Meet the CIO – Chief Improvising Officer – Dr Russ Derickson

Chief Improvisation Officer Derickson

Chief Improvisation Officer Derickson

Introducing Dr Russell G. Derickson, Polymath, Inventor, Jazz Musician, Academic.  I met Russ a year or so back now and am privileged to conduct an interview with him.

Tell me about your background

 

My background, by design, is broad and deep. All my life I have railed against a single domain of pursuit, something that has met with great resistance over time from individuals and organizations that prevail in a specialist-driven world. But that world is changing. I am trained and experienced in science, engineering, social science, music, and the literary arts, and pursue what I call a Generalist-Specialist path. You may have heard of T-shaped and Pi-shaped (like the Greek symbol Π) individuals, who have deep enough breadth to be able to interact effectively with a range of subject matter experts, but also have one area, if not two areas, of subject matter expertise themselves. I aspire to be that sort of person and I keep working on it. The journey is a continuous one. The T bar represents that breath, while the stem represents depth. Similarly for the Pi-shaped individual.  An apt description is “jack of many trades, master of one (or more),” which is a contravening departure from the well-known phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” that disparages broad knowledge and skills. I do not choose to be a narrow specialist, but by no means do I feel that specialist roles are not critical in society.

Specific jobs I have had include serving as a senior researcher in two national labs in the field of renewable energy; professorships in a technical university in the discipline of atmospheric science and in a business school teaching sustainable products and services; senior and chief engineer in three engineering consulting firms in the fields of hydrology, building energy, and software design; business analyst and information services specialist in a telecom company; and professional drummer and percussionist in concert bands and orchestras, jazz combos, and rock groups. I have also had many years as an independent consultant in a wide range of pursuits.  Software I have developed has won national awards and currently serves 95% of the home energy rating market nationally. Other projects and publications of mine have enjoyed international attention, and I recently shared a best journal paper award in the discipline of wind engineering. With four excellent collaborators, I led the paper titled “Coyotes, Jazz, and Creative Teams,” which delved into the essence of creativity and innovation and was presented at the EMSCR 2010 in Vienna.

Improvisation – why is this such an important skill in business?

Improvisation is vital for creativity and innovation in business pursuits, but also for circumstances when known procedures break down or become ineffective in the face of quickly changing events or environments, or sudden novel assaults. But it is important to understand what improvisation is and how to develop facility in using it. Simply stated, improvisation is the act of deviating from a prescribed script or standard process at a given moment. But one does not just “make it up” on the spot. As jazz legend Charles Mingus famously said: “You can’t improvise on nothing, man, you gotta improvise on something.” Check this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TU_RxWXijz0

Indeed, the basis for improvisation and skill in executing it are achieved only after long stretches of immersion in a field, in which one acquires core knowledge and experience and lots of exposure to low probability events (which by nature happen infrequently). And there are basic frameworks and protocols to follow, at least to a point, beyond which “the rules” can be bent, or broken, with enough experience and acquired wisdom in hand. Furthermore, improvisation is mainly based on prior experience with its use and usually consists of reassembling items in various combinations from a known “bag of tricks.” For example, a close scrutiny of Robin Williams’ performances reveals that he often, if not primarily, puts together combinations of things he has done many times before. Seldom does anything totally new emerge, but there are notable exceptions and they are truly astounding. All of these principles apply equally to business.

While on the faculty of a technical university teaching atmospheric science, I was called on by a faculty colleague in the English department to substitute teach in his class while he was gone on a trip. The theme I brought to his class was about improvisation with the title “What to do when you are thrown a curve.” For example, you are about to present a business case to a group of investors, only to discover that a key person in the investor group is missing, or your time slot has been reduced from an hour to 45 minutes because of a sudden schedule conflict. You are testifying to a city council and a new question has just been brought to its attention by some advisory source and you are asked to address it. There are many more such examples. It turns out that a certain level of anticipating such “curves” can be done and prepared for through scenario planning techniques among other methods. But at times you just have to wing it based on years of experience, or in some cases, set your boundaries and request more time or a rescheduling in order to prepare.

You talk about teams and dyads – can you explain more?

