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”.

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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.

From Competitive Advantage to Collaborative Advantage

The last 100 years of business wisdom in the West has been dominated by the notion of Competitive Advantage, whereby a company or enterprise develops a product or a set of capabilities that confers some kind of unique advantage versus its competitors, ideally over an extended period of time. The concept was championed by Michael Porter via his tomes, “Competitive Advantage” and “The Competitive Advantage of Nations”. Essentially Porter’s theory is Charles Darwin for business people. Here’s an account of our recent evolution from the agrarian through the industrial to the information age.  It is not clear from this infographic whether intelligence has increased …

If Dinosaurs ruled the Earth ...

If Dinosaurs ruled the Earth …

It’s time we moved to the notion of Collaborative Advantage in a joined up world. Innovation is now so complex that it is rare for the capabilities and intelligence required to convert a new idea into a sustainable business, product or service to reside within one individual or discipline. Alongside this, the impact of our actions on the world has become correspondingly greater and we must therefore look to collaboration as a tool if we are to have a chance of making the world a better place.

But, it’s not easy. As with Darwin’s ideas about competition, the human condition tends to place emphasis on looking after number one as a priority, especially when under pressure. So voluntary activity is necessary but not sufficient to achieve the required changes. On the positive side, some companies are taking the lead in setting the conditions where collaboration is seen to be a better option than going it alone:

Unilever are at the forefront of innovation through collaboration, offering incentives for individuals to come up with ingenious ideas. So too are many small entrepreneurial start up businesses, assisted by crowdfunding. It really is possible to be small and global now. I wrote recently about the power of Collaboration for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Entrepreneur blog. Read the piece here at Collaboration and Crowdfunding.

At a personal level, I was recently invited to give a guest keynote and collaborative musical experience at Henley Business School. Collaborating with people and organisations that you don’t own or control is a completely different animal compared with the traditional organisation model and it requires a completely different type of leadership. I am delighted to be associated with an institution that understands the difference and designs it into their Executive Education programmes.

We were blessed to have a guest appearance from Patti Russo, Meatloaf’s long term female singing partner. I’ve been working with Patti to develop the next stage of her career and she kindly agreed to come along as a special guest. Patti is a living, breathing example of someone who has collaborated with some of the biggest egos on Planet Earth. She performs with much of rock’s royalty including Cher, Queen and in the theatre with the LA version of “We Will Rock You”. A magical moment was when we launched into “Dead Ringer for Love” during the live performance part of the evening. The entire audience of leaders stood up to salute her! I was also privileged to do an acoustic “aftershow” with Patti in the bar at Henley, where we performed “You can’t always get what you want” and “I would do anything for love”, which included some great delegate collaboration.

I would do anything for love - with Patti Russo and Masterclass at Henley Business School

I would do anything for love – with Patti Russo and Masterclass at Henley Business School – Click the picture to book Patti for a unique experience

I’m also delighted to have been invited to join a global collaboration with Nadine Hack for a more sustainable business world. Nadine’s contribution to finding joined up solutions to complex world problems is unparalleled and she has started this network to continue and accelerate her work.

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Nadine Hack – Leader of a Global Network for a more sustainable world – click on the picture to find out more

Action Points

  • Competitive Advantage must be matched with Collaborative Advantage
  • Collaboration is easy to say but runs counter to many people’s DNA, so we must work hard at it
  • The internet can facilitate enterprise through collaboration via crowdfunding. See Sir Richard Branson’s articles on Collaboration Virgin.com for more on this
  • Leaders can learn to collaborate if they choose to. Please get in touch with Nadine Hack or myself to discuss collaborative leadership

To finish, here’s a song from Patti that literally sums up idea of being “under pressure”:

Business Lessons from Music

Top of the Pops

Top of the Pops

I’m off to give a conference in Estonia today where I’ll be giving a run down of 10 top tips about business from the parallel universe of music.  To mark the occasion, here’s the first in a series of posts containing bite size tips about business from music.  I’ve reframed the song titles in a creative way, sometimes outrageously so, to suggest some enduring business tips taken from the world of music rather than the longer winded approach of the business school.  Take a look:

This is part of a book I’m releasing soon.  Drop me a line at peter@humdyn.co.uk for details.

TOTP

TOTP

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.

Practice Makes Perfect

La Bohème

La Boheme

I attended a performance of La Bohème at London’s Albert Hall earlier this year.  Aside from the usual operatic story of romance, sex, drugs, rock’n’roll disease and death, I was struck by the preparation as the orchestra painstakingly practised their art before the performance began, although they had doubtless invested more than 10 000 hours of practice before this concert in mastering their instruments. Here’s a very short snippet of the warm up and what appears to be a cacophony:

Transferable Lessons:

  1. Professionals practice, amateurs try to wing it.  Even on pieces that they are familiar with, professionals warm themselves up. This is exactly the same when giving a keynote address or presentation in my experience.  Preparation is everything!
  2. Before a concert performance, individuals practice their own pieces in the main. This requires them to effectively shutdown their hearing and concentrate on their own performance. Once the performance starts, they need to hear their own performance and the rest of the orchestra. Listening to your own performance solo and to your performance in the context of those around you are distinctly different skill sets in my experience and are the hallmark of masters of their craft.
  3. The performers must also be untroubled by the audience talking etc.  So this is a selective type of hearing and deafness, what I call “listening through” rather than “listening to“.

