Leading Behind the Scenes: Martin McAleese nudges the peace process forward

June 30, 2009
Martin McAleese

Martin McAleese

Working quietly away from the media spotlight, Martin McAleese has been persuading Ulster Loyalists to engage more fully in the peace process

Another step in the peace process in Northern Ireland seems to have taken place. Unconfirmed reports gave the first indications that the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) has destroyed its arsenal of weapons in the presence of the disarmament leader Gen. John de Chastelain and other independent observers, and the Ulster Defense Association has initiated a similar process.

The news overshadowed another report that the process has been assisted by other workers for peace. According to the BBC [Saturday June 27th 2009]:

Martin McAleese, the husband of the Irish president Mary McAleese, was working behind the scenes as the largest loyalist group, the UDA, [Ulster Defense Force] dealt with the weapons issue. He helped persuade hard line Belfast loyalists like Jackie McDonald that they had nothing to fear from the peace process in general, and the Dublin establishment in particular.

The two men not only talked at great length, they reportedly played golf together. It was an unlikely combination – an Irishman and an Ulsterman, a Catholic and a Protestant – swinging golf clubs rather than punches. In recent years, Mr McAleese has worked quietly in the background, seeking progress rather than publicity.

The Belfast-born dentist is more used to negotiating pain-barriers than political barriers, but he displayed sensitivity and a steady hand in the murky world of loyalism.

Martin McAleese appears to have all the hallmarks of a fifth-level leader whose own ego does not intrude into his actions and their impact on others. I suppose I was particularly intrigued about the role-reversal here. The high-profile President of Ireland, and the behind-the-scenes influence of her husband. [Just to avoid confusion: I’m not suggest that Mary McAleese is particularly ego-driven, and I’d like to get something in Leaders we deserve on that remarkable leader as well].

The BBC article suggests that there are varied motivations behind the activities of the various groups still committed to violence. Most commentators have considered that there was far more than undiluted sectarian zeal behind the operations on both sides of the sectarian divide as turf battles extended into protection rackets, drug scams and assorted abuses of power.

What’s Interesting

What’s interesting from a leadership perspective is further evidence of the benefits of non-charismatic modes of leadership in tough conflict-resolution processes. I’ve picked up the story of Martin McAleese, but the wider story includes other leaders, some charismatic some not so.

The Northern Irish Peace Process over a period of decades has been marked by the multiple influences of people some more obviously charismatic, others of a more self-effacing kind.

The roll of honour includes the long-suffering John Major who as British Prime Minister constantly struggled to emerge from the mighty shadow cast by his predecessor Margaret Thatcher. Major was stereotyped as the ultimate grey man, and anti-leadership leader.

It also included the anxiety-ridden David Trimble, whose every move towards peace weakened his own power base, contributing to the political rise of the Reverend Ian Paisley, feared by the catholic minority for his fiery renditions of the Protestant no-surrender message were seen as a major block to the peace process.

Later, there was widespread approval for the fact that Ian Paisley as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party had consented to sit in the same room with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

Paisley was subsequently to form a warm working relationship with Martin M, another former Sinn Fein leader . This was the same man whom Dr Pasiley used to describe as a Sinn Fein IRA terrorist,

Tony Blair, the charismatic leader, and Bertie Ahearn, whose lower key style was more akin to that of John Major, had also played important roles in the eventual signing of the Good Friday agreement.

Clearly, the process is not a simple linear advance inspired by one leader’s vision. Few would expect it to be so.

Lewin’s magnificent contribution

Over have a century ago, the great social scientist Kurt Lewin made one of the most important contributions to our thinking of how major changes takes place. His idea was that social systems, like scientific systems, have inherent stability. There are a set of forces which hold the system in stable equilibrium. An action which might change the system has the effect of activating what amounts to ‘an equal and opposite reaction’ (Newton’s terminology). The result is a perturbation after which the system eventually returns to its stable position. Lewin’s Force Field theory is stronger on stability than on change. (Although on management courses it is presented as suggesting the merits of addressing those reactionary forces opposing change. The theory helps us understand why attempts to achieve political goals will not be simple cause-effect chains.

