Interview with Venu Dhupa: Towards whole-system leadership

Creative people are used to living at the fringes, dealing with uncertainty and lingering between jobs, gigs or projects. They can’t lean on hierarchical structures or titles in order to get hired for the next exciting role in a movie or play. Neither can they leave their persona at home when going to work. Their identity, their brand is part of who they are – in good and bad.

In today’s society to run an ethical enterprise successfully, for true social change, it is not enough to master your profession and expertise in your own field. You need to be prepared to be vulnerable, by revealing your ignorance, using wrong terminology or listening to a conversation you don’t quite get. It requires courage and building trust with the people you work with, and in the end, being ok with one’s own vulnerability.

Taking risks is part of the picture. To get to grips with ‘whole-system leadership’ in today’s society you have to go outside your own sector, and see your enterprise (or some other form of entity) in relation to the bigger picture. At the same time it means becoming more aware of what you don’t know in relation to your own expertise. We cannot be experts at everything, but can acquire the skills to work with areas we are not familiar with. This is one of the key elements to getting to grips with whole-system leadership.

There are many current issues, which increase the sense of uncertainty for many of us. Like the introduction of automation, robots or artificial intelligence. Or the new, demand-based open services like Uber. Or the services that bring the speed of delivery to new dimensions like Amazon Prime. New business models and services are rushing markets at a speed and traditional management and operating processes cannot keep up, let alone be pro-active. We feel like we’re slipping to the fringes, along with fears of losing our businesses, our positions or jobs. Or just being excluded.

We come back to the question of what can we learn from creative people for today’s business life or society as a whole. Perhaps I would say that key elements are getting used to living at the fringes, dealing with emotions of uncertainty and not feeling we have to be the expert of everything as a leader. Realizing and developing skills through which we can include different kinds of knowledge and hence different kinds of people will drive innovation.

In order to not come across saying artists and the “creatives” will save the world (or one’s business), I want to mention some draw-backs which can be typical to creative people. They have a reputation of being divas, perhaps because they have always felt the need to justify their position they have to regard what they do as something very special, almost magical. Hence, they become aloof. Many might have a low interest for the practicalities of running an enterprise, regarding it as something outside their core competence or somehow pedestrian.  

The openness, connectivity and speed of the world however effect not only the “traditional” sectors, but the realms of the arts and artists as well. Time will tell how they will be met by the different actors in our society. All in all I do think that the arts and creative people have a lot of traits and competencies that are vital in order to not just cope, but flourish in today’s society. But perhaps most of all – it is the ability to see beyond our own limitations, to validate our identity when other options let us down and to include people with different skills to work for a better, uncertain tomorrow.


Text: Silja Suntola, Creative and Inclusive Finland


Venu Dhupa was interviewed on November 6, 2017 for the purpose of the upcoming publication by Creative and Inclusive Finland. The publication will be released in December 2017. For more information, please follow

Venu Dhupa will serve as the keynote speaker of our event Arts for Policy Making, organised in Helsinki on December 11, 2017. More information: