How to be more creative for fun or money

November 27, 2009

How to be creative for fun or money suggests how you can deliberately ‘turn up your creativity thermostat’

It was prepared for and presented to various professional audiences recently [November 2009]. To date, it has been trialed with over 400 executives in three different European locations. Although it claims to be theory-free, its basic premise is sound. I am happy to share it with other creativity practitioners. If you try it out, it would be nice if you mentioned where the original came from …

Juan Martin Del Potro has the Fierce Resolve of a Winner

November 27, 2009

Del Potro came back after a nose bleed and losing the first five games of his opening match in the Masters cup in London. He was demonstrating the fierce resolve associated with success, found among top athletes and also among outstanding winners in other walks of life

Del Potro has been tipped as a future World No 1 Tennis player since beating Roger Federer to win the US Open a few months ago.

Juan Martín del Potro has been tabbed as a candidate to be the next superstar in men’s tennis, and his performance in the 2009 United States Open is a good example of why. Del Potro stunned the No. 1-seeded Roger Federer in a gritty five-set match, and claimed the men’s singles title, which Federer had won the past five years. Del Potro moves with surprising grace for a man his size. Very tall tennis players sometimes struggle with their movement, relying instead on booming serves. Del Potro moves with nimble, graceful steps that defy his height. He takes the ball early, and uses the leverage created by his long arms to produce power, especially from the baseline.

The Masters Cup November 2009

This week I watched Del Potro come back from losing his first five games in the opening round of The Masters cup at the O2 arena. He took a medical break to deal with a nose bleed, and then carried on. What happened next demonstrated a characteristic which is probably necessary (although not sufficient) for success as a sports star, political, military, or business leader, and even for entrepreneurs and Nobel-winning scientists. It is sometimes referred to as extreme determination, guts, self-belief, or the ability to tough it out, or even as a will to succeed. Or maybe resilience. In trait theory it also goes under various names such as ego strength and achievement need. Other ‘maps’ refer to the exceptional capacity of exceptional people to achieve exceptional goals. Earlier leadership studies described almost mystically ‘The Right Stuff’, a version of another tautology for ‘having what it takes’. Leadership guru Jim Collins refers to fierce resolve.

Overlapping Concepts

These concepts seem to me to be rather overlapping. They are based on countless studies of leader behaviours. Only a small proportion, such as the work reported by Collins, have been rigorously conducted . Collins suggests that successful business leaders have often combined a personal modesty with fierce resolve. He contrasts this with a more blatant and charismatic style of so-called natural leaders, who may be engaged in a constant battle with egotism and narcissistic delusions.

I Have Seen the Future…

Del Potro was playing Andy Murray, another top player noted for his fierce resolve. Often a top player fights back after a medical break. Nadal, for example, has also acquired a reputation for doing so on the rare occasions he faces defeat, and almost regardless of the ranking of his opponent.

Because of the tournament round-robin design, Del Potro could have conserved energy in face of almost inevitable loss of the first set. Instead he battled and clawed back several games. I scribbled down a headline to myself ‘I have seen the future and it’s called Del Potro’.

As it turned out, Murray squeezed through that match. It did not change the opinion I had formed. Here was someone with that something extra under the pressures of extreme competition.

A few days later Del Potro demonstrated his fierce resolve, winning again against World No 1 Roger Federer. Ironically, his three-set triumph gave him a marginal qualification into the knockout stages of the tournament at the expense of Andy Murray.

There he will face other players of similar levels of fierce resolve and with marginal differences in conditioning, talent and other ingredients which may play a part in the outcome of the tournament. I’m not saying Del Potro is a winner of this prestigious tournament. But I am saying again that ‘I have seen the future and it’s called Del Potro’.

Note to leadership students

This case deserves study as part of any leadership development programme. You will find it worthwhile to go more deeply into the literature ‘maps’ for theories of leadership traits and behaviours associated with excellence and success. Fierce resolve is found in the socially-oriented achievements of a Ghandi and a Mandela, but also in the histories of tyrants such as those catalogued by Jeff Schubert and other leadership researchers.

