Attention, creative leaders! Are you ready to shape the Sixth Wave?

Attention, creative leaders! Are you ready to shape the Sixth Wave?

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Published On:
January 4, 2024

“The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued,” noted the British creative education advocate Sir Ken Robinson. 

In the first part of this two-article episode titled "Navigating the “Sixth Wave: Creative leadership insights,” we embarked on a journey in the footsteps of creative leaders who steered the course during the Fifth Wave of technological innovation. We explored how creative leader legends like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos harnessed the power of information and communication technology, personal computers, and the internet to found innovation-leading companies, achieving remarkable success and riches in the process. As the ICT wave drew to a close in 2022, a new dawn was already beckoning. We’re now in the first phase of the Sixth Wave, which will be powered by digital technologies, clean technologies, and human-centered technologies.

As we witness the advent of this new era, a fresh wave of new creative leaders is already making their mark. Their ventures are poised to drive the Sixth Wave with disruptive force, guided by technology domains that promise to reshape our world in even more exciting and prosperous ways than did the Fifth Wave. But what does this monumental shift signify for those who aspire to become creative leaders in this new long cycle? How should they navigate the uncertainties of this dynamic landscape with their companies, business units, and teams? Well, it depends on where within the company life cycle you want to creatively lead innovation and creative transformation.

Who are the creative leaders of the Sixth Wave? And what main creative challenges  do they need to tackle?

Creative leaders (and their creative teams) encounter an array of distinctive creative challenges. Much like the changing seasons throughout the year, these challenges vary depending on the phase within the corporate life cycle they presently occupy. Just as we adapt our activities and modi operandi to the shifting seasons, creative leaders must address their unique business challenges in each phase. So, let’s explore the four distinct archetypes of creative leadership and the associated creative business challenges:

A creative agency leader in flow

Phase 1 Creative Leaders: Creative start-up founders

In this magnificent book Zero to One, Paypal founder Peter Thiel described the essential challenge of a new start-up as follows: “Our task today is to find singular ways to create the new things that will make the future not just different, but better—to go from 0 to 1…” 

Spring is the season of new beginnings, and Phase 1 creative leaders are the visionaries who plant the seeds of innovation. They are the founders of disruptive start-ups, driven by a mission to create revolutionary value propositions in sixth-wave technologies. Their motto is “From good to great to WOW,” and they focus on creating a compelling value proposition capable of disrupting established norms.

To get the start-up off the ground and move “from zero to one”, creative founders need to:

  • Define the first version of a compelling company core (purpose, values) of the new venture,
  • Create and prototype a disruptive new product in the Sixth Wave technology space (ideally based on a creative breakthrough idea),
  • Ensure they compose a balanced core team where each C-level and senior role cognitively fits the nature of its associated responsibilities. 

In phase 1, creative leaders shoot for a disruptive creative breakthrough idea that can kick-start a fundable technology start-up.

Phase 2 Creative Leaders: Creative scale-up leaders and their team leads

“Letting go and trusting others to do things well is one of the more challenging aspects of being a leader of a growing organization,” noted Verne Hernish in his excellent book Scaling Up

Summer marks a season of growth and abundance, just like Phase 2 of the corporate life cycle. Creative scale-up leaders take promising start-ups and propel them into thriving businesses. In this phase, more creative leaders overseeing various business functions and teams join the venture to support the top-level creative leadership team. Together, their focus shifts to aggressive scaling by growing the venture’s customer base and revenues, refining the company’s essential core purpose and values, and expanding value propositions to accommodate growth.

To achieve explosive breakthrough growth and move “from one to a thousand,” an expanding team of creative leaders needs to:

  • Refine and expand on the venture’s essential company core (mission, vision, values, behaviors, core competencies, economic engine denominator, 10x factor, etc.)
  • Create and maintain a trends and discontinuities map as well as the venture’s strategic road map with differentiating strategic actions to guide growth, 
  • Hire competent new managers and talents that cognitively fit their new role as the venture scales up in people — and ensure that all existing talents are aligned for peak performance, 
  • Fine-tune and incrementally improve on its main disruptive value proposition and 
  • Expand its range of offerings with complementary value propositions (evolutionary innovations).

In short, creative leaders in phase 2 push for creative breakthrough growth of their fast-scaling venture.

