More from the rugby brains trust. A special report from Paul Evans

April 30, 2009
Paul O' Connell

Paul O' Connell

Just to prove even the forwards represented on our rugby brains trust have brains (and I don’t just mean the ad for the beer on their shirts ..) here’s a brilliant analysis of the tour selections from one of our brains trusters

Q: Has ‘the management’ done a reasonable job in selecting O’ Connell and squad?

A: Simply put, yes the management has done an excellent job in selecting the squad. Here’s my rationale with some comments about some of the “flyers” that made the squad.

The Captain: I’ve maintained that O’Connell was the man for the job and I think his performance at Heathrow underlined that. The guy is a physically intimidating specimen. (and reportedly the second strongest guy in the squad after Sheriden.). I think its important that the media when interviewing the captain have to look up to him as opposed to down on him as they would have done if O’Driscoll, a media-savvy kind of guy, had been skipper. I’ve always got the impression that big is best in south africa and O’Connell is up there with the SA finest (Botha and Mountfield)

Additionally I think he has the respect of the squad. As an ex-player myself, I believe the skipper was someone that would bail you out when you’re in trouble and I mean physically protect you if you fall on the wrong side of rucks or if an opposing prop squares up to you. Those kind of actions combined with a never give up and a go forward attitude will be what counts in this very robust tour – witness the South Africans taking out Doddie Weir on the 1997 tour.

Q: What about the media?

A: The last tour “Woodwards Wallies”, despite the inclusion of a QC and Campbell, the handling of the media was nothing short of criminal. South Africa wants the lions. in SA this is nearly as big as the world cup, the country is on the Lions side, skilful utilisation of the media will go far. This means don’t closet yourself away in a fortress, but go out and do all the community things that Lions of old did. Lee Mears is excellent at this kind of work (witness him on Austin Healy’s “Big Tackle”) and the Lions all need to be encouraged to go out there – this signposts to the squad that they’re all equal, and is a great team builder and is integral to forming the identity of each player as a Lion.

Q: Cultural factionalism?

A: I think we have to acknowledge that this is the major stumbling block of previous tours. Henry could not get to grips with it in 2001, when the best Lions squad since 1974 crashed in Australia despite overwhelming them in the first test. Woodward’s handling was even worse, particularly his handling of the squad prior to departure and his dealing with Henson mid-tour.

I think Henry’s only cultural reference to the Lions, was as opposition; he was always going to struggle. Woodward had selected his team before he left, and had communicated this to the squad, meaning some members toured without a prayer of being a member of the test team. I can’t think of a better way of establishing a “them and us” mentality. Furthermore his incapacity to see Henson as a member of the Test team further alienated a professional squad of players who believe that performance is everything. My guess that this didn’t help a number of Welshmen who had to take second place to a team of Englishmen playing on faded glory, despite winning a grand slam.

It interesting to note that on the Woodward tour that the mid week side out performed the Test side – and who was in charge of this team – McGeechan. In the winning tour of Australia (can’t remember the date) and the tour of South Africa in 1997 the midweek team continued to press for honours through performance. I think it was in 1971 on the tour to New Zealand that the Lions played Fiji on the way back. There is that great photo of Gordon Brown coming on as sub wearing shorts that are many sizes too small. On match day Brown wasn’t in the squad, but as injuries took there toll Brown puts his hand up gets changed, borrows kit from wherever to get himself on the pitch to help his mates. It is acknowledged that the Fiji game was a game too far but not for Brown, what a warrior.

In eradicating factionalism there are number of things that the Lions need to establish.

1. that the Test spot is up for grabs – performance will earn you the spot.

2. a culture that establishes that the disappointed support the Team. At every game every player needs to be there, in the crowd, but ready to go. Witness John Bentley’s monologue to camera prior to selection for the first test on “Living with Lions” (LWL) He knew that if not selected it was his job to congratulate the guy in front of him and then do his job as team member (follower).

3. Select the senior players, who effectively are the joint management committee of the tour and represent players views to the management. I think its interesting that Shaw and Quinlan are in the squad, and their role along with some of the senior players may be crucial in this regard. In 1997 the squad had the likes of Dalaglio, Johnson, Leonard, Wainright amongst others, they even managed to force McGeechan to shave his head after winning the second test. The senior players sort out the rules that all adhere to.

4. Get the squad out doing the community building work.

5. Allow the tour shenanigans such as kangaroo courts, a few beers in local pubs etc, but within strict guidelines. (established by senior players) On LWL Keith Wood did a fantastic job at Judge along with Evans as chief prosecutor. Brings squads together and allows players to sort out a few of the egos on the tour. McGeechan was even penalised. In terms of team singing appoint a choir master so that the players don’t just sing one nationality’s songs. Witness the BBC Sportsman of the Year show in 1974 when the Lions squad performed live on TV “Flower of Scotland” – now that’s a team.