More recent attempts to understand social and organisational change change have focused on tipping points and chaos theory .


Creative Leadership: George Prince

June 25, 2009
George Prince

George Prince

George Prince was a mentor, friend and role model. It was some small satisfaction that we corresponded again after a gap of many years, a few months before he died on June 9th 2009

After too long a gap, we had reconnected by email in late 2008. He sent me a remarkable message in reply to mine enquiring how he was. He reported his declining health in typically upbeat style.

The exchange of emails took me back to the time he spent in England in the 1960s, as part of his work promoting creativity. George had attracted the attention of The Unilever organization and it was my good fortune to have learned from him how creativity in project teams could be stimulated by appropriate structures.

Early work

His website summarises his early work

George M. Prince is ..co-founder of Synectics©, Inc., the company that initiated research into the creative process and then became the leading teacher of inventors for business and industry. As long time Chairman of Synectics, he and his partners originated the idea of videotaping invention groups to learn how the process of invention occurred. Based on their discoveries, they developed courses in creativity and innovation that have been taught all over the world. In 1970, Prince published one of the early books about the process: The Practice of Creativity, Harper and Row, 1970. It became a best-selling trade book.

It would be misleading of me to leave the account without making mention of his erstwhile colleague, Bill Gordon with whom he conducted pioneering work in the Arthur D. Little engineering consultancy. As often happens, the two young pioneers went their different ways. Bill, always the more academically-inclined, turned to creativity within educational contexts; George, the former advertising executive, founded a successful and innovative management consultancy.

We were later to meet in various locations, including a conference on whole brain creativity at Key West, where he shared celebrity status with Paul Torrance. The Practice of Creativity was to me rather more than a trade book as described on his own web-site.

His influence

His ideas had influenced my writings, and have been gratefully acknowledged in a range of publications across several decades.
More importantly, he opened my mind to an approach to facilitating team creativity which he would demonstrate in training workshops. His own style was that of a remarkably inviting and unthreatening friend. The experiences contributed to notions of trust-based leadership which I associated with the work of Monty Roberts. (More recently, and in hindsight, I would add Sid Parnes as another exemplar of the style).

The approach to facilitation of group work has been an influence on me ever since my first and most impactful experiences of it four decades ago.

George Prince, like Monty Roberts and Sid Parnes, taught by example and invitation. His legacy, as of many charismatic leaders, resides not so much in what he wrote, but what impact his actions have had on others.

Acknowledgements

To Vincent Nolan former chairman Synectics Europe who passed on the news and the obituary to George Price in The Boston Globe.


Sid Parnes: Creativity thought leader for over seven decades

June 25, 2009

by Tudor Rickards

Sid and Bea Parnes

Sid and Bea Parnes

Sid Parnes epitomises a thought leader. Throughout his long and productive working life he has inspired countless people through his work on creative problem-solving

Sid was honoured in celebrations at Buffalo [May 8-9th 2009] by members of a global community of creativity practitioners and researchers which he did much to found and nurture. In January 2012 he was further honoured on his 90th birthday.

A personal reflection

I first met Sid in the 1970s. Buffalo was already attracting educationalists and business people to CIPSI, (The Creative Problem-Solving Institute]. It took me a while to figure out the complex relationships between its week-long conference, the Creative Education Foundation, and what became later known as the International Institute for Creativity at the State University of New York, (SUNY) Buffalo. I probably haven’t got the full story, but what is clear is that Sid Parnes had a hand in the developments of all three.

On my first visit he was already recognized as the benign figure behind the Summer conference. His reputation had been established for his pioneering work with Alex Osborn on brainstorming. Together, they had developed Osborn’s original concepts into the Parnes Osborn approach, a well-codified system at the heart of the CIPSI events.

Business practice and body painting

At the time, CIPSI also offered an enormous number of presentations and workshops of all kinds. You could find keynotes given by distinguished scholars such as Mo Stein, Don MacKinnon, Paul Torrance, and J. P. Guilford. had attended earlier meetings. There were many electives on creativity in education, humanities and business practice. You could try body painting, meditation, dance, and various religious experiences including table-top performances from a celebrated dancing priest.

