Towards 2014

It’s been another rocky year in 2013 as I reflect on plans for my 20th year in business with Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock.  Thank you all for your contributions to this blog and in many other ways – they have all helped keep a sense of perspective and balance in times of great turbulence.  A major theme of 2013 and in the last few years of recession generally for me has been reinvention and renewal.

Reinvention and Renewal

After several years of incredibly difficult trading conditions, this year brought some respite in terms of projects of a more significant nature.  This has followed considerable reinvention and renewal of what we offer and via the expansion of our global network to meet the needs of larger companies and the increasing desire of those companies to have an offer which can be scaled and taken anywhere in the world.  The highlights of this were:

  • A major piece of innovation consultancy for a large pharmaceutical company in New York, which we won against stiff competition from the brand leader in the field
  • A masterclass event on creativity and innovation at Nokia, which was regarded as one of the best events they have ever had, again, against the backdrop of competition from the big brand
  • A project to help align the practices of the EMEA operations of another pharma company.  This has spawned further requests for keynotes and summit workshops in Ireland into 2014
  • Repeat bookings at conferences for the pharmaceutical industry and in Nottingham’s technology hub
  • A training programme on applied creativity for Lloyds of London, won against the odds for a small but highly networked organisation
  • An overall increase in the number of requests for speaking engagements and conference designs
  • An invitation to commence a PhD at Imperial College London

Words and Music

I released my 7th book “The Music of Business”, having gained an endorsement for the book from Harvey Goldsmith CBE, the man behind Live Aid via a strange set of circumstances.  I was also delighted to be invited to contribute to David D’Souza’s book “Humane Resourced”.   I’m now trying to fit in the writing of a major tome on innovation and creativity for release in 2014.

Presenting Doug Morris, CEO of Sony Music, with The Music of Business

Presenting Doug Morris, CEO of Sony Music, with The Music of Business – Click for your copy

At the level of pure pleasure, I compered and performed at a Charity Event, which raised a tidy sum of money for Demelza House Children’s Hospice, an absolutely vital charity ignored and overlooked by Governments.  I was also invited to jam with a former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee at Dr Andrew Sentence’s garden party.  Andrew has just released his first book on the economy entitled Rediscovering Growth : After The Crisis.  He has also asked us back to his 2014 garden party to perform with the band so I will have to get practising as his son Tim is a virtuoso jazz player!

Andrew Sentance at a recent event. The other guy did not show up to the Garden Party ...

Andrew Sentance at a recent event. The other guy did not show up to the Garden Party … Click on the picture for Andrew’s new book

I also wrote and recorded a rock song to unleash some of my angst about how we have all contributed in smaller or larger ways to the ‘buy now, pay later society’ ever since hire purchase appeared as an idea in 1920′s America.  The result was a pithy and deeply ironic song about economics, banking and shopping called “Fiscal Cliff” which nearly reached the charts.  We had an absolute hoot recording it. Here’s the video, which we made from start to finish in two hours – So, it’s not exactly a Hollywood production but not a bad job nonetheless.  Feel free to download a copy on iTunes, Amazon or Google Play for Christmas – All proceeds are going to Demelza Children’s Hospice.

Reasons to be cheerful

One of the most important part of running a business is the people you get to work with and come into contact with. Can I extend my thanks to the following people, who I’ve had the pleasure of working or collaborating with in 2013 as part of the Human Dynamics and Academy of Rock offering.  To Steve Gorton, Marjolein Jupijn, Val and Errol Whitter, Simon Heath, Dave Brooks, Bernie Tormé, Ben Weinlick, Andrew Sentance, Professor Peter Childs, Rowena Sian MorganDavid D’Souza, Trevor Lee, Professor Adrian Furnham, Richard Strange, Phil Hawthorn, Doug Shaw, Nadine Hack, Dr Reg Butterfield and many others.  I look forward to many more collaborations in 2014 and beyond.  Also thanks to my   clients Roche, Johnson and Johnson, Nokia, Fuji Film, Imperial College London, Lloyds, Angel Trains, The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply, The Association of Clinical Data Management – I quite literally could not have done it without you!

2014 Resolutions

In 2014  it is the 20th anniversary of my companies Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock.  For me this means:

Professional Goals

Continuing to challenge the stereotype that the ‘bigger branded consultancies’ are safer bets for procurement departments to choose.  For me, this means trading from a platform of intelligent content and thoughtful customer focus rather than handing out branded pens and fluffy toys to clients.