Joined up Management and the Ackoff-Beer Contribution

November 26, 2009

Russell Ackoff

Joined up Management is a Very Good Idea in theory. I look forward to finding convincing examples of it working in practice

The concept has been around for some while, and still crops up regularly in business speak, particularly in the public sector. There seems little recognition that mostly this sounds like the mouthing of rhetoric. Its basic idea is that of systems thinking. This provides an explanation of organizational silos, and proposes remedies which permit improved integration of previously sealed-off knowledge packages.

One distinguished systems thinker is Russell Ackoff who is still going strong, and has been talking much sense on the subject over several decades.

Ackoff is regarded as a serious academic who may have been hindered in promoting systems theories by a distaste for the art of the guru. He likes to quote his old friend, the late Peter Drucker noting that the only reason people called him a guru was that they did not know how to spell the word “charlatan”.

Systems theory makes the essential dilemma of joined up thinking clear. You connect up some sub-systems more strongly at the expense of others. That was why matrix management – an early attempt to overcome management silos – failed to deliver what was optimistically expected of it. Turned out that one dimension of the matrix would get privileged over the other. Incidentally, that was why the tripartite system set up by Gordon Brown to improve the UK’s financial system a decade ago was intelligent attempt to replace silos with joined-up thinking. But it was never going to solve a problem, only help expose possible dilemmas and ambiguities of control.

Ackoff worked with Stafford Beer on his trips to the UK, on a plan to remodel business educations along more holistic lines. The first of their experiments was in The Manchester Business School whose first leaders (in the late1960s) introduced a systems-based management system. The system attempted to foster creativity and a healthy operational environment. This was to be a ‘viable self-structuring system’ with appropriately open communication with egalitarian leadership. Come to think of it, the Ackoff-Beer vision was an early attempt to design an organisation based on joined-up management.

Scotland’s Rugby Triumph and the Robinson Factor

November 22, 2009

Scotland’s rugby team shows great team-spirit in beating the much-fancied Australians. Their new coach Andy Robinson must take some of the credit

Sport often provides moments of triumph and irony packaged up together. So it was on Saturday [21st November 2003]. It was a day with too much sport for anyone without the benefits of recording technology. Come to think of it, it’s been that sort of week, with calls for video-replays to prevent cheating footballers thwart the efforts of gallant Celtic warriors in their efforts to reach the World Cup finals.

Rugby Union followers on Saturday found two internationals being screened simultaneously mid-afternoon. Truth to tell they were not exactly memorable games. England lost to the New Zealand All Blacks. No surprise there. Wales just about avoided gifting the game to Argentina’s Pumas. An exasperated Brian Moore awarded man of the match to Argentinian Lobo, arguing that he didn’t have to pick someone on the winning side.

Scotland v Australia

Many neutrals may have missed the final game of the day between Scotland and Australia. This was barely mentioned in the English media in the run-up to the game. The result was presumed to be as inevitable as that of the England/ New Zealand game. Australia would win by many an Ozzie mile.

Except it didn’t happen. Scotland scrapped. The wind gusted. The Ozzies couldn’t break down the Scots defence. Their usually reliable kicker Matt Giteau was by his standards woeful.

Then at last the Australians crashed over for a last-minute try. Giteau had one more chance to win the game. He missed again. Scotland had won against the Australian team for the first time in over 20 years.

Andy Robinson

The irony of the result came from the contribution made by the new Coach, Andy Robinson. He had been sacked by England for lack of results earlier in the year. England’s results have continued to be less than impressive. Meanwhile he has been demonstrating that his coaching skills might not have been a problem which England fixed on his dismissal.

Leaders we Deserve: Herman van Rompuy

November 20, 2009

Herman van Rompuy was appointed the first President of the European Community November with the collective support of its national political leaders. The process and result indicates core values of the EC

In England, all the talk was about Tony Blair. In an earlier LWD post, Dr Kamel Mnisri outlined the case. Within days, the chances of Blair being elected were being discounted.

As Mnisri put it

Detractors would argue that Tony Blair is seen by European leaders as too pro-American. The decision to follow the US and enter into war with Iraq discredited him nationally and internationally. In addition, is it relevant to have an EU president from a country that does not use the Euro?