Each of the five days provided training and practice in one stage of the five stages of the Parnes-Osborn problem-solving model. Day one would be objective finding, day two fact finding day three problem-finding (‘in what ways might we…’), day four ideas finding, day five acceptance finding. If it seems a bit rigid a structure today, and it was to become far more flexible as alternative delivery modes were tested and modified over several decades.

Sid and his Pantograph

One fond memory I retain is that of Sid moving briskly from one part of the campus to another, clutching a bundle of papers and a pantograph (to illustrate his beloved principle of divergent and convergent processses in creative problem-solving. His progress was interrupted for greeting his many friends and students. But he somehow still managed to get to his destination on time. [The Pantograph image is from Office Point Five Star ]

Sid and Bea

For that, as for many other things, his progress was almost certainly aided by the equally indefatigable Bea. Together, they represent all that is life-affirming about creativity and service leadership. Over time, Susan and I got to know Sid and Bea well, and cherish their knack of making everyone want to spend quality time with them.

Creative Problem-Solving

Somewhere, I have an annotated set of pre-publication notes that Sid sent me. They later were turned into The Source Book for Creative Problem Solving: A Fifty Year Digest of Proven Innovation Processes, one of his classic publications.

Thought leader

Sid, you epitomise not just thought leadership, but thought into action leadership. You have transformed the lives and actions of countless people through your work and your life. It is the greatest pleasure to affirm this as part of the celebrations on the occasion of your eighty seventh birthday.

A Community tribute

A community tribute from the 2009 event can be found on the Tribute to Sid website .


Creative Leadership: Where are the new IDEOs?

June 23, 2009
Prof Cheng-Hock Toh

Prof Cheng-Hock Toh

The design consultancy IDEO has been rightly praised for its innovative and creative work. But where are the new IDEOs? We identify one candidate within the British National Health Service

IDEO’s fame has spread through its high-profile image and the advocacy of such management gurus as Tom Peters and Bob Sutton. Its brand image was also helped by a TV special, showcasing its creative ‘deep diving’ approach applied to invention of a new supermarket trolley.

IDEO deserves attention not just for its award-winning product designs, but also for its creative approach to generating innovative products. A Business Week article noted

From its inception, IDEO has been a force in the world of design. It has designed hundreds of products and won more design awards over the past decade than any other firm. In the roaring ’90s, IDEO was best known for designing user-friendly computers, PDAs, and other high-tech products such as the Palm V, Polaroid’s I-Zone cameras, the Steelcase Leap Chair, and Zinio interactive magazine software.

By showing global corporations how to change their organizations to focus on the consumer, IDEO is becoming much more than a design company. Indeed, it is now a rival to the traditional purveyors of corporate advice: the management consulting companies such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting, and Bain. Management consultants tend to look at the corporate world through a business-school prism. By contrast, IDEO advises clients by teaching them about the consumer world through the eyes of anthropologists, graphic designers, engineers, and psychologists.

Where are the new IDEOs?

Where are the new IDEOs? They are out there, perhaps not yet as celebrated, but delivering creative and innovative results to their own ‘customers’.

This thought was prompted after an invitation I received to attend a Creative Leadership Forum meeting at MerseyCare, a National Health Service trust working out of the North West of England. The Trust had already drawn attention to its work, as reported in an earlier LWD post.

The Trust’s website demonstrates the pervasiveness of its innovative thinking applied to actions that make a difference.

The Creativity Forum

The Creative Leadership Forum describes itself as being designed for those interested in leadership, creativity and innovation, offering a range of stimulating, thought provoking and energising opportunities including:

Stories from leaders across a range of disciplines e.g. business, arts and science
Round table conversations on contemporary themes
Listening and contributing your own ideas
Creative events
Informal networking with colleagues.

The theme of the meeting [June 22nd 2009] was the relationship between arts and health.