Q: What about the players picked?

A: Quinlan is acknowledged as a hard man and a pain at the breakdown. He’s in there to do a job. I think maturity as a tourist probably won his place over the fleet-footed croft. If he doesn’t make the test team he could be a good outside bet for mid-week leader as well as a senior player.

Shaw – interestingly been there in 1997 – there for his tourist skills and seniority as much as for his play on the park.

Vickery – In as a tourist and possibly a mid week general, I don’t think his form rates him as a test starter . but no one will try harder than the raging bull. Could be inspirational to all with his commitment on the training park. Could be a senior player and given a role a s training day forwards leader.

Hines – an outside bet for the Test Team, but definitely there as a tourist. Could be the squad’ enforcer.

[My thanks to Paul for that, and over to you panelists for reactions….Tudor]

TV Review: Professor Regan’s Medicine Cabinet

April 24, 2009
Lesley Regan

Lesley Regan

I enjoyed watching Professor Regan’s Medicine Cabinet. It was well-packaged, reassuring, and came across as mostly authentic. Come to think of it, such claims are a bit like those made of some of the products examined in the programme

Professor Regan’s Medicine Cabinet went out on BBC2 [2100 BST, April 23rd 2009]. Lesley Regan (I learn) is a celebrity medic. Bit like a Joan Bakewell with (metaphoric) stethoscope. Just in case her own charisma is not enough, she is filmed doing lots of legitimizing things, like going to hushed libraries and making notes with a deeply expensive pen (surely not a product placement). Or consulting other well-polished authorities across well-polished table surfaces. Or explaning the checklist of criteria that serve as credentials for taking a medical document seriously in a scientific court.

On trial in the show were various pharmaceutical remedies. Yes, even up-market programmes have to put someone or something on trial. You don’t have to be posh to play this game, as Joanna Lumley might say, but it don’t ’arf ’elp.

Anyway, the case for blind peer reviews, double blind product studies, and statistical significance tests was well-made. If I have just the teeniest of concerns, it is that Professor Regan did not always keep up to the gold standard with the demonstrations she set up. Perhaps gold-standard double blind product testing was never going to be possible, but in which case a little disclaimer would have done no harm. This is the sort of thing researchers are expected to make even if their studies pass the other scientific criteria. Even the notorious initial publication sparking the MMR clinical disaster at least acknowledged that the study implied causality not proved it.

So when it came to evaluating homoeopathy Professor R was rather stuck. Current theories of physical chemistry deny the possibility that any such approach can have any possibility of working. On the other hand, supporters provided reports which suggested that something might be achieved by the methodology. Fortunately for scientific theory, a very well-qualified statistician was brought in to review the evidence and confirm that large scale studies did not demonstrate such statistically convincing results. That’s OK then. It’s a polite way of saying the small-scale studies were a bit dodgy, or maybe ‘outliers’. And just to add to the damaging evidence, we got some notion into how the placebo effect works, and how homeopathy might be no more than a placebo effect in action

I’m about as convinced that we really understand the phenomenon labeled the placebo effect as we understand the bundle of practices called as homeopathy. But perhaps that’s a positive result from watching the charming Professor Regan. She is helping me develop a healthy scientific skepticism about product claims. Even those of her own brand of TV product.

PS the rugby players sticking their hands into ice water were very watchable too, but the demonstration left me wishing we had a bit more explanation of why that sort of approach would not exactly get the results into the top medical journals. At least, I hope it wouldn’t. I assume the statistician had served his purpose and left before offering his views on study design and sample size.

It is all very tricky, trying to communicate scientific facts and working in the mass media.


The author has consulted no authorities in research methods, medical statistics, or epistemology in preparing this review. All opinions are based solely on personal experience.

Rugby Brains trust gets it right

April 23, 2009
Brains trust

Brains trust

Congratulations to the Leaders we deserve brainstrust whose members pinpointed Ireland’s O’ Connell as Lions captain and also suggested most of the squad

Leadership issues

Now to identify the leadership challenges facing O’Connell and the entire touring party

Lions tours are notoriously difficult to manage. Signals of possible friction points have begun to emerge as national heroes are left behind. Irish players have earned their places with monster six-nations performances. In contract Scotland had a woeful competition. That hasn’t stopped Scottish journalists being peeved over the tiny number of Scots in the quad. The English have similar gripes as they have a historically low number of squad members. Welsh comment is mixed. There is a healthy representation from Wales. But there is disappointment that Ryan Jones is one of several national captains left behind. In Wales there is also some bitterness over what they see as a potential re-run of the Graham Henry time as Lions coach and Wales National manager. This time it’s another Kiwi, Warren Gatland, again Wales national coach also coaching for the Lions.

