Harry Potter and the dark side of work

I was delighted to be invited by my good friend Professor Adrian Furnham to the launch party of  his new book  High Potential along with Kate Griffiths Lambeth.  High Potential is Adrian’s 78th book, co-written with rising star Ian Macrae.  The book is a superb compendium of practical ideas about psychology at work, written in an engaging style without all the usual jargon that the so-called professionals like to use to befuddle and ensnare us.

Highly Charged, High Voltage, High Potential - With Adrian, Ian and Kate at Bloomsbury - The Home of HP:  Harry Potter and High Potential

Highly Charged, High Voltage, High Potential – With Adrian, Ian and Kate at Bloomsbury – The Home of HP: Harry Potter and High Potential

The conversation and company were great and Kate and I shared some thoughts about the dark side of life afterwards over some warm beer.

On Twitter and Relationships

Twitter is a massive “Johari Window”, where people crash into each others lives, loves, hopes and fears in just 140 characters.  But, out of this chaotic and complex series of exchanges come a few genuine friendships and connections.  Amongst the people I am glad to know, like and trust that I would not know without Twitter are Trevor Lee, Kate GL, Mervyn Dinnen, David D’Souza, Andrew Sentance, Meg Peppin, Doug Shaw to name but a few, so Twitter works.   However, misunderstandings are the norm on Twitter and I always make a point of meeting people who interest me using more traditional means, such as a cup of tea and a proper dialogue. So 140 characters only take me to the point of “Knowing me, Knowing you, aha” and one needs more than this to create a proper relationship.  More a case of “Text and Drugs and Rock and Roll” … :-)

140 characters is insufficient to move us out of mutual oblivion on Twitter, but it can help us make a start ...

The Johari Window: 140 characters is insufficient to move us out of mutual oblivion on Twitter, but it can help us make a start …

On High Potential

One of the fascinating conversations we held with Adrian and Ian Macrae was on the impact of loss on high potential.  Adrian, Ian and myself share the loss of a parent at an early age and it certainly affected our drive and determination.  But the issue is complex and Ian gave personal witness to his own example, where he and his brother reacted quite differently to the loss.  This neatly explains why some people lose something precious early on in life and “stay in a ditch” whereas others decide to “get out of the ditch”.  Entrepreneurs such as Michelle Mone, inventor of the Ultimo Bra, points to early hardship as a spur to her success, but the relationship is complex and it does not necessarily work the other way, i.e. treat your kids badly to make them into leaders, as one of my MBA students once suggested !! :-)


From the Gutter in Glasgow to the G Cup and G String – Michelle Mone’s entrepreneurial journey started with extreme hardship

On The X-Factor

Adrian eloquently explained the problem that can arise when confidence exceeds talent, using the X-Factor as a superb illustration.  High Potential explores the ‘dark side of personality’ and Adrian used Steve Jobs as an example of someone with a number of unappealing traits but who was saved by his unique vision and his ability to almost always make great decisions.  The substitution of confidence for talent is also a potentially dangerous cocktail …  Just witness this demonstration of mutually assisted narcissism on the X-Factor: Adrian ironically pointed out that Bloomsbury had made a great choice in commissioning the book, having also spotted the talent that is J.K. Rowling.  In this context, I was reminded of this simply great piece of popular psychology about the difference between talents and choices from Harry Potter:

Thanks for a superb evening of intelligent conversation, insight and inspiration.

High Potential - Click the picture to get your copy

High Potential – Click the picture to get your copy


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.

Creativity – I love you

Creativity is seeing something different in the ordinary ...

Creativity is seeing something different in the ordinary …

Seven questions to prompt your own reflections on your creativity.

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

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

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


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

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 23.07.19

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

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

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


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

What makes you happy at work?

What makes you happy at work?  Money? Praise? Doing something new? Meeting people? The ability to use your expertise? Giving something to others? Fame? Feedback? …  There’s some background to the question, in the form of a summary of Fred Herzberg’s work on satisfiers and dissatisfiers, and that of the other motivational giants in the book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll

Business mixed with music

What turns you on at work? Find out here

I was reflecting upon my own motivators the other day when a client said to me “You’ve never had a care in the world.  For you, work is play”

Whilst I accepted this casual remark in the manner in which she intended it, as a piece of praise, the person in question obviously did not know just how much I care about my work and the painstaking design activity that sits behind what I do, so that it all looks easy on the day. But, indeed she was right.  We often do our best when there is a happy marriage between our own talents and what our job requires of us. When people have asked me “what is my secret to personal motivation”, I point out that I have simply brought what I love doing into close proximity with what my customers want and need, always ensuring that their needs come before my wants.  It’s what Wham were talking about when they came up with their ‘Choose Life’ T-Shirt:

If you're gonna do it, do it right

If you’re gonna do it, do it right …

That said, there are moments in my work when I do realise just how lucky I am .  One such moment occurred the other week after I had delivered an evening keynote address in innovation for a company and we had completed some team building activities with music after dinner.  Around 10.30 pm I realised that all was well and, just for a moment, I felt I could relax  and observe the scene.  I was playing “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath with Bernie Tormé, guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, Ian Gillan, GMT et al, and was getting paid for it.  “How lucky am I”, I thought to myself.  Better still Bernie was kind enough to complement me on my playing when I drove him home later. Proof positive that praise and authentic feedback are huge “Herzberg motivators”.

Sharing a joke with a Monster of Rock - Bernie Tormé

Sharing a joke with a Monster of Rock – Bernie Tormé

So, never mind the boll…cks and books on personal development.  If you want to “Live to Work” rather than “Work to Live”, the goal is simply to marry something you love to do with something that someone else (a) wants / needs and (b) is prepared to pay you for.  If you wish us to come and do a masterclass on the topic plus a live music experience, please get in touch.  We’ve had enquiries from a wide range of people around the world, from pharmaceuticals in the USA to HMRC and a University who wants to help the local economy make a step up through innovation and export.