The recent objection of France and Germany to Tony Blair opened the door for other candidates. The Belgium Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy, the former Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Tapio Lipponen and especially the Prime Minister of Luxembourg and the head of the EuroGroup, Jean-Claude Juncker.

Odds shifted towards van Rompuy in the next few days. One consideration in his favour seemed to have been that a leader from a smaller less powerful State would have fewer powerful opponents than Germany’s candidate.

Gordon backs Tony

Gordon Brown, Tony Blair’s successor as Prime Minister, had demonstrated for many years how a leader’s most implacable enemies are within his own ranks. In these last weeks of the election for European President he has publicly supported Mr Blair. There was more than a risk of friendly fire during the skirmishes.

It crossed my mind that any political satire would have a scene in which advisors would evaluate the merits of Gordon openly supporting Blair as a cunning plan to win a different game altogether. I leave those who enjoy such speculation to ‘fill in the dots’ and come up with an explanation of how Mr Brown may have exercised some influence in the appointment of Baroness Ashton to the powerful post in Europe of high representative of foreign affairs and security. [Advanced students may want to explore the role played by Mr Mandelson as well as Mr Brown in her appointment].

What the Leaders Said

The public announcements of Europe’s national leaders help capture the stated rationale of the appointment. The quotes (I follow the BBC’s summary) suggest a widespread notion of a leader as someone who is able to transmit the shared values of a community, rather than someone who creates and transforms that community. President Barroso’s quotes reminds us of the important role Belgium played in the foundation of the EC through the work of Paul Henri Spaak as early as the 1940s.

I think it will be impossible to have a better choice. It is also a tribute to Belgium. When selecting the current Belgian prime minister, a man of great qualities as Herman van Rompuy, I think the European [Union] also expressed its gratitude for the work of Belgium and the constant support that this country at the heart of Europe has been giving to our common project.
The idea is to have a leader of the (EU) council… who actually gives room for everyone, who listens to everyone, who creates winners not losers.
He has a reputation for integrity and resolve and… his qualities as a diplomat, as a statesman and as a negotiator will be qualities that he can bring to the European Council and to his new position as president.
He is a man who is profoundly European and I believe it is a very wise decision to have chosen as the first stable president of the council a man who comes from a founding country of the European Union.

Meanwhile in the UK

In the UK, other views were being expressed

The former leader of UKIP, the MEP Nigel Farage branded the EU decision disgraceful. “We’ve got the appointment of two political pygmies. In terms of a global voice, the European Union will now be much derided by the rest of the world.”
However, the appointment of low-profile figures reduces the fears of loss of national powers and the creation of a super-state. William Hague as Conservative spokesman noted it was good to see the appointment of a chairman not a chief. Foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey for the Liberal democrats observed that “With low-profile appointees, no-one can take seriously any longer the Eurosceptic deception that these positions would challenge the supremacy of nation states acting together when they agree.”

Dr Mnisri had suggested in LWD that the appointment of European President will indicate how a decision is made of ‘who will make a good leader’ . This week it has been possible to reflect on beliefs that have helped shape that decision for Europe.

Global Issue

What factors do you think contributed to the decision to appoint Herman van Rompuy as President of Europe?
Note that this article did not contain all the information to address the question adequately. What about the nature of the job? What about the consequences of dealing with other world powers?

Could Tony Blair be a good leader for Europe?

November 15, 2009

Tony Blair

Could Tony Blair be a good leader for Europe? A Global Issue Evaluated by Dr Kamel Mnisri

The European presidency is currently the hot question as it is the first time European leaders are going to elect an EU president to speak on their behalf. Tony Blair’s nomination has been supported by the UK government.

From a leadership perspective, Tony Blair seems to be a strong candidate. His advocates can point to several significant achievements demonstrating leadership qualities. His premiership earned him an important place in both UK and international history. He was the youngest person to become PM and the only one to win three terms of governance. He is known as a good communicator and good negotiator. He was one of the peace makers in Northern Ireland., he ran the economy well and started to reform the public service. Internationally, he pushed for the EU enlargement and was appointed head of the Middle East envoy, working on behalf of US, Russia, the UN and the EU.