The story goes that by the time the last Lions tour was over, Henry had lost the trust of key Welsh players and it carried over into subsequent national team performances. There is worry the same thing might happen in South Africa. To get some idea, you might like to think of the expectations at Newcastle Football Club, and the heights and lows as each possible saviour fails to ‘guide them to the promised land’.

So here are a few leadership questions

I realize that much will be forgiven a winning team, but I’m anticipating plenty of blame to spread around before the tour is over.

Has ‘the management’ done a reasonable job in selecting O’ Connell and squad? Will potential cultural factionalism play a significant part in events off and on the field? Comments will be incorporated into future blogs.

Other notes

A Guardian summary of the ‘team picked for toughness’ gives indication of the reasoning behind the selections.

Brown’s Budget Week Anti-sleaze Shock

April 22, 2009
John Pienaar

John Pienaar

On the eve of the budget, Prime Minister Gordon Brown grabs headlines with an announcement about MP expenses. BBC’s John Pienaar suggests how such a leadership decision might be analysed

Budget day [April 22nd 2009] but there is another story dear to the hearts of MPs preoccupying our parliamentary representatives. Yesterday, Prime Minister Brown did something quite unexpected, both in message and medium chosen to communicate it. In a U-tube video he announced that he intends to move swiftly against the deeply unpopular system of MPs expenses. Unpopular that is for the public at large, but seriously popular for the majority of MPs benefitting from current arrangements.

The shock was partly because Brown had appeared to be ducking the issue of acting swiftly over the contentious issue, aided by an on-going investigation by Sir Christopher Kelly.

All the signs were that public outrage over bankers was now transferring to public outrage over MPs expenses, threatening career-damaging results for the Government. Opposition MPs, unlikely to be found completely unsullied through such revelations, are likely to suffer from what might be called friendly fire in the battle.

Maybe the shock was partly also because of a simplistic stereotype of Gordon Brown as a vacillating leader unable to act decisively or imaginatively. It is easy to make the case as a mood of national frustration with events is sweeping all before it. This week, one paper labelled Gordon the worse Prime Minister of all time.

The stereotype has been useful shorthand in countless attacks on the Prime Minister in the media and from political opponents in Westminster. My point here is not to defend Brown as to point out the possibility that there is some contrary evidence in past behaviours. When he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown revelled in startling budget day stories which at very least kept opponents on the back foot at the time. One of his first actions as a new Chancellor was to relinquish control over the Bank of England (retrospectively challenged, but at very least imaginative and decisive.

Why did Gordon act so decisively?

BBC’s John Pienaar spotted the point. Commenting on the newly released U-tube he observed that such decisions operated at several different levels, so it was hard to arrive at a simple explanation of specific whys and wherefores.

In other words, it’s too simplistic to assume Gordon acted to appease public opinion, or out of moral indignation, or because he didn’t want Alistair Darling to grab the headlines or because he wanted to find news that would play better than likely reaction to the budget. As academics like to say, it was a decision made under conditions of considerable uncertainty. Unfortunately, the academic acceptance of ambiguities does not fit comfortably in a culture impatient for answers This is contrary to the ‘Yes or no, it’s a simple question’ approach of Jeremy Paxman in his Newsnight interrogations).

Can’t we do better than that?

I geenrally find more in Pienaar’s thoughtful approach than in Paxman’s petulance. I also assume share Pienaar’s view that political decisions are made after consideration of a large number of salient features. That’s a hypothesis based on an assumption that political leaders plus advisors operate under complicated and uncertain conditions, in which the important questions are not amenable to yes/no, right/wrong resolution. Unfortunately, Pienaar’s point remains unsatisfactory to the extent that it offers little on how a leader might be advised to take major decisions.

Might we be able to assess whether Gordon Brown was acting effectively and decisively, or ineptly and impulsively? Or am I also falling into either/or thinking? Can’t we do better than just accepting the ambiguities around strategic decision-making?


Put another way, what sense might we make of the decision by Gordon Brown to act how he did, when he did? The decision reversed a more measured approach to the issue of MP expenses, (the on-going investigation) and one which he himself appeared to approve of until the announcement?

Thumbing through my leadership notes, I find useful suggestions. Under conditions of extreme pressure, a leader is more prone to resort to favoured strategies which may override rational considerations. Information is filtered to conceal some of the complexities of the situation. Bob Woodward’s accounts of the Bush regime contains repeated illustrations of denial and doubtful decisions.