To finish, we must reach out again for George Michael and Co, who said it simply with the phrase “Enjoy What You Do” in their 1980′s benefit classic ‘Wham Rap”:


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

Sex and Pay and Rock’n’Roll

Introducing Ian Davidson, a compensation and rewards specialist with a difference.  Ian worked on the MBA programme with me some years back and approached me recently for an interview for his own podcast.  This episode contains a number of fascinating insights on rewards and remuneration, which drive the UK’s economic position in the world:

  • Banking remuneration – Comments on the UK banking standards report
  • Executive Pay – discussion on the MM&K survey on Executive Pay
  • Strong Analytics – using and presenting reward data
  • Rewards in the Middle East
  • Oh, and a live interview with me ! :-)

Here’s Ian’s podcast.  Click on the picture to listen in.

Sex, Reward and Rock'n'Roll

Sex, Reward and Rock’n’Roll – Click to listen

Ian is a commercially astute, passionate, MBA qualified Compensation & Benefits specialist.  With a sustained record of success within financial services over 15 years, Ian is a nationally recognised expert in reward.  He is currently looking for a role in a commercially driven organisation in London and or the South East.  Contact him if you have such a position by e-mail at administrator@mauritius.demon.co.uk

And whilst we’re on finance and reward, here’s the video from Fiscal Cliff, a hard rock anthem about hard times and the hard rock to recovery.  Feel free to share the video, comment on it and download the single, available on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play etc..  It will be the first time a hard rock economics anthem has reached the charts !

Engaging for success

Engagement unplugged

Engagement unplugged

As many of you know, I have been something of a skeptic of the so-called “engagement movement”.  Lets face it, the idea of being engaged at work is clearly a socially desirable outcome.  Engaged people are thought to work longer, harder and smarter, giving what HR people call “discretionary effort” or what I call the “extra 10%”.  The problem of disengagement at work is also a growing problem as evidenced by a Gallup survey:

  • A recent research study found 71% of employees were disengaged to some degree.
  • The lost productivity of actively disengaged employees costs the US economy $370 Billion annually.
  • Engaged employees advocate their company or organisation to others– 67% against only 3% of the disengaged.

My skepticism with the engagement movement is simply that they want to spend more time talking and researching the topic than doing anything about it.  Hard pressed leaders do not wish to wait 20 years for a white paper to explore the longitudinal correlations between factors.  They want to find good quality, pragmatic approaches that will give them advantages in the short term.

So, it was with some pleasure that I found an approach to engagement that actually seems to make a difference to actual engagement levels at work via a Linkedin contact in Sweden.  Arnaud Henneville runs a company called Challengera that focuses on meaningful employee participation and involvement at work.  I interviewed him to find out more.

Tell me about your company and what’s unique about it?

Challengera is an engagement company. We provide a cloud-based social platform for Enterprise 2.0. In other words, we support companies of all shape and size in engaging their employees to any initiative – from highly strategic to campaign based and tactical.  This could include the launch of a new company direction through to a short term campaign to achieve a specific result e.g. To get employees behind a cause.

What does it do for the hard pressed HR Director?  And the person who has to watch the engagement dashboard?  And, most importantly the staff?

Employee engagement is a hot topic and it’s no wonder when, as you say, 71% of employees globally are not fully engaged in their work. Running campaigns with Challengera secures high engagement as have shown our past roll-outs with companies like global Fortune 20 company General Electric. HR leaders and CEO’s can relax and witness the ESAT and CSAT (employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction indices) going up! And that’s precisely why it works so well; because employees get pulled-in into the experience (one that is interesting, inviting, that builds on human hard wired traits for achievement, self-actualization, fun and competition) as opposed to being pushed messages (emails or PowerPoint).  

For me, this is a simple truth, that participation and involvement breed commitment.  So tell me, how does it work?  Can you give me an example of a company who have used it?  What has come from their use of your approach?

It’s best for me to let a customer talk:

“Our project was clear in DGS, a Global BU of GE Healthcare: Engage our 1600+ employees on our culture, Put our values into practice… with concrete examples given by our employees across the world, Link our people together, Share best practices, Engage discussions around our values & Recognize best practices. We were looking for an Impactful, Powerful & Business-connected tool: Challengera answered our request; a customized social platform for us to engage people around our BU. This is a great success & our people love it: this is new, different and engaging. Thanks to the team for this great success

Catherine B., Engagement Leader at GE Healthcare DGS

Another example is from a world leading industrial group. Key to the group’s profits is its inventory turnover. The group recently announced its decision to use Challengera to engage its workforce on the importance of stock-management, not by talking about it but by inviting employees to actively contribute to reduce it. The Inventory challenge will launch in a few months.

Give me one reason why it’s better than running a focus group, doing a motivational Powerpoint talk or a conventional employee engagement campaign?

Life – business included – is about doing, about moving forward and inspiring others to move forward! Whilst this is obvious, to engage folks around a particular topic and having them do something (for real) is becoming in the 21st century organization, harder and harder. There are many reasons for that and just to name a few (not in order of importance); the economy and the delayering consequences it has had for organizations, change of demographics (GenYers), flatter-matrix-and virtual organizations, the knowledge worker, etc. What’s more, very few companies have managed to bring-inside the company the tools that are (successfully) used by people outside e.g. social/connectivity/effectiveness tools. That’s what we have done: built a social enterprise platform that builds on both macro-tends and what we know of human behaviors.

Now, in practice: the tool allows a leader to ‘challenge’ (the challenge is the vehicle for engagement) his/her organization to X or Y. At first, it is top-down but as it takes off the initiative gets momentum and grows organically as the viral effects kick-in.

