Holger Volland: Leadership is always an ego thing for me.
As the child of a bookseller and a computer programmer, surrounded by stacks of books and the latest computer hardware, vice president of the Frankfurt Book Fair and founder of the Arts+ Holger Volland now has what he calls his “dream job.” Having always been engrossed in a deep love of stories and literature, he merged his parents’ professions to create his own legacy.
“When I joined Frankfurt Book Fair 10 years ago,” he said, “it was sort of both of my lives coming together. The digital part makes me think about how culture, for example, can—and has to—digitize itself, and also the book industry part, which means I have a deep love for books and a deep love for content and authors and what they are doing.”
Working in the book publishing industry, which is primarily concerned with the sharing of ideas and knowledge, has had a profound impact on his outlook on the cultural heritage and what it means to be involved in such a vast web of creatives. Holger told Sonophilia the most fulfilling part of working with the Frankfurt Book Fair, or the Frankfurt Buchmesse, is interacting with so many people with such extensively unique insights.
“I meet a ton of scientists every year who are so proud of what they’re working on and what they publish about,” he said. “[There are] authors writing novels [who have] done extensive research through many, many years… to develop a whole world within their novel and everybody’s so proud… to share their stories. That is incredibly intoxicating.”
The Frankfurt Book Fair is a major global cultural platform that paves the way for innovative business models in the book and media industries. People generate ideas and experience creativity through all their senses. However, Holger said it felt somewhat “alien” to many digital tech companies, museums, corporate development experts, photographers, illustrators, animation artists, and exhibitors involved in television, film, and audio media. He set out to change that. In developing the Arts+ five years ago, he incorporated artists and exhibitors from all sectors into the annual event.
“We wanted to create a place within the Buchmesse, where everybody related to digital arts and culture feels at home, has the possibility to try out things, to meet other people from the industry, but also to connect to the publishing industry on a global level… By showing that art, we want to make possible futures discussable.”
Can technology enhance our storytelling? How can we make a book feelable in a way the book alone wouldn’t be able to do? It’s this high level of curiosity that envelopes us in the digital scope.
The integration of the Arts+ has opened a world of possibilities within the Frankfurt Buchmesse. Artists display their works and projects in distinct cultural and digital ways, harness their creativity, and bring out their innermost passions. From creating immersive educational experiences to bringing history into the digital age, from animations to virtual reality, participants dove right into showing “the potential of what you can do once you digitize a cultural heritage.”
Holger is driven by problems, which he sees as opportunities for change. Elaborating on that and tieing it in with the Sonophilia Network, he said: “How does our society [and] our culture react to digitization? How does AI, for example, change our culture, and how do we cope with the different developments between the tech industry on the one hand and culture and society on the other? This is… a great playing field, where we can try out new mechanisms… where we have the opportunity to talk, or to initialize talks, between tech people, culture people, politicians, experts in the creative business, and creatives themselves.” In essence, Sonophilia members’ differences act as a catalyst for change.
“Your mind develops and your mind expands. That’s the beauty of meeting interesting people who have something to say and who have something to think about. I wouldn’t want to miss Sonophilia as a constant group of companions.”
Creativity takes many years, if not an entire lifetime, to nurture. Holger believes in using our creative nerves as an instrument to solve the problems of the world, to think up new and better ways of doing things. Creativity is a skill inherent in everyone—it takes only a willingness, a space and sufficient time in one’s life. Creative leadership, on the other hand, is a counterproductive term in Holger’s view.
“Does leadership mean you’re the one deciding what’s best for a team?” he asks. “Leadership is always an ego thing for me; there is [no such] thing as combined leadership by many people. Leadership excludes equality… For me, creative leadership doesn’t exist, because creativity means you listen to others, that you are open to new things, [while] leadership means you are decisive and you take action.”
What do you think? Does creative leadership exist, or is leadership an egocentric ideology anchored by one person’s interpretation of a situation?