Overall, this decision also seems consistent with another favourite principle I have written about. In an earlier post, I looked at a Gordon Brown decision when he was Chancellor. He grabbed the headlines with support for England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup.

At the time I compared the decision to The Tarrasch principle in chess.

[The Tarrasch principle] suggests that strategically you should act because you want to, or because you have to, but not simply because you have the option. Mr Brown acted because he wanted to, perhaps also because he judged it was better now than waiting for a more favourable time, and in that sense because he had to, or miss a promising opportunity. In other words, it was not just because it was an available option open to him.

Which doesn’t tell us precisely what informed the Prime Minister’s decision, but it might make sense of it, and serve as a guide to leaders facing tough decisions.

Losing to Nadal makes for learning and leading

April 20, 2009
Rafa Nadal

Rafa Nadal

World No 1 Raphael Nadal collected his expected victory over Andy Murray in Monte Carlo and went on to win the title. But Murray shows how losing can be a building block to future success

Raphael Nadal has become the outstanding tennis performer on clay surfaces, perhaps of all-time. His record, even as a 22 year old has led him to be hailed not just best in the world, but nearly invincible even against his closest rivals.

So Murray was expected to lose. He went into his semi-final match in the Monte Carlo event [18th April 2009] having lost heavily to Nadal on his own favourite surface, (hard court) few weeks earlier. He commented in a pre-match interview at Monte Carlo, that to win he would have to play at his best, and Nadal maybe would have to under-perform– an unlikely possibility with another title approaching for the Spanish phenomenon.

Murray on clay

Murray is still learning the curious art of playing tennis on clay. For most of the world, clay court tennis is a different game requiring different skills. The surface partly negates the big serve merchants. Points are lengthy and tightly contested. A particular skill is simply keeping correctly balanced, which involves (among other things) sliding into shots. Get it wrong and you look foolish, clumsy, and wrong-footed.

The Americans, no lovers of clay court tennis, had politely opted to pass up this tournament, postponing their first tournament of the year on the surface. Murray had never beaten any tennis player in the top twenty on clay. During the earlier rounds of the tournament he had to call on his general tennis skills to compensate for deficiencies in his clay court game which blunted some of his exceptional mobility.

Nadal performs to order

In the first set of he semi-final against Murray, Nadal performs to order. At times he seemed to toy with Murray with drop shots which made the Scot look leaden-footed. A bedraggled Murray ended the set a poor second.

What happened next

What happened next was partly predictable. Murray lost the second set. What might also have been predicted was that Murray would try to find a way to up his game against Nadal. Easier said than done. What was unpredicted was that Murray would find a way to compete, and even challenge for the set, losing only after a thrilling set which suggests that there will be further and closer encounters over the next few years.

Loser or learner?

For many people, sport is all about winning. That is for me as simplistic as saying that sport is all about competing. At least we might take a more careful look at what winning means.

Frank Dick, no mean motivator of athletes, liked to distinguish between losing an event, and being a loser. It’s a fair point. Each tennis tournament is designed to produce a winner. For many observers that means it produces a whole bunch of losers, including whoever is the last player to lose. More thoughtful commentators line up with Frank Dick’s view of the benefits of learning through losing.

Work with business teams is increasingly showing the importance of two related factors, learning from experience and resilience which help differentiate expected from the extraordinary performance. At the level of the team, these are factors which can be encouraged through good leadership. For top athletes the encouragement requires high individual efforts. The learner as leader of self. But there is also evidence of the role of a more widely distributed leadership process.

Murray even a few years into his professional career took responsibility for selecting a team of coaches whose members share the roles of mentors, technical and medical advisors, and so on. This was after Murray found the one-to-one relationships with coaches unacceptable. This seems to have become the case with as great a coach as Brad Gilbert, a story that has never been made public, and which would perhaps demonstrate that ultimately personal success has to be anchored in an individual taking personal responsibility for that success.

‘Now look what you’ve made me do’ is the cry of the real loser.

A is for Albatross as Airbus struggles with the A400 project

April 18, 2009
Airbus A400 EADS mock up

Airbus A400 EADS mock up

Der Spiegel continues to be the window into the complex world of EADS and its giant subsidiary Airbus. In a major interview with Airbus CEO Thomas Enders, Der Spiegel throws light on the corporate challenges facing the organization and its leadership.

