Innovation and Creativity

Last week Bloomsbury commissioned a groundbreaking book on innovation and creativity from me. Bloomsbury are the home of Harry Potter and have a major cadre of thought leaders and business authors alongside their popular offerings. I’m wondering if you would like to be part of this great adventure?

Bloomsbury's HQ in London

Bloomsbury’s HQ in London

I’m looking for stories and mini case studies to be included in the book with full credits to you and your company. There are two themes – one personal and the other more business focused:

1. Personal Creativity Stories

Have you got a story which illustrates how your own creativity works? Can you articulate the circumstances under which you are at your most creative? Do you work best alone or in groups. Does the environment, your mood, stimulation level or time of day matter? Typical strategies for personal creativity include running, showering, being engaged in some non-work related activity e.g. ironing, gardening etc. I’ve attached an example below to give you an idea of the sort of thing I’m looking for. Your story could be anything from 50 to 300 words long. It would be good if you can tie your story to an underlying principle from psychology or neuroscience.

2. Innovation Mini Cases

For Innovation Leaders

  • How do you structure for innovation in your enterprise?
  • How do you create a culture and climate for intrapreneuship?
  • How do you deal with failure?
  • How is your approach to innovation informed (or not) by what academics and thought leaders say about the process of bringing new things into being?

For Innovators

  • Have you taken an idea and converted it to a profitable / sustainable innovation?
  • How did you set about that?
  • What barriers did you have to overcome?
  • How was your approach informed (or not) by what academics and thought leaders say about the process of bringing new things into being?
  • What has been the impact? – on you, on others, on society?

We currently have case studies from Virgin, Pfizer, Fuji Film, Widget, Dyson etc. so I’m looking for examples from different walks of business life. Your case could be anything from 300 to 1200 words long – it does not have to include all the aspects I’ve mentioned above and could focus on other aspects of innovation.

Please send your contributions via e-mail to peter@humdyn.co.uk. The deadline for book submission is tight and I really need your contributions within one month (19 April) to have a realistic chance to integrate your piece into the final manuscript.

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Author of eight books on leadership and creativity as it applies to business. His latest offerings “Punk Rock People Management” – 2nd Edition and a NEW edition of “The Music of Business” may be pre-ordered now by clicking on the image.

Click to order

Click to order

 

Enigmatic Leadership

Does your enigma as a leader increase if a sense of mystery surrounds your life?  I was thinking about this whilst listening to the BBC broadcast on Prince’s ‘Vault’ of unreleased material today, estimated to be more than 70% of his recorded output.

In case you are not familiar, Prince is thought to write a song every day and is already considered to be capable of releasing albums for many years after his death, achieving some kind of mythical ‘life after death’ status for some of his fans.  It’s a quite different approach to that of Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, where people have struggled to find anything like a catalogue of quality unreleased material.

Undoubtedly, his enigma is a great allure for his fanbase, some of whom would probably do anything to see him. This level of adulation has its downside. My own frustration with the purple genius’ enigma reached its peak when I bought a ticket to one of his aftershows in London some years back, only to find the he had gone directly to Dubrovnik after the main show and had no intention of performing, leaving me cold and tired, walking around London till the early hours.  Yes, the billing for these shows did say “Expect the unexpected”, but at that point I felt he had stretched the deal way beyond the promise!  I recall he did something similar in Ireland some years back as well and at numerous other locations.  Yet, he also occasionally gives ‘random acts of kindness’, such as when I queued for 7 hours to see him in London last year, expecting to pay £70 for the pleasure and then being asked for £10 when I reached the door.

Do the concepts of being mysterious and precocious stretch to modern day leadership in business? I’m sure many of you would expect me to say yes, given my ‘minor obsession’ with music and business parallels, but this is one area where I have to say no.  Here’s three things you should not ‘copy and paste’ from Prince’s example as a leader and two that you might:

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Finally, here’s the song from my ‘vault’ that I wrote for Prince, in support of the charity Autism Rocks. Download your copy now via Bandcamp and tell your friends.  Also a picture of Prince’s spiritual Godfather Mr George Clinton of Parliament after his tour of The Houses of Parliament last week when I caught up with him. I’m off to see George if anyone wants to join me in London on April 15th at Kokos with Dr Andrew Sentance and a special guest.

