Creative Synthesis – A Powerful Leadership Skill

By December 13, 2018 July 18th, 2019 No Comments

This article was originally published with The Manila Times on December 13, 2018.

Chinese scientists announced this week a nuclear fusion reactor in the southeast of the country achieved a temperature exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius, more than six times those found at the centre of the sun. This has a potential to solve Earth’s energy problems.

Similar to nuclear fusion, the fusion of different technologies in the digital, physical and biological spheres is disrupting businesses and organizations the world over, and potentially solving many of the world’s ills. Commonly referred to these days as the 4th Industrial Revolution, or 4IR, this phenomenon is having a profound impact on the way we live, learn, work, and relate to each other.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) outlined three distinct reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a fourth. Firstly, the speed of breakthroughs in the 4IR is exponential rather than at a linear pace, as seen in developments in artificial intelligence (AI), biotech and nanotech, big data, quantum computing, and virtual and augmented reality, and so on. Secondly, the scope of disruption is expansive that it impacts almost every industry in every country. Lastly, the breadth and depth of these transformations affect the entire systems of operations, customer engagement, product systems and governance.

All these give rise to new, complex, and ill-defined problems. Hence, complex problem-solving will be a core skill most employers will require by 2020, according to a WEF study. There are two components of this important skill of the future — critical thinking and creative synthesis.

Critical thinking involves primarily analysis, i.e. breaking down an issue or bigger concept into small ones for better understanding and evaluation. But equally important but more difficult to acquire and develop is creative synthesis skill. It is defined as “the combination of smaller constituent elements forming a more complex whole, as the driving force of modern creation, innovation and intelligence.”

Creative synthesis fuses multiple elements and many concepts, often from different areas, into a new whole, particularly whenever this varies fundamentally from any of its parts. In the end, it aims to make a new proposal, solution, or proposition to complex problems. In the backdrop of the 4IR, this involves integrating various emerging technologies, processes, and workers to fully leverage on the benefits it brings.

Those who apply creative synthesis simplify and explain complexities and can touch people deeply. Thus, it is a powerful and essential leadership skill now and more so in the future.

Creative synthesis can be acquired and developed — a skill that can be learned and master. But how do you develop this seemingly arcane skill?

Bob and Gregg Vanourek, co-authors of “Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations”, outline seven steps you can learn to synthesize effectively as a leader:

–Immersion. To synthesize, you must dive into all that messy complexity, listening and reading voraciously to understand deeply.

–Sorting. Then you’ll have to sort information, determining what is relevant, discarding non-credible data, and digging under symptoms to get to root causes.

–Patterns. You can then group the relevant information into patterns.

–Stepping Back. Next you step back and look at the patterns. Is there a logical or compelling theme that seems to dominate?

–Drafting. Then you draft a clear, simple, powerful message that captures the emergent theme. A summary sound bite or tagline is useful. Winston Churchill synthesized the noble courage of the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain, forcing Germany to cancel its planned invasion, with, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

–Feedback. Now try your draft out on knowledgeable and trusted colleagues who have the courage to tell you the truth. You may have to loop back several times between these steps to get the final version.

–Present. Finally, you present the synthesis to wider audiences, adjusting as you listen and learn.

The best way to learn to creatively synthesize is to practice all of these steps. You can take real issues from the workplace, or from society as a whole, and follow the steps above.

Just like any other skills, practice makes perfect.

The author is President & CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation firm, and Co-founder of Caucus Inc, a data privacy and business advisory firm. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be emailed at

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