Saturday, November 22, 2014

No to mediocrity: Yes to creative leadership! Inspired by Slovenian Danica Purg

A little about Prof. Danica Purg's interview.
Twice I have left for Slovenia from Austria, by car and by train and loved it more than thrice. I loved the journey to Bled and the other, by train to Lubjlijana. I was enriched. I have the impression that I learned more than I expected. But some days have passed since that happened. These reflections have been tucked away as I moved back and forth with my pen. The feeling is still there. Speaks volumes about value of the time there!

Prof. Danica Purg. Photo by Helmuth A. Niederle
What is it about November 2014, why was it not September? Just to say that this article has its own lifespan behaving in its own way for its own reasons. For it could have appeared earlier and in Nairobi.
It didn't.

I did not lose it. I was impressed by Danica Purg when she gave a keynote address to PEN members at The Bled School of Management. Creative leadership. Art. Finding out where management meets art. PEN members were there to attend the annual PEN Peace Committee meeting. Did we take all that we could have from the able speaker, achiever Danica?

I thought we lost a chance to learn more and went back knocking at her door for an interview, just to find that she was going to visit Nairobi, Kenya. That was fun! 

My smooth drive from Vienna, through calm areas that long forgot, or did they, the guns of World War 1 and II paid off. In such moments when the drive smoothly moves on, I remember the uncertainty of roads I have been on in many places. I also feel that so much better is possible. There are bright stars all around us, not only in the sky.

            Conversation with Danica Purg 

We dream good and positive results.  In management and business, we want to find meaning in our roles, big or small. 

Danica Purg, from Slovenia is driven by one such dream. The results has been the creation of The Bled School of  Business Management. 

Danica was the President of a meeting of  African Business Schools in Nairobi, under CEEMAN, an association of business schools. 

Danica Purg emphasizes more on arts as  "means to develop more  creative and innovative leaders." The world is hungry for leadership. I met Danica in Bled, Slovenia  at a creative writers' meeting.

She gave the keynote address at the 43rd Writers Annual Writers for Peace Committee, PEN International opened in the peaceful city of Bled. She offers imaginative management as one way out of the world's problems.

The keynote address by Danica was an eye-opener. She would later say that she enjoyed listening to writers so much and was so pleased that they were having their conference in the School whose doors were open to the power of creativity. 

In 'Artful Leadership' edited by Dr. Ian Sutherland and Arnold Walvarens write-ups on creativity address all levels. 'How to get the most from our creative (un) consciousness) is one of them. The main question is the relationship between creativity and innovation, lessons from the arts.

But there is nothing interesting without people that move and act on ideas. Listening to Danica this is obvious. Creativity in business bring in a following. Artists touch the whole scheme of things. She refers to Franca Tiberto's of the Swiss Italian PEN Centre. Franca appealed to writers engage the hearts of their readers deeply. 

Interested in hearing more on creativity and art as leadership I follow her up to find out more. Upon securing an interview time amidst so much, I wanted to know what inspired her to work so hard to make this fine place from which many countries have benefitted.  We were still laughing and exchanging comments about how writers forget their visiting cards -  Internet has not made these redundant- when she began to explain.

"I am inspired by people like you, those who are interested in how things work. I am inspired by people who are thinking broader than their own profession." "My inspiration is sustained by the fact that I am doing something good for my society. My work has meaning." Danica is  focused and her skirt suit matches her moves and as does her closely cropped auburn hair.

"Seeing that writers were keen to come here was a compliment to me. It was bigger than any Financial Times ranking because the rankings are looking to distinguish one between many, some form of unification and we are searching for distinction. One can rank only some things, among them is not uniqueness." 

Danica shares an anecdote about one of her role models whose picture hangs in her office. She invited  Austrian Professor Peter Ferdinand Drucker who invented Management by Objectives back in the fifties  to give a lecture in the Bled School of Management. Drucker answered he could not travel due to old age but would be delighted to give it on satellite and he did. Danica goes on to explain that business schools in these times of immediacy in communication and constant change need to educate people to be different. 

I ask her what her vision is. "I saw that if you want to create change you have to create emotional engagement. We need another type of education. In the 29 years I have worked in this field I have seen many sorts of people. I have seen managers who can never stop, never reflect in their search for more achievement and how that destroys results or even vision."  Good managers have to be observant also of the details outside and around them. To listen to themselves and to others. Engagement also leads to good listening. 

Art she says helps us not to just feel better, and now she refers mainly to music, but also to be better. She refers to how an orchestra works. Everyone has to play their part for it to succeed. The conductor has to draw out the best from everyone. In all music there is conflict and harmony and this is a lesson in change management, she says. She says in these days of fast living, we have to learn from other music including jazz.