Can it be fitted into conventional face to face strategies?  For example, if I were running an innovation event for a major company, how would your approach integrate?

Last May we ran a campaign for the Absolut Company. While 300 staff attended a yearly conference on the topic of CSR/sustainability, we used mobile devices to challenge people on different aspects of the topics covered during the conference. It was a great success – not only because attendees got intrigued, but also because the animal spirit kicked-in. People were willing to engage in this live challenge and consequently in the topics themselves…  We continue to bring value post event as the platform remains open thus allowing people to go back and review relevant content.

So, it extends the life of a conference by putting in a follow up aspect?

Very much so.  It therefore increases the return on investment for a company event or annual conference.

I dislike plug ins for the common ‘diseases’ that organisations face.  How does your approach stand up to the need to customise and internalise things so that they feel part of the company culture?

We offer the platform with two ‘levels’ of customizations.

The 1st one is ‘Branded’, namely we turn the whole solution into a client-product: the solution looks, feels and breathes X or Y company. Whilst the solution is in the cloud, we connect from any client website, intranet, or Learning Management System.

The 2nd level is ‘Customised‘ and builds on the 1st one .  A client wants special features and we develop and integrate them to the solution.

How do people begin with a challenge? 

We typically invite new clients to try with an initiative before we start integrating the tool in the client-ecosystem. We offer consultancy if a client wants help in identifying an internal challenge before turning it into a product. If the challenge is clear (which is often the case) it takes a few calls before our teams ‘box-it’. 3-4 weeks of customization/integration later, the challenge can launch!

You can get in touch with Arnaud at arnaud@challengera.com or +46 700 40 52 25.  He has offered a 10% reduction in the price to readers of this blog. Simply quote The Academy of Rock when contacting him.

Getting engaged? – An interview with Nadine Hack


Introducing Nadine B. Hack, CEO of beCause Global Consulting and Executive-in-Residence Emerita at IMD Business School.  We’ve been talking online for a few years now and she offered me this guest post recently.  Given my recent rants about how the UK plc needs to pull its corporate socks up on issues of client and customer relationships and engagement, Nadine’s post here is rather timely.  Here’s a picture of Nadine with a politician:


be the Cause you wish to see in the world

How deeply engaging stakeholders changes everything

An airline company sues an online ticket provider.  Fishermen from the Gulf pay a visit to an oil firm in London.  An investment brokerage is accused of misleading government.  Today’s headlines could be quite different if more companies embraced efforts to engage stakeholders.

More companies understand that a broader spectrum of internal and external stakeholders has a direct impact on their core business.  Those that have engendered deep levels of engagement – what I call strategic relational engagement (SRE) – are far more successful in shaping that impact to their advantage.  Studies show how employee and customer engagement are intimately connected and, taken together, have an outsized effect on financial performance.  Check this TEDx video out featuring Nadine:

So, for your company to sustain its competitive advantage, SRE – multi-directional, engaged relationships that unleash people’s greatest potential – is no longer an option but an imperative.  But many companies don’t know how to effectively create or sustain this.  So, let’s look at two examples:

Creating value through engagement

Nadine Hack opening the Stock Exchange

Nadine Hack opening the Stock Exchange

In the mid-1970s the major logging company Weyerhaeuser, environmental activists and the California government were arch enemies.  But their eventual collaboration led to the creation of “Investing for Tomorrow’s Prosperity.”  As a cross-sector team, they moved from reforestation to fisheries and then to all renewable resources, which ultimately became the blueprint for Global Green Plans.  How did they do it?

They found individuals within each stakeholder constituency who had the capability to see beyond their own perspective.  They jointly created conditions for safe dialogue by identifying inviolable principals and areas where the stakeholders were willing to compromise.  They developed processes for “see-the-light-early” catalysts to lead others from their respective constituencies.

Tactics that distinguish this case’s effective use of SRE included strong bonding experiences like neighborhood tree planting parties with cookouts and dancing that allowed all stakeholders to discover the humanity of “the other”.

Editor’s note, this is classic OD stuff in action and takes time to do well. Here’s one of the most helpful resources I constantly come back to re diagnosis Organisation Development dilemmas:

The OD Matrix

The OD Matrix

Companies must find at least one stakeholder who can create a trusting environment where people truly listen, hear and try to put themselves in the others’ shoes.  Ultimately, all stakeholders must develop a clear grasp of the shared goals and determine how their respective goals will align.  Business leaders who are able to do this will succeed.

Engagement leaders as über-catalysts

In 2000 global activists were protesting at AIDS conferences with signs, “Coke kills workers in Africa.”  Though Coca-Cola had the best policies in Africa for AIDS prevention, protection, testing and treatment of its own workers, protesters demanded that the company should provide the same services to its bottling affiliates, which were completely separate entities. Coke, however, felt it could not justify extra expenditure for its affiliates.

How could they overcome this impasse?  Über-catalyst engagement leaders from all sides encouraged SRE through dialogue, successfully allowing antagonists to see each other as human beings who actually cared deeply about the same outcomes.


Through SRE Coke realised that serving its bottling affiliates’ employees was in its best interest; if they became infected, it would affect Coke’s entire supply chain.  They also saw that the public didn’t distinguish Coke from its affiliates, as activists were negatively impacting Coke’s brand. And AIDS activists acknowledged that while they got media coverage for blasting Coke, their attack strategy was never going to change Coke’s policies. If they really wanted workers in Africa to stop dying Coke would have to agree to transform.

Ultimately, Coca-Cola provided AIDS services for bottling affiliates’ employees throughout Africa with each stakeholder group – including the affiliates and employees – paying some costs.

The über-catalyst engagement leaders saw the value in engagement and came together long before others would.