In many enterprises in life, activities are done in a team context. But teams must be assembled and managed well to be effective. A group of individuals operating separately on a task can outperform a poor team, but a good team can outperform the individuals. To achieve effective teams it is critical to provide training in a team-based manner, not just separately train the individuals serving on a team. Furthermore, training is best done in a real-time setting, not “unnaturalistically” or theoretically with a set of academic-like sequences in a classroom. There seem to be three critical components to proper team training:

  1. Designing the team for learning through embodying the right mix of expertise and skills in the collective members for the goal at hand
  2. Establishing an effective challenge to be met by the members as a whole, but delineating the critical role of each individual
  3. Assuring psychological safety for each team member by creating an environment in which individuals will not feel dumb or incompetent with their current ideas or their introduction of new ones.

Let’s look at team size, structure, and communication. Small teams usually work best and there is an anthropological basis for this. Hunter gatherers worked in teams of 5 or 6 maximum. The possible number of communication channels expand greatly with team size. For example, a team of two has one two- way channel, also known as dyadic communication. With three members in a team, there are 3 such possible dyadic channels. With four team members, there are 6 channels, and with five members the number of possible two-way, or dyadic, channels increases to 10. The beat goes on with larger team size, such that an eight member team has 28 possible two-way channels. It gets quite complex with both the sheer number of dyadic possibilities and the attendant process losses for each dyad. Once assembled, a critical component to team operational success resides in effective intra-team communication. From classical quartets, jazz combos, and rock groups, we learn two primary categories of communication that apply to many other enterprises outside the realm of music: verbal and non-verbal. Both the verbal and non-verbal manifest in three ways: as instruction, cooperation, and collaboration. This yields a total of six communication modes. Thoughts on these various modes are the subject of a follow-on discussion.

But there is more to the story on team size and operation. Small teams may work best operationally, but may not possess all the knowledge or skill for a given task. Larger teams have the possibility of having more composite knowledge. However, the smaller, more operationally efficient team can establish a process to gather information from outside the team and bring it back into the task. That may mean a simple transporting of outside knowledge, or temporarily including an outside member for a period of time. This and related processes work best if team members have transdisciplinary skills and knowledge. Transdisciplinary means more than cross-disciplinary, in that one interacts not just at the boundary between disciplines in a team of mixed expertise, but has enough knowledge, like the T-shaped person, to make a deeper foray into several other disciplines. It is worth each team member gaining such a skill for best team operation.

Not often expressed is another facet of a team. Let me express three categories: low-variance, medium variance, and high-variance teams. This idea comes from my paper “Coyotes, Jazz, and Creative Teams.” Variance is the deviation, or change, from a standard mode of operation or process. An example of a low-variance team is a surgical team, an airline crew, or a manufacturing team. Such a team is not prospecting for novelty or surprise, but is rather operating with a tight set of procedures to ensure success and safety. A low-variance team also trains for emergency contingencies to minimize, if not preclude, the need for improvisation or research. Emergencies must be handled quickly in time and such emergencies as a fire do not “age” well as time moves on. On the other hand, a high-variance team such as a design or research team or jazz combo is prospecting for novelty and surprise and thus operates less rigidly with a fair amount of improvisation. A medium-variance team lies in between. An example would be an orchestra that plays the written score, but adds variance through creative interpretation. Needless to say, each type of team requires different training, management, and operation.

Now, I have mentioned dyads. And there are also triads. Both are vital concepts and realities, but let’s stick with dyads for now. Like a lot of words, dyad has a few meanings, once of which was used above: the two-way communication between two people. There is also another meaning: a special relationship of long standing between two individuals. There are personal and professional examples of this type of dyad and sometimes a given dyad entails both personal and professional aspects. The dyad we now discuss requires trust, close communication, and equal status to work best. A well-functioning dyad is one of the most powerful forms of teams that exist. Famous examples include Lennon and McCartney; Lerner and Loewe; Gilbert and Sullivan; Cheech and Chong; Holmes and Watson; Roosevelt and Taft; Watson and Crick; Jobs and Wozniak. The list goes on.  We’ll stop at Cheech and Chong:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWxgfTMLtc0

Note that while certainly complementary, the individuals of the dyad can have similar skills or quite different ones. That is worth noting. Another key point is that a dyad can lead to a powerful synergy unachievable by the two individuals separately. Or not. Dyads also tend to become unstable and acrimonious over time by virtue of the closeness and persistence of interaction required over long periods of time. Teams of three, the triad, can also produce their own pathologies, more so sometimes that can a dyad. Interestingly, teams of five often report the greatest satisfaction in their operation. But, long live the dyad.