Prince

What U C Is What U Get – a tribute to Prince, in support of Autism research – artwork by Mary Frances Geiser

First you gotta shake the gate ... of Parliament - with George Clinton at The Houses of Parliament

First you gotta shake the gates … of Parliament – with George Clinton at The Houses of Parliament               Photo by Clive Allen

Prince - I would fry for you

                                        Prince – I would fry 4 U – Breakfast can wait!

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics – better Business and Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with parallel lessons from the world of music via The Academy of Rock.

Author of eight books on Business Leadership – Check his latest one:

Punk Rock People Management

Click on the picture to find out more

   Click on the picture to find out more

Welcome Constraints

jack-white-5

In the film It Might Get Loud, guitarist Jack White says that technology makes us lazy and laziness is bad for creativity. He is right. My first guitar cost £10, the strings stood about an inch (slight exaggeration but not much) from the neck which made my fingers work much harder to play the instrument than normal. As a result, people tell me that I can bend strings an incredible amount akin to Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd, even though I don’t use particularly a light gauge of strings.

White often uses low-quality instruments to force him to play differently, although the Gretsch he is pictured with above is not one of them!  He says:

“If it takes me three steps to get to the organ, then I’ll put it four steps away. I’ll have to run faster, I’ll have to push myself harder to get to it.”

This is something I completely understand as a musician and a scientist.  Some of the best music I made was written using poor equipment where there had to be some kind of struggle to extract something from it.  I spent a lot of time in the 1980’s and 1990’s chaining reel to reel tape recorders together, reversing and splicing tape to create sounds that had never been heard before.  Admittedly a few of these nobody ever wanted to hear again either!

Contrary to popular opinion, constraints are useful for creativity in all walks of life.  James Dyson would not have invented the Dyson vacuum cleaner if he had not become frustrated at his vacuum cleaner which “did not suck”. Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have not built the Great Western Railway without feeling frustrated that he could not get to Cornwall quickly, and so on.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge - one of the many of IK Brunel's achievements

The Clifton Suspension Bridge – one of the many of IK Brunel’s achievements

It’s important to separate what I call “real constraints” from “imaginary ones”.  A real constraint might be a law of physics, an imaginary one simply an assumption such as a way of doing things that has become a habit or paradigm within an industry. In my own experience, I was partly responsible for developing the world’s first AIDS treatment.  A real constraint was that of time.  We needed to collapse the traditional drug development process time to bring the drug to market as quickly and safely as possible.  At that time Wellcome was renowned for making tablet formulations and this would have been our “paradigm response” to the situation.  In the event, we elected to formulate the product as a capsule, something we were very inexperienced with but which would deliver the quickest route to market. This committed us to a rapid learning programme of work to develop the product. In doing so we eliminated the artificial constraint of “we always do it that way”.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 12.58.02

When we design creative thinking sessions for companies seeking to rethink their strategy, products, services and internal processes, I like to boundary the topic under study with the real constraints that surround it.  These should not be too many – too many constraints tend to stifle ingenious thinking and no constraints tend to produce unfocused creativity.  Some disagree with me on this, saying that creative thinking should be a no holds barred affair.  Long experience in working with people and companies that look for commercial creativity i.e. ideas that have utility suggests that this is wasteful and often does not lead to execution as the ideas developed do not pass the obstacles that are in the way of execution. The theory of constraints is well documented and mostly forgotten by people who think only about the positive side of business improvement.  I wrote recently for Sir Richard Branson on this topic in terms of the internal barriers to innovation and you can read the post at Virgin.

For many years, I’ve used my “fried egg model” to describe the essentials needed to specify a problem or opportunity that is amenable to ingenious thinking.  I was delighted when Charles Handy told me he had thought of something similar for his book “The Empty Raincoat” but later decided it was too fanciful.  The fried egg model requires there to be enough “thinking space” between “the demands or goal” and “the constraints” to provide an arena for productive creativity – “the choices”.  This is why it’s a fried egg and not a boiled one sliced through the middle!  Here is the fried egg I always carry in my bag alongside my computer as I’m sure we all do …

The Fried Egg Model - Demands, Constraints, Choices

The Fried Egg Model – Demands, Constraints, Choices

Andy Wooler offered me this excellent additional example of the use of constraints from the world of music via Arnold Schoenberg’s use of “Serialism”, of which one expression is the twelve-tone technique. We wouldn’t have the magnificent “Rite of Spring” without it. The technique requires that all 12 notes of the chromatic scale are sounded as often as one another whilst preventing the emphasis of any one note. This constraint did not get in the way of exciting music and some thought it was a breath of fresh air. Of course, as it is music, not everyone agrees!