Developing the global network – for too many years, people have seen the company as a one-man business when we have a worldwide network of thought leaders and associates and we also work in partnership with others.  One sign of progress in this area happened in 2013 when Nadine Hack asked us to collaborate in a piece of global consulting.  This was a true honour – Nadine is recognised as one of the worlds’ most trusted leaders on ethical behaviour in organisations. She has worked with Nelson Mandela, Barak Obama and many of the world’s greatest corporations to change their collective mindsets about ethical and sustainable business strategy and practice.

To complete the research and writing of my 8th and 9th books on Business Innovation and Creativity.  This will require the usual ‘get up early, stay up late strategy’ …  We’ll have to see if and how a PhD fits in …

Personal Goals:

To find more time for looking after myself.  Yes, this includes cycling when it’s cold and wet!  Damn – I’ve told everyone now, so I’ll have to do it  :-)  Making time for my son, who is suffering under the weight of constant tests and exams in an education system which now resembles the arrival of The Ministry of Magic in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” at my local school.  And finding time to support my wife as she cares for her mum.

Wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year !



About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Business and Music programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

The bookshelf

Creativity – I love you

Creativity is seeing something different in the ordinary ...

Creativity is seeing something different in the ordinary …

Seven questions to prompt your own reflections on your creativity.

  1. What do you consider your creative strengths?
  2. How do these make you uniquely able to do what you do?
  3. Where are the applications for these strengths – in business, in life etc.?
  4. How might you develop your creative strengths?
  5. Are any aspects of your creativity liabilities in certain situations?
  6. What untapped parts of your life are currently unused in your work?
  7. How might you make better or different uses of these strengths?

Following a great post on Linkedin asking about people’s personal creativity strengths by Lynette Jensen in Australia, I was prompted to reflect on my own strengths in this area. Rather than filling in endless questionnaires and conducting 360 degree appraisals, I asked my wife, who probably is more accurate and truthful than the other approaches! She reminded me that I have had an unusually fortunate life in respect of creativity, having more or less mapped out my own career (she is rather jealous! :-) ).  She went on to help me notice some of the uncommon strengths that have accrued as a result of this:

  1. I have worked across 3 distinctly diverse disciplines – Science, Business and Music. This cross-curricular learning helps me make connections between things that apparently others don’t. This makes me variously wonderful, strange, deep, hard to follow and a host of other positives and negatives :-)  If working with me is rewarding but hard work, then living with me must be much worse! Fortunately, my wife has the patience of a saint …
  2. I’ve worked in industry, academia and in the community – in Industry, working for a pharmaceutical company all around the world, in academia, teaching MBA’s in creativity and innovation, in business as a consultant, author and speaker on creativity and innovation in overlapping cycles of 18 years each, plus in the community as a rock musician over my entire life. She said that this gives me the ability to work with people of all levels and viewpoints, from professors, world leaders through to people on the ground floor of companies and those people who are in the gutter, looking at the stars. She reminded me that it is uncommon to be at ease and able to work with people from all walks of life.
  3. The academic and industry part of my life makes my creativity grounded within a business context.  She points out that this is a huge difference to the ‘usual suspects’ in the field and this was confirmed by a corporate client recently, who chose Human Dynamics for a piece of consultancy work preferentially against the market leader, because of our repertoire, depth or experience and grounding.
  4. I never consider I have stopped learning, which makes me innately curious, the stuff of creativity and innovation. I live to learn and learn to live. Mental playfulness is a muscle that I like to stretch and test, sometimes to destruction.  It is a quality that is crucially missing from many companies these days, which may explain how we get hired to help people leverage their creativity and innovation.


Here’s the seven questions again to prompt your own reflections. Alternatively ask someone that knows you well:

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 23.07.19

For more explorations on what makes individuals especially creative and how to harness that power personally and corporately, check out the book “Best Practice Creativity“.  I’m presently writing a follow up volume and looking for stories and examples about what works in the field of personal creativity.  Please get in touch if you have a contribution.  Full credits given.

Best Practice Creativity - Available in English, Russian and American ...

