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Get your hand in the air!

Creative_kids Do you know who Gordon MacKenzie was?

You know...the longtime creative guru at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City. (He wrote Orbiting the Giant Hairball.) I had the pleasure of meeting Gordon MacKenzie about 15 years ago when he spoke to employees in the magazine group at Meredith Corporation.

I'll never forget the classic-MacKenzie story he told.

He said he spoke to kids at lots of schools about his profession. He'd open each talk by telling the students that he was an artist. And then he'd stop and look around the classroom, notice the artwork on the walls, and wonder aloud who created the masterpieces.

He'd ask, "How many artists are there in the room? Raise your hands."

The same thing always happened he said.

  • In kindergarten and first-grade classes, every kid strained to raise their hand the highest.
  • In second-grade classes, about three-fourths of the kids raised their hands, though not nearly as high and with as much conviction.
  • In third grade, only a few kids held up their hands at all.
  • And, you guessed it... by the sixth grade, often not a single hand went up. And the kids would look around to see if anybody was going to be foolish enough to admit they were that "weird."

Why did Gordon MacKenzie find sixth-graders looking to set apart, or label, a kid who saw herself as intuitive and creative?

Because there has been a strong tilt in our society, since the dawning of the Information Age, towards the kid -- or adult -- who is more logical than intuitive, more sequential than nonlinear, and whose reasoning is more computer-like and less holistic.

We've tended to prize left-brained thinking more than its counterpart, taking the logical approach more seriously, seeing the alternative as "nice-to-have," but secondary.

You're wondering what this has to do with leadership, right? Well, being logical and rational as a leader is no longer sufficient. Our success as leaders of thriving businesses in the emerging era of what Daniel Pink -- in A Whole New Mind --calls "high concept high touch," depends on having artists in the room.

Not necessarily cartoonists or people who paint in water colors, but people who have an "artistic sensibility." Who have the essential abilities to solve problems, see patterns, understand the subtleties of human interaction, empathize with others and appreciate the world around them. Can access the right side of their brain as well as the left. Can think in unique ways...and like to...and don't mind raising their hands, as high as they can get them, even if their hand is the only hand in the air.

photo on flickr by tamersalama

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