Neoteny, Leadership & Innovation

Years ago I got really excited about “neoteny” when I read Warren Bennis’ book, Geeks & Geezers: How Eras, Values & Defining Moments Shape Leaders (2002).  I love the word and the concept, and so does Joichi Ito, the director of the M.I.T. Media Lab, according to this article on innovation in the New York Times.   He says, “Neoteny, one of my favorite words, means the retention of childlike attributes in adulthood: idealism, experimentation and wonder. In this new world, not only must we behave more like children, we also must teach the next generation to retain those attributes that will allow them to be world-changing, innovative adults who will help us reinvent the future.”  Also, “education is [not] about centralized instruction anymore; rather, it is the process establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity.”  Ito is also the general partner of Neoteny Labs.

I have given several talks on why libraries fail, and published an article on the topic, and one of the things I include in developing leaders is “the ability to retain youthful qualities as adults — curiosity, playfulness, eagerness, fearlessness, warmth, energy. Certainly this is the season for it, so strengthen your neoteny!

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