Best Practice Creativity – Available in English, Russian and American … Acclaimed by Professor Charles Handy


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via or +44 (0) 7725 927585

High Voltage Performance

I was delighted to be asked to give the opening keynote at the XPD High Performance conference recently in Nottingham and I’ve just been invited to give another keynote at the High Growth Summit in Nottingham on November 22 on the strength of this performance. I was also invited to speak at an event for the UK Tax Offices (HMRC), until they said that they could not afford to pay me. I pointed out that nearly 30% of the fee would return to them in taxes :-) but they were unmoved. Perhaps I should have offered to take “cash” as payment??  Anyway, here’s one of the conference photos:


It turned out that the XPD conference theme was generated from the evening’s entertainment, a Madness tribute act.  It had set me thinking about the concept of “organisational madness” – in other words:

“Doing the same things in spite of compelling evidence of a need for change”

In an age of discontinuity, “more of the same” can be a recipe for business meltdown.  We need to be nimble and quick to survive and that has all sorts of consequences.  So, what can businesses learn from organisational madness?

  1. Business strategy becomes an “approach which learns and flexes” rather than a “five year plan”. It’s madness to plod on regardless if your customers are constantly changing their wants and needs.
  2. Staff are hired for their ability to learn and adapt more than just what they bring to the workplace. More than ever staff need to have adaptability built into their attitude.
  3. Customers are involved and engaged in the marketing of new products and services. It’s what academics refer to as 6th Generation Innovation.

and so on …


Can I play with Madness … and Innovation?

We ended up contrasting companies which “LAG” (Learn, Adapt and Grow) from those that merely lag behind.  Are you a LAG or a laggard? A big thanks to David Langdown, Steve Robinson and the team at High Performance for making the event such a success. To book an experience like this, please get in touch with David Langdown at High Performance UK.  He does not accept deferred VAT payments as currency however … :-)

Here’s a trailer for our event on Friday 22 November in Nottingham, just before our two day event with a European Pharmaceutical company team in the Netherlands.

Sex, Leadership and Rock'n'Roll - Live in Nottingham

Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll – Live in Nottingham


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via or +44 (0) 7725 927585

Sweet Charity

Demelza Hospice - a worthy cause that rocks

Demelza Hospice for Children – a worthy cause that rocks

In a brief break from business, I’d like to mention an important charity event I’m compering and performing at coming up on November 02 in Kent. The event is for Demelza House Hospice – a charity that provides hospice care for children.  The evening features:

  • Live music from the 60′s, 70′s, 80′s through till the naughties. I’m working with “Masterclass” a superb functions band, who take requests and jam as well as working to a repertoire.
  • “Unleash your inner rock star” – slots available for members of audience to perform with the band – whether you sing, play guitar, bass, drums or just play the triangle.
  • Air guitar competitions – release your inner rock star without concern for your ability to play an instrument etc.
  • Raffle with superb prizes, tattooing, rock makeovers, disco etc.  As well as giving our time for free we are donating some items to the raffle.

Here’s an air guitar competition I ran previously:

The event is on Saturday 02 November in Sittingbourne Kent.  Tickets from Steve Lamey via e-mail - priced £4.00 adults, £1.00 children.  Family and bulk purchase discounts available.

If you just wish to donate, please go to the Demelza Hospice website.

If you cannot make the fundraiser, please just give to the charity to make a difference for children who need it

If you cannot make the fundraiser, please just give to Demelza Hospice to make a difference for children in need – click on the picture


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via

Can I play with Madness?

I’m delighted to have been asked to provide the keynote address for a very special event coming up from conference organisers High Performance UK at their 2013 Conference at the East Midlands Conference Centre on 4th-5th October.

Can I play with Madness - well, no, they don't have guests on stage, but I do ...

Can I play with Madness? – well, no, they don’t have guests on stage, but I do …

This is a fascinating request from High Performance UK.  They called me and said, could I do a talk on ‘madness’.  Now those of you that know me would realise their are several interpretations of this, all of which I’d be able to handle ! ;-)  It turned out that they have a Madness tribute act performing in the evening.  So I really wanted to stay on to perform “Night Boat to Cairo” …

But on further reflection and dialogue we ended up talking about how companies can learn rapidly so that they can adapt and reinvent themselves in a new business environment.  So, I’ve concocted a series of lessons for Learning Companies and Learning Individuals that will both entertain and also carry some powerful messages with them.   Life is busy and the idea of being a learning organisation is always tempered by people’s willingness to learn from successes and mistakes and the time they give to such things.  I’ll be drawing on over 30 years experience of working within innovation teams to come up with a series of lessons for businesses that are poignant, valuable and sticky.