I will briefly mention another type of team: the team of one. Please think on that idea for a while and stay tuned for an exposition in the near future.

Say something about the seminar series you are planning for the USA?

The dyad of Cook and Derickson has schemes to invade the USA with workshop seminars that aim to circumnavigate and then make a direct charge at the processes of innovation and creativity, borrowing from the ethnographies (fancy word for the study of the culture of an enterprise that entails human interaction) of Rock and Jazz. At the heart will be real-time, team-based learning exercises that engage with creativity and innovation, improvisation, and the “taming and harvesting” of randomness. A key aspect will be learning how to uncover knowledge we don’t even know we don’t know (unknown unknowns). Rather than presenting rigid, sequential rules, the seminars will elucidate and incorporate practical sets of guiding principles in the team-based exercises. Importantly, the seminars will entail heterogeneous groups of people from various disciplines rather than from a single discipline.

Pi- shaped - Dr Derickson and Master Cook

Pi- shaped – Dr Derickson and Master Cook

Have you got some takeaway bullet points for readers?

  • There are few, if any, silver bullets.
  • Improvisation is fun.
  • Teams can be fun.
  • You gotta work at it.
  • Start now.

NEXT WEEK OUR BLOG GOES OUT ON APRIL FOOL’S DAY 

BE PREPARED FOR SOME FUN

******************************************

About the Blog 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.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

TMOB Udemy ONLINE

Maybe I’m A Maze(d)

Maybe I'm A Maze(d)

Maybe I’m A Maze(d)

We’ve just completed the work surrounding the design and delivery of a Sales Conference for a major company in Ireland.  We had a wonderful time designing and delivering the conference and hope to return later in the year for another piece of work.

Our theme at the conference was navigating constraints to sales in a highly constrained business environment.  We have written on the subject of constraints and creativity before. I’ve had been hired to work through an ambitious sales plan for 2014 – 2015 and, after some initial diagnostic work, we came up with the idea of mazes, puzzles and games as a design principle for the event, since the client’s sales environment is itself complex, full of quicker or slower routes to sales and there are some ‘dead ends’, which are like a maze:

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 11.37.41

Navigating the sales maze

Design Thinking

In the event, we devised a number of ‘kinaesthetic puzzles’ to get people engaged and prepared for the business challenges.  The main experiences consisted of the design and testing of some puzzles / games / mazes made by participants, intended to teach other teams about particular constraints in a very powerful way and offer a forum for collective creative thinking and learning. I’m pleased to say that our unique brand of ‘serious fun’ was well received:

The feedback from all of our team has been fantastic with many quotes of ‘the best conference ever’ ringing down the phone lines for  the days following

Intelligent fun - using serious games to unlock complex business issues

Intelligent fun – using serious games to unlock complex business issues – This particular design was based on Snakes and Ladders

We also provided a toolkit of creativity strategies to supplement the team’s natural capabilities in this area.  One such skill is the concept of ‘combination’ as a spur to creating products and services that offer sustainable and hard to copy advantages.  This was introduced via a live seminar on the subject using rock music.  Here’s a short extract from the “Riffs and Myths of Creativity” seminar:

Business lessons

  • As Einstein said “You can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it”. Serious problems can sometimes be made worse by applying serious thinking to them.
  • By changing the frame of reference, sometimes you change the ease in which a problem can be tackled. This can be done in a variety of ways.
  • Good design thinking takes the client’s issue / problem / opportunity and then designs an intervention which models the topic, allowing space for new thinking, rather than ‘starting with the intervention and fitting the client’s topic to it. It’s a best-fit rather than a template approach to dealing with complex topics.
  • Even the most reserved people can be encouraged to play if it is serious play rather than just playfulness for it’s own sake. That said, this often works best if assisted by skilled and experienced facilitators.