For me, Nadine’s examples demonstrate the connectivity of the world in which we now operate and how engagement is not simply a fluffy concept but one that can do good both for businesses and the people they employ and serve. The alternatives are now open to rapid feedback via social media as we have seen in previous posts.  Nadine’s post reminds me of the interconnectedness of everything and I’m drawn back to the great sounds of Erasure with their song “It doesn’t have to be”, possibly the first time that Vince Clarke has been cited in an article on systemic thinking and cross-organisation development:

Nadine B. Hack is CEO of beCause Global Consulting and Executive-in-Residence Emerita at IMD Business School.   She has advised The Coca-Cola Company, Omnicom Group, Unilever and other Fortune 500 companies on rethinking stakeholder engagement.

Nadine Mandela

If your cause is important, you need to connect with the right people, be Cause ….


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

Indecent Proposals

Desperate times make people do desperate things and this week I’ve produced a roundup of strange and bizarre business practices that stand out head and shoulders below the water line for business ethics.

Indecent proposals occur when there is dishonesty in a contract

Indecent proposals occur when there is dishonesty in a contract

Starting with Kent County Council, who are normally held to be good employers with decent standards and so on.  They seem to have lost the plot on this occasion, having sent a tender out for some services which a colleague applied for.  An extremely long tender document was sent with explicit and transparent criteria for selecting the winning bid:

  • Proven track record in leading successful change management projects
  • Experience of working with a range of statutory and independent organisations
  • Knowledge of mental health and knowledge of substance misuse issues

After spending considerable time preparing the proposal, a letter was then received, telling my colleague that they had lost the bid due to a ‘hidden’ fourth criterion:

The real criterion for selection

The real criterion for selection

Somewhat frustrating for an organisation that prides itself on transparency and so on.  There was no feedback on whether my colleague had met the other criteria, thus there was very little they could learn from the time they had spent on this “indecent proposal”.  What a waste:

Staying with local government, I heard that Medway Council are about to put their workforce on ‘zero hours contracts’ – this broadly means that staff will have no job security.  I am self employed and have therefore signed up to the idea of being hired and used for time limited projects – that’s what I do and my security derives from being able to have a variety of clients and so on.  However, many people in employment join an organisation partly for some sense of security re paying the mortgage and so on.  HR people talk of engagement and getting ‘discretionary effort’ from people.  In my long experience, taking away their ‘Maslow’ security needs is one surefire way of doing the opposite.  Talking to a friend who is a dinner lady, she reported bitterly:

As part of Medway’s ‘Better For Less’ programme, we have had our hours cut, but are expected to cook the same amount of food in that time.  They sent ‘potato consultants’ in to tell me that I could peel the potatoes in 8.5 minutes instead of the 10 that I take.  I used to stay extra hours to get things done.  That’s all stopping.  So there will be ‘less’ but it will not be ‘better’.

Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 09.23.01

Medway Council’s staff now have the worst of all worlds:  A single paymaster, but with zero job security and the possibility of instant dismissal without any employment rights.  Yet another “indecent proposal”.  I predict a riot:

Incidentally, I have just been sent this artist’s impression of a potato consultant:

Half Consultant, Half Potato - original photo at http://www.flickr.com/photos/raysto/5914581571/

Half Consultant, Half Potato – original photo at http://www.flickr.com/photos/raysto/5914581571/

Finally, I recently did a project for boutique outsourcing Accountancy and HR consultancy RSM Tenon.  The 7th biggest accounting firm in the UK.  Again, a respected firm according to their own website.  The project was to mediate in a dispute and I was informed that my budget was £3000.  I had nearly completed the work when their consultant called up to tell me that they had changed their mind and only wanted to pay £2000!  I reminded them that “The Only Way is Ethics”.

RSM Tenon - The only way is Ethics

RSM Tenon – The only way is Ethics

After a bit of straight talk, things were grudgingly settled, although I ended up doing some of the work for free, in an attempt to stay close to their “revised” budget.  It turns out that RSM Tenon made £100M loss last year and now have a £94 M overdraft to help them continue in business.  No wonder they are keen to slash contracts after completion! :-)  Strange though for an accountancy firm to make a massive loss and not wish to pay their bills, as their main business is accountancy!  My attempts to help RSM Tenon stay within budget would prove later to be a “Big Mistake” in the words of Natalie Imbruglia

A couple of months later, I’d been asked to conduct some further work for RSM Tenon.  This required attendance at a tribunal hearing which I was told I must reserve the dates for and could not book alternative work.  These were then cancelled at very short notice and I was told that I would not be paid for the opportunity costs.  I complained and was informed that RSM Tenon’s lawyers would be brought in to handle things, a strategy presumably designed to batter me into submission.   Whatever happened to honour and gentlemen’s agreements?  Other disgruntled observers reported this in a financial magazine:

Bizzarely, they actually make a proportion of their fees from telling other people how to run their finances. Genius!  This is what happens when accountants try to run a relationship type business.  They’re like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.”

To quote The Beatles “I should have known better” from RSM Tenon’s previous form.  Oh well.  I now have to take these people to the small claims court, wasting everyone’s time.

What should we learn from all of this?

  • In desperate times, we need to be careful in taking contracts in case people default on their commitments.  Even from what we perceive to be honorable and large institutions.  How the mighty have fallen.
  • In desperate times, treating people desperately will lead to desperate behaviour in return.
  • In desperate times, smart people refuse to respond to desperate behaviour in kind.  They do something different.

Has anyone else experienced bad business ethics in challenging times?  My experience has been that there are plenty of them, although most people dare not speak of them or just assume that they are the only ones experiencing such things.  Please add your story to this blog.  For a further story on HM Revenue and Customs, check HMRC.