Do you fancy coming along or organising something similar in your own company?  Contact me via e-mail at  Our keynote starts proceedings on Saturday 5th October.  I’ve commented on Iron Maiden’s lyrics before in letters to the Financial Times, including “Can I Play With Madness”:

Can I play with madness?

Can I Play With Madness?

So, Can I Play With Madness?  Of course we can:


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via

The making of “Fiscal Cliff”

Click on the Cliff to buy the song on iTunes - also available on all other outlets

Click on the Cliff to buy the song on iTunes – also available on all other outlets

Thursday 25th July marked the day when I received the final mix of the song I wrote about the economy – “Fiscal Cliff”.  I just met up to collect the master mix with Bernie Tormé, who played for Ozzy Osbourne and Ian Gillan, the Producer of the record – what an exciting day!

The song is available on i Tunes, Amazon, Google Play and everywhere else.  I’d be made up if you are able to buy a copy and tell your friends.  “Fiscal Cliff” is a rock anthem about economics, banking, fake suicide, false Gods, false hopes, repentance, renewal, environmentalism, sustainability sex, drugs and rock’n’roll …  It is the first song ever to feature the words Quantitative Easing, John Maynard Keynes, Northern Rock etc. in the lyrics …

The First Verse of the song as illustrated by Simon Heath - "Fiscal Cliff - The Film will follow shortly

The First Verse of the song as illustrated by Simon Heath – “Fiscal Cliff – The Film will follow shortly

Here’s a mini interview from The Business Bunker Radio Show:

We recorded the single last Saturday at Bernie’s Barnroom Studios in the heart of the Kent countryside.  Roll the credits:

Bass and expert musical direction by Andee Price of Scarlett Rae and The Cherry Reds

The enourmously talented Andee Price eclipsed by her double bass

The enourmously talented Andee Price eclipsed by her double bass

Vocals by Dave “The Poet L’Oreal – cos’ he’s worth it” – A Swiss Banker who likes Swiss Chard

Drums by Mike “Animal” Grigson – a good friend of mine

Illustrations by Simon Heath, social media’s “Quick Draw McGraw” – a corporate artist who works with us round the world at our seminars and events – We’re next off to New York to work on an innovation summit – who knows, we may perform the song there…

Video work for the film by Val and Errol Whitter of 154newmedia – where “Lordswood meets Hollywood” in Kent.  We have some awesome video in the ‘can’ including the burning of a Stonehenge monument and destruction with a burning guitar and the moment when Bernie Tormé felt he had to attack me in the studio when I made a mistake on the guitar solo!!

I’m also grateful to Dr Andrew Sentance, former Monetary Policy Committee Member at the Bank of England, who has provided excellent informal support and insights into Keynsian Economics, horse racing and Prog Rock – the ‘usual’ combination of interests beloved of world leaders :-)   Looks like we are going to launch the song at his garden party in August – big fun!

Oh, and I wrote the song …  I guess that makes me Fiscal Cliff Richard …


So, watch out for further announcements – we have been asked to perform the song on the BBC World Service, so this may be the World’s First Global Economics Hit!  :-)  If you are able to help once we have released the record, please let me know.

The First Chorus Line

The First Chorus Line – Click to buy the song now

Bankers, Economists, Politicians, Accountants – lend me your ears …

and some money would be nice … :-)


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via  His latest book “The Music of Business” is available direct or in the usual places by clicking the relevant link in the slideshare presentation below:

Orchestrating Creativity and Innovation

I’m presently involved in a project to deliver an innovation summit event for a major company in New York to come up with some big scale ideas to take the business forward.  Obviously I am unable to discuss the company specific details of this, but it is useful to reflect on the design process that will effectively ‘orchestrate’ creativity and innovation across 48 hours.  At the same time, I have been a long term admirer of Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies”, recently featured on BBC Radio 4, as they align very much with the suite of creativity strategies and methodologies that I have employed with companies such as Pfizer, Unilever, BT, Electronic Arts, The United Nations et al over 18 years.  Oblique Strategies started life as a series of cards, providing a series of ‘diversions’ to linear thinking, much in the same way that Edward De Bono’s Lateral Thinking operates.  They are in effect ‘structures for cognitive escapology’ or a set of recipes to help you throw away the ‘recipes’.  Contrary to popular thinking on the topic, creativity and discipline are bedfellows, if you want your ideas to reach the market as innovations.


