Professional and Alumni

Reflective Human Action

Reflective Human Action
On-Line Curriculum

Week 8 - Personal Leadership Styles

Topics: Creativity and Reflective Human Action, aesthetic approaches
Objective: Apply creativity to examine a system

This week's assignment:

  1. Read the E-Lecture.
  2. Participate in the open challenge for discussion
  3. Complete 1 activity, posting your observations in your journal.


The "new science" view of reality prompts leaders to view organizations as "webs of relationships." Thus, Gardner (1993) argues, "creative activity grows, first, out of the relationships between an individual and the objective world of work, and, second out of the ties between an individual and other human beings" (p. 9). As individuals work alone and together to shape ideas into reality, numerous possibilities are evoked and creativity results. "Innovation arises from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created. Knowledge is generated anew from connections that weren't there before" (Wheatley, 1994, p. 113).

Because everyone plays an essential role in the formation of knowledge, the creativity of each member in an organization is important. What does it mean to live and work creatively? Perhaps the most essential quality is the adoption of a creative attitude and way of living (deBono, 1992; Gardner, 1993; Moore, 1992). According to deBono (1992), "The creative pause should become a mental habit for anyone who wants to be creative" (p. 86). He defines the creative pause as a deliberate interruption in our everyday routine to pay attention to some point. We should pause at any time during our ordinary day simply because something is interesting, amusing, or in some way engaging. When we "let ourselves be arrested by the imaginal richness" (Moore, 1992, p. 289) around us, genuine creativity increases.

Not only must we "let the world in, to perceive it" if we are to live more creatively, but we must take time to "engage it fully" (Moore, 1992, p. 286). By spending meaningful time with nature, things, and human beings, "we get to know them more intimately and to feel more genuinely connected with them" (Moore, p. 287). Our creativity tends to flourish when we spend time thinking about the ideas we truly love and engaging in the activities that spark our imagination (Moore, 1992). As Wheatley (1994) reminds us, full engagement requires that we stop trying to do everything right and begin adding a quality of playfulness. A playful spirit adds imagination, emotional intensity, fun, mystery, and surprise that are too-often absent from "serious" work. The more we engage in play, the more likely we are to be surprised (Wheatley, 1994). "Surprise is the only route to discovery" (Wheatley, 1994, p. 142) and play often results in a "new-found creation of the mind" (Huizinga, 1955, p. 9-10).

We also enrich our engagement in ordinary activities, ranging from personal decision making to political expression, when we approach them aesthetically (Broudy, 1972; Moore, 1992). "To experience life aesthetically is to sense the drama in every event of nature, in every moment of life, in the conflict of colors and shapes, sounds and rhythms" (Broudy, 1972). It is to draw the parts of everyday experience together into a meaningful whole--a whole that illustrates beauty, theme, and variation on a theme, reciprocity, rhythm, harmony, balance, and resolution of conflict (Kupfer, 1983). Artistic experience occurs whenever we "create an external, concrete form in which the soul of our lives can be evoked and contained" (Moore, 1992, p. 302). For example, Wheatley (1994) compares organizations to the art of dance: "Knowing the steps ahead of time is not important; being willing to engage with the music and move freely onto the dance floor is what's key" (p. 142-143).


Do you have a problem in a system that you'd like to share? What changes can you make in the system to improve people's ability to creatively address the problem? Consider time for reflection, mindfulness, creativity, playfulness, artistry and story-telling. Once posted, classmates may share other approaches to try.

Activity: (Choose Option I, II and III)

Option I: Pause for Creativity

Every time we stop to pause to reflect and wonder, there is a possibility of a new idea. Thus, deBono (1992) calls this habit the creative pause. Although not every creative pause leads to a creative result, deBono argues that the habit of stopping to engage with our thoughts stretches our imagination. Every time we pause, we invest in our creative potential and could discover something new. The following thoughts are examples of a creative pause:

I want to pay attention to . . .
Is there another idea here?
Is this the only way to do this?
This is interesting.