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

To 2013 – 10 Business and Music tips

Punk Rock Leadership

Punk Rock Leadership

In this new year post, I’m counting down 10 business tips as seen through the eyes and ears of punk rock.   A kind of “Business Top of the Pops” but without the DJ.  No need to pogo whilst reading these unless you must.  Punk refers to brevity, simplicity and purity of thought in business.   For more on all this, ping me a note with PUNK in the title to claim your new year’s gift – a copy of my micro book - Punk Rock People Management.

# 10 – What do you want from life? – The Tubes

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT - The Tubes’ revolting anthem on happiness in life and work, coming out of observations on their fans opulent lifestyle in San Francisco, points out that consumption per se does not lead to happiness.  So, rewards given without there being some basic desire for the reward are worthless.  We did not need The Tubes or the happiness movement to tell us this.  All we had to do was to look carefully at Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory of Satisfiers and Dissatisfiers.  Somehow The Tubes’ message is more potent.  If you are not familiar with the song, listen to the rant at the end of this piece.  In more recent times, Radiohead did something similar with “Fitter Happier”.

# 9 – Blank Generation – Richard Hell and the Voidoids 

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT - This is perhaps the first and only time that Punk Rock and HR Guru Gary Hamel will find unity … Hamel recently said that “HR must help kill bureaucracy and encourage greater innovation within organistions“.  Why? That comes down to the ‘blank generation’, aka people who are actively disengaged from work.  We don’t need engagement taskforces to know this – it’s punk rock common sense.  Less obvious is how to achieve that innnovation in HR, which, after all, is usually part of the risk reduction part of the enterprise.  I spent a third of my life working on scientific innovation and quite a bit of time watching people wringing their hands about innovation on the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Council and frankly, I don’t see innovation as a core HR competence.

# 8 – Oh bondage, up yours – X-Ray Spex

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT - Poly Styrene’s point was really all about female empowerment or girl power.  This applies just as much to the guys.  As Poly says “Bind me tie me, Chain me to the wall, I wanna be a slave to you all, Oh bondage up yours“. Simply put, if you want to get extra performance out of people, stop controlling every last detail of people’s performance through lengthy job descriptions, KPI’s, SMART goals for everything, yada, yada …

# 7 – Public Image – Public Image Ltd

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT - “You never listen to a word that I said, you only see me for the clothes that I wear” Do we look past people’s appearance towards their knowledge, skills and attitudes in interviews, appraisals etc?  After all, it’s those things we desperately want rather than an illusion.  In an age where virtually everything is choreographed at work, remember that Steve Jobs would probably have failed an interview at Apple.

# 6 – What do I get? – The Buzzcocks

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – We know well enough from Frederick Herzberg and The Buzzcocks that pay is a ‘dissatisifier’.  In other words, if you double people’s pay, they won’t work twice as hard for twice as long.  Take away their pay and you know all about it if it is perceived as being out of balance with the effort as Starbucks are just about to discover.  Pay people well enough, but don’t just focus on pay as the reward for work.  This reinforces the conversation about ‘What do I get?’ After all RNR stands for Reward AND Recognition, not just Rock’n’Roll.

# 5 – Two Tribes – Frankie Goes to Hollywood

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – The Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg, may not have been an employment lawyer, but he may have contributed more to our understanding of collective bargaining than all the employment law authors in the world if they were laid end to end, via his song ‘There is power in a union’.  Frankie goes to Hollywood also reminded us of the classic pluralist assumption within classical thinking on unions in their 80’s anthem “Two Tribes”.  OK, Frankie are not punks I know, but they conveyed the spirit of punk rock through their music.

Punk Rock HR offers us three chords on unions:

  • See unions as an advantage in a pluralist workplace due to the money and time they can save you if you get the relationship right.
  • Focus on interests rather than positions if you are to do collective bargaining well.
  • See negotiations from all viewpoints so that you can be most effective in reaching a solution.  It is what pre-punk Scandinavians Abba would have called “Knowing me, knowing you”.

# 4 – Happy House – Siouxsie and the Banshees

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – Siouxsie Sioux’s deeply ironic lyric flags up the problem with the ‘happiness movement’.  She commented that “Happy House” contrasts the illusion of family bliss, where everyone smiles, has blond hair, has all-day sunshine, eats butter without fat, with the realities of life – depression, wife beating and so on.  Grim stuff for a pop song!  The happiness movement also seems to operate under the illusion that we are all becoming more self-actualised and self-driven, when the data seems to suggest that people are less happy than they were 50 years ago, even though we are considerably richer.  Since work is a huge part of life, the implication is that we should design jobs and work which are fulfilling.

# 3 – Smash it up – The Damned

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – Disruptive innovation inside companies takes considerable effort.  Sometimes it’s necessary to destroy the status quo to make way for new practices.  Smashing up existing organisational structures and cultures may look like vandalism, but given the permanence of cultures, sometimes it is the only way to make space for the new.

# 2 – What a Waste – Ian Dury


THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – “What a waste”, like “Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll”, was a song about being in a job that makes you happy.  Perhaps all that is needed to create a high performance workplace is to develop the HR habit of finding out what turns people on and ensuring that the work gives them these outcomes.

In some cases, as Dury points out, this does not have to be Chief Executive or Vice President of HR, it could simply involve becoming “the ticket man at Fulham Broadway Station”.

# 1 – Teenage Kicks – The Undertones

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – When I asked Professor Adrian Furnham earlier this year to identify out some factors that make for an agile innovative company, his first point was to ensure that youth has a voice in the affairs of the company.  Youth brings ideas that are untrammelled by experience, as long as people feel able to voice those ideas.  The smart HR person gives a voice to youthful and other naïve inputs to company strategy.