To finish, here’s that first guitar that taught me the value of constraints – I was hold it was a Hofner Futurama by the insurance salesman that sold it to me for £10.  It was heavily modified with “Brian May” Burns Trisonic pickups which were its crowning glory.  It taught me to be strong!  I eventually managed to buy another one for a similar price although his one was so bad in construction and playing that I had to take a saw to it.  It was 1977 after all – the year of punk!

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Guitar Book Collage

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with the wisdom of the street via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE. Connect with us on our Linkedin Company Page and join our group The Music of Business where we discuss parallel lessons from Business and Music.

Punk Rock HR – A Manifesto for Better HR Strategy and Practice

I was asked by Steve Browne for a post that summed up my thoughts on how HR can get better.  Steve is Executive Director at La Rosa’s Pizza in the US and is a massive HR and rock music radical.  So here is my post with some background as to why I feel able to comment on such matters for my US cousins.

Having spent many years running the Kent Branch of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the UK, acting as a board member of their Council, working in HR for a Pharmaceutical Company and teaching Strategic HRM at MBA level, I had an extended period to study HR strategy and practice from the viewpoints of my original careers as a scientist and innovation leader. As a result, I wrote a manifesto for HR transformation in a book called “Punk Rock People Management”.  In case you are wondering if this requires HR pros to pogo whilst doing staff appraisals, relax! The “Punk Rock” aspect of the title simply refers to three underlying principles of the punk rock phenomenon that apply to good HR strategy and practice:

SimplicitySimplification in punk was about three chords or even less.  Lou Reed once claimed that anything more than three chords is jazz.  Likewise, good HR and great leaders make the complex compellingly simple. If HR is overly complex it’s no surprise if managers reach for their own versions of policies and procedures.

Keep it simple

BrevityBrevity in punk was exactly what it said on the tin. The Ramones managed to get their message across in just over two minutes and some of Wire’s early recordings coming in at under one minute, compared with the neo classical 20 minute overtures that characterised Prog Rock (Make no mistake, I’m a big Prog Rock fan as well, but we’re not here to discuss musical tastes).  To misquote Albert Einstein good HR keeps things as short as they need to be but no shorter …

Keep it short

AuthenticityAt punk’s core was the idea of telling it like it is. Good HR also keeps things real.  In practice the great HR professional speaks in the language of the business they serve rather than hiding behind HR jargon.  Jargon is a natural feature of all professions, but when it excludes rather than engages it has lost its purpose as a kind of ‘shorthand’.

Keep it real

Authenticity Lou Reed Annie Lennox

I was speaking with Ron Thomas, CEO of Great Place to Work, in the Gulf just recently. We discussed some other qualities that characterise great HR, amongst them:

Understand the business – Good HR professionals align the HR strategy and tactics with the long-term business imperatives.  It’s what I call the “HR Six Pack”:

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 17.23.04

The HR Six Pack – not modelled here by Iggy Pop …

Understand the numbers – Business starts with the financials rather than the appraisal process etc. A grip on the numbers gives you the context to make better HR decisions by fact rather than guesswork. HR professionals also need to be data savvy rather than leaving that to the IT or finance professionals.

Understand the context – You’ve got all your HR / Business qualifications right? So why isn’t the CEO wanting to implement the 9 box model, 360 degree appraisals and so on?  Business schools offer an idealized view of how things should be at work, but work rarely works like that. Successful HR professionals understand context and adopt a “best fit” approach, seizing opportunities to make their workplaces great and understanding the nuance of time and timing. This is usually superior than attempting to plug in “best practice” elements without considering the context, rather akin to attempting a kidney transplant without considering the recipient.

For more on subjects such as recruitment, induction, engagement, rewards, appraisal, promotion, innovation, training, conflict, exit and so on pick up a copy of “Punk Rock People Management” or attend one of our Music and Business keynotes or masterclasses.

FINAL COVER

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with the wisdom of the street via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE. Connect with us on our Linkedin Company Page and join our group The Music of Business where we discuss parallel lessons from Business and Music.

