John Maeda, President of the Rhode Island School of Design, came to Cannes for an invitation-only seminar co-hosted by Ogilvy & Mather and Fast Company.
Maeda is a true polymath. He is a computer programmer, a technologist, an alumnus of the MIT Media Lab, a world-renowned designer, and, now, a leader as well. He is a prolific author, having written 9 books. He’ll probably have published another one by the time you’re done reading this.
To say that he’s “interesting” is to stretch understatement beyond all reason. But that is exactly what he is. Listening to him is simply that. You lean forward, concentrate hard, and as you hear more, your interest grows.
Maeda spoke about Creative Leadership, and he spoke about it from the perspective of what he’s learned having stepped into a leader’s role for the first time only recently.
He’s come to that job at an interesting time. The hierarchical, authoritarian, and dogmatic leadership style that defined leadership in the past is giving way to a new approach. Maeda calls it heterachy, and it replaces the tidy org chart he learned while getting his MBA (An MBA, too? Now you’re just showing off.) with an asterisk-shaped patch of connections among members of the organization.
Organizations themselves are fundamentally changed by this new pattern, and this is true of both start-ups and what he calls “end-ups,” although the latter still carries the legacy of a previous time. That in and of itself creates challenges for a leader. And the creative leader he calls for, the creative leader he is, is trying to redesign leadership itself along with the organization he leads.