Send your suggestions for other punk rock songs with a business message by commenting on this blog.  Order your copy of Punk Rock People Management by mailing me with PUNK in the title.  Also available on Amazon Kindle and as a hard copy full colour book.  Coming very soon now, the new book – The Music of Business  – Here’s a quote:  This book is a great tool for people in business.  Harvey Goldsmith CBE

Punk Rock People Management - Disruptive Innovation in HR

– Punk Rock People Management – Disruptive Innovation in Business

Punk Rocker Picture by Lindsay Wakelin Photography


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

School of Innovation – An exclusive interview with Professor Adrian Furnham

Professor Adrian Furnham leads the way with his forthright views on the psychology of business and leadership, backed with a meticulous accuracy in the analysis that supports his provocations, compared with the usual suspects in this area.   A rare breed:  master academic, raconteur, prolific author and columnist.

Professor Adrian Furnham

I have followed Adrian’s work over many years and had the pleasure of sharing a platform with him at the 7th International HR conference in Greece last year.  On returning to London, we set up an interview to get his thoughts on innovative people management strategy and practice, drawing on the past in order to examine the future.  Whilst our interview focused on the people dimension of innovation and HR’s role in that, his thoughts are applicable right across the leadership and management spectrum.

Furnham on innovative people management strategy

AF : One of the problems with the people dimension of innovation is that if HR strategy is not linked to company strategy, it will fail.  Most HR people don’t sit on the board because they don’t deserve to sit on the board a lot of the time.  HR will talk about being strategic but unless that strategy follows the business plan, it will go nowhere.

Professor Furnham discussed the different types of innovation:  Product / technical innovation and internal process innovation.

AF: HR people are famous for process and procedures. My feeling is that HR follows rather than leads most of the time.  As a broad exaggeration, most American CEO’s come from marketing, most UK CEO’s come from accounting/finance, because they are the people that really understand the business.  Some HR people do, but more often than not, they ‘tax’ the organisation, which most people don’t like.  They are a cost centre in every sense of the word, not a profit centre.

Some HR people can be very imaginative and innovative at helping to agree restructuring or implementing technology, but nearly always in my experience they are the implementers of other people’s changes.

Furnham on how HR practice helps or hinders high performance

AF : Good HR is if HR makes your job easier, more effective and efficient.  For instance, they help managers select more wisely, so they come up with a simple process that helps you get the people you want, they do a good job.  If they make payroll easier, they do a good job.   But HR are well-known for their strategies which people resist.  The famous example is that of appraisal.  Nearly everybody hates them, because all the systems are designed to punish people who won’t do it as opposed to reward people who will do it.  The HR people get bolshy by putting in excessive demands as to what is required.  Then you get a conspiracy between the manager and the appraisee to ‘knife’ HR – For example : ‘You tick the boxes and I’ll send it off to HR’.  That’s bad news when HR seem to always be imposing things.  The question good HR people always ask is: What effect will this have on the bottom line? Is there any proof that appraisals increase either job satisfaction or productivity?

The problem with performance management is that if you make pay part of it, people think it’s a performance-for-pay system and that’s all it is.  The problem with that is that it makes people very extrinsically motivated.  We’ve known since 1922 that when you can measure the performance of people at work, by and large the top 10% of people produce two-and-a-half times more than the bottom 10%.  The implication is that you should pay the top 10% two and a half times more than the bottom 10% but it never happens like that.  So you go through a lot of pain and suffering for a relatively undifferentiated set of benefits.

HR need to get people to understand that there other rewards at work other than pay – job swaps, training, sabbaticals and so on.  The more intrinsically rewarded you can make jobs, the less there is need for the extrinsic stuff.  It’s why academic staff are so badly paid, because we have so much fun on the job! J

Editor’s note : A visit to Professor Furnham’s office is proof positive of this.  I have rarely experienced an office in a university, which just reeks of the idea that work IS serious play!

Furnham on differences between public versus private sector

AF : It becomes much harder to track the link between effort and performance in public sector organisations.  This is because it is difficult to accurately and reliably measure actual outcomes and performance. Sometimes in an attempt to do so some very funny things happen For example I travel to work by bicycle unless it’s very wet when I catch the bus.   Last time I did this, lots of people were putting their hands up to stop the bus but the bus didn’t stop as the driver’s performance is measured on time.  He got his performance measures right – he just forgot about (i.e. ignored) the passengers!  The worry with some measurement is the necessity to find criteria even if they are not relevant to performance.  The private sector is characterized more by risk-taking, innovation and courageous management that the public sector

Furnham on the relative importance of creativity versus innovation

AF : It’s important to start with some definitions.  Creativity is coming up with a novel idea that is also useful.  Innovation is putting a novel idea into practical use.  People say we need more creative people in their organisation.  No, I often argue, we don’t.  Real, as opposed to self-defined creatives are difficult to manage.   You want more creative ideas and innovations in the organisation.  The question is that if you have creative ideas, you need to then innovate the ideas to produce a return on them.

Take, for example, airlines.  The Ryanair boss, Michael O’Leary has changed the world by turning some amazing ideas into everyday practices.  He makes people run onto airplanes because they have no seats booked.

The first airline to introduce beds on planes was Air Philippines.  Other people copied it.  So you see a good idea and then bring it into your organization.  So, you don’t have to be creative.  You have to spot ideas that are useful and will work.   The question is persuading people to do it.  One way is to reward those that follow behaviours that are innovative.  For example, suppose we want people to work on the way to work.  How do we do that?  We give you a laptop and measure how much work you do between 7 am and 9 am.

Furnham on measurement and innovation

I followed on my asking Adrian, whether innovation be measured at all?  If it should, what sorts of measures should be applied to innovation?

