Stan Lee is an inspiration to all Creatives

March 18, 2016

 

Stan_Lee_by_Gage_Skidmore_3

The creator of Spider-Man and many Marvel characters reveals how his fertile imagination is triggered

He was talking to a BBC reporter recently [March 2016] about his creative processes. His story matches dozens I have come across from creative individuals. According to Lee, he was looking for a new character when noticed a fly on the wall, and started playing around with ideas about a super-hero that could fly. He didn’t mention the great Superman, but in some way that didn’t matter, because he started adding ideas that would build on his first thought.

Read the rest of this entry »


Nicola Sturgeon named as the most dangerous woman in Britain

April 21, 2015

The leader of the Scottish National Party (SDP) has become the most targeted politician in the General Election Campaign. She must be doing something rightNest of vipers

The Guardian captured the awakening mood in the mainline UK political parties to the danger coming from Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership of the SNP:

According to Boris Johnson she’s King Herod. She’s Lady Macbeth. She’s Attila the Hun.

Piers Morgan in the Mail is more circumspect. For him, Sturgeon is merely “the most dangerous woman in Britain”. This, says Sturgeon, is “possibly one of the nicest things the Mail has ever said about me”.

The newspapers that carried these gentlemanly hysterics, agree that Sturgeon is a kidnapper, warning the UK on their pages that she is holding the country “to ransom”. The Times eschews such hyperbole, suggesting only that she is only going to hold the UK’s defence to ransom.

Gosh. Even if the SNP takes every seat in Scotland – and that’s not beyond the bounds of possibility – it will still only have one in every 13 Commons votes. If Westminster really is this vulnerable, then, really, it’s brought its troubles on itself.

The Evidence from the Manifesto launch

Your editor settled down to review the launch of the SNP manifesto [20th April 2015]. As there would be many reports of the manifesto, I decided to concentrate on the style of the new political star of the Election Campaign. What follows is my unexpurgated notes, (minor corrections for clarity only).

Style.  

Strong, clear, uncluttered content.  Unusually easy to understand.   Compared with other high profile figures in the GE, least evasive. Not shackled by the need to stay on message.

Dilemmas

Like all public speakers, had to speak both to supporters, and a wider constituency at the same time.   How to please the former yet deal with different possibly conflicting views of the important ‘distal’ audience?

Not either or, but both and

As I have argued elsewhere, effective dealing with dilemmas is often a matter of seeing through a block imposed by either or thinking.  Sturgeon demonstrated to process frequently, both in her prepared address, and in the subsequent Q & A.

The launch of the manifesto is taking place before an audience of her supporters, plus a regiment of journalists.  The supporters are there to provide the evidence of their own unconditional commitment to leader and what she had to say about the manifesto.  The journalists want good ‘exclusive’ copy, revealing something suited to their own ends about the leader and her party.

As indicated above, the SNP has been increasingly been presented by opponents including most of the press, as a fifth column, intent on winning seats to gain power in Westminster by propping up a minority Labour government and dishing the Tories. This in turn is intended to achieve another Referendum for Scottish Independence, and to a break-up of the United Kingdom.

It would have been a popular move to say to the faithful, ‘you bet your last bawbee  I’m goin’ta stuff it to ’em.’ (‘Hell, yes’ as Ed Miliband put it).  She also needed to reassure those who were paying attention to Boris and The voters that her opponents wanted to scare off enough to turn away from the SNP needed to hear quite the opposite message.  ‘We won’t cause any trouble and only vote on Scottish matters.

There are various ways of dealing with the dilemma.  Nicola Sturgeon neatly put emphasis on rendering unto Caesar the things that are Ceasar’s and unto the Scotland their entitlement.  The effect was to suggest a win-win process helping Scotland and the entire UK towards a socially acceptable and prosperous future.

 More Yes Anding

A second example of Yes And framing came at the start of the Q & A.

Sturgeon introduced the session by saying in effect: These journalists have their job to do. (Pause, as if to calm an easy-to-arouse border terrier sniffing out an intruder). They should not be badly mauled if you don’t like the questions…  Then a neat punch-line.  Of course, feel free to applaud my answers as loudly as you like. (They did).

The Q&A went well.  The press vipers were pretty much defanged.

Beyond the style

I refocused on the substance behind a pretty impressive presentation style.  Overall, it seemed to occupy the policy space Labour would like to have found itself in, but had chosen to retreat from.

 Her answers for the most part remained clear and convincing. Her dealing with the costing of her fiscal measures was perhaps less sure-footed.