Detractors would argue that Tony Blair is seen by European leaders as too pro-American. The decision to follow the US and enter into war with Iraq discredited him nationally and internationally. In addition, is it relevant to have an EU president from a country that does not use the Euro?

Leadership challenges

The candidature presents more than one leadership challenge. It is an opportunity for the UK, which does not have a representative in such a high-profile position internationally. It is also a challenge for Tony Blair, as an unexpected failure could be detrimental for him and for his past as brilliant politician. As for the Labour party, having a former Labour Prime Minister at the head of the EU could be a good challenge if Labour is defeated at the general election. Moreover, it is a challenge for the Conservative party who are hostile towards the Lisbon Treaty and the EU presidency.

In the meantime, is it an advantage to have a high profile figure at the head of the EU? It is agreed that Tony Blair has the experience and the competencies for the job, but his leadership style seems to be predictable as he has already invested much nationally and internationally. In addition, the international political scene has changed over the last two years and the challenges are not the same as before: the election of Obama, the financial crisis, the new dimensions of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the conflict in the Middle East and the re-election of the Iranian leader. Now, would it not be better for the EU to have a low profile figure to negotiate with the rest of the world? A politician who has not been involved in a high stake political games of influence and power?

Other candidates

The recent objection of France and Germany to Tony Blair opened the door for other candidates. The Belgium Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy, the former Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Tapio Lipponen and especially the Prime Minister of Luxembourg and the head of the EuroGroup, Jean-Claude Juncker. He has the support of Germany and more likely of France as both country’s leaders agreed to support the same candidate. But, is he ready to give up with his position as prime minister to lead the EU?

Moreover, why not a female at the head of the EU? The Irish Mary Robinson has the profile. She is the first female, President of the Republic of Ireland and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. In addition, the Republic of Ireland is more committed to the EU than the UK: EURO and recently the Lisbon treaty ratification.

The question is whether other European leaders be happy with Tony Blair as EU president. The odds are in Tony Blair’s favour as the other candidates put forward don’t match his political career. In addition, leading the EU and its 500 million citizens requires a charismatic leader who would be listened to in Washington, Beijing, Moscow and New Delhi. Here is the dilemma of the EU Leadership: an unpopular and discredited but charismatic leader or an internationally unknown figure?

If Tony Blair does get the job we will learn whether he is the leader the EU deserves and what that tells us about characteristics of a ‘good’ leader.


To Professors Jeffery Ramsbottom and Tudor Rickards for their advice and guidance.

A Manifesto for Better Management

November 11, 2009

Ruth Spellman

The Chartered Management Institute is launching a Manifesto for a Better Managed Britain to demand urgent action. More than 1,500 leaders and managers have already pledged their commitment to the Manifesto. Will it pay attention to ethical leadership?

The Manifesto was launched on the back of a survey of the UK workforce which revealed that about two-thirds of the sample stumbled into management most without formal training or qualifications. It calls for managers, organisations and the Government to pledge their commitment to help meet the economic, social and political challenges facing Britain. It sets out the case for the Government to make the development of effective managers a national priority with the public sector leading by example.

Ruth Spellman, CMI chief executive, said:

“The figures reveal the depth of the crisis of confidence in UK management and leadership and the enormous toll bad management is taking on the UK economy and people’s wellbeing. We invest less in our managers than our global competitors and it shows. The majority of individuals never set out to manage people, and have not been trained to do so. In what other profession would it be acceptable for only a quarter of practitioners to hold a professional qualification? The sad truth is that UK managers are no longer regarded as professional, competent or accountable”.

The campaign serves as a means of lobbying government and politicians who will be more inclined to clarify their policies for business leadership. It also seeks to mobilise business executives towards action and improvement.

It is interesting to note that a campaign out of Harvard Business School began recently. Its focus was to clarify what a professional manager’s charter would look like. Its emphasis was on an ethically-grounded profession. Now that’s something I would like to see introduced into the CMI’s manifesto