AF : The problem with having just one criterion is that you can jump to the criterion. For example:  My bicycle was stolen.  So I went to the Police Station.  The policeman didn’t want to record my complaint because it was a metric he did not like.  Because both he and I knew the crime would not be solved so it would be a black mark against him.  Therefore what he didn’t want to do was record it.  He would like to measure certain types of crime but only ones that are solvable.   Now the worry here is when you have a single criterion, then everybody jumps to fulfill that (and only that) criterion.  If you have multiple criteria then it’s different.  If bus drivers were rewarded for getting there on time as well as how much money they took and how few cyclists they killed, they would drive differently.   So, I think that measuring performance is important, but you have to be careful about the law of unintended consequences.

Furnham on creativity training

Adrian Furnham - Muesli muncher or corporate creativity arsonist?

AF : The language of creativity-cultivating workshops is particularly interesting. There seem to be five related models:

The muesli model – People need to unblock their creativity. They are in some curious way constipated and unable to let go and express themselves. In this sense creativity courses may be seen as laxatives.

The dominatrix model – Here we are told to unleash our creativity. Somehow one has been bound up, tied down, physically constrained from that most natural and normal of tasks namely being creative. So courses are liberators.

The arsonist model – Creative consultants and trainers aim to spark ideas and light fires. They see people as dry tinder just waiting for the right moment. Their job is to find ways of facilitating fire-setting ideas.

The kindergarten model – The problem appears to be that we have all forgotten how to be playful. Playfulness is apparently not only a lot of fun but it is also very productive. So our trainer helps us regress to a time when we were happy and quite unabashed to draw pictures, sing songs, etc.

AF : Yes – The gaol-liberator model – The problem, you see, is that we have all been boxed in a sort of cognitive gaol that has stopped us…..wait for it…thinking outside the box! And here, our happy consultants throws open the doors of our prison and out pops our creative jack-in-the-box.

PC : So, is there a 6th model?

The talent and perspiration model – Each of the five creativity-cultivation models assume that somewhere and somehow our natural creativity is suppressed. Quite contrary to all that we know about individual differences and human abilities, the assumption is that creativity is not normally distributed: everybody is (potentially) very creative, but I will come on to say more about why creativity may not be a sufficient condition for innovation.

Furnham on innovative leadership

PC : If you were speaking to a large group of CEO’s and Directors seeking to make their workplaces more innovative, what things would you say to them:

AF : The Japanese have this concept of Kaizen – making, continuous, small improvements etc.  The issue is about someone who does the job coming up with a better way of doing things.  It’s not some manager sitting in an office.  It’s the person doing the job.  People should be rewarded for coming up with little ways to make things better.  This also means that you should be allowed to fail.  What we know about successful entrepreneurs is that they’ve all gone bankrupt at least once.  If you want to get an innovative culture you need to put up with failure because you will start something and it will go badly wrong.

Secondly that these ideas need to be put into practice, knowing that some of them will fail and that you are not going to be enormously punished for these failures.

PC : Can you characterise the sorts of companies that are good at innovation?

AF : They will be characterized as being startups, young people, technology / IT – clever  / imaginative people who see work as play rather than  to make money.

PC : What about size?  Does that matter?

AF : Once an organization gets too big it’s really difficult to maintain the sorts of behaviours that are required.   It’s also about the type of organization.  For example, you are not going to find these things in your local council.  They are not selected for it.  They are not rewarded for it.  If anything, they are punished for it.  If you are in sales and marketing organisation, they are up for creative ideas.  If you are in pharmaceuticals, they are creative but it’s much slower and cautious.  If you are in an administrative organistion, by and large its bad news.  People all say they want creativity and innovation, but as soon as they see it, they withdraw.

PC : Can elephants learn to dance?  In other words, can larger enterprise organize things such that they remain nimble and responsive to their customers and markets?  Can you bring any examples to mind?

AF : Yes they can but it takes effort? And may take the dynamism of a person like Steve Jobs. Clearly not an easy person but a determined one who know that in his world the only way to thrive and survive is to innovate all the time and have very high standards.  Young elephants learn better than old ones; and they dance better if there is both joy in the activity and a nice reward for doing so.

Furnham on the future

PC :  Can you say something about HR fads versus those that in your opinion have a sustainable future?

AF : Let me give you an example that is both.  The whole thing about emotional intelligence really took off – it is now manifest in the word engagement.  We used to talk about job satisfaction, then job involvement, then commitment, now we use the word engagement.

We all want engaged staff, because they don’t have to be managed so well, because the joy is in the activity.  What puzzles me is the following.  The emotional intelligence movement say that the emotionally intelligent manager is a better manager – they are able to understand and engage their staff better.  However, the research says that the people who get on in business are able to ‘kick ass’.  What that means that rather than being empathic, they are in some senses the opposite.  What they are able to do is to confront poor performance and there is nothing worse than having a manager who lets everyone off the hook.  I’ve done a study on this.  Do you want your boss to be High on IQ, Low on EQ or High on EQ and Low on IQ?  In other words, do you want them to be smartish and warm or clever, tough and cold?   Well, if you ask men, they say bright, tough and cold.  If you ask women they are a bit divided about this.  The problem comes when an organisation needs tough decisions to be taken and sometimes people with high EQ fail to address the bottom line, in other words the Darwinian nature of the whole thing.

PC :  One problem with EQ is that you can be surrounded by feedback and fail to take the organization forward?

AF : The 360 movement is famous for giving people multi-source feedback but it is only useful if you know what to do with it. Having an insight into what others think about you can be worthless if you don’t know what to do to improve, change or develop.

The best HR managers understand the business and have often had a line role.  They always ask the question “what effect does this stuff have on the bottom line?”   Not “will it make people feel better?” and so on.  That sounds very hard and mean but it’s what you’re in business for.  And all HR is a cost centre or a tax on the organization.

PC : Are there things that leaders can do that will make innovation more frequent and more probable?