Oblique Strategies – a set of recipes to help you throw away the ‘recipes’

We won the bid against stiff competition from the brand leader in this field, mainly due to a difference in approach that may be summed up as “best fit” versus “best practice”.  The competition has a superb toolkit of techniques which is superbly branded.  In comparison, our approach is somewhat more eclectic, picking the “best fit” approach from a pandora’s box of approaches, gained through studying and teaching at MBA level for 18 years plus 18 years in the pharma industry formulating life saving drugs, which involves navigating difficult physical chemistry constraints.  In essence, creativity has been part of my DNA since I first decided I wanted to be a scientist at around the age of 9.   The ‘burden’ of this experience is that I’m all too aware that formulaic approaches to creativity rarely work.  As a consequence, our approach to the topic is a harder purchase as it does not promise the allure of  “instant solutions”.  Instead it considers the needs of the topic under scrutiny and the people attending before leaping to the approach to be adopted.  Anyway, enough self-preening!  I’m delighted to have won this bid, which will bring together members of our network from Yorkshire, Canada and my associate corporate artist, who will capture insights live at the summit, using cartoons and rich pictures.

Oblique Strategies are effectively a way of ‘orchestrating creativity and innovation’, by systematically diverging and converging a problem.  Eno used the Oblique Strategy cards extensively with David Bowie in his trilogy of experimental albums, Low, Heroes and Lodger.  In a similar way I tend to design creativity and innovation sessions to systematically move the client through the different phases required to formulate an idea, develop it, challenge it with real life constraints and devise a robust execution plan.  This is quite different than turning up with a flip chart, the ‘rules’ for brainstorming and a bucket full of hope – one of the fatally flawed beliefs of the ‘let it all hang out’ creativity pundits imho.

So, what have oblique strategies got to do with corporate creativity?  Here’s some of the statements from the Oblique Strategy cards with parallel lessons for creativity and innovation facilitators:

1. State the problem in words as clearly as possible

The key move when facilitating a summit of this nature is to get a clear definition of the topic under investigation.  Contrary to what most people think, unfocused brainstorming produces unfocused ideas, most of which are unlikely to convert to innovations.  That said, a suitable problem must have sufficient ‘space’ within it to allow for divergent thinking.  It’s what I call ‘specifically vague’.  For more on this check out Human Dynamics and ‘wicked problems’.  Time spent defining and redefining the problem is time well spent and can on occasions lead to answers.  You will also enjoy the post on The Centre for Management Creativity re complexity and creativity.

2. Try faking it!  

Many good creativity strategies have as their subtext the use of fantasy and projection as their modus operandi, for example Superheroes, Synectics, Dialectical approaches.

3. Honour thy error as a hidden intention

Some creativity methodologies have as their subtext, the introduction of random ‘errors’ as a means of distorting frames of thinking.  For example, a range of approaches based on force fitting unrelated stimuli into the problem operate on this basis.  As well as deliberate errors introduced by such approaches, it is important to celebrate accidental errors as new ways of finding an answer to a complex problem.

4. Work at a different speed

Eno’s curious advice has some rigour in terms of the background thinking behind it.  When we change speed, we think differently.  Sometimes slow reflection is more productive than quickfire creativity and pace is one of my key  principles when designing creativity and innovation events.

Oblique Strategies

For me, Eno’s principles have direct analogues in the professional problem solver’s toolkit.  Let’s finish by hearing a couple of the products of the Oblique Strategies toolkit:


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via

Here Comes the Sun – Solar Power, Creativity and Innovation

The Solar System at Blackfriars Bridge, London

The Solar System at Blackfriars Bridge, London

Alan South leads Solar Century, a company dedicated to bring novel and sustainable solar energy products to the world.  He has a background working for IDEO, perhaps the foremost design innovation company in the World.  I wanted to know how he has created a climate of innovation at Solar Century and his thoughts on creativity, design and the role of leadership in building an innovative enterprise.

What did you take away from IDEO in terms of creativity and innovation?

I joined in the early days of IDEO in 1995 some three years after its creation.  During the time I was there, it evolved into a global leading light in innovation, taking design thinking way beyond product to services, infrastructure, national problems.  It continues to grow and thrive in that space.  Perhaps the most important thing I took away was not so much about the idea generation process itself.  The rate limiting step for innovation in so many cases is about how ideas get traction so that they turn into something useful.