Finally, here’s the song which inspired the title of this blog and a piece from the Irish legendary blues master Rory Gallagher for no particular reason other than it’s great:

******************************************

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.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Box Set 7

Prince + 3rd Eye Girl – 1+1+1 = 7

Screen Shot 2014-02-14 at 20.32.29

In 2007, I read somewhere that Prince said he would never return to UK after his 21 nights at the O2 Arena and Indigo2.  This converted me from a great admirer to an almost manic obsessive in my attempts to take in some last views of this amazing talent.  Needless to say this was a bit like the “last tour” by The Who and he has returned to the UK since.  It’s a well tried marketing trick and I fell for it, in the words of The Who’s song “Won’t get fooled again”, I did.  But I never thought I would get to see a Prince concert in such as small venue as the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, last Sunday 9th February, having met the amazing George Clinton the night before.  I’ve just returned from another 7 hour queuing marathon at Camden’s Koko, an amazing show, featuring Lianne De Havas and Prince continues to play into the night as I revise this post.

I should Koko ...

I should Koko …

For those who are not so aware of the continuous twists and turns of Prince’s career, he has stripped down his big funky band with horns and keyboards and now has a tight all female four-piece rock band called 3rdeyegirl.  Prince has always been unusual in the music business, in so far that he runs a meritocracy and truly values diversity within his band lineups.  You can read my previous posts on Prince on this blog.

Prince-3rdEyeGirl

I had some trepidation as I love Prince’s extended jazz funk jams but I need not have worried. This band is hot, hot, hot. Check this 3rdeyegirl version of “I like it there” from the actual night itself – Move over Jimi Hendrix, Prince is in town:

PR, Marketing and Social Media Lessons from Prince

The build up to the first few gigs has some important marketing and PR lessons for all.  Prince had gone on the record in saying that his shows would cost no more that $10 when he first arrived in the UK in February.  On the day of the Shepherd’s Bush gig an announcement was made that the price would be £70.  This produced an unusual social media phenomenon, as two guys from South East London made cardboard placards to remind Prince of his promise and wandered up and down the queue gathering interest. The #10PoundPrince hashtag quickly got picked up on Twitter and, four hours later, Prince had bowed to audience pressure to honour the £10 price.  Later on, a press release said that it had always been the intention to lower the price to £10, yet I have a ticket which boldly states £70.  Proof positive that people in the internet age will find ways to hold the mirror up to remind you of your promises – in this case a cardboard mirror, accelerated by Twitter ! :-)  Here’s the two social media revolutionaries in action:

Prince and The Revolutionaries

Prince and The Revolutionaries

That said, £10 is clearly unsustainable for the smaller to medium sized venues that Prince wants to play and the number of people required to staff such events.  Since Shepherd’s Bush, Prince has not played at all this week until Friday and now three shows tonight at Koko.  I suspect one of the problems behind the scenes has been either to find venues that would accept low ticket prices or to ‘manage the fans’ expectations’ of a realistic price for an evening of this scale. Prince’s manager Kiran Sharma carefully tested the mood of the fanbase on Thursday with this tweet and reset their expectation in a single move:

Online PR and customer expectation management in action

Online PR and customer expectation management in action

The Old Bull and Shepherd’s Bush

Anyway, what was it like?  Well, at Shepherd’s Bush, we started with some completely reworked, refried and refunked versions of some classics and a great selection of new material from the forthcoming album.  In particular I really enjoyed the slowed down R&B grooves of “Let’s go crazy”, “She’s Always in my hair” and “I could never take the place of ur man” alongside the new material. I’ve often said that Prince is “Jimi Hendrix with better lighting and tuning”, but of course, like Hendrix, he is also an absorber and synthesiser of genres, from James Brown and Little Richard to Wes Montgomery and Kate Bush.  He also shares a similar Myers Briggs type with Mr Hendrix, reckoned to be somewhere in the region INFP, although there are many arguments around this. His spiritual Godfather and almost polar MBTI opposite was  up the the balcony, Mr George Clinton, who I’d met at a private function the night before.  I think this must have given Prince an extra endorphin injection.  Check out “She’s always in my hair” slowed down and souled up:

We got a piano segue of a whole string of Prince hits (well, he has got too many of them really :-), from “Diamonds and Pearls”, “How come u don’t call me any more”, “Adore” etc. and “The Beautiful Ones“, which my wife and I chose as our first wedding dance, sending shivers down my spine.  We also got an electronica work out using some of Prince’s iconic samples from songs such as “Sign O’ The Times” and an extended jam with a Prince bass solo on “Forever in my life”. The whole set list from Shepherd’s Bush is below.

