by Theo Edmonds
Culture Futurist™ | Creativity Strategist | Artist/Poet | Imaginator Academy | Social Brain Capital Builder | WHOAology™
April 11, 2023
While Kodak did not invent the first digital camera, it did develop one of the earliest models in 1975. Kodak continued playing around the edges of digital cameras throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but the company struggled to understand and adapt to the rapid societal changes. In 1996, Kodak had a market cap of $28 billion and employed 140,000 people. By 2012, the company had gone bankrupt. That same year, with only 12 employees, Instagram was purchased by Facebook for $1 billion. So, what happened? In short, Kodak lost its sense of wonder.
In their linear thinking world, Kodak leaders did not believe film was going away. But in an exponential world, industries like manufacturing, healthcare, and finance are open to disruption by small groups of radically diverse entrepreneurs grounded in culture and backed by science. GenZ and Gen Alpha are proving this already.
Technology “muscle” alone is not enough anymore for companies to maintain their market positions, let alone grow. In 2010, 2 billion people were connected online. That number today is over 5 billion (about 65% of the world’s population). As technology becomes ubiquitous, the only differentiating factor will be in how people use the available technology. Like they say in computer science and mathematics, GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). Meaning that the quality of the input determines the quality of the output. The same is true in culture.
Successful businesses and communities must think creatively about the future. But very few business leaders say their company or city is good at creativity. That is because our old business processes are still mostly linear, and creativity is not.
The Wonder Advantage: Seeing Around Corners
The lack of connection between human resources and innovation is common in corporate settings. Merely renaming a department as “people and culture” is insufficient to unleash the untapped creativity within an organization. (Although it’s a good indication of where the executive management team sees their risk exposure.)
To tap into a company’s creative potential, a leader must possess the ability to comprehend, navigate, and integrate the latest findings from science, arts, business, and pop culture into a storytelling inflection point that brings about a new wave of innovation while also enhancing employee well-being. Our team at Imaginator Academy has dubbed this function the job of a Chief Wonder Officer™(CWO). We believe it’s the next essential member of the C-suite. A visionary and innovative leader who understands the advantages of fostering wonder, creativity, courage, curiosity, and well-being within a company’s “social brain” and knows how to align human resources and innovation for maximum impact.
So what is “wonder” anyway? And why does it matter? Psychologists generally define wonder as a heightened state of consciousness and emotion brought about by something singularly beautiful, rare, or unexpected. Other researchers call it the state of mind when we have reached the limits of our present understanding, and things start to look slightly different. Educators say it is when we reach the point where genuine doubt and intellectual humility open us up to new possibilities. Think of it this way: wonder is the connector train station between awe and curiosity.
In business, wonder is the missing link to driving creativity, elevating culture through analytics, and designing innovation around purpose-rich human experiences. A company that can tap into the collective wonder of its talent vastly expands its options for creating new social and economic value.
As the future of work rapidly changes, companies must adapt to remain ahead of the curve. A CWO understands:
- How to find and talk with researchers across many disciplines, from arts and economics to sociology and neuroscience;
- How to ask a good question and help teams manage through creative tension before rushing too early around a small solution to the wrong problem;
- How to work with data scientists in translating cultural data signals into intelligence that makes new options for strategic agility visible;
- How to create internal/external stakeholder engagement strategies for mining enterprise value through inclusive innovation;
- How to “wonder-neer” compassion-informed emotional resiliency programs for diverse talent who may differently experience loss through the failures which accompany all rapid, iterative cycles of project innovation;
Understanding the interconnectedness of our layered human experiences can help companies remain visionary and innovative, ensuring that they are creating a future-proof culture that encourages openness to the ideas of others, novel experimentation, culturally responsive risk-taking, and social-emotional learning in leaders and managers.
Think like scientists. Create like artists. Innovate through culture.
A CWO is a significant advantage in helping companies remain disruption-aware, an essential foresight function in a fast-changing operating environment. Right now, companies are more susceptible to cultural shifts and shocks than at any other time in modern history. To transform this risk into opportunity, CWOs can make a huge difference in developing and implementing company-wide strategies that tap into its collective creativity. The key here is to balance art and science:
- Fostering wonder and curiosity across differences;
- Building relationships with groundbreaking artists from various fields;
- Developing a management coaching strategy that trains the company’s groups to cultivate an artist’s mind in their strategic planning and innovation teams.
Creativity and innovation are not the only concerns. CWOs identify cultural patterns and anticipate future cultural shifts to help the organization stay ahead. The CWO also serves as a critical guide to the corporate social responsibility strategy team by continuously assessing and analyzing societal and cultural transformations. By turning these data into actionable intelligence, CWOs are critical to companies seeking to align their commercial and social impact strategies.
To be a successful CWO, one must understand how to operate fluidly as a futurist, analyst, and catalyst with a deep understanding of how the company’s “social brain” gets formed and used. They must also comprehend how digital technology and other tools supporting innovation and creativity reshape culture and society.
The role of CWO necessitates strong strategic thinking skills and strong evidence of cognitive flexibility to navigate complex and ambiguous situations. They must also be good storytellers. This goes beyond traditional communication abilities. It requires ciphering through layers of cultural trends unfolding in society. These, after all, shape the personal and professional lives of a company’s internal and external stakeholders. Merging trends with an understanding of human instincts and behaviors to inspire and motivate teams, CWOs help organizations move beyond the frontiers of what they know and into… what if?…
Our old economy has been mostly about silos, gatekeepers, and hierarchy. Today, as businesses move to more distributed ecosystem models of innovation, the old way of getting things done can quickly become a risk for companies not paying attention. A CWO is a weaver who helps companies de-risk innovation and smooth the way for good ideas to progress. The CWO helps companies’ executive teams think like scientists, create like artists, and innovate through culture. Through our insights into the emerging research of wonder, organizational creativity, and social well-being, we believe it’s a must-have for every corporation that wants to succeed in transitioning to the future of work.