I also see that IDEO ‘converge with care’, preserving what is novel and cool about an idea.  Can you say more about that?

The core of many ideation processes is about how one idea can build upon another.  An awful lot of idea evaluation processes are quite reductive.  What IDEO did extraordinarily well was to make the ideation process additive.

There are some that say that creativity techniques are for dummies.  What is your view on the value of techniques for divergence and convergence versus more intuitive approaches?

If you are the lone inventor then fine – your own intuition may be sufficient.  On the whole if you are trying to make big differences, you are usually talking about groups of people.  The absolute first thing they need is a common language.  Number two if you want significant numbers of people to work together is that they need to agree on a set of common processes.  The agreement on that process is much more important than the particular process itself.

So, say something about how you see innovation

Innovation is about going wide, turning the corner, going narrow.  That’s all there is although  there are a number of different ways of going about this.  The Design Council in the UK talk about doing that process twice – what they call the ‘Double Diamond’ model.  IDEO always started by observing people using a bunch of human practice techniques to uncover latent user needs.  A good IDEO project would be one where solving latent user needs would make a big difference.  They had about 6 high level ideas that were part of their process.

And yet, it would be insufficient to write down those 6 ideas to an inexperienced person?

Yes.  The real art is in interpreting those high level ideas to fit a particular problem at hand.  Each problem is sufficiently different combined with the fact that the world is moving and changing – so the idea of writing a guide book becomes problematical.

Solar roof on a house in Languedoc, France

Solar roof on a house in Languedoc, France

How does Solar Century innovate?

Solar Century is a solar photo-voltaic power company.  We are in the business of doing large solar projects and manufacturing solar building products.  We set out our stall as being a company that providing solar to be integrated into buildings.  We noticed that there was a lot of redundant space on buildings such as roofs, facades and so on which could be turned towards energy production, allowing power to be generated and used locally.  We raised some money and hired some people including me.  We had to turn an abstract idea into a business.  In 2003, solar building products did not exist – at that time solar was something you would see on satellites and not in builder’s yards. We struggled with compatibility issues – the idea existed, the market and the customer was not well understood.  The distribution channels were not really understood.  But it felt like an idea with real promise.  We were not alone in this – there were other pockets of this thinking around the world.  The job of the innovation team was to bring this very abstract idea to life.

The first thing we had to do was to get under the skin of two industries – The Photo-Voltaic industry and the construction industry.  We characterised the PV industry as lab coats and the construction industry as hard hats.  Our job was to innovate solutions that would join the lab coats to the hard hats, which was a bit like mixing oil and water.

We had to avoid innovating perfect solutions in a vacuum that would confound any part of the value chain.  For example, a solution that the PV industry would not be able to manufacture would or an elegant solution that the construction industry would not know what to do with.  So we set up some processes to get under the skin of the industries and this is an ongoing process that continues to this day.  We also needed to make some judgment calls on how far we thought we could innovate beyond the status quo in a way that would start to build adoption.  We kicked off by exploring a pretty wide range of ways of getting moving and to go through a relatively short (one year) cycle to come up with ideas of the kind of product we would take to market.  We pulled the industry by the nose and then relaxed back a bit when it started to hurt.

Although parts of the construction industry are quite conservative, one thing that delighted me was to find that roofers were very open to our ideas on reinvention.  We ran a campaign called ‘Don’t miss out on the roofing revolution’ and it was extremely well received.  Each year we have gradually started launching more and more offers.  The journey moved from a roof tile, then another roof tile through more sophisticated complete building systems for commercial roofs towards massive aerodynamic systems for factory roofs, based on the ideas on technology adoption in the book ‘Crossing the chasm’.  Editor’s note :  Reminds me of the classic adoption curve:

The classic adoption curve

Essentially we became very good at mass customization as the company began to export, for example in the big building roofing product that we have designed here but carefully fit to a customer need.  We ship a bespoke kit of parts.

Turning inward, does Solar Century have a set book of techniques for creating and innovating?

We do not have a book of techniques for the divergent and convergence.  We do have a process and we do use divergent and convergent techniques but these are tacit knowledge amongst the staff group, as we are only 120 people.  In essence, it’s rather like being in a rock band.  Nobody knows the notes, but everyone can play the tune.

