Navigating the Sixth Wave: Creative leadership insights

Navigating the Sixth Wave: Creative leadership insights

Genius Journey
Published On:
January 4, 2024

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower,” Apple’s Steve Jobs once said. Talking about him: What do Steve Jobs,  Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? They are the visionaries who led the charge during the Fifth Wave of technological innovation, characterized by the rise of information and communication technology, personal computers, and the internet. These creative leaders not only marked an era dominated by computerization and digital networks since the late 1980s but also amassed vast fortunes. The “big five” technology companies founded by these creative leaders (Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Facebook) were topping the Fortune 500 ranking for large parts of the 2010s.

Foretold to end in 2020, the Fifth Wave got a two-year lifeline due to an unexpected global event (the COVID-19 pandemic). Yet, as 2022 dawned, the Fifth Wave reached its zenith, and we found ourselves at the dawn of a new era—the Sixth Wave (ca. 2020-2045). What does it mean for where we are now in the history of humanity’s economic, social, and technological evolution? What are other trends fueling the rise of creative leadership? And if you see yourself as a creative leader —or aspire to become one— what does this all mean for you?

History repeats itself in cycles

As we venture into the Sixth Wave, it's vital to remind ourselves that history, economies, and technological progress move in cycles. At the onset of each long-wave cycle, a fresh class of creative leaders emerges, ready to establish pioneering companies and craft revolutionary products using nascent technologies.

For example, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Pierre S. du Pont played pivotal roles in the Third Wave of innovation (propelled by combustion engines, electricity, and chemistry; ca. 1900-1950). Creative leaders such as Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka (Sony) or Juan Trippe (PanAm) surfed the Fourth Wave (driven by petrochemicals, electronics, and aviation; 1950-1990). These creative leaders were the predecessors of the creative class of ICT leaders who shaped the Fifth Wave. Now, history is about to repeat itself once more.

Creative Leaders: The Vanguard of the Sixth Wave

The dawn of the Sixth Wave heralds a dynamic and disruptive decade. Three intersecting technology spaces will propel this new long cycle: digital, sustainable, and human-centered technologies. As such, the Sixth Wave's driving forces will encompass digital technologies like AI, robotics, drones, autonomous vehicles, big data, and machine learning. The second space will be clean (aka green or sustainable) technologies such as clean energy, recycling, and perhaps even clean food. Additionally, the era will see a convergence with human-centric technologies, including biotechnology, genomics, and human augmentation. 

The initial phase of the Sixth Wave (ca. 2020-2028) has seen the emergence of a new cadre of creative leaders. These pioneers either envision the potential of the Sixth Wave or have already embarked on their entrepreneurial journeys, scaling their startups in preparation for the transformative opportunities ahead. The Fortune 500 companies of the future are being founded now or will emerge in the years to come. 

Creative Leaders: Navigating a VUCA world with confidence

In the second half of the 20th century, the business world was relatively stable, static, and predictable. These were the heydays of the manager who planned, led, organized, directed, controlled, and coordinated what happened in a settled organization. However, the 21st century has ushered in a highly dynamic environment characterized by accelerating speed, rising uncertainty and risks, mounting complexity, exponential changes, and daily surprises—or, as I like to say: “It SUCCS.”

To successfully navigate this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world, today's executives and managers need to become agile, flexible, and fluid creative leaders. While analytical thinking sufficed for planning, organizing, directing, and controlling activities in the static 20th century, the challenges of the 21st century require a different mindset and skillset: that of an authentic creative leader. And the good news is that we can develop managers and talents into creative leaders, provided they possess a psychodynamic mind. 

Creative Leaders: Creative Leaders: Elevating creativity and consciousness to pass humanity’s final exam

“Humanity is in ‘final exam’ as to whether or not it qualifies for continuance in the Universe.” The words of the American architect and futurist Richard Buckminster Fuller resonate even more deeply today than when first stated a few decades ago. 

The following two to three decades will be vital for addressing fundamental challenges that threaten humanity’s well-being and continuity. These challenges include climate change, sustainability, population growth, aging societies, labor distribution, global debt, and the looming technological singularity. Moreover, currently, humanity finds itself amid a Fourth Turning, a crisis quarter occurring roughly once every eighty to a hundred years, which in the past often escalated into military conflict or widespread war.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of consciousness that created them,” Professor Albert Einstein wisely observed. Tackling these colossal challenges demands creative breakthrough ideas, typically arising from sub- or superconscious sources of creativity. To tap into these higher creative states, leaders must develop their mindsets, routines, and practices to embrace the creative ways of geniuses. 

Humanity needs a substantial cohort of new creative leaders to cultivate and practice these extraordinary mindsets and elevate their consciousness. Alongside their creative teams, conscious creative leaders craft and activate the breakthrough solutions that usher us out of the “dark ages of industrial capitalism” into a new era — as I like to call it, a new Innonaissance sparked by game-changing new technologies and an evolved, more ecological, human-centered, and conscious capitalism. 

 “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” ―Albert Einstein

Conclusion: Creative leaders are on the rise to drive humanity’s progress, prosperity, and continuance

As we bid farewell to the Fifth Wave and gaze ahead to the unfolding Sixth Wave, one truth remains unwavering: creative leaders are the harbingers of progress in every age. They are the visionaries, the disruptors, and the architects of change, guiding us through the uncharted territories of a new wave of technological innovation. 

Moreover, creative leaders creatively and flexibly guide their teams, business units, ventures, and companies through a VUCA world that SUCCS. Finally, visionary leaders are bound to rise to steer humanity through its ‘final exam,’ confronting existential challenges with courage, authenticity, and ingenuity. Able to operate on higher levels of creativity and consciousness, these creative leaders embark on a creative transformation journey with their creative teams to redefine the future, ready to embrace and seize the unfolding Sixth Wave. 

In Part 2 of this two-article episode titled “Attention, creative leaders! Enter the new class shaping the Sixth Wave,” we will explore how creative leaders can ride the Sixth Wave together with their creative teams. Thereby, we will distinguish four phases of the corporate life cycle, each coming with different challenges and setting a specific leadership agenda as creative leaders of the Sixth Wave delve into the transformative journey with their creative teams.

  • Are you interested in how to develop into an agile creative leader who can master a VUCA world that SUCCS, ride the Sixth Wave and play on higher levels of creativity and consciousness? Learn more about our creative leadership method, the Genius Journey, on our website or by downloading our Genius Journey booklet
  • What other trends do you see that supports the rise of creative leadership?
  • And if you’re a creative leader, or aspire to develop into one, contact us to jointly explore how we can support you (and your creative team) on your transformative journey.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2023.