Monday, December 1, 2014

Innovation and Creativity: What The Army Can Learn from the Fashion World

This post continues the Twitter-based professional conversation between military leaders in the United States and faculty and students at Kings College in London. If you’re interested in participating just “tweet” your response with #CCLKOW

Much has been written about the Army needing to develop innovative leaders. TRADOC Publication 525-3-1, The US Army Operating Concept, Win in a Complex World states:

“What all Army operations will have in common is a need for innovative and adaptive leaders and cohesive teams that thrive in conditions of complexity and uncertainty.”
We can look to the fashion industry on how to design organizations to be innovative and adaptive. It starts with the leaders. As written about in the HBR article titled “Innovation in Turbulent Times” , the fashion industry, which can be described as fast-paced, places creative people in positions of authority. The successful companies form leadership partnerships between creative thinkers and analytical thinkers because they understand that organizations that don’t innovate quickly will die.  They understand that if creative people aren’t in positions of authority then breakthrough innovation will not happen. However, creative people can’t do it alone, as the article points out, and need analytical thinkers as part of the leadership team in order to be successful in business.

As the HBR article states further “Fashion companies have learned to establish and maintain effective partnerships between creative people and numbers-oriented people. They structure the business so that the partners can run it effectively, and they ensure that each is clear about what decisions are his or hers to make. These companies have also learned to foster right-brain–left-brain collaboration at every level, and so continue to attract the kind of talent on which their survival depends.”
Right-brain people can be summed up as “creative thinkers” and left-brain people as more “analytical thinkers." There is a lot more to it than this, building teams of left brain and right brain thinkers might design our formations to be more creative and innovative when the situation calls for it. As Daniel Pink writes in A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future ,"...left-brain analytical thinking which has dominated in the Information Age will witness a shift towards an inclusion of more right-brain thinking in the Creative Age.” How we think individually and collectively is becoming an essential source of competitive advantage.”

Apple, one of the most creative companies in recent years, had a right-brain-left-brain team with Steve Jobs and Tim Cook. What if the Army took a more deliberate approach to designing its units to be more innovative and built teams comprised of right-brained-left-brained thinkers and paired its command teams this way?  

Early on in their enlisted or commissioned careers, leaders can be assessed in Professional Military Education (PME) courses with assessments like the Neethling Brain Instrument (NBI) that measure whole-brain thinking and assess the extent to which a person prefers certain types of thinking or mental processes over others.  Given a choice of left-brain vs. right-brain, as well as high vs. low road types of thinking tasks, there tends to be a correlation between what one prefers doing and those things with which one is skilled at.  People tend to develop skills in the areas they prefer.  The assessment can easily be tracked and could become part of the bigger talent management picture. Starting with Company Commanders and First Sergeants, and working up through Brigade Commands to include Battalion and Brigade staff assignments, the Army can build teams that think more creatively.

If the corporate world can design their leadership teams to be innovative and adaptive in order to thrive in the fast-paced environment of the commercial world, the Army can as well. To fight and win in a complex world we need creative, innovative, and adaptive leadership teams at all levels.

For the record I am a right-brainer.

For the purpose of this discussion: How can the Army better identify leadership teams that possess the education, skills, and thinking preferences to be innovative and adaptive and thrive in complex environments? I have offered my thoughts and look forward to the conversation.

Jonathan Silk is a Major in the U.S. Army. He has served as a Cavalry Scout platoon leader , and has commanded both a Tank Company and an Infantry Company. He is currently an Assistant Professor and serving as the Operations Officer for the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning (CALDOL) at the United States Army Military Academy, West Point, NY. He was a recipient of the calendar year 2009 General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award.The views expressed in this blog are not representative of US Army or DOD.


  1. the style industry, which can be defined as rapid-paced, locations creative people in positions of authority. The a success companies shape leadership partnerships among creative thinkers and analytical thinkers because they remember that businesses that don’t innovate fast will die. They remember the fact that if innovative people aren’t in positions of authority then breakthrough innovation will no longer manifest.I'm working in resume writing service for freshers however, creative people can’t do it by myself, as the article factors out, and need analytical thinkers as part of the leadership crew on the way to be successful in commercial enterprise.

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