What do you find the most valuable techniques for diverging and converging?

I find that the toughest bit in innovation is turning the corner between diverging and converging.  I struggle with it, teams do.  It takes real guts to stop diverging and say we have spent enough money and time.  It requires getting the whole team to stop the process and get consensus that it’s OK to turn the corner.  Otherwise one of the diseases of innovation is that you hover around at a certain level of abstraction or keep going wider and people lose interest.

Diverging is the easy bit.  I still am a big user of brainstorming, done properly.  The IDEO method of creativity is built on the principle that you get greater creativity when you put some boundaries and rules in place.  Rule Number one is stay focused on the topic.  The corollary of that is that if you don’t know what the topic is it’s hard to stay focused.  A good creativity facilitator can take a bunch of very conservative people and get some real results out of them.

For me the two big challenges are converging and execution.

It is clear to me that Solar Century have acted as what Rosabeth Moss Kanter would call ‘boundary crossers’ in joining two disparate industries together (PV and Building)?  What else do you consider to have been critical in getting the industries to join up?

A green housing estate in Northumberland

We are structured wholly as a virtual manufacturer, which means we have to be good at co-ordinating the whole value chain.  The only part of our operation that we retain is the innovation function.  The upside of being a virtual manufacturer is that we can be much more flexible.  It has allowed us to experiment without buying factories.  We have for example used a contract manufacturer in the UK to develop and test new products, then exported the manufacturing to China and start on the next product in the UK.  The flipside is that you cannot have it all ways.  You have to become quite expert in production planning as you cannot have loose commitments in terms of volumes and then be expected to turn the dial up.

Tell me something about leadership for innovation

If it’s not about turning ideas into results, then it’s not innovation.  There are plenty of non-monetary forms of results, such as effecting cultural change, but in many cases money is a good proxy for the results sought from an innovation intervention.

Hence I tend to use the equation: innovation = turning ideas into money. I know such an equation has its shortcomings, but it does have the benefit of simplicity.

My point of view is that attention needs to be given both to the management of ideas and to the creation of valuable results. I find there is a bias towards ideas and less towards execution.

Covering both successfully requires innovation leadership needs to cover a broad space within an organisation

On the one hand, an innovation leader has to be senior, well connected and influential. There will be uncertainty and chaos to be embraced. The leader will need to facilitate and give permissions and have the ability to deftly handle the stakeholders. To own the innovation vision and to have the credibility to make on occasion some big judgment calls. To have the time and freedom to do some broad thinking and be widely networked to pull in external influences.

On the other there’s a pervading need to pay attention to the details. Great innovation leaders so many times have a deep passion for the content. Innovation teams expect to be led from a position of content expertise, not from a position of hierarchical power. There will be times to make big demands of the innovation team and leadership needs to from a position of respect.

Big demands, and not business as usual within most firms. To deliver on this mix of seniority and depth means that T-shaped people even more critical than ever.

Can you develop T-Shaped people?

You cannot develop all people into T-Shaped people.  There are two things you can watch out for.  To be a good T-Shaped person you need to have the breadth in order to connect into and respect a multidisciplinary working life but you also need the vertical of the T.  One of the things you can do is to make sure that your vertical remains deep.  The flip side about T-Shaped people is that there are a bunch of people who are often brilliant and invaluable who are going to be nothing other than I-Shaped.  There can be a tendency in some organisations to reject them or undervalue them.  What’s important is to recognise them and value them.

Successful innovation – where ideas go all the way to results – is hard and requires innovation leadership that stands tall. When times are tough, like now, innovation is ever more important – but to succeed, innovation leadership has to stand even taller.

Final thoughts

Innovation is about getting results – if there’s no result, it’ ain’t innovation.

There’s an inbalance in reporting or teaching innovation towards idea generation and creativity rather than executing them.  A lot of frustration about innovation in companies arises from teams who throw their all into idea generation and then don’t see any results.  Whereas, it’s an execution problem.

In good times innovation tends to be judged as turning ideas into money. In tough times innovation needs to be accountable as turning ideas into money.

Five success factors for creating and managing ideas

  1. Maintain a true passion for the content
  2. Use qualitative customer research methods to complement qualitative methods
  3. Prototyping is the engine for innovation, fail early fail often
  4. Brainstorming: great innovation companies are fluent in brainstorming
  5. Recognise the importance of storytelling to communicate innovation vision.

