham Omnibus". When he talks of creativity, he talks of bigtime "big C" Creativity, historical creativity, the creativity of an Einstein or a Picasso. Likewise, leadership is the innovative leadership of a Thatcher or the visionary leadership of a Gandhi rather than the so-so kind of the chairman of the local bowling club.

But why creativity and leadership? Gardner suggests they lie on opposite sides of the same coin. "They are not two different worlds," he told an audience at Church House in Westminster on Monday. Essentially, he says, the creator and the leader change the way people think and behave significantly -- but they do so quite differently.

Einstein created what Gardner terms "a symbolic object" -- the theory of relativity. It was this, rather than Einstein himself, that influenced people: first the nuclear physicists, and subsequently all of us. Gardner calls this phenomenon "indirect leadership". Thatcher was also creative in the sense that she developed a "story" -- "a story about a Britain that had gone wrong, that had turned away from its grandeur, and that she was going to restore" -- that appealed to the people, or at least enough of them to get her elected.

It might be asked how the discerning British, so often lauded as a "sophisticated electorate", could have been duped by so simple a device. But Gardner makes the point that people, when part of a homogeneous crowd, betray all the characteristics of the unsophisticated, "unschooled mind". Repeating her story in countless speeches, Thatcher communicated the quintessential message. In doing so, she exercised "direct leadership".

Thus creators are leaders, and vice versa. As if to emphasise this, when referring to them, he often says "creativity and leadership, leadership and creativity", thereby giving them some sort of synonymity. This is further emphasised when he contends that both creators and leaders are made not born. He does not argue that, with a little application, anyone could have written symphonies like a certain Austrian composer beginning with M. As he acknowledges: "I think Mozart had a few genes going for him." But he does suggest that environment -- social, political, economic -- counts for much.

The practical implication of this view is that, potentially at least, even ordinary people can be taught to be creative and to be leaders if they are given the right environment. As Gardner explains with a clever historical illustration: "You know that old cliche that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton? What that is trying to say is that you can construct an environment for young people that increases the likelihood of some doing very well in war, peace or whatever."

Teaching creativity is probably the hardest enterprise. For a start, it is not clear that lessons in creativity are altogether desirable. After all, given that creativity is rooted in deviant judgement, who wants a society of deviants, however creative? Gardner is probably correct when he speculates that "what many societies would like are the fruits of creativity without the costs". Yet even if it were desirable, creativity according to Gardner's definition is not easily transferable within the context of school or university.

That is because for him, creativity is not "in the head" but "in the judgements of others" and, in particular "the judgement of posterity". The objective measure of creativity is whether the domain -- nuclear physics in Einstein's case, the political environment in Thatcher's case -- has changed, and only time will tell. Often, contemporaries get the judgement wrong, only for subsequent generations to set the record straight. Salieri was preferred above Mozart, Carl Maria von Weber was preferred above Beethoven, and nobody but nobody noticed Vincent van Gogh. "That is why I distinguish between success and creativity."

Arguably, leadership -- at any rate "direct leadership" --is more teachable. For one thing, it is direct, which gives it an immediacy of impact and means the long years of waiting for a judgement are not necessary. Gardner has no hesitation in describing Thatcher as "one of the outstanding leaders of the 20th century, even though she is very much alive". For another thing, leadership "is in the mind", and that means its psychological properties can be learned.

Perhaps that is why Templeton College, the specialist management institution in Oxford, invited Gardner to lecture. Perhaps that is also why someone with a remarkable resemblance to Labour's Mr Machiavelli, Peter Mandelson, turned up to hear Gardner on leadership at Church House. In years to come, when Gardner again gives his lecture, maybe he will add a little variation. How about Einstein and Blair?

Please login or register to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments


Featured jobs

Planning Analyst

St Marys University, Twickenham

PhD Candidate in Political Behaviour

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology - Ntnu