Creative Leadership

The Socratic Method and Creative Leadership

A number of years ago, a foundation invited my wife Kathleen and I to a private retreat at a resort in Montana to discuss the role of Christianity and the culture. There were about 12 people in the room who came from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds. The process they used was the Socratic Method, which was developed by the philosopher Socrates (470-399 B.C.). Realizing that a society of lazy thinkers wasn’t a good thing, he devised an open-ended method of inquiry designed to accelerate the quality of the discussion.

You can learn more about it here. But for the purpose of creative leadership, it’s important to know that it starts with assuming nothing, and happens by relentlessly asking questions. It’s not about cynicism – which is ultimately destructive and dishonest. It’s about skepticism – which sees flaws and forces hard questions.

It’s interesting that Jesus used a similar method when he was confronted by the religious leaders of his day. They were lazy – comfortable in their own rules and content to think at the surface. But Jesus challenged them by asking the kind of questions that deflated their self-important egos, and forced them to face the truth.

In today’s politically correct, safe-space culture, we need to be reminded that great creative work only comes from asking hard questions, and being courageous enough to move against the tide.

When it comes to real creativity, there are no safe spaces.

As a creative leader, never forget that anyone can have an idea, but great ideas are rare, and can stand up to solid criticism.

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  1. A hardy “Amen” to this blog and I hope your time went well in Montana. When I have an occasion to visit the university campus near my house I always pray for an opportunity to share with someone that is honestly seeking truth. Now I understand what I’m really praying for is a person that is skeptical not cynical.

    Thanks for that insight Phil.

  2. Love this quote, “great creative work only comes from asking hard questions, and being courageous enough to move against the tide.”

  3. Most innovations come through asking hard questions. Consider this statement: “Television ministry is expensive” – followed by a question “Compared to what?”. The question immediately challenges us to consider the purpose of a television ministry, how might we measure our results, and how similar results might be achieved through other means. Tough questions often lead to new business models by critically re-examining the value chain we operate in.

  4. We use this method in all our small groups teaching and our leaders learn to do this by watching us.
    It was bit difficult for me to shift into this, for I was a typical classroom-type academic teacher who went home patting her back at how well she taught!
    Yet, once I got the hang of it, teaching became a challenge, an adventure and a motivator. It helped me to grow too and its great fun, for people do stimulate to think outside the box or your box. There’s a lot of give and take and are sessions are never boring. It’s also exhilarating to see the Spirit of God work, often surprising us. Teaching is no longer a chore. This kind of communication, however, needs lots of humility, patience and skills of versatility which one must be willing to adopt in order to afapt!

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