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

Brown and The Sun: How We Get ‘The Leaders We Deserve’

November 10, 2009

Gordon Brown [wikipedia]

Over the last two days we have had an illustration of how leaders rise and fall by public opinion mediated through powerful pressure groups. The upshot is a process which may be studied to understand how we get ‘the leaders we deserve’

Gordon Brown has been increasingly seen as a leader who has failed to win the approval of the electorate. Within six months the electorate will exercise its democratic right and probably vote for a new government with a different leader. In that sense the voters will appoint the leader they deserve. It might be argued that a private limited company also acquires the leader it deserves through a whole series of decisions by which shares are acquired. At a stretch, the argument could even be extended to hostile takeovers.

Returning to Mr Brown, the current critical incident concerns the death of a serviceman, Guardsman Janes, and a letter written to his mother Jacqui by The Prime Minister. In a short period of time the feelings of the mother were revealed as being amplified by what she regarded as a scribbled and disrespectful note which misspelled her surname. The story (unsurprisingly) became public. The media have enough interest and resources to monitor stories of grieving relatives of military casualties. Mr Brown is cast as a leader going through the motions of sharing a mother’s grief.

Act two: Press interest persists and it becomes public knowledge that Mr Brown is to have a conversation with Mrs Janes.

Act three: the call takes place and is recorded on a Blackberry by a neighbour. The recording finds its way in a rapid timeframe to The Sun newspaper which turns it into a front page exclusive. The interview reveals the hurt of a bereaved mother who also went on to comment on wide issues of political mismanagement of the war. I just heard a snippet which sounded both heart-tugging and at the same time written down and read out.

Not far behind the headlines

Not far behind the headlines can be found the recent stories of Gordon Brown and The Sun newspaper. The declaration by the Sun that the paper was withdrawing its support for Labour at the next election was timed for maximum impact during the Labour Party Conference. That was a month ago. This story has its own ghastly timing after the death of Guardsman Janes.

Leaders We Deserve

Act four: The story gains momentum. An unpopular leader has added to the grief of a mother of a fallen soldier. The Sun has played its rightful role in bringing the story into public view. That’s what happens in a democratic open society. In so doing, the public has extra information regarding the bungling way in which Gordon Brown deals with matters of public concern. But my own suspicion is that The Sun has achieved a short-term win with publicity and sales of the paper. But I also rather think that it will not lead to enough voters switching away from Gordon Brown and his party in six months time. It may even help blunt any future attacks made in the Newspaper against the Government.

Reactions from BBC phone in callers were largely sympathetic both to Mrs Janes and to Gordon Brown, and unsympathetic to The Sun. One thought that occurred to me was how we may also be ensuring that in future the leaders we deserve will rely more on carefully-crafted printed notes under such circumstances. Which would not seem to be a good thing at all.

England v Australia: The Limits to a Rugby Dream

November 7, 2009

Jonny Wilkinson

England versus Australia at Twickenham promised to be a long-awaited dream, the return of super-hero Johnny Wilkinson. In the end it revealed both the power and the limit of dreams and visions

Listening to the match warm-up, I was struck by the power that the dream held over the English commentators. The programme began with film reminding everyone of the glorious history of JW culminating in the drop goal that won a world cup, and launched a thousand dreams of England rugby supremacy.

It was not to be. Ah, but in the lean years JW had been injured. The extent of the injuries somehow promised more for the time when he would come back. And in the true style of heroes he went to a foreign land to recover. Now he was returned. Australia had lost five out of six of their last internationals. All seemed to signal an opportunity for the dream to come true.

The dream start

In the movies, the game would start badly and England would fight back to snatch victory. In fact England had a dream start. JW oozed confidence and competence. Every touch was cheered by the crowd. Yes, the team collectively also seemed to draw confidence from somewhere. The mistakes which marred England’s performances in recent matches were near eliminated, and it was Australia who gave away penalties. And it was Wilkinson who stepped up to take his first kick and the old magic was still there. So team, crowd, and commentators were at one. This game was destined to be won.

Unnoticed signals

As a neutral observer I was less influenced by the dream. England were playing better, but there was a familiar ponderousness in attack. In contrast Australia were quicker in defence and attack. Only those unexpected mistakes were keeping England in the game. Meanwhile the commentators continued to be on Wilco watch. And he was playing well. England held on to their lead (all penalties). But Australia cut through for the only try, and created and spilled more chances.

Into the second half and Australia seemed more and more likely to score tries, England less likely. When Australia were still behind I noted ‘Final score: Aust by at least 4 points’. Thirty seconds later another incisive break and it was 18-9 a scoreline which Australia defended rather comfortably.

Leadership lessons?

The iinfluence processes of a charismatic leader remains a bit of a mystery. Current theories suggest a symbolic process through which a social group simplifies reality into a belief system. That is part of what is also called sense-making. The result can help the group overcome fears and anxieties. The cost is that of holding unrealistic beliefs of the leader’s capabilities to be a saviour.

I rather think JW had a positive effect on team performance which lasted through the game. England did not wilt. They did not lapse into recent error-prone ways. Individuals played to their potential. It just wasn’t quite good enough. The dream helped. But there was a limit beyond which the dream could not survive.

Guy Fawkes Wrecked my Dinner

November 6, 2009

Foggy Woodford after Guy Fawkes Night

Dinner was nearly wrecked last night [Nov 5th 2009]. I set off to get an essential missing ingredient from The Bottle Shop in downtown Woodford. Shock horror. Traffic was at a complete standstill. In Woodford. At eight o clock in the evening. Unprecedented

What had happened was a community firework display which had brought families out in numbers that had exceeded expectations. Our one main road could not take the sheer weight of traffic. Eventually I did a Uie and returned home much later with requisite provisions.

Grumpy Old Rant

So why was I cursing Guy Fawkes for wrecking my dinner? In defence of my aging childishness, here’s the explanation. The firework display was, as most readers will have guessed, to celebrate the foiling of the plot to blow up Parliament by that national hero villain Guy Fawkes, many years ago. No Guy Fawkes, no fireworks in Woodford. Simples. It’s all that guy’s fault.

A more rational explanation

But there is a less petulant thought emerging from this grumpy old rant. I set off noting to my surprise that there was far less evidence of individual little celebrations. No fireworks going off, lighting the sky from streets and gardens. Why was that? It seemed the unexpected quiet had been noted from Waikiti to Woodford. Yes, half a globe away New Zealand had reported the quietest Guy Fawkes night in years.

The obvious idea is that there just isn’t as much money around to spend on fireworks. But that alone doesn’t quite stack up. When times are tough there is often a special effort to hold on to a much-loved ritual (let’s see what happens to incidence of drunk-driving accidents over Christmas). The other idea is that Halloween is replacing bonfire night as a marketing opportunity in the UK anyway. That may have been strengthened by public awareness that being tricked or treated is a lot less dangerous and disruptive that having half the nation’s young people tooled up and ready to let off improvised explosive devices where they cause the most inconvenience. Parents, shop-keepers, marketing executives find common cause in the switch.

So there we have it. A neat economic explanation of why there were people other than Guy Fawkes contributing to my delayed dinner.

The Morning After

Some things don’t change. The morning after Guy Fawkes night is usually foggy and damp. It was fog as usual in Woodford, as the photograph shows.