Rosabeth Moss Kanter holds the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professorship at Harvard Business School, where she specializes in strategy, innovation, and leadership for change. Her strategic and practical insights have guided leaders of large and small organizations worldwide for over 25 years, through teaching, writing, and direct consultation to major corporations and governments. The former Editor of Harvard Business Review (1989-1992), Professor Kanter has been named to lists of the "50 most powerful women in the world" (Times of London), and the "50 most influential business thinkers in the world" (Accenture and Thinkers 50 research). In 2001, she received the Academy of Management's Distinguished Career Award for her scholarly contributions to management knowledge, and in 2002 was named "Intelligent Community Visionary of the Year" by the World Teleport Association.
Kanter is well known for her classic 1977 study of "tokenism" on how being a minority can affect one's performance due to enhanced visibility and performance pressure. She is the author or co-author of 17 books, focused largely on business management techniques, especially change management. Her most recent book, America the Principled: 6 Opportunities for Becoming a Can-Do Nation Once Again sets forward a positive agenda for the nation. Her previous book, Confidence: How Winning Streaks & Losing Streaks Begin & End was a New York Times business bestseller and a BusinessWeek #1 bestseller. The book draws on more than 300 interviews with leaders in business, sport and politics to explore the role confidence plays in the performance of institutions and individuals.
Question: What's your creative process?
Rosabeth Moss Kanter: My creative process involves that old saying, “It’s 90% perspiration and only 10% inspiration.” I struggle at every step of the way. It gets easy sometimes when I know what I want to say and what I want to discover. But it’s always a struggle. So I’m very disciplined about it. I … I have all kinds of mantras and slogans and sayings. I sometimes place them up on the wall around my various computers. They’ll say, “Just Do It!” Or the famous quote … I call it “Kanter’s Law.” I don’t know if other people do. But Kanter’s Law: “Everything can look like a failure in the middle.” And so I’ll say to myself, “It’s just the middle.” And I’ll paste up that quote. Because if you chip away bit by bit, eventually you have created the Mona Lisa. I mean wasn’t it Michelangelo? Well not the Mona Lisa. Sorry. But if you chip away bit by bit, you do create the great sculpture. I think it was once Michelangelo who once said, “How do you make this beautiful sculpture? Well you start with a block of stone, and then you chip away everything that isn’t David.” So in a sense it’s that chipping away bit by bit by bit. Having a big goal, knowing that it’s gotta be a big idea, that it’s gotta be something that is worth reading. And that’s the other thing. The creative process for me doesn’t work as well without an image of an audience in mind. Who am I talking to? Who am I doing this for? How is it going to affect or influence them? So it’s that match between the internal – what’s in me – but knowing who might receive it makes my ideas a lot better than if I were simply writing for an audience of … of two or writing only for myself. And I care about that. I am an academic and a social scientist, and I have published in academic journals and I could continue to do it; but I’m looking for bigger things now. I’m looking for impact on the world for reaching audiences of the powerful who can do something with my ideas or reaching audiences of the potential future leaders and social entrepreneurs who also can do something with my idea, but they start as anonymous, ordinary people. And so if I have those in mind and think about the impact, and just discipline myself – as difficult as it is to “just do it” – then the creative process can be mastered. But it’s not like it’s easy.
Recorded on: 6/13/07