39 songs on a one nite stand

39 songs on a one nite stand

3 performances on a 1 nite stand – I should Koko!

We got a slightly reduced set tonight as Prince boldly decided to perform 3 shows at 7 pm, 10 pm and 1 am!!  It looked like there were some technical issues at the start of the first show as staff ran on and off stage meticulously checking things, with gaffa tape in sight.  This meant that the first show had to be reduced in length a little.  Prince handled this very well, when people refused to go, saying “Share and share alike” – This man has emotional intelligence oozing out of every pore of his body.

The set list at Koko in Camden - 1st performance

The set list at Koko in Camden – 1st performance

In terms of lessons for anyone else in professional life, what Prince does is to blend absolute control freakery with the ability to change direction at a moment’s notice.  The band rehearse a repertoire of 300 songs giving them the flexibility to adapt and jam.  I wrote about this in the books “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and “The Music of Business”.  I was delighted to be able to pass a copy of “The Music of Business” for Prince with his article in it – see this extract and e-mail me for a free copy of the full article at peter@humdyn.co.uk

The 3S model - Symbols, Signs and Sex

The 3S model – Symbols, Signs and Sex

Well, what more can one say?  I first wrote this blog, having missed the Prince event in Kings Cross , yet another completely different manifestation of this multi-talented, enigmatic and sometimes frustrating artist – an acoustic evening plus Q&A session and an all-eclectic aftershow. Today I went in search of Prince for further teachings in the art of improvisation and high performance and was rewarded with ticket No 331 and another great performance which makes you feel good to be alive.  Prince and I are both 55 and, as he said tonight:

Music is Medicine

I have certainly been healed and trained in a masterclass on flexibility, creativity, authenticity, an ecology of the mind and body and much more. Prince is rumoured to be playing Ronnie Scotts Monday 17 Feb and then Manchester at the end of the week.

This is how Prince sneaks into the venue - in a box - but the symbol is a dead giveaway ...

This is how Prince sneaks into the venue – in a box – but the symbol is a dead giveaway …

Can you imagine being this close to a performer who has been compared to Mozart?

Can you imagine being this close to a performer who has been compared to Mozart?

For now, let’s end with some more 3rdeyegirl – You must see this band while they are in UK.

******************************************

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. E-mail me for a free copy of the Prince chapter – Just send PRINCE to peter@humdyn.co.uk or contact direct via +44 (0) 7725 927585. Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Never mind the usual fare on business – This is the real deal

Jamming in New York City

Here’s a link to a Radio interview we did with Dr Jackie Modeste and Dr Wesley J Watkins on Trading Fours on the theme of improvisation and innovation.  Just click the picture to listen in.

Click to listen to the radio show

Click to listen to the radio show

Here’s what Dr Modeste had to say about the interview highlights via Twitter:

  • Musicians understand the value of continuous practice to master their art.  In business we are often satisfied with one day’s CPD (Continuous Professional Development) per year.
  • Disruptive innovation can come from the marketplace in a wired world, with customers setting challenges for businesses that get stuck in a rut.
  • Failure to spot disruptive innovation can be life limiting for businesses.  Witness the examples of Sony and Kodak in the interview.
  • Musicians are often great storytellers.  In business we need to get better at getting everyone to put themselves into the company’s story, rather than trying to impose our own fairy tale on staff.

Thanks to Jackie and Wes for an engaging dialogue, which was unplanned and therefore more surprising and enjoyable for that.

******************************************

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 peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

screen-shot-2013-12-16-at-09-12-171.png

Desperately Seeking Bankers Who ROCK

Here’s a piece of recent press attention in The Evening Standard on a project I’m working on with Dr Andrew Sentance, former Monetary Policy Committee member at the Bank of England:

In the City - With Andrew Sentance

In the City – With Andrew Sentance

So, we’re looking out for City business people (Bankers, Tinkers, Tailors and so on -:) who play an instrument and would like to participate in an open mic music jam sessione.  We are also looking for a venue in the City to do this amazing event and anyone who might want to help with lighting, PA and so on.  How will this work I hear you asking?