The double whammy

Der Spiegel was in particularly robust mood in its interview with Thomas Enders recently [March 2009]. The two-part report opened with a series of fierce questions challenging the company’s long-term viability. Ender’s truculence comes through, even in translation and from the printed page. The second part of the interview concentrated on a single project, the A400M and that made the story appear all the more damaging

Technological innovation is notoriously risky, and there must surely be additional risk factors emerging as a consequence of the financial turbulence of the last year. The A400M is becoming known as its albatross. The plane, still yet to fly, is a military transport plane promising payload deliveries over extended distances under extreme conditions. Delays and production mishaps have plagued the project (even in comparison with the more publicised woes of the company’s other high-technology efforts).

Der Speigel as rotweiler

Der Speigel runs excellent and probing articles. One can’t help admire its success in its interviews with Germany’s business leaders. [In style it reminds me of the aggressiveness of England’s Newsnight programme and its chief Rotweiler Jeremy Paxman]. In the issue carrying the Thomas Enders interview, there were similarly tough questions asked of Robin Goudsblom, a Lidl senior manager, over the company’s personnel scandal;and of Nikolaus von Bomhard, CEO of reinsurance giant Munich Re, over banker bonuses.

Enders comes clean

Under fire, Thomas Enders is remarkably direct. He was first reminded of a recent wager.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Enders, on December 31 you won a bottle of champagne. You had wagered that Airbus would manage to complete 12 of your super-jumbo jets by the end of the year. That bottle could cost your company millions because, in the heat of the race against the clock, quality and safety may have fallen by the wayside.
Thomas Enders: No, we haven’t made any compromises here. Our customers are generally very satisfied with the A380. But, as you know, it is an extremely complex aircraft, which now unfortunately — like every new model during the introduction phase, I might add — has some teething problems here and there

Then he faced equally direct questioning on a range of general topics such as Government subsidies. These did not result in subsequent wider headlines, perhaps because they were ‘nothing new’ either in question or reply.

Part two of the report gave a focus to the entire interview in the plight of the A400M. The level of openness from Enders deserves attention from students of leadership:

SPIEGEL: Your biggest worry is currently the planned A400M military transport aircraft, which has been in the news for months. Which countries could cancel as buyers in the future?

[Enders denied the specific charge of cancellations and accepted accusation that the company had to shoulder some blame]

Enders: EADS should never have signed this contract. Our American competitors would never have accepted such conditions. We’ve made big mistakes, and errors have also been made on the customer side. We should now rectify these together.

Enders went on to deal frankly with equally tough questions on ‘[r]ivalries and power struggles between the Germans and the French’, consolidation of the European headquarters in Toulouse [‘maybe a good idea’], and the loss of a major American military contract.

Leadership notes

I was struck by the tone of the interview and by the fascinating technical insights provided into corporate and production management.

How important is the interview to EADS? This is one of the questions open to reflection and debate. I suggest that Der Spiegel is a media leader in news of the Airbus adventures from a European perspective. Its interviews are guaranteed widespread subsequent coverage. A typical example is the report in Aerospace [30 March 2009]. Even The Economist draws on the Spiegel interview, although its piece shows evidence of its own deeper research [bonus points to the Economist for that].

The interview has to be taken seriously by the company leadership. A faulty performance (and it is a performance) would become part of a subsequent narrative developed in the media.

How well did Enders do? You could assess the interview for strengths and weaknesses. A misguided remark might become a hostage to fortune for the company in the future. On the other hand, the impact is mediated by several communities deeply concerned with the future of the company and whose judgments go to make up the ’conventional wisdom of the dominant elite’ . Enders has the responsibility to defend his position without being too defensive, and avoid easy-to-refute claims. Which in this case involved a painful level of openness. If he appeared a bit testy at times, that might be a permissible weakness rather than a fatal one.

Despite tough times, the corporate leadership of EADS seems to have stabilized under the urbane Louis Gallois, and his Airbus CEO, the former paratrooper Thomas Ender.

To go more deeply

We have followed this story in earlier posts. The Economist article on Airbus can be found in its April 11th -17th, 2009 issue.

McBride’s head revisited: Spads spin and creativity

April 13, 2009


The sacking of Gordon Brown’s special advisor Damien McBride raises questions about the moral neutrality of creativity and the implications of this for leadership

Politics, like any sub-culture, has its own dialect and signifiers which are viewed with suspicion by outsiders, and used unthinkingly inside the tent. This week the word spads oozed into the wider public consciousness from Westminster, referring to special political advisors.

Spads, we learn, are functionaries hired to bring in fresh ideas, supplying their political masters with ‘out of the box’ thinking (to use another much-loathed signifier of management and political speak).

If Spads have a patron saint it would be Machiavelli, widely remembered for his handbook of political advice to leaders, a best-seller ever since it was written nearly five centuries ago.
Our story this week deals with the sudden dismissal of Gordon Brown’s special advisor, Damien McBride. Damien’s ideas hardly compare with the wisdom of mighty Mach for the power of their insights. About the only thing the two spads have in common is loyalty to a patron and to the patron’s perceived best interests.