The format was pretty much as described. The guest speaker was a soft-spoken and distinguished-looking gentleman who correctly conveyed the impression of being a senior medical consultant.

He was Professor Cheng-Hock Toh of Liverpool University, a pioneering researcher into intravascular coagulation (bleeding and clotting problems). This work led to the establishment of the Roald Dahl Haemostasis & Thrombosis Centre at the University’s medical school.

The Centre’s approach to comprehensive care was one focus of his talk. The other was the Centre’s engagement with the arts.
The apppropriately-named and successful New Blood exhibition captured the spirit of these ventures

It’s IDEO all over again

As I listened I was struck by the parallels with the philosophy of the IDEO organization, the that of the Creative Leadership Forum itself, and also that of such creative leaders as Professor Toh, who didn’t have to sell his ideas to implement them.

IDEO was among the first design organizations to hit on the idea of co-creation, heavy involvement of sponsors and product end-users in the creative design process. Nothing is totally new, and perhaps it is more accurate to say IDEO had re-applied some of the principles of the synectics invention approach introduced into ADL by George Prince and Bill Gordon decades earlier

No matter. The point is, that synectics, IDEO, and now networks such as Merseycare’s Creative Leadership forum, permit learning and changing work climates for innovative results.

As Proessor Yo put it when setting up his new Institute in 2001 “We just talked to people …then they wanted to help you”. The helpers included people from the Roald Dahl foundation, who listened and decided to do more than just provide their name among a list of sponsors.

Co-creation: In California and on Merseyside
Driving away I tried to remember what I had heard which was something else linked the IDEO approach. Professor Ho had talked about involving all his staff in creating a climate of care The Business Week article supplied the answer:

Kaiser Permanente, the largest health maintenance organization in the U.S., was developing a long-range growth plan in 2003 that would attract more patients and cut costs. Kaiser has hundreds of medical offices and hospitals and thought it might have to replace many of them with expensive next-generation buildings. It hired IDEO, the Palo Alto (Calif.) design firm, for help. Kaiser execs didn’t know it then, but they were about to go on a fascinating journey of self-discovery. That’s because of IDEO’s novel approach. For starters, Kaiser nurses, doctors, and facilities managers teamed up with IDEO’s social scientists, designers, architects, and engineers and observed patients as they made their way through their medical facilities. At times, they played the role of patient themselves

There are new IDEOs. You can find them in the most surprising places. I rest my case.


Goodbye Airmiles, and you can keep your Lloyds TSB Credit card as well

June 22, 2009
John Daniels (Lloyds)

John Daniels (Lloyds)

Those nice people at Lloyds TSB explained how I could keep my 9000 airmiles by signing up for their Credit Card. After a little thought I decided to bin the offer of their credit card, and write off those airmiles

Another great marketing wheeze brought you by the nation’s favourite industry. Yes, the near extinct banking sector breathes afresh and its members are coming up with even more creative ideas to attract customers to their credit card schemes.

Last week [June 2009] a fancy set of marketing forms plopped through my letterbox. They announced that I could save my airmiles by some rather complicated arrangement which involved me in signing up for a Lloyds TSB credit card.

I rather liked the prospect of using those airmiles, collected over quite a few years of yomping to various parts of the globe. Later I had some peripheral contact with the Airmiles organization through its links to the world’s favourite airline. At that time it seemed an enthusiastic and entrepreneurial set-up open to creative ideas.

But I don’t want a credit card. Even if I did, I would have objected to what amounts to a grudge buy. It must have sounded a winning idea on the corporate deep-diving marketing away-day.

Meanwhile, in an other part of the forest …

Meanwhile, in aother part of the forest, news breaks of the remuneration package agreed for Stephen Hester, the leader appointed to RBS to sort out the mess there. It’s all a bit complicated. Their loan is generally described as coming from money handed over to the Government by taxpayers like me. I still haven’t worked out the various ramifications of the deal cut with the bank to motivate its new chief executive Stephen Hester.