Contact him via peter@humdyn.co.uk

Riding the waves of change

I am a massive fan of Professor Charles Handy’s work, having met him a few times over the years. His work on portfolio careers and change in “The Empty Raincoat” resonated strongly with me when I started my business 20 years ago, in terms of the need to recognise that every business has it’s “Sigmoid Curve”. The important move in personal or business life is to recognise when you are at a point of inflexion and start a new Sigmoid Curve, as shown in this diagram:

We are in an age where a job for life hardly exists any more. Reflecting on my career it turns out that I reinvent myself in 18 year cycles: 18 years in science, leading teams to develop life-saving pharmaceuticals; 18 years teaching MBA’s in academia and; 18+ years starting up and running a business. Around 2008 I foresaw a need to adapt once again, as the recession began. As the end of 2014 approaches, I’m reflecting on some of the results of the decisions I made to make some fundamental changes back in 2008 that are leading me into my “4th age”.

Ain’t no mountain high enough …

To be effective as a consultancy business these days, you need to be a global player due to client requirements around the world. Although we’ve delivered projects across the world using our own networks in the USA and Europe, our partnership with Nadine Hack’s Global Network is a major landmark in our development as a global player and I’m humbled to have been chosen to be in such superb company.

Another important achievement in terms of scope and scale was winning a prize for our work on Leadership from Sir Richard Branson. These events have changed my perceptions as to what we might be capable of achieving in 2015.

Nadine Hack is a world leader in trustworthy behaviour and leadership

Comparing notes on Virgin albums – Meeting Sir Richard Branson

Frustrations and False Starts

Fame doesn’t pay the bills and the year has continued to be “lumpy” business wise, having spent considerable time on client projects which have then not proceeded due to internal or external changes which caused priorities to change.

I’ve also been taken for a ride on a couple of occasions, by people from public sector institutions and quangos, some of whom have asked me to speak at conferences for free in exchange for promises of in-kind benefits which never materialise. I reserve my free time for genuine charities and not such enterprises. A repeated series of “diversions” can kill smaller businesses and I’ve often wanted to invent an “authenticity tester” to separate the sheep from the goats in this respect. However I have not yet invented this gadget :-) Apparently I’m not alone in this desire!!

Has anyone invented this gadget yet?

The lesson here is to find better ways of doing the due diligence on larger projects, although sometimes the client themselves does not know that their own business is also experiencing a point of inflexion when making plans to engage external assistance. As a smaller niche business, sometimes there is little to be done other to dust yourself down and move on, rather like Jake and Elwood in “The Blues Brothers”:

Seeds of growth

That said, many times things work out fine and we’ve also had a series of very enjoyable consultancy and speaking projects in Estonia, Ireland, Romania and Germany in 2014 and promises of others in the USA and elsewhere in 2015. I’ve had equivalent joy in my musical life at The Academy of Rock – interviews with George Clinton, Roberta Flack, John Mayall, AC / DC’s drummer and, recently, joint performances with Patti Russo – Meatloaf’s long term singing partner at Henley Business School, a corporate gig for HP’s annual awards ceremony and an awesome gig in London with Bernie Tormé, guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne and Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan.

With Patti Russo at Henley Business School, Bernie Tormé at London’s Borderline, at the HP awards in Brighton, interviewing George Clinton (Prince’s spiritual Godfather) and discussing HR leadership and the Virgin Way in Romania. Below our interview with Roberta Flack

If your business is to become a true Learning Company, this involves both what Peter Senge calls “learning” and more importantly “unlearning”. So, in pursuing my new pathway as a global consultancy and keynote speaker and performer alongside my role as a business author and facilitator, what have I had to learn and let go of in order to gain momentum for change?

Learning and unlearning to adapt

To do new things, this means letting go of the “familiar”. I’ve had to turn down a few projects this year, which, although they would pay a wage, would have filled my diary, making it impossible to pursue these new directions. Leadership is as much about saying no as it is saying yes to requests.

When pursuing larger projects, there is more risk of companies defaulting on their requests. One needs to be resilient, both emotionally and financially to “play with the big boys”. I have my mum to thank for the business principle of “never a borrower or a lender be”, having never had a loan in 20 years of business and have survived the longest and deepest recession in recent times, so I feel well prepared to deal with such things. Nonetheless it is galling to spend months of your time in preparation for projects which get cancelled due to wider strategic changes. I must get better at dusting myself down from such occurrences and, hopefully, minimising them in the first place.

In pursuing a global strategy, I need to develop exceptional collaborative bonds with people who I have not necessarily spent a lot of time working face to face with. This investment in relationships ultimately leads to a return in terms of more significant and rewarding projects. Trust matters much more when you are working at a distance with people and this must be allocated a good amount of time.

Hopes and Fears for 2015

1. I’m looking to develop the relationship as a writer and partner with Virgin.com.

2. I’m also hoping to launch a new groundbreaking book on innovation and creativity that blends world class research with the pragmatism of “what works” in the field.