Spads occupy a world which often brackets off moral judgments in its preoccupations with extreme pragmatism. I happen to think it raises another important issue for leaders on the moral neutrality of the creative act (which I’ll get to later).

McBride’s head revisited

First, the context to the McBride story. Seems that while musing on how to support the waning cause of his master’s popularity, McBride hit on the idea of smearing Gordon’s political enemies. In the manner of spads, he ran it up the flagpole to see who would salute it. Or, less metaphorically, he sent the idea by email to a friend and fellow Spad, Derek Draper. Said e-mail gets into the public domain. Let’s spread around some juicy rumours about David Cameron. Oh yes, and George Osborne as well, and what’s her name, that Nadine Dorries. What a wheeze! The stories don’t even have to be true. Brilliant.

Not very clever at all, really. According to Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political correspondent [April 1th 2009]

[McBride] had been by Gordon Brown’s side for many years, paid to try to control the media coverage of his boss. But the e-mails he wrote to his old pal – another former Labour spin doctor, Derek Draper – crossed the line even in the often brutal world of politics.
He is leaving Number 10 with no severance pay, no fat pay off, according to a Downing Street source.

And not everyone appears to be buying Cabinet Office minister Liam Byrne’s explanation that this was “one private e-mail exchange between a couple of friends who were knocking backwards and forwards ideas.”

Drearily, the story survives a few days

Something has to fill the headlines over the Easter holiday period. Gordon Brown (with or without spad advice) seems to have acted decisively in damage limitation. It seems likely that without some unexpected twist to the tale, the Prime Minister will endure short-term public embarrassment, the cost of closure of the episode. Why no long-term damage? Partly because of the likeliness that efforts to do so will require political energies as well as media enthusiasm. The conservatives are unlikely to divert too much effort from more promising targets, already identified or hopping into view of their artillery.

In essence, it is a sad and not unfamiliar political story. Remember the tale of the humiliation of a spad who had the idea of a good day to bury bad news, [after the twin towers atrocity of 2001] and who lost her job when the idea leaked into the public domain?

A question of creativity

If we look at the story differently, we see that it raises questions about widely-held assumptions about the nature of creativity.

Creativity is about thinking the unthinkable. Yes. Creativity is often associated with drawing attention to ideas which have been ignored and gone unnoticed. Yes. The touchstone of a creative idea on these grounds is the moment of insight. The emotional charge accompanying the act of creation. ‘Eureka! Why didn’t I think of that before’.

Social conditioning reduces openness to the unconventional so that the feared and challenging and unfamiliar become ‘unthinkable’. The nonconformist serves to draw attention to such ideas. Less concerned with social criticism, he or she presses on. For Shaw, it is unreasonableness that is needed for progress. More recently, for Richard Florida, it is bohemianism which gives added vitality to a creative culture.

I find it more convincing to recognise the dangers of over-rigid and limited evaluation of ideas in inhibiting individuals and groups from accepting the merits of new ideas. Two cheers for Florida’s bohemians and Shaw’s unreasonable man. One cautionary reminder: unconventionality can be a form of knee-jerk rebellion or of eccentricity, both of which may help shake up the over-tight bonds of conventional thinking. We may chose to label all such behaviours examples of creativity in action.

For me, most politicians have accepted the view that they didn’t get where they are through outstanding abilities at coming up with good ideas. This opened the way to spads to do their creative thinking for them. And also to be there to get the blame if something unpleasant results from their subsequent creative actions.

This line of reasoning takes me to the conclusion that Mr McBride was not particularly creative. His moment of inspiration amounted essentially to ‘let’s smear Cameron’. As an idea, its down there with Kenny Everett’s less than inspired cry ‘Let’s bomb Russia’, or more recently Russell Brand’s on-air ravings against another media figure. Novelty is not an adequate criterion for creative productivity.

Ospreys joy at Easter

April 12, 2009


Well, it had to be an omen. The Easter Ospreys story

Seems this Easter the acts of the Ospreys were being closely followed beyond the Mumbles to the shores of Perthshire. Why? Because these Ospreys showed fifteen years of outstanding team work, travelling across the world to be together. That’s why.

These are not ordinary Ospreys, they are champions and role models. They are writing a new chapter in the book of life …The acts of the Ospreys.

Wise men travelled from the East to the tranquil shores of the Loch of the Lowes to bear witness. Guardian angels watched over them to protect them from ill-wishers who had also travelled to plunder and destroy their works.