The package is made up of £1.2m in pay, up to £2m in non-cash bonuses and up to £6.4m in long-term incentives. The long-term incentives will only be payable if share price targets are hit over the next three years

The admirable Robert Peston best sums up the matter of Hester’s remuneration package

Now let’s stray into the land of the bloomin’ obvious, to look at why Mr Hester’s package will be controversial.

First and most obviously, Royal Bank is cutting thousands and thousands of jobs, perhaps up to 30,000 in the coming two years or so.

Second, Royal Bank is 70% owned by taxpayers. And at a time when the public sector is expected to be squeezed hard, it may look odd to be paying so much to the boss of a publicly controlled bank.

Third, all the banks are under pressure to increase their lending to businesses and households. For example the governor of the Bank of England agonised in public last week about how economic recovery might be put in jeopardy by the inadequacy of credit made available by banks.

Why is that relevant? Well, for the chief executive of a bank, the safest way to increase profits and the share price at this stage of the economic cycle – apart from slashing costs and cutting jobs – is borrow from retail depositors at close to 0% and then lend to the government by buying relatively risk free long-term gilts paying 4%.

The Treasury is aware of this risk. Which is why it has forced Royal Bank to agree quantitative targets for the amount of credit it will make available to businesses and households. But there is a piquant question whether Mr Hester’s remuneration incentives will deter the bank from providing more than this minimum.

All that said, one paradoxical reason for paying that kind of money to Mr Hester is also – funnily enough – that taxpayers own the majority of the shares.

He is widely regarded as that rarest of animals, an untarnished world class banker. And we surely can’t complain if a competent individual is running a state institution Also, if Mr Hester were to make the full £9.6m, Royal Bank’s share price would need to have risen to more than 70p over a sustained period – which would yield a profit for taxpayers on our 70% stake of £8bn.

Which looks a reasonable deal for the state – unless you think, as many do, that because bankers were to a large extent to blame for the economic mess we’re in, it’s too early for any of them to be earning this kind of money

Mea Culpa

In an early version of this rant, I foolishly mixed up the Lloyds TSB air miles for credit card story with the RBS Bumper payday for Stephen Hester story. The first effort read more smoothly than the second version, but suffered from the slight problem of being utterly confused.


Setanta struggles for survival: the dangers of a growth strategy

June 20, 2009

Setanta logo

Setanta was a successful entrepreneurial start-up which took on the market leader BSkyB in the UK’s pay-to-view satellite sports broadcasting business. Its demise makes for a gruesome but instructive case study

Twenty years ago, two Irish entrepreneurs Leonard Ryan and Michael O’Rourke spotted a gap in the emerging satellite broadcasting market and attacked it energetically and with great success. But eventually its strategy unraveled with disastrous results.

In June 2009 Setanta defaulted on its creditors as the company heads for extinction. Recently [June 9th, 2009] the on-line recruitment for Setanta’s services were blocked with the message “Oops! Something has gone wrong”.

What did go wrong?

As the Telegraph wrote at the time:

The company’s collapse has potential knock-on effects for funding of football in the UK, but also for Rugby and Horse racing.

The company went too far too fast

Maybe it was a classic marketing mistake allowing customers to join for only one month at a time.

Easy come, but easy go. And customers have not been coming. [This analysis of its marketing strategy is much easier to see in hindsight: Ed. Leaders we deserve]
The recession has certainly made matters worse. A second pay TV contract is an easy cut for families trying to scrimp a little. Setanta may simply have overestimated the appetite for sports programming. But the quirky design of the regulator’s auction BSkyB’s competitive advantage by encouraging [Setanta] be too optimistic in its bid.
There just might be a way out. Setanta could give up on direct selling – letting Sky or others to broadcast its games .. But much of the £450m put into the company by investors including Doughty Hanson and Goldman Sachs is likely to be lost.
Setanta managed to get into serious trouble without much borrowing. But – with the UK regulator’s enthusiastic backing – it collected roughly £500m of liabilities to content providers. There are next to no fixed assets, so the company finds itself at the mercy of its creditors.
That loss will only amplify a classic marketing mistake: allowing customers to join for only one month at a time. Easy come, but easy go. And customers have not been coming. Setanta 1.2m customer base is well bellow the estimated 1.9m required to break even. An operating loss of £95m is expected this year.
The recession has certainly made matters worse. A second pay TV contract is an easy cut for families trying to scrimp a little. Setanta may simply have overestimated the appetite for sports programming. But the quirky design of the regulator’s auction amplified BSkyB’s competitive advantage by encouraging the company to be too optimistic in its bid.
There just might be a way out. Setanta could give up on direct selling – letting Sky or others to broadcast its games. The EPL, which has the most to lose if Sky ends up with a pay-TV monopoly, might help by agreeing to reduce the £130m of fees it’s due this year. But much of the £450m put into the company by investors including Doughty Hanson and Goldman Sachs is likely to be lost.
Setanta managed to get into serious trouble without much borrowing. But – with the UK regulator’s enthusiastic backing – it collected roughly £500m of liabilities to content providers. There are next to no fixed assets, so the company finds itself at the mercy of its creditors.

Lessons?

What lessons are emerging from all this? I welcome views of strategically gifted colleagues for comment. Here are a few personal observations

The regulatory move which split football francises between competing organizations was designed to drive down costs through competition. It failed to solve the problem that the bidding arrangements left viewers little additional choice of service.

Are there similarities to the equally unpopular move which was inflicted on the country’s rail transport system? A lumbering monopoly had been restructured into several somewhat smaller monopolies.


Willie Walsh makes a work-for-free plea to BA employees

June 19, 2009

Willie Walsh

Willie Walsh was brought into British Airlines with a justified reputation as a tough negotiator. He now offers an invitation to employees to work for nothing to help the airline out of its short-term financial problems. What’s going on at BA?

What happens when a business faces severe problems in short and long term? The aircraft industry is suffering at present with both direct and indirect impact of the global credit crisis.

Each individual case is being scrutinized by business school students around the world. The wider issues are shared, but a more careful attention to specifics is also necessary.

The wider global credit crunch has affected every international business. While there are strategic opportunities, threats are easier to see.

According to a recent Business Week report:

More recently, some observers question whether BA will shutter or try to sell (good luck in this environment) the BA OpenSkies subsidiary, which runs flights from Paris and Amsterdam to the U.S., just a year after it was created.

Further stoking investor fear, Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson said over the weekend in interviews to promote his airline’s 25th anniversary that he had looked at making a bid for BA but that “the airline wasn’t worth much anymore.” Branson then urged the British government not to intervene to save BA. “It would be better to wait for its demise,” he told the BBC.

At first sight, the news seems unfathomable. It seems that an e-mail has gone out to 30,000 UK employees [June 17th 2009] asking them to volunteer to take up to a month’s unpaid leave, or unpaid work.

Such an appeal for loyalty seems unlikely to succeed in a situation where the leader’s style is noted as a rather enthusiastically confrontational one.

The story followed news of a personal gesture by Mr Walsh to work for a month unpaid. But this is too easy to dismiss by workers as being alright for someone like their well-heeled leader.

Nor would the new offer be helped by the news that an offer to pilots has been made of shares in the company for a new deal.

According to the BBC

Mr Walsh said BA’s drive to save cash was part of a “fight for survival ..I am looking for every single part of the company to take part in some way in this cash-effective way of helping the company’s survival plan

A leader’s bid for cooperation

When a leader makes a bid for cooperation, reputation is likely to play a part in its reception.

An earlier post in LWD was highly critical of the BA leadership style under Willie Walsh

I couldn’t help noticing one further remark in the BBC’s report. It seems that negotiations are on-going, as might be expected at such times.

Details of a large pay and productivity deal are expected to be announced on Wednesday [June 24th 2009]. Ah! So maybe the story is part of a bigger game going on off stage. Maybe we are just witnessing a rather crude ploy by BA strategists in advance of those negotiations closing. Negotiations which may or may not be taking place in a spirit of cooperation on all sides. This issue calls for careful analysis.

The outcome may help throw light on the old question of situational leadership.