Boundary Spanning Leadership, a book by Chris Ernst and Donna Chrobot-Mason from the Center for Creative Leadership was released last week has been an immediate success. It is in fact, a good example of its own philosophies in that it draws on a wide range of ideas from many contexts to support the research on which it is based. It also leverages the impressive networks into which the CCL authors have within their circles of influence to promote the ideas it contains. They cleverly contrast the common perception of boundaries as barriers to progress with the less commonly applied definition as frontiers. This highlights an important aspect of our role as leaders is to challenge boundaries to forge new territories on the path a discovery pathway that drives innovation and performance. Although these principles may not seem new at first glance to some, what is unique about the book is the simple way in which these complex issues are simplified with a well structured pathway that clarifies how you can transform the concept of creative innovation into a reality. They provide interactive ways to engage people to participate, that is taking good theory and weaving a pragmatic process in place to deliver results.
I was attracted to this book because I often referred to myself as a “boundary rider”, explaining that my role has often been to solicit new options by drawing from a wide range of disciplines to stimulate conversations at the edge of people’s experiences and knowledge. I, as I am sure others like CCL and similar innovation consultants, have used such approaches for many years to make a difference for the people we interact with. The challenge we often have is when people ask what we do. It can be hard to define and mundane job titles do not do our work justice. This is what Chris and Donna have captured so well. They clarify some of the more creative elements and processes we deploy through a sharper focus and demonstrate why this creates value.
When being introduced to new people (even by some of my former bosses, clients and family members!), rather than tell them what I do my introducer often says, “He can explain what he does as I am not sure”. My replies vary depending on who it is and the context, but some of my favourites have been “I bend people’s minds” or “I am a boundary rider across multiple knowledge disciplines”. These statements are not meant to be arrogant or create a sense of superiority- they are meant to stimulate a creative conversation by offering something a little mysterious and intriguing. These responses invariably trigger another question and the exchange of good questions is always a more creative and fun two-way interaction to share knowledge than simply telling them answers (which like names are bit mundane and quickly forgotten).
Like my friend the Yak illustrated above, boundary riders are highly enthusiastic in what they do and if given a little freedom around emergent interactions and permission for the group to experience some small “mistakes” in a safe fail environment – the groups can create a lot of innovative outcomes whilst having a lot of fun along the way.