AF : I’d say three things.  One of the issues around innovation for leaders is the question of integrity.  Nearly all leaders say they want creativity and innovation and then they punish it.  Some don’t want it at all, they want to be in control.  So, if you want innovation, you have to put up with ideas that will not work.  The Hawthorne experiment was a good example of this.  Whilst you cannot risk the enterprise, you can risk a part of it and be known for open-ness to experimentation and risk taking.

Next, I do think that youth is attractive – Young people are less risk averse, have less to lose and to have a youth mentality is a good approach.  I was with an organization where the average age of the board was 63 – this is not good.  So, look for and hire people that are imaginative and curious.  But expect that some things will not work; and some ideas are simply wacky.

The alternative is to come in as number two.  Some organisations are rather good at watching carefully what their competitors do and as soon as they have a success formula, they follow fast and learn quickly.  Words like the agile organisation.  Now the bigger the organisation, the older the organization, the more difficult this is to do.

PC : What is the role of organizational playfulness in all this?  What can leaders do to engender a climate where innovation efforts are balanced by a sense of absorbed fun?

AF : Playfulness is a good word. I search out people with curiosity and courage and ability. And a bit naughty: risk-takers, mavericks. They know about play. And the more you make work like play the more intrinsic motivation you get. I say to people I have never done a day’s work in my life, because I so enjoy what I do, and never want to retire. Despite my puritan up-bringing I think I have a capacity to play.  And I search out those who do likewise.  They know playfulness is paradoxically, the source of many good ideas.

Furnham’s top creativity tips

Given that creativity may be necessary but insufficient for an innovative enterprise, I asked Professor Furnham for his top tips to encourage personal creativity at work, learning and play:

AF : Here are ten simple but important ideas:

  1. Sleep on it:  Come back to problems and issues.  Let them fall fallow for a bit; stew; incubate.  Revisit them when it suits.
  2. Read widely: Talk to all sorts of experts.  Get outside your box. Talk to people who think about things differently from you.
  3. Don’t give up:  Persistence is the key.  Most attempts fail.  Breakthroughs are rare.
  4. Take a Risk: Fear of failure, humiliation, teasing and abuse are natural enemies of creativity.  Go on – play with hunches and tentative ideas.  Break the rules.  Take courage.
  5. Piggy back:  Take others’ work and take it further.  Put things together which do not fit.
  6. Identify peak times and conditions:  Work out when and where you are at your best for idea generation and refinement.  Set aside these times for those activities.
  7. Record your flashes:  Have a place and method to record all ideas – some worth revisiting and incubation.
  8. Build your particular expertise/skill/knowledge: creativity is always skill based.  Get to the cutting edge of your chosen area…..there is no substitute for this.
  9. Question and Probe the obvious:  Take little for granted; turn things upside down; celebrate similarities and differences.
  10. Lighten up:  Be playful; use humour; have a sense of the absurd and the ridiculous.


Adrian Furnham was educated at the London School of Economics where he obtained a distinction in an MSc Econ., and at Oxford University where he completed a doctorate (D.Phil). He has subsequently earned a D.Sc and D.Litt. Previously a lecturer in Psychology at Pembroke College, Oxford, he has been Professor of Psychology at University College London since 1992. He has lectured widely abroad and held scholarships and visiting professorships at, amongst others, the University of New South Wales, the University of the West Indies, the University of Hong Kong and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He has also been a Visiting Professor of Management at Henley Management College. He has recently been made Adjunct Professor of Management at the Norwegian School of Management.  He has written over 1000 scientific papers and 70 books.  More about his work at www.adrianfurnham.com

His latest book “The Talented Manager’ can be bought by clicking on the picture:

Buy it on Amazon - Click the picture

Like a Rolling Stone – The art of empathy

I am privileged to belong to The Stone Club.  Led by Carole Stone, former producer of BBC’s flagship Question Time.  The Stone Club is a meeting place for minds, connecting businesses, social enterprises, entrepreneurs, media and politics.  During my time attending The Stone Club, I have met Professor Charles Handy, Michael Buerk, the entrepreneur Lara Morgan, senior executives for Fortune 500 companies and quite a few less famous but equally phenomenal people.

I first met Carole many years ago where we shared a stage at Pfizer alongside John Otway.  Carole’s last networking event had an extremely engaging presentation and dialogue on the art of empathic conversation in a complex and changing world.  This session was jointly presented by Oman Krznaric, writer, cultural thinker & Co-Founder of The School of Life, and Karl James, Director of The Dialogue Project.

One of the phenomenal people I connected with at this event was Andrea Ehrenberg who offers live graphic facilitation.  Here is the rich picture / word collage that she produced live during the conversation in front of about 70 people.  An amazing feat.  Although I am an expert mind mapper, Andrea combines systemic and creative thinking with a more artistic approach than my own fair hands are capable of.  Check her work out for your next live graphic facilitation event.

The art of empathy

For me, the hallmark of a great networking event is great company, the kind of learning that leaves you with as many new questions as answers, plus a superb social element to the event.   Carole Stone does it all with swan like grace.  Here are some of the questions we explored.  Feel free to post your thoughts here.

  1. To what extent does an oversupply of Emotional Intelligence and empathy drive out the ability for business leaders to make tough decisions and lead change?
  2. Can empathy be taught?  If so, are children naturally inclined to be empathetic but it is drilled out of them as they get older?  If that is true, do we need more empathy lessons for adults rather than thinking it needs to be taught to kids?
  3. Is empathy a critical skill and more important than negotiation when dealing with critical conflict situations, such as the ones described in war zones?
  4. When is empathy a more powerful ‘soft’ skill than ‘hard’ skills such as direction, selling, negotiation and so on?

Let us finish with a different kind of provocation about the past and future of pop, politics, people and life.  Not Carole Stone, but a Rolling Stone: