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(Photo: Getty images)
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OPINIONBusinessJune 22, 2020

A case for bringing creatives to the governance table

(Photo: Getty images)
(Photo: Getty images)

On the back of co-authoring a white paper on the subject, Steven Moe explores how artists and poets can bring colour and creativity onto boards.

The Covid-19 crisis has shown us that we need new paradigms of thinking. We have all been impacted by the pandemic which has challenged us to think and act more creatively than ever before. Businesses needs blue skies thinkers and creatives might help find new solutions. 

We need to look again at the roads on which we had been travelling and ask if they are the right ones. One aspect of this might be looking at the role of boards to govern businesses. While we rightly talk about addressing imbalances when it comes to age, ethnicity and gender, what might happen if we also focused on divergent thinking that comes from having creatives involved?  

In our 30-page report, “Tomorrow’s Board Diversity: The role of creatives,” we consider the unique skills that creatives might bring to governance tables. Would boardroom discussions be enhanced and activated if they had the added perspective of film producers, designers, artists, poets and curators? We think so.

But what do we actually mean by the term “creative”? Well, as an adjective it refers to “having the ability or power to create… characterised by originality of thought or inventiveness; tending to stimulate the imagination or invention”.  As a noun it is “having or showing an ability to make new things or think of new ideas”. Those sound like valuable attributes to include in any boardroom. We use the word to emphasise that these individuals are characterised by bringing an originality of thought and inventiveness. As social-entrepreneur Jacob Lennheden said: “Creativity can play a vital role in enhancing all aspects of business performance and is in many ways considered the raw material of innovation.”

And for the purpose of the paper, we acknowledge that “creatives” most often have their foundations in the arts. This could be from the visual, performing and literary arts – and are guided and driven by an originality of thought. As the writer Jeff Goins explains: “The truth is that we need more creatives in positions of influence – to colour the world with beauty and life. Creatives craft poetry in a world that is otherwise content with prose. They bring art to areas where there is only architecture. Creatives help us see life in a new light – to perceive a new dimension, a deeper way of encountering what we know. And we need more of those kinds of leaders.”

In preparing this paper we were surprised at how little has been written on this point. There was a lot on other forms of diversity, but not on creatives. We think Aotearoa has the chance to lead the way here. Certainly we know there is a need for greater diversity of thought at board level, and creative arts are both acknowledged and valued. Let’s join the dots and connect up these points.

Already our paper has been well-received, with Kirsten Patterson, chief executive of the New Zealand Institute of Directors saying it “brings to light a topic which is often neglected: the role that creatives can play on boards. In our experience, directors who have a range of diverse and creative talent, capabilities and knowledge bring different perspectives to decision-making, planning and board culture – that will likely enhance an organisation’s performance, as well as better represent the stakeholders.”

In the end we conclude that one of the key elements is not just having creatives at the table: it’s also about developing an environment that invites and welcomes diverse perspectives. So as well as board composition it is also all about board culture. Some of our conclusions argue that boards should begin to review and discuss their composition, rebalancing the accountants, lawyers and business minds with those who can bring a different type of thinking to the table. 

We should all seek to raise awareness about diversity of thought and the role creatives can bring, identify pathways for creatives to join boards and provide training when they do. If this can be done it will help our businesses to be more ready to face the challenges that are coming up as the true impact of Covid-19 starts to play out.

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