Creative Leadership

Natural Leadership


Denise DeLuca (MA in SD faculty) is an experienced biomimicry educator who devotes much of her time to challenging the way professionals think and act as leaders, from business executives to designers. We recently caught up with her to discuss her unique career as well as her fully online course devoted to the subject of Creative Leadership. This is a 15-week course that is a core part of MCAD’s Sustainable Design Online Program.

SDO: What spurred you to become a sustainable designer?

I’m not a ‘sustainable designer’, per se, but am trained as an engineer and work in the area of biomimetics, radical innovation, and ecological thinking. I was spurred to find a way to combine my engineering and problem-solving skills with my passion for nature and creativity to pro-actively to help move our human world to a more positive, beautiful, sustainable place.

SDO: Describe one of your favorite moments/projects as a sustainable designer.

My favorite moments are when I am in the midst of working intensively and creatively with a diverse group of bright, creative, open-minded passionate people that have shared values and visions, and, within the space of a wildly ranging conversation, we come up with incredible ideas and actionable solutions. The ideas are so co-creatively emergent and the solutions are so synergistic that it feels almost magical. In addition to feeling fully engaged and deployed, these moments fill me with hope -knowledge, really- that creative sustainable design will lead us into a far better way of living than most currently imagine. I would love for all sustainable designers to know, and then help create, these moments.

SDO: What is your class about and who is it for?

I believe the world needs not just sustainable design, but radically creative sustainable design thinking and solutions. To make that happen at the speed, scope, and scale needed requires very different, very creative leadership models that unleash, foster, and catalyze our designers. This class is about understanding why we need different leadership models, what they look like, how to become a creative leader, and how to create conditions for others to do the same. It is for anyone who wants to make radical co-creative sustainable design happen.

SDO: What are the most important things you want students of your class to leave with?

I want the students to leave with a new sense of possibilities, a new sense of themselves, a new understanding of others, and an enhanced capacity, confidence, and passion to be the creative leaders we so badly need.

SDO: How do you imagine your students will apply what they learn in your class to their lives and/or jobs?

I imagine they will apply what they learn in this class to address the challenges and leverage the opportunities in both their lives and their jobs with greater confidence, creativity, and effectiveness. I believe they will be able to more fully deploy their own range of unique talents and passions, and to work more effectively with others to develop and realize creative sustainable designs.

SDO: In what ways do you apply Creative Leadership to your work?

Radical innovation (including sustainable design) requires high levels of co-creativity among diverse and sometimes highly unique and challenging individuals. Realizing practicable actionable solutions among such individuals, while driving ever-more creative thinking, requires understanding and applying the knowledge, skills, and understanding that are presented in the Creative Leadership course. I try to apply these to my work every day, and continually strive to move ahead on my own journey to becoming a Creative Leader.

SDO: What is one piece of advice that you’d give to a designer interested in sustainability?

No matter what situation you’re in, always look for and drive towards positive outcomes. This requires being very clear about your own values and vision, stepping away from the safety of endlessly analyzing the problem, and being a relentlessly optimistic pragmatist.

SDO: Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m very thankful for the students who are committing themselves to sustainable design, and thankful to MCAD for helping these students become more effective designers by becoming creative leaders.

Learn more about these concepts

Denise DeLuca teaches a 15-week, fully online course, Creative Leadership as part of the MA in Sustainable Design program at MCAD.

Join the MA in Sustainable Design program

We are accepting applications for the MA in SD program for fall 2016. Early action deadline is January 15, 2016. Regular decision deadline is April 1, 2016. Start your online application form today. Or, learn more about the program at a monthly informational webinar. Sign up here.


Image courtesy of @Gnilenkov Aleksey

Denise DeLuca / Former Director

Denise DeLuca is the Director of MCAD’s Sustainable Design program. She was co-founder of BCI: Biomimicry Creative for Innovation, a network of creative professional change agents driving ecological thinking for radical transformation. Denise is author of the book Re-Aligning with Nature: Ecological Thinking for Radical Transformation, which was illustrated by MASD alum Stephanie Koehler. She also teaches with the Amani Institute.

Denise’s previous roles include Education Director for the International Living Future Institute, Project Manager for Swedish Biomimetics 3000, and Outreach Director for The Biomimicry Institute. Denise is a licensed civil engineer (PE) and holds a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering with a focus on modeling landscape-scale surface and groundwater interactions.  In addition, Denise is a Biomimicry Fellow and a member of the Advisory Council of The Biomimicry InstituteBoard Member of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), on the editorial board of the Journal of Bionic Engineering, and an Expert with Katerva. Denise is based in Oregon.

contact:  [email protected]