Five success factors for turning those ideas into results

  1. Demand greater accountability for innovation outputs – not inputs
  2. Push the connection to the bottom line
  3. Increase innovation efficiency and get more done
  4. Expand innovation diversity to cover services, processes and supply chain
  5. Be firm about the vision, flexible about the present

Alan South can be contacted via Solar Century.

We finish with Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”.


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via

Sex, Drugs and Data

I recently attended The Association of Clinical Data Management Conference, where I gave the final keynote.  Alongside my talk I was privileged to hear some insights into the Anti-Doping programme at the London Olympics, hence the title of this post. Having heard the intrusive urine collection process that athletes had to go through, I’m rather glad I was not an athlete!

Anyway, on to innovation and the pharmaceutical industry.  Here’s the slide deck from the presentation below.  I’m happy to take interested people through the slides via a Google Hangout.   Simply get in touch if interested and I will be happy to run a collaborative online masterclass.

The main points we explored at the conference may be summarised:

  1. The differences between creativity and innovation, which are poorly understood in my long experience.
  2. Strategies and techniques for creativity and innovation, drawn from our toolkit of 130 + approaches, based on 18 years of teaching these at MBA level and which recently beat well-branded innovation companies to a pitch.  We’re writing a book on innovation and creativity presently.
  3. The impact of big data and a world where analysis must be married with creativity if innovation is to occur.  Data is estimated to be rising by 40% compound interest rate to 45 ZB by 2020.  This offers us the possibility of ‘drowning in data’ or ‘swimming with information’.  In a world where everything is measureable and measured, the opportunity for doing things that seem intuitively cool is potentially diminished.
  4. The importance of Failure in the context of Success.  All successful innovators have failed many times, yet we live in a world where the expectation is ‘right first time innovation’.  This paradox must be resolved.

Read more about all of this in “The Music of Business“.  Check the references out below:

And finally, let’s see where the title of this blog emanated from:

Question Time

I had the immense pleasure of meeting David Dimbleby after I was invited to BBC’s Question Time at the Mick Jagger Centre the other week.  Click on the image to watch the show in full.  I managed to get a comment into the debate about globalisation, around 38 minutes into the piece:

Click to view Question Time at the Mick Jagger Centre

Click to view Question Time at the Mick Jagger Centre

The question I addressed was about global trade and its impact on working conditions.  Globalisation is an inevitable consequence of the internet and global communications and is probably connected to the time when we were first able to move goods around the world.  Like most things, it has desirable effects and less desirable consequences.  It is too simple in my view to suggest that we can regulate bad practices in sweatshops of the world by social disapproval or tariffs, nor is it realistic to expect that ‘the market’ will solve the problem by refusing to buy cheap goods.  Having travelled and worked widely in India I was surprised to find myself agreeing with David Starkey, the controversial historian, who accurately pointed out that no significant growth had ever occurred without the exploitation of human capital.  That said, I also agreed with Shirley Williams, who pointed out that this did not make exploitation right or acceptable.

This problem is complex and systemic and it therefore requires a systemic and multifaceted solution.  I was reminded of the ‘wicked problems’ grid, which we use in our consulting on complex and interconnected business topics:

Wicked problems

Such topics do not lend themselves to ‘digital’ A or B type answers and I was pleased to see that this came out in the debate.  Some general transferable points on ‘wicked problems’:

  1. To resolve complex problems requires us to ask great questions.  THis has the effect of reducing the uncertainty inherent in such problems.
  2. It’s ALWAYS a mistake to jump to ‘solutions’ to ‘joined up problems’ or attempt to reduce them to A or B dialectics.
  3. Complex problems can often be resolved by a combination of visionary thinking and systematic divergent and convergent thinking.
  4. More on this topic in our books Best Practice Creativity and Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll, available at BOOKS.

On a lighter note, we had a bit of fun off camera.  When David Dimbleby arrived, his first question to the audience was “Has anyone seen the show?” to which there was only one reply I could give:  “No, is it a new series?” :-)  Later on in the ‘warm up’, I responded to the trial question, which was “Should Her Majesty the Queen now hand over power to her family?”  As we were in the Mick Jagger centre, I was compelled to break rule No 2 above by saying to the panel:

“If Mick Jagger were here, he would say ‘Not Fade Away’ – in other words, she should not retire”

On that note, let’s see the song that inspired the quip: