Pringles, acquired by Kelloggs, is a product of creative leadership

February 16, 2012

Pringles has been acquired from Proctor & Gamble for a figure reported as nearly $3 billion. The product may be one of the early examples of deliberate efforts at harnessing team creativity

Proctor and Gamble (P&G) is a company that has encouraged creative leadership for over four decades. A possible outcome of its creativity is the Pringles stacked potato product, valued this week at 2.7 billion dollars by Kelloggs its new owners .

Official histories of Pringles suggest that like many inventions it can claim several inventors. An early unsuccessful product had been around since the 1930s. Other accounts suggest that an army engineer had a patent for an easily-transported potato product in which he could not interest the army, and which he brought to P&G.

A different story

I want to offer a different story which I had assumed to have some truth to it for many years.

Some forty years, ago a small number of pioneering corporates in the US and Europe, including Proctor & Gamble (P&G) and Unilever, were experimenting with so-called structured techniques for stimulating creativity. Advocates liked to relate successful outcomes of such approaches. I can recall that claims were made at the time that Pringles had been one such success story.

My recollection is that the teams which involved extended flights of fancy, directed by a team facilitator or creative leader. The leader’s task was, among other things, to direct the creative process without concern for his or her own ideas regarding the topic. Charged with developing an easily transportable product, the team, according to this account, put together the ideas needed to go from concept to supermarket offering.

It would be typical of such a group to play around with a metaphor for a product with improved stacking features designed in. So the team, prompted by a facilitator or creative leader may have speculated on the metaphor of easily stacked chairs, arriving at the idea of an easily-stacked food product which was to become Pringles.

Did this really happen?

I have failed to find any confirmation for this interesting story. Maybe someone will be able to confirm it or provide a better-documented suggestion?


Metaphors we lead by: Book Review

January 23, 2011

Metaphors we lead by, edited by Mats Alvesson and Andre Spicer, Routledge, 2011, 222pp
Reviewed by Tudor Rickards

Leadership is often associated with ambiguities and with a bias towards the heroic individual of high moral standards. This book offers a plausible explanation of these ambiguities from a critical theory perspective

One of the quests of management authors is to write a text that works for practicing managers and for business researchers. This is one of the few books which achieve that goal.

The metaphors we lead by

As its title suggests, Metaphors we lead by examines leadership through a series of metaphors as perspectives or maps. These were derived from investigations carried out by teams of researchers from Lund University Sweden. Each team provides one specific metaphor, which labels patterns of behaviour likely to be familiar to leadership practitioners and researchers. We find the commander figure of classical theory engaged in acts of direction and control. Then there is the saint (servant leader?); the buddy (mentor); the gardener (coach?); the cyborg (super-hero as tireless as a machine) and the bully (leadership’s dark secret).

Ways of seeing

The metaphors offer ‘ways of seeing’ in a way echoing the earlier influential book on images of organization by Gareth Morgan. The metaphors are of interest, as understanding leadership from various perspectives.

The conceptual framework

Leadership researchers will also find interest in its conceptual framework offered by editors Alvesson and Spicer. The framework proposes that perspectives of leadership differ within three inter-related domains, that of leaders, followers, and researchers/observers. It offers understanding into the nature of the ambiguities of leadership including its multitude of definitions. It is through their mutual creation of their organizational realities that images of organization and develop.

The framework from a critical perspective

One innovative aspect of the book for many managers will be its linking with a critical theoretical perspective. The editors seek to avoid “the uncritical celebration of leadership [and] to heroic individual” [p2]. Critical theory is itself a complex set of philosophic ideas. As a starting point consistent with this book, we might refer to an earlier work Professor Alvesson (together with another distinguished critical theorist):

“The capacity of human beings to reflect and think critically makes it possible to question and challenge mainstream management theory and practice (Alvesson & Wilmott 1996: 40)”.

This perspective is influential among researchers of leadership although one that is less familiar with many managers, who take for granted what is broadly a rational economic model of human behaviour. This derive from the classical approach to management (managerialism), which feeds into and draws on managerial ideas and actions. From it, we have the metaphor of the leader as commander, experienced in the means of command and control, and acting under conditions of rationality, and drawing on rational expectations to explain and understand human behaviours.

The new leadership ideas of the 1980s popularised the management of meaning. Symbolic leadership was offered as an alternative to the strictly managerialist approach. To be sure, symbolic leadership can be seen as retaining aspects of the heroic (and saintly) leader. However, as Alvesson and Spicer point out, the approach is dominated by ‘ a monologic’ view (a leader’s perspective). They proposes a ‘dialogic’ one in which the interplay between leaders and subordinates is more important than how a leader influences the meanings which followers develop of organisational duties and rights.

Bridging the gap

It is a matter of personal regret that I have witnessed ‘paradigm wars’ between colleagues who take a critical perspective and those who take a more traditional functionalist view of business. This book offers promise in helping bridge that gap to some degree. It offers possiblities to leaders and subordinates of considering new ‘ways of seeing’ leadership, particularly in its treatment within Business Schools around the world.

References

Alvesson M., & Spicer, A., (2011) Metaphors we lead by, Oxford: Routledge
Alvesson, M., & Wilmott, H., (1996), Making sense of management, London: Sage
Morgan, G., (1986) Images of organization, Newbury Park, Ca.: Sage