Charalampos Mainemelis: Playful Lyrics Means Creative Social Science

By Dimitra Tsourou

Charalampos Mainemelis is a professor of organizational behavior known internationally for his research on creativity. He has taught at elite universities, such as London Business School, and his research has been published in top academic journals, such as the Academy of Management Review. However, if someone asks him which is his ideal place to live in, he will answer: “I love the sea. I love living by the sea, and for me the sea must be blue. Wherever the sea is grey, brown or anything else other than blue, that place is not for me. On this issue my taste is very old-fashioned.”

He is sitting on a large rock immersed in his thoughts enjoying the breathtaking view of the sea in Vouliagmeni, where we made our appointment. The sea acts as a catalyst in his creativity, which engages science, art, tradition, and poetry into the same body.

He says: “ I am not a pioneer in such intersections, of course; it is the archetypical creative human being, across culture and time, who needs to experience and explore the world beyond the arbitrary boundaries of the sciences or the arts. You cannot interpret accurately or creatively any complex issue by relying on the lens of any single discipline or domain.”

In his research, Mainemelis has explored the role of time and timelessness in the creative process; the role of play in individual and social creative functioning; and more recently, creative deviance, creative leadership, and creative careers. He is the recipient of Academy of Management Review’s Best Article Award (2010) and finalist of Academy of Management Annals’ Best Article Award (2015).

Recently, he has published his lyrics collection “Ninth Month” and the readership was left in awe. “Writing lyrics has always been for me the most creative form of play. I love forming harmonious fusions of words, meanings and sounds in the tight space of a paper, a napkin, or a box. I am not a poet proper, but the act of reading and writing poetry and lyrics has enhanced my thinking and writing as an author of social scientific theories,” he states.

Charalampos Mainemelis’ wife Elena Negrato, writes a column in the wine magazine Oinoxoos.

At times, he focuses his eyes on the great blue expanse of the sea. “To me, poetry is the hardest architectural ordeal for the human mind. This can explain why most of our attempts at creating great poetry fail miserably!” At 47, his academic career has taken him from the United States to the UK, and from South Korea and Dubai to Portugal. When not traveling, he teaches at ALBA Graduate Business School at The American College of Greece.

Naming his students as “the creative, healthy young cells of the Greek society”, he considers them a substantial part of the best hope Greece has for building a better future. In his 2010TEDxAcademy talk in Athens, he noted the importance of making and keeping networks of “creative friends.” He says: “I have had creative friends throughout my lifetime. If I had to name two, I would choose two great social scientists, David Kolb and Richard Boyatzis, two mentors of mine to whom I owe a lot.”

The professor feels connected to the Greek tradition. “When a tradition is alive, it dynamically recreates itself.” He takes us back to classical Athens when he narrates about freedom, harmony, beauty, the youthful passion for struggle and victory and how these elements propel his research. He quotes Sophocles: “There is no glory resulting from trivial fights. Only by taking pains to create something significant can someone make a bet with immortality. A genuinely creative work is always superior to its creator. Because in the act of creation one has to surpass and transcend oneself.”

A few years ago he returned to Greece and chose the Athenian Riviera as his permanent dwelling. He gets inspired by the aura and contradictions of Greece: “If you bear up with it, you can transform the energy of Greece into a reflective powerhouse for your creativity.”

Besides, by teaching the Greek society’s cream of the crop at ALBA Graduate Business School, he feels like building a stepping stone for the construction of a new and more agile creative society. We walk up to his house where his family is waiting for us: his Milanese wife Elena Negrato, who writes a gastronomy column in the wine magazine Oinoxoos, and his children Lydia, Iris, and Gianluca.

The combination of the Greek and the Italian cultures into their house is buzzing with artistic curiosity. His wife is the embodiment of a chic and classy woman but she is also an inspirational force for his creativity.

The professor says: “Elena is creative in designing, in painting, and in cooking. Her visual creativity stimulates my verbal creativity. She recently transformed her experience of living in Greece during an economic and social crisis into a painting she named ‘Blue Chaos.’ Every time I see it I whisper to myself, “it’s chaos all right, but where else could you find such a wonderful fusion of all these lovely shades of blue?”