And so it came to past at Eastertide. Nay-sayers had said the Ospreys were unable to produce. But all is possible. The dream continues. The Osprey story continues. An egg. An Easter egg. The multitudes celebrate.

Meanwhile …

The other Ospreys (the rugby species, Osprelia Magnificus) were also in search of a miracle in the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup, travelling to meet Munster at their fortress in Thomond Park. Munster could draw on 11 of this season’s Six Nations Grand Slam side. Ospreys could call on an Irish defector and seven Wales regulars. The Ospreys needed another miracle. Naysayers had written these Ospreys off, too, the Irish Independent noting

Munster will see off a below-strength Ospreys

What happened next…

No second miracle. Munster massively outplayed the Ospreys. There was no Easter joy for the Osprays from Wales.

To go more deeply

BBC Scotland tells the happy Ospreys story

BBC sport tells of Munster’s triumph and the tale of the unhappy ones.

Robert Quick resigns: A depressing leadership tale

April 10, 2009
Robert Quick

Robert Quick

Robert Quick resigns his role as head of counter-terrorism after details of a top secret document were filmed due to his casual way of handling his papers on the way to a meeting. The incident raises a depressing story of leadership and lack of it

The basic story is relatively simple to understand (although there are a few layers of political context which might also be worth considering). Bob Quick was until recently [9th April 2009] Deputy Commissioner with responsibilities for counter-terrorism at London’s metropolitan police force.

This week Commissioner Quick is filmed heading for a security briefing, holding a bundle of papers, in full view of the press, and maybe other surveillance cameras. The technology available revealed one document was exposing top secret information. This might have been a bit of a one-day story (tut tut, how careless, the man should be reprimanded). It turned out to have more significant implications.

Action against a major terrorist initiative was put at risk after enough details were revealed to the world’s press from the front page of the document which Quick was carrying as he entered No 10 Downing Street.

The action, allegedly against Al Qaida, was triggered prematurely to minimise damage which the security leak might have produced. Within 24 hours arrests were made in a coordinated action which seems to have achieved most of its goals. Damage limitation. Within another 24 hours Quick resigns over his security blunder.

Quite right too. Or was it?

Quite right too’ was the general reaction from press and public comment. ‘He had to go’. The case for the prosecution put pithily in the Sun (if you understand the Kwik-fit reference) with its front page shout You can’t quit quicker than a thick Quick quitter

Blundering police chief Bob Quick quit yesterday — in double-quick time. The anti-terror cop walked at 7.25am before he could be disciplined for compromising an operation to smash an al-Qaeda plot. It is thought fanatics were planning to cause carnage in Manchester within ten days.

A few dissenting voices were raised to the effect that he was a talented professional whose knowledge of terrorist threats to the country’s security was unparalleled. One letter to The Telegraph presented the minority contrary view

What a disaster to lose all those years of expertise because Bob Quick made one mistake, which I am sure he will never repeat. It once again shows the integrity of public servants and puts the politicians they serve in an even worse light. The Home Secretary should ask him to reconsider. By this resignation we are all much more vulnerable to the terrorists than as a result of the publication of a briefing document.

If this were a leadership exam ..

Tempting to see this as a suitable story for a leadership examination:

Complete this sentence drawing on your understanding of the resignation of counter-terrorist head Robert Quick

‘Bob Quick had to go because …’

Why the case is depressing me

Whipping off my black thinking hat and putting on a red emotional one I find the case a depressing one. Depressing because important leadership questions bothering me have been ignored. Depressing because in that respect the ‘story’ is like countless other leadership narratives, with focus on the immediate past and speculative commentary on the stupidity of the main characters and the potential enormity of the consequences of their actions.

So what’s missing?

Where to begin? On with a black professorial hat again, perhaps with a bit of green (for creative) trim. What’s missing is any evidence of leadership directed towards seeing this not as an isolated incident but as representative of a culture of sloppy security. What about action from home secretary Jacqui Smith? Maybe she is a bit distracted with recent personal problems, and maybe with the part played by the looming figure of London mayor Boris Johnson in the hiring and firing of police chiefs.

The Home Secretary (or maybe Gordon) would show welcome leadership with clear evidence of intent. It need not be more than a brief outline of action put in place (and not just another enquiry) to indicate what steps have been taken to protect sensitive information a bit better than as permitting a bundle of top secret papers to be ferried around in range of unwelcome cameras, and guarded only by a burly (about-to-be ex-) copper.


To Edward de Bono for his inspired little book on thinking hats, which he says he wrote on a long-haul plane journey.