These are the abilities of an emotionally intelligent person.  Someone who is a master of their own skill and who has the ability to tune in (or out) of what is going on around them.  Here’s our interpretation of a model that sums up the work of Daniel Goleman et al. on the topic.  Great leaders and great musicians share the skill of emotional intelligence.  What I call being a master of both inner and outer space.  For more on this take a peek at the book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll“.

We’ll be practising these skills at a corporate improvisation session in London this week with “Masterclass“.  get in touch if you would like to witness one of these in action.

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585

Killing me softly – An interview with Roberta Flack

Killing me softly with her words - Miss Roberta Flack

Killing me softly with her words – Miss Roberta Flack – Photo by Adam Coxon, The Lowdown Magazine

It was an unexpected delight to be invited to interview Roberta Flack recently, still performing at 75 years of age with a beautiful singing voice, wit charm and experience well beyond X-Factor and American Idol wannabes.  Let’s begin with a brief reminder of that beautiful singing, writing, playing and performing talent:

 

Here’s some insights from our dialogue which went on well past the TV interview:

Roberta on Teaching and Learning

Flack started her career teaching music at schools and privately in Washington D.C.  Reflecting on this she said she had some wonderful opportunities compared with the other students.  Teachers would leave the room and say “Carry on Roberta”.  Asked about what qualities they thought she possessed to get this request, Roberta said in a typically self-effacing manner that she had a fairly big mouth!  This ignores all her other qualities: an articulate style; a passion for her subject (in her case all forms of music) and an ability to reach other people’s heads, hearts and souls.  These are all transferable qualities for great leaders in any field. Asked what she had learned through her life she learned to appreciate everything that came her way, even those songs that she knew she could not or would not sing.  At one point she accompanied aspiring opera singers on piano in Georgetown and she got to meet and meet John F Kennedy, who attended the club.  In the course of working there, Flack had to learn to play songs that she had never played.  Reflecting on this she said:

“As a musician, when you get an opportunity to learn something that you don’t know, and to really learn and play it and execute it well, is such a thrill”

There is a direct parallel here for leaders in any field.  As Tom Peters says, execution is everything.  That relies on deep learning, the so-called 10 000 hours effect as quoted by Malcolm Gladwell. Musicians are used to the idea of deep practice as are great leaders.  Check out the full interview here:

 

Transferable Lesson : To become a great learner, learn to teach and teach people to learn

Roberta on Creativity and Reinterpretation

Flack took on the awesome task of reinterpreting a selection of songs by The Beatles in 2012 – Let It Be Roberta, having lived nearby to and also become good friends with John Lennon many years before. Reinterpreting a canon of work of such magnificence presents the artist with an enormous challenge as to how faithful you remain to the original or whether to do something quite different with the songs, which are almost untouchable. Flack wisely chose to do something different with the material to stunning effect. Reflecting on this, Roberta said that, it helped to be a classically trained musician. She was taught by Hazel Harrison, a music teacher from Howard University who excelled in Bach and music of the Baroque period. Roberta said:

“If you can hold on to your love for playing the piano and play Bach this way, rather than playing it like Chopin or Mozart, you will have accomplished something”

So, Flack learned to sight read all the pieces that the opera singers wanted her to play and make the music come to life rather than just to read the notes on the paper.  She was also stretched all the time by people who asked her to modify the pieces at will.  This level of adaptive behaviour provided her will the skill to get inside the heart of the musician and interpret the piece for the singers she had before her.  Undoubtedly this learning was formative in terms of her ability to reinterpret The Beatles material whilst staying true to the heart of the music.

Transferable Lesson : Act from your heart to find your soul

Roberta on new Business models

We held a fascinating after interview chat about Prince and his recent decision to work again with Warner Brothers after 20 years of producing his music independently. Roberta acknowledged the difficulty of gaining funding for your work in the modern age. Off camera we had a long chat about money and artistry. In her own case she set up The Real Artist Symposium, a gathering creative artists who own their own work and have worked with her to help give them a platform for their work.  This is just one of a number of new funding models that have emerged. We recently commented on Bernie Torme’s Crowdfunding Experiment as another exemplar of innovation.  These models are also apparent in other fields, such as publishing, where downloading has democratised the creative process but also made it much harder for artists to earn a living from their art. Business people would do well to learn that if what you are doing isn’t working, do something different.

Transferable Lesson : If your business model is broken, find a new one rather than banging your head against the same wall

And finally, a beautiful rendition of “Killing Me Softly”:

 

The first time ever I met Roberta Flack

The first time ever I met Roberta Flack

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About the Writer:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.