She speaks about emotions. They are key in the development of change. They have to be touched before people can change. She emphasizes on these sense: touch, sight and hearing. She speaks about how these help us to feel more and help more. They all have to be used more. She is a friend of visual arts and here she refers to the Colombian artist, Botero, the master of fat figures. 

Botero paints huge rounded figures. She explains how Botero would leave a small spot on his figures, something that only the observant could see. Sometimes it was a little beauty spot. This showed he also had a feeling for the small. She explains how Botero's painting The Dog, does not have the dog as the main feature but is so hidden that it is hard for anyone to find it. She explains about the power of small details. This illustrates how observant a manager has to be.

Danica goes on to explain that looking at his paintings and others inspires her but not for only because of seeing the whole picture but finding the little hidden thing. She points to the small almost invisible small boats in a painting in her office. One might think that they are only specks. Like the little dog in the painting of Botero that one may never find, they could be overlooked, but they are the complete picture. You suddenly see clearly how that applies to leadership. It definitely is about feeling, hearing, seeing the unseen people and the roles they play for the whole to function.

She is certain that we need an education that helps us to appreciate this. Regarding managers she meets who do not believe much in creativity, Danica says, one can only try through a creative environment to help them see the importance of it. This cannot be forced. 

Her experience with each intake is that normally believe in artful leadership from the start. A quarter of them get to embrace the concept as they see it work during their learning. She adds that the other quarter does not normally manage to grasp this and remain very skeptical. Many means are used to train managers on artful leadership and that includes the environment.

Eventually she says many of them comment after a boat ride out in the lake that as they went along listening to music suddenly they were  more open to art. Music is used because it does not normally require a language for it to be enjoyed, especially classical music. It appeals to all senses and fires the imagination. 

One has to answer the question of how they feel as they listen to the music. After sometime, one recognizes a pattern of change. Often she has heard "I shall never again listen to music in the same way," after the experience. Once the pattern of change is recognized as in the music the magic of leadership begins, she says. 

In her international business school there are alumni from all over the world. She names Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt.  She refers to the inspiration she got and gets from writings. One has to move and also to keep up with the times. 

There are many people who are limited by conservative ways of doing things and surprisingly, this includes organizations of creative people which can also become anachronistic. She looked forward to working with PEN on creative leadership. I had expected more from her than the keynote speech and this prompted a return for this interview.


Train ride from Lubljana: Photo by Philo Ikonya, May 2014Short bio of Prof. Danica Purg
Professor Danica Purg is the President of the IEDC-Bled School of Management, Slovenia, and the President of CEEMAN, the association of 219 management development institutions from 54 countries, established with the aim to enhance management development in Central and Eastern Europe. She is also leading the European Leadership Centre (ELC).

Prof. Purg is professor of leadership and effective management at the IEDC-Bled School of Management. Her special field of interest is looking for inspirations for managers from art and other professions. In 2010 prof. Purg received the 2010 Educator of the Year Award by the Academy of International Business (AIB) for her outstanding achievements in international business education. In 2013 Prof. Danica Purg was nominated Chair of PRME (Principles of Responsible Management Education) Steering Committee, the initiative started by UN Global Compact. Prof. Purg is also member of several international advisory boards of well-known business schools, member of European Cultural Parliament (ECP) and President of UN Global Compact Slovenia.

She authored and co-authored several books and numerous articles on leadership issues. In 2004 she edited and jointly wrote with professors Lynn Isabella, Pierre Casse, Paul Claudel and Arnold Walravens the book Leaders and Teams – The Winning Partnership. In 2013 Prof. Purg was the editor of the book Hidden Champions in CEE and Turkey; Carving out a Global Niche (Springer, 2013). She is a frequent guest speaker at European and American universities and international conferences.

Prof. Purg is Fellow of Academy of International Business (AIB), fellow of the International Academy of Management (IAM), Doctor Honoris Causa at Moscow State University of Management, Estonian Business School and MESI - Moscow State University of Economics, Statistics and IT, and honorary professor at Moscow International Higher Business School (MIRBIS). President of the Republic of Slovenia awarded her with the “Honorary Order of Freedom” for her contribution to management development in Slovenia and CEE. By the American Chamber of Commerce Prof. Purg was chosen for a business leader role model of young professionals.

After graduating from the Faculty of Political Science in Ljubljana, she completed her Ph.D. at the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Belgrade, and extensively studied at Harvard Business School, IMD Lausanne, INSEAD Fontainebleau, Technological University Delft, London University, Sorbonne and at Kalamazoo College, Michigan.