To the kwik-fit ads which inspired the Sun headlines

Innocent in a naughty world

April 8, 2009


The Innocent company has accepted an equity deal with Coca-Cola and risks damaging its valued image as an ethical organization

The story has an appealing simplicity to it. Innocent has built a brand as an ethical company from its UK base with its range of smoothies and a branding message that its products are 100% wholesome and good for you. Its decision to accept a £ 30 million equity investment from Coca-Cola seems to risk that image. It was the theme of a BBC interview with co-founder Richard Reed [7th April 2009]. PM’s Eddie Mair brought a tone of righteous indignation to his interview. He dismissed Coca-Cola as the sort of company that any self-respecting organization should avoid at all costs.

The Wall Street Journal offered a more balanced view of the deal . Journalists Patrick and Bauerlein outlined the financials, suggesting that Coke would own between 10% to 20% of the corporation which places its value around £150 – £300 million sterling. They pointed to the ‘quirkiness’ of Innocent, contrasting it to the staid old lady of Atlanta.

Coca-Cola’s investment in British smoothie maker Innocent not only connects the beverage giant to a fast-growing product but also to a company known for good social and environmental behavior. By giving 10% of its profits to charity and using recycled bottles, Innocent was one of the first consumer brands launched in Britain to develop a big following through ethical marketing. Innocent cuts a quirky public figure. Some of its trucks are covered in fake grass and daisies. Those trucks are mounted on hydraulics that make them appear to dance, with drop-down windows for giving away samples.
The deal’s structure should allow Innocent to keep its funky attitude rather than risk being assimilated into a vast corporate culture whose focus remains carbonated soft drinks. Coca-Cola won’t have any management control over Innocent, but Innocent will share its expertise with the Atlanta-based beverage company, Mr. Reed says. The Coca-Cola money will be used to expand Innocent’s operations in Europe, where only 25% of European supermarkets sell smoothies to pay for distribution, stocking fees, sales staff and advertising.

While Innocent has run TV- and newspaper-ad campaigns, it has also specialized in less-traditional advertising. Some 200,000 people turned up to a Innocent musical concert in London named Fruitstock in 2006. In following years it replaced the event with smaller village fetes. Its Web site features a “Daily Thoughts” blog where employees not only post items about new products, but also offer random tips such as what to feed tadpoles. Next month, [May 2009] Innocent is inviting customers to come to an AGM (A Grown-up Meeting), to solicit feedback.

Innocent’s charitable giving is also interactive. Volunteers knitted more than 506,000 little hats for smoothie bottles last year, which were then sold, raising £250,000 in proceeds to provide meals, blankets and other help for older people during the winter.

To be sure, Coke has been sporting its good deeds, expanding its recycling plants, reducing water consumption and using environmentally friendly coolants in vending machines and coolers. Coke and its foundation made more than $82 million in charitable donations in 2008, in areas ranging from college scholarships to water stewardship and disaster relief. But the 123-year-old company has been known to kill ads that were deemed too edgy and is vastly bigger and more buttoned-up than a closely held newcomer such as Innocent.

Coke appears to be embracing the model of taking a stake rather than buying outright, after previously struggling to integrate niche nonsoda companies. Most notably, Coke bought Planet Java coffee drinks and Mad River Traders teas and juices with great fanfare in 2001, only to phase them out two years later. Coke has had more success with its 2001 purchase of Odwalla Inc., a maker of premium refrigerated fruit and vegetable juices whose product line is closest to Innocent’s line

An Independent

Janet Street Porter provided an informed view for The Independent drawing on research she had carried out for a channel four film. She pointed out the dangers of treating Innocent as a totally altruistic venture.

Innocent, the company that made its name on two points of difference, ethical credentials and healthy products, has sold a large chunk of the business to Coca-Cola – a predictable move. Coca-Cola makes money flogging sugary drinks that are brilliantly packaged as part of an attractive lifestyle option – and so does Innocent.

What’s the deal?

It’s no big deal for the mighty Coca-Cola which may have reached the conclusion that its evolution lies in responding to increasing agitation against products on like style and health grounds. Innocent epitomizes values that Coke admires, but for all its efforts finds hard to build into its brand.

But this is a big decision for Innocent. Despite the robust defense offered by Reed, the dilemma of leadership was clear. Together with co-founders Adam Balon and Jon Wright, Reed has the strategic goal of building a global corporation with all the ethical values that are captured in Innocent’s products and activities. To do so he has to accept the financial reality of obtaining funding from sponsors. Increasingly, investors are being assessed for their ethical credentials. Would Innocent have preferred investment from a different source? Probably. The contrast with Coke makes for an easy story of lost innocence.

I have likened strategic business decisions to difficult chess moves. Sometimes you make a decision because you want to, sometimes because the opportunity and timing seems right, and sometimes because you have no obvious better alternative.

This seems to fall into the final of the three categories.