Her emphasis on opposing and even ending austerity was obviously hugely popular for her supporters.

For all the clear victory in this battle, leaving the enemy in some disarray, the war is far from over.


The power of Yes And thinking

April 8, 2015

NHS Health Check

Susan Moger and Tudor Rickards

The power of Yes And thinking is explored within a workshop on Taking Tough Decisions: A creative problem-solving approach. as part of the Fifth National Medical Leadership conference 17th April 2015 at the Macron Stadium, Bolton

This post is based on an earlier document which we used regularly with MBA students at Manchester Business School over a period of years. We have retained it in its original form, and appended references to subsequent work.

We believe that the climate for creative ideas can often be negative. As a shorthand, we talk about a YES BUT climate in which people are prone to respond to any new idea with a ‘Yes But’.  This negative mind-set is based on unconsciously held beliefs and we can weaken these by becoming conscious, to the extent of becoming self-conscious of ‘Yes Butting’. In this way we begin to reduce the damage caused by excessive Yes Butting by substituting ‘Yes and’.

Yes but’ implies ‘There is something wrong with this idea. I want nothing further to do with this bad idea’.

In contrast, ‘Yes And’ implies ‘There is something that can be improved about this idea. I am willing to work at it to improve it as best I can’.

To take a simple example:

‘I have just thought of the idea of flypaper to go in cars to stop insects distracting you when you are driving’.

‘Yes But … wherever you put it someone would get stuck sooner or later’.

‘Yes And … if you could design it so that passengers never get stuck it would be even better. How about an insecticide block or the paper inside a mesh with fly attractant. Or how about combining it with the air freshener?

Note: In follow-up studies of participants on our courses, more find they have applied ‘Yes And’ to benefit than any other technique.

Since we wrote the manual [sometime in the 1990s] we have continued to find Yes And a powerful means of overcoming negativity, promoting creativity, addressing tough leadership dilemmas, and resolving communication difficulties. It engages with issues of positive psychology, discursive communications theory.and conflict resolution approaches.

Updating

We acknowledge encouragement from Dr Rebecca Baron for reviving this note  as a contribution to The National Leadership Conference, and Shropshire NHS for the creative image urging Health Checks..

The overall Yes And approach was published as The Power of the And in The Handbook for creative team leaders . We further revised it in The Routledge Companion To Creativity,  and in Dilemmas of Leadership


No Clay Pigeon Shooting

August 6, 2012

For many years in brainstorming sessions, Clay Pigeon Shooting was used as a metaphor for negativity towards new ideas. After Peter Wilson’s Olympic success, it’s time for a new metaphor

Clay Pigeon Shooting as a discipline had its day of glory at the London Olympics [August 2nd 2012]. I watched the unfolding of the Double Bore shooting, its formal title, with interest. Team GB celebrated the victory and gold medal earned by dead-eye Peter Wilson.

Clay Pigeons and Creative Ideas

Participants in brainstorming, as well as students passing through programmes for stimulating creativity will maybe remember the injunction “No Clay Pigeon Shooting”. It was used as a metaphor to counteract the widespread tendency for people to shoot down new ideas before they [the ideas] were given a chance to fly.

“Have you ever been in a meeting” the trainer would ask “and the moment a new idea was suggested, everyone else would raise their guns and blast it out of the air?” When everyone agreed (they usually did) the trainer would enlarge a little on the sport of Clay Pigeon Shooting, finishing with the words “So remember, in brainstorming, there’s ‘No Clay Pigeon Shooting’ … give ideas a chance to fly.”

Killer Phrases

The metaphor was offered part of a process of sensitizing participants in team training to the heinous practice of premature evaluation. Lists of killer phrases were compiled:

“that will never work”
“it will cost too much”
“not the sort of idea for our organization”
“too risky”

Yes But

The mother of all killer phrases on our courses was “Yes But”. I am still an advocate for encouraging team members to convert “Yes Buts” into more constructive ways of thinking about an idea. “Yes But that’s too dangerous” is worth reframing as “Yes And if we did this it could reduce the risks substantially without killing the basic idea”.

Don’t be negative about Clay Pigeon Shooting

Yesterday’s triumphant day at the Olympics for Peter Wilson suggests a need for a different metaphor to encourage team creativity. Suggestions welcomed.

Historical footnote

In the Paris Olympics of 1900, real pigeons were realeased. The Olympic family quickly spotted the incenveniences of the contest, not least to the pigeons. After some Yes Anding, the modern version developed. In another enlightned advance, cardboard animals were provided for shooters in the 1908 Olympics.