The creative leadership team of a regional technology scale-up learning how to use TIPS for creative talent management

Phase 3 Creative Leaders: Creative agency executives and Multinational business unit leads

“A pivot is a change in strategy without a change in vision,” noted the American entrepreneur and author Eric Ries in his splendid book The Lean Startup

As autumn sets in, it’s time for Phase 3 creative leaders to evolve their well-established businesses. In fast-moving “early adopter” industries, such as creative agencies, entertainment, FMCG, and food and beverages, these leaders pivot their companies to adapt to evolving customer needs and technological progress. To stay relevant in times of market shifts, their focus is on updating their value propositions through evolutionary innovation, especially with digitalization, green, and human-focused initiatives.

To pivot the settled business, creative leaders on an agency, company, or business unit level need to:

  • Update the company’s essential core to make it Sixth Wave compatible,
  • Bring in targeted managers and talents to complement the teams with experience in emerging technologies and new industry sectors (thereby ensuring a cognitive role fit for each new hire),
  • Refresh and upgrade the firm’s essential products and services with a focus on evolutionary innovations, thereby embracing digital, sustainability, and human-centered project initiative),
  • Creative workshops and culture-evolving initiatives to get staff out of their comfort zones and energize them to rise to the changing market environment as the Sixth Wave unfolds.

As such, creative leaders in phase 3 aim for creative breakthrough adaptation to changing technologies and customer wants and needs.

The CEO of a regional digital agency listening to topidea pitches of his creative team leads in an X-IDEA innovation project

Phase 4 Creative Leaders: Creative C-level executives and creative transformation project leads

“Leadership is an intense journey into yourself. You can use your own style to get anything done. It’s about being self-aware,” noted Jeffrey Immelt, who led General Electric’s Ecomagination creative transformation as CEO in the mid 2000s. 

Winter represents a season of reflection and reinvention, similar to Phase 4 of the corporate life cycle. Just like Jeffrey Immelt, creative C-level executives and their business unit and project leads take on the challenge of creatively transforming established companies facing disruption —and potentially even creative destruction— from Sixth Wave technologies. Their role involves creating revolutionary new value propositions while making incremental improvements to existing offerings. They recruit new executives, managers, and creative talents to lead and work in Sixth Wave tech spaces. Importantly, they also initiate creative culture-transformation initiatives to avoid creative destruction.

To creatively transform the settled business, creative leaders on a C-suite, business unit, or team level need to:

  • Renew the company’s essential core to highlight an urgent need to change and rise to the Sixth Wave technology innovation challenges, 
  • Recruit new psycho-dynamic executives and managers to lead new business units or creative project teams in Sixth Wave tech spaces, 
  • Incrementally improve established cash cow products and services while at the same time urgently pushing for new value propositions in fitting Sixth Wave spaces (revolutionary innovations)
  • Start a more comprehensive creative culture-transformation initiative to prepare the company for a new growth cycle by embracing new technologies to avoid the fate of imminent creative destruction.

In phase 4, creative leaders target creative breakthrough transformation of a corporate behemoth.

A regional creative business unit leader and his creative team pitching a top idea from an X-IDEA innovation project at the MNC's global innovation summit — and winning the idea competition

Conclusion: Time for creative leaders to rise and drive the Sixth Wave

In the ever-repeating cycles of history, new creative leaders have consistently risen to the forefront of technological revolutions. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Pierre S. du Pont played pivotal roles in the Third Wave of innovation (ca. 1900-1950).  Creative leaders such as Akio Morito and Masaru Ibuka (Sony) or Juan Trippe (PanAm) surfed the Fourth Wave (1950-1990). Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos rode to prominence in the Fifth Wave (1990-2020). And today, a new class of creative leaders is emerging to drive the Sixth Wave. Will you be one of them?

As the Sixth Wave of innovation unfolds in the next 25 years, a diverse group of new creative leaders is rising to the occasion. They come from various backgrounds and cultures but share a common purpose: to harness the power of emerging technologies for the betterment of humanity. Just as history has repeated itself with each new wave, established companies that embrace creative transformation and empower these creative leaders will thrive, while those that don't risk facing creative destruction.

It's a call to action for all aspiring creative leaders and organizations alike. The Sixth Wave is upon us, and its success depends on the vision, creativeness, and determination of those who dare to lead it.

  • In the Sixth Wave, creative leaders will drive change, disrupt industries, and make history. Join the ranks of those who will shape the future and create a meaningful impact on the world by giving this article a like or sharing it with others.
  • Are you ready to embark on the journey of creative leadership in the Sixth Wave? Learn more about our creative leadership method, the Genius Journey, on our website or by downloading our Genius Journey booklet
  • What other creative challenges do you face as a creative leader? Feel free to reach out to us if you seek guidance and support on your path as a creative leader or if you need assistance in nurturing your creative team.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2023.