  • We’ll supply a backline of equipment and some great musicians to support the evening
  • I will be bringing my bass playing friend John Howitt, who is a session musician who has played with Anastasia, Celine Dion and Shirley Bassey and a great drummer.  I’m sure Andrew will also bring some muso friends
  • We will work up a set list of songs that people might like to play in advance but the evening will also be open to more spontaneous contributions.  If individuals want to replace one or more of the backline members that’s fine or they can just add themselves as a soloist
  • We’re looking to do this easily in Spring to give time for a little bit of mental preparation and incubation

Any questions?  Get in touch.  For those about to rock the Bank of England, we salute you!!

In the spirit of the event, here’s one of the contenders for the performance:

******************************************

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 peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Business and Music programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

The bookshelf

Improvisation and Innovation

Just back from Northampton having delivered a keynote on the topic of improvisation and innovation.  I’m pleased to say that there was a great deal of interest in the topic and the question many people ask me is “How do you plan to improvise?”  Indeed one can plan to improvise – in the words of Paul Simon:

“Improvisation is too important to be left to chance”

Before we get started, have a listen to a piece of music I wrote and recorded, which was conceived and created pretty much entirely through improvisation.  Initially working alone and then involving my friend and musical collaborator John Howitt, a session musician who has worked with Celine Dion, Shirley Bassey, Anastasia et al.

Somewhat strangely, improvisation relies on discipline if something is to emerge from the process.  I’ve summarised some of the principles that I apply when creating from scratch and their parallels in business:

Parallels between improvisation and innovation in music and business

Parallels between improvisation and innovation in music and business

Improvisation is not confined to music.  It operates in all other artforms, including photography.  We finish with the work of Allisdhair McNuall, improvising photographic artist at Incubation Arts and Ambient Vistas.  Allisdhair uses ambient scenery as his inspiration with natural adjustments of his camera to “make the familiar strange”.  There is no PhotoShop here.  Allisdhair says in true improvisational form “I stumbled across the technique quite by accident and it continues to develop (no pun intended) with each shot I take”.  Allisdhair also provides some subtle backdrops to the table above.

Ambient Vistas

Ambient Vistas

Distant Realms

Distant Realms

******************************************

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 peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Coincidences, Complexities and Creativity

I have just been hired to deliver a conference keynote and an innovation summit in Dublin. The booking came about whilst having some drinks with an Irish chap in Amsterdam who knows the taxi driver that took me from Knock Airport to Westport in Ireland back in March. Had I been like Van Morrison, who never talks to taxi drivers, none of this would have happened. That’s the power of networking and coincidences.

The series of coincidences I’ve just mentioned is statistically unlikely.  Importantly if any single one of them had not occurred then the result would not have happened.  Does that come down to dumb luck?  I think not.  Let’s take a quick look at what the gurus say on the subject:

Luck, Sweat and Tears

Luck, Sweat and Tears

So, I’m suggesting that planning to be lucky is more effective than pure luck.  How then was there some kind of plan in my lucky story?  Well, it all started about 6 years ago, when I did a creativity programme for Pfizer down in Cork. The programme was very successful in so far that it produced a new synthetic route for a drug substance, which paid for the investment many many times over.  More importantly, the programme was adopted by the company and one of its staff has become an acknowledged expert in the topic, having taken the approach to the US and beyond.  What has this got to do with the taxi driver?  Well the head of the unit referred my work to a colleague in Allergan in Westport who asked me to join a conference call to discuss the need.  I offered to travel to Westport to undertake a proper diagnosis, which led to the taxi ride with Simon Moran.  Simon and I hit it off instantly and got talking about all manner of business opportunities.  I subsequently gained another project from a further referral to another pharmaceutical company, which prompted yet another company to hire me for the project in Amsterdam and the rest you know.  Networking works when the ‘dots’ join up.  In this case, this particular sequence took over six years to come to fruition.  When people tell me that networking does not work, it occurs to me that (a) you have to do enough of it for connectivity to occur and (b) people are impatient and do not act consistently over time.