3. I will continue to develop the Human Dynamics and Academy of Rock brands and networks so that they compete well with the usual suspects.

4. I’m hoping to receive less fake requests for assistance, but one never knows … To be an adaptive organisation, one needs to have a plan and also be nimble and responsive …

To adapt, sometimes one needs to switch the points towards an unknown destination …

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with the wisdom of the street via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE. Connect with us on our Linkedin Company Page and join our group The Music of Business where we discuss parallel lessons from Business and Music.

Season’s Greetings

Festive greetings. As in previous years, we prefer to give money to charity instead of giving Christmas cards. This year we are giving our main donation to Demelza House Hospice – a charity that helps terminally ill children live out their remaining days in comfort and dignity.  We are combining our donation with the proceeds from the sale of our song written in honour of Prince earlier in the year. There’s still time to buy the song and donate to the cause if you wish: Bandcamp – 18 and over version, Bandcamp – Bleeped version

Demelza Hospice - a worthy cause that rocks

Demelza Hospice – a worthy cause that rocks

We have also made a donation to the Wikimedia Foundation – knowledge is such a valuable asset in our quest to make the world a better place.

In the meantime, here is a piece of music I composed and recorded for Christmas in my basement. The piece is themed around Cats and Snow – enjoy !!  All the very best for 2015 :-)

The School of Hard Rocks

There have been many high points in 2014.  In business terms, the partnership with Nadine Hack’s Global Network is a major landmark in our development as a global consultancy business.  I won a prize for my work from Sir Richard Branson and we’ve enjoyed consultancy projects in Estonia, Ireland, Romania and Germany in 2014.

I’ve had equivalent joy in my musical life at The Academy of Rock – interviews with George Clinton, Roberta Flack, Hawkwind, John Mayall and, recently, performances with Meatloaf’s female singing partner Patti Russo and Bernie Tormé, guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne and Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan at London’s prestigious Borderline venue.  It is to this experience that I turn in this blog to reflect on lessons from “The School of Hard Rocks”.  Here’s a video of our performance of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” to start us off:

There was no time to rehearse for this performance, save for a three minute soundcheck a few hours before we hit the stage. For me this mirrors the situation that many managers face when having to deliver a presentation or performance. What then can we learn from this in terms of transferable lessons from the Borderline to the boardroom?

Learning from The School of Hard Rocks

Over-prepare to be flexible – In my case there was no rehearsal and only about five minutes to find out how the band works as a team before the soundcheck – how it sends signals to each other, who is responsible for shortening / lengthening the song, how leadership passes from one member to another and how we end together etc. I had assumed this might be the case so I took the trouble to attend one of Bernie’s other gigs on the tour to study the musical performance. I’d also used Bernie at one of our corporate team building events so I had some idea of how he “passes the baton” from person to person during a jam, although he is not as demonstrative as Ritchie Blackmore or Prince, so careful attention is needed.

Learn to read others – Once on stage, I could not hear myself as Bernie has an old school approach to making sure “everything is up to 11″. A lot of the necessary adjustment has to be done through using your eyes and not your ears in such circumstances. The musical people amongst you will notice there are a couple of moments in the middle of “Fire” when I had misunderstood how many bars we would do in “E” and in “D”. Towards the end, politeness meant that Bernie and myself were unclear on who would take the lead and you can see some “guesswork” going on between me, Bernie and the band. Ah well, not so bad after the three minute soundcheck I guess! :-)

Be nimble, be quick – Bernie only did one number as a soundcheck – it was pretty much the same when I performed at Brands Hatch with “Punk Idol” John Otway a few years’ back and Patti Russo the other week at Henley Business School. In comparison, I recently stood in for an amateur band at a corporate event and they used 30 minutes to run through numbers – this is not what a soundcheck is for – the clue is in the title.

Expect the unexpected – The one thing I failed to prepare for was the need to climb on stage. All seemed well at the soundcheck, but once the venue filled, I was unable to get to the side of the stage where the stairs were. Once I was called to the stage, I proceeded to climb what seemed like a mountain without success, eventually needing to be hauled up by the band in a scene that looked like something from “Spinal Tap”. Ah well it caused some amusement!

BT Peter Borderline

A proud moment – Mr Tormé and me at The Borderline after I clambered to the stage in a shambolic Spinal Tapesque manner!!

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with the wisdom of the street via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE.