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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Negative Capability: The Key to Creative Leadership

Our aim in this article is to suggest how Negative Capability may contribute to an understanding of the creative leader. We begin by exploring the origins of the term Negative Capability and its meaning in the creative arts and in psychoanalysis. We then assess its value as a concept in relation to leadership. Creative leadership is called for at the edge between certainty and uncertainty, both a necessary and a difficult place to work in the current context of organizational life. Whereas, positive capabilities direct leaders and followers toward particular forms of action rooted in knowing, Negative Capability is the ability to resist dispersing into inappropriate knowing and action. We suggest that appropriate combinations of positive capabilities and Negative Capability can generate and sustain a 'working space' or 'capacity' for creative thought at this edge between knowing and not knowing. Creative leaders are characterised by their ability to generate such spaces not merely for themselves but also for others within the organization. Some of the problems for organizational leaders in working with Negative Capability are raised and explored'