Using Creativity to Explore a Business Issue

September 1, 2009

Benign structures [metaphor]

Creative problem-solving techniques can be powerful ways of exploring any complex business issue. An example is given applying a process of mapping, perspective seeking, and idea activation, used within project scenario work

The Manchester Business School MBA includes project work on creative leadership. In assessed workshops, participants apply a creative problem-solving system as a means of generating a scenario for a real or simulated business client.

The Scenario

MBA teams are presented with a real and contemporary business issue. Leaders we deserve posts have been used for this purpose. The structure to support the team is known as the MPIA system, an acronym for its stages of mapping, perspective seeking, and Idea-activation.

MPIA is a version of the Parnes-Osborn creative problem-solving approach which has been developed at Manchester Business School where the principles behind the approach have been studied

In this application, the group has to apply the MPIA system to explore the project. The presentation is made to a client and a faculty member who grade the effort independently. Through this, the team experiences some of the ambiguities of a realistic project, one of the features of the s-called Manchester Method

Basic MPIA Structure

Here is the basic MPIA structure:

Start-up: Check team members understand the MPIA system, and the roles they are to play; set time-limits for the stages of work on the project; check that all group members understand and agree to the structures to be followed.

Mapping: Share information available using a structure such as a mind-map for sharing information.

Perspectives: Use ‘How to …statements’ suggested by the map produced in Stage 1. Avoid complex How Tos (split them into ones with a simple central objective). Include wishful ‘How Tos’ (‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful..).

Idea Exploring: Using the rules of brainstorming, generate as many ideas as possible postponing evaluation in any way. Include apparently impossible but desirable ideas as these may become a trigger to an original and feasible idea.

Activation of Ideas: Link short-listed ideas to practical action steps. Pay particular attention to the presumed needs of the client.

Team Dynamics and interventions

The difference between the most successful teams and others is often a result of better attention to team dynamics.
A creative climate is supported by ‘idea-leadership’ (ensuring ideas are individual contributions are respected and not ignored). The process leader is also servant to the psychological needs of the group.

When things go wrong, teams are advised to call for a brief ‘time-out’ after which the team will find it easier to make progress. Creative teams are characterised by various actions supportive of a positive psychological climate such as the Yes And reaction to an idea’s perceived weaknesses.

To go more deeply

The process illustrates distributed leadership, with different team members taking responsibilities for leading in process issues. You can find out more about the educational principles behind this as an example of The Manchester Method of experiential learning


Creative Leadership is Linked to Team Effectiveness

August 28, 2008

Researchers at Manchester Business School have established a clear link between effective leaders and their skills at encouraging creative change. They propose an explanation based on the introduction of benign structures which help shape team behaviours and innovative results

Since its inception in the 1960s, Manchester Business School has been engaged in applied studies into creativity and leadership. The School provides an unusual laboratory for studying leadership behaviours. Its approach, known as The Manchester Method, is one in which teams of business students engage with real-life business projects for an organizational client.

The Project Team Studies

Over the period 1980 to 2000, approximately 4500 participants, in 700 teams have been studied. From this work, a general principle of creative leadership emerged. Year after year, the tutors found three levels of project team performance, which they traced to a team’s leadership.

A small proportion of weak teams (‘teams from hell’) struggled to reach any effective result on the project. The majority of the teams (‘standard teams’) achieved the goals set them to the satisfaction of the client. Only a minority of teams performed beyond expectations (‘dream teams’).

What Constitutes a Dream team? Establishing Benign Structures for Change

Researchers Tudor Rickards and Susan Moger concluded that the dream teams they had observed were characterised by a capacity to go beyond the project brief in a creative way which added unexpected value for the client. They documented their findings in Handbook for Creative Team Leaders.

Later, the work was reported in several scholarly articles outlining the theory , and practical findings.

The key findings were summarized an article in The British Journal of Management

We propose that theories of project team development and of creativity can be integrated into a new conceptual framework. The framework proposes two structural barriers that bear on team performance, and modifies the well-established team development model of Tuckman. Creative leadership is suggested as an important means of breaching the barriers. Its differentiating feature seems to be its effectiveness in establishing protocols that sustain the creative efforts of team members. We have designated the protocols `benign structures’. Empirical evidence is provided from a range of studies of project teams in industrial settings.

Benign structures: An explanatory metaphor

A physiotherapist identifies that you have