To have more happy coincidences from complex business affairs:

  • See all interactions as potential networking opportunities, even those that seem outside your business interests
  • Have enough interactions to ensure that coincidences occur.  Networking is partly a numbers game
  • Ensure that each interaction is of sufficient quality for people to remember it.  Successful networking relies on both quality as well as quantity

To finish, here’s a song from Elvis Costello about accidents:

******************************************

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 peter@humdyn.co.uk 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.

Macbook

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 peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585

Opportunity Lost or Gained?

I noticed this letter from “We Buy Any Car” to the owner of a “Playmobil Little Tikes Car” recently and was curious about how this came to be:

We buy any car, but not Playmobils

We buy any car … but not Playmobils …

Let’s re-imagine the scenario:

Instead of the letter above, We Buy Any Car could have decided to pay the full price of the Playmobil, perhaps deducting some money for ‘wear and tear’ :-) and then present the owner of the item with a cheque as part of a TV campaign for the company.  Better still, perhaps they might have presented the child with a bond to the value of the car to be redeemed on their 18th birthday as a downpayment for a real car … and so on.  Just think how the company could have turned this round to their advantage …  Just a little bit of creativity needed really.

Well, it transpires that the letter was fake, although the story went viral and it certainly fooled me at the time of writing this blog.  Here is the turnaround strategy via a spoof website called “We Buy Any Toy Car.com“.  This is a great response to the fake letter.

We buy any car's turnaround strategy

We buy any car’s turnaround strategy

What would have your preferred creative reversal of this opportunity for We Buy Any Car?  Post your thoughts here.

******************************************

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 peter@humdyn.co.uk

The Innovation Factory … and blog roll

We’re off to New York to run an innovation summit for a major Pharmaceutical company w/c 02 September.  This prompts me to mention Andy Warhol, The Factory and the transferable lessons re innovation in business.  I see Warhol’s Factory as the ultimate ‘skunkworks’ in terms of the business literature from Tom Peters et al on the topic, where paradigm shifting art was produced from almost nothing in a kind of ‘guerilla’ approach to creativity and innovation.

As a bonus part of our process with the company in the evenings we will be working in a low tech way with a ‘garage innovation’ approach instead of iPads and high tech.  This for me models the idea that, whilst some people believe that creativity and innovation needs opulent surroundings and resources, the opposite is also true.  Many of the world’s greatest breakthrough drugs have come from shabby laboratories and people who were underfunded and under loved. Much innovation and entrepreneurship starts in garages like HP’s famous start up in a ‘shed’.

To emphasise the ‘garage’ approach to innovation and creativity we are working with toilet tissue as a means of capturing the process, or ‘blog roll’ as I like to call it :

Innovation in just three sheets of 'blog roll' - Image by Simon Heath - Corporate Illustrator who is working with us in New York on the project

Innovation in just three sheets of ‘blog roll’ – Image by Simon Heath – Corporate Illustrator who is working with us in New York on the project

The approach uses a successive series of divergent an convergent thinking stages, spread out over 24 hours to allow just a little time for incubation and improvement.  Not quite the levels of incubation that Wallas (1926) had in mind but hey ho, life is busy and this is a piece of added value we intend to use to develop the team’s ability to work confidently and quickly together for the evening.  This process admittedly will not produce the final innovations, as the whole process is designed to fit into a few hours.  But, it will produce about 30 ‘quick and dirty’ ideas to be taken to the board for further consideration via  a peer review process.  This is in addition to our main work at the summit to tackle some thorny strategic problems in their full detail.  Obviously that’s not shareable.  However, it’s based on our approach to what we call “wicked” problems:

Wicked problems

The wicked problem matrix

For more details on our process design skills, do get in touch.  For more on Andy Warhol, The Factory and Innovation, get hold of a copy of our books “Best Practice Creativity”, “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and the latest one “The Music of Business“, acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith CBE and Professor Adrian Furnham.

We leave with an insight into The Factory and Warhol courtesy of Lou Reed and John Cale.  The Factory, Max’s Kansas City and The Chelsea Hotel may no longer be what they were, but we can still learn valuable lessons from their example.