Take a few moments to jot down anything that is particularly intriguing, attractive, perplexing, or interesting to you. Think about the people around you, the room you are in, the ideas that you have found appealing, anything that comes to mind!


Are any ideas interesting enough to pursue further? What more do you want to know? How can you begin to more deeply engage with the idea?

If there is something in ideas that emerge from creative pausing that is inherently valuable, the insights sometimes can be applied in some way to solve a problem. Thecreative focus is related to the creative pause but involves selecting defined areas for reflection. Some examples are:

I want to improve . . .
We need some ideas for . . .
We need opportunities for . . .

Select an area for creative focus. Then play with ways the ideas from creative pausing that could be applied in a more focused manner. (The ideas may or may not lead anywhere, but there is always the possibility when you take a moment to try them out.)


deBono, E. (1992). Serious creativity. New York: HarperBusiness.

Option II: The Art of Creative Thinking

Kupfer (1983) argues that establishing aesthetic relations in everyday activities is essential to meaningful family, work, leisure, political, and educational life. Aesthetic experience--from personal decision making to building a community--depends on the capacity to integrate diverse details into a meaningful form:

In aesthetic experience, we respond to what is presented to us by discriminating among its constituents so as to integrate them into a unified whole. The whole is formed out of the interaction among its parts. While these parts are distinct, making distinctive contributions, their relations with one another and their place in the whole is decisive for their meaning and value. In the aesthetic ideal, they enhance and deepen each other's significance: one word's connotation enriching another's meaning, this musical phrase heightening that one's effect, the shape of a roof setting off the window's lines. The parts are interdependent, forming a kind of community. (p. 4)

Experience in organizations becomes more meaningful whenever we draw in artful qualities. Such artistry is especially significant in the new science view of reality where forms constantly change amidst chaos, and new forms must take shape in continual self-renewal. The following exercises are intended to help you think about art and aesthetics in your organization:

  1. Describe your organization in terms of selected art concepts. Some examples are:
    1. Sensory elements: color, shape, pattern, texture, sound, smell, taste, imagery.
    2. Beauty, style, poetry, dance, music.
    3. Reciprocity of parts, balance, contrast, emphasis, rhythm.
    4. Tension and resolution of tension, unity in diversity, variation on a theme.
    5. Drama, surprise.
  2. How can you more fully integrate these concepts into the daily life of your organization?
  3. Have aesthetic experiences in your organization contributed to creativity in the past? Explain. In what ways can your organization become more artful in the future?

Using an aesthetic approach and the action wheel, frame one issue pertinent to your organization (meaning, power, etc.,). Using ideas from art and aesthetics, suggest ways to intervene and address the issue.

Reference :

Kupfer, J. K. (1983). Experience as art: Aesthetics in everyday life. Albany: State University of New York.

Option III: The Storied Organization

One particular art form that is significant to organizations is storytelling. A good story weaves together a unique plot with vivid details. Interesting characters have intentions, take actions, and experience outcomes in a particular setting. A good story also illustrates a theme which tells us something about our personal and shared lives.
Stories, to Bruner (1987), are an everyday form of "lifemaking" (p. 12) by which we interpret (and continually reinterpret) our experiences, imagine our futures, create identities, learn values, and understand our culture. When we see ourselves as "great weavers of tales" that "capture our imaginations and the experiences of our lives" (Wheatley, 1994, p. 142), the work in our organizations gains a quality of play, enjoyment, and creativity. The following questions are intended to help you think about the art of telling and interpreting stories:

  1. Write a story that illustrates your organization. Relate some of the most interesting and vivid details about characters, intentions, actions, outcomes, and setting. Discuss the following:
    1. What is the overall theme (or themes)?
    2. What organizational values does the story reflect? Does it reflect your mission?
    3. What does it say about the personal sense of identity of those within the group?
    4. What does the story reveal about the relationships among people and group culture?
    5. How do you envision the story as it continues into the future?
  2. Consider the features of human action. What does the story reveal about the features of human action in your organization?
  3. Discuss ways you might enhance the creativity of your organization through stories.


Bruner, J. (1987). Life as narrative. Social Research, 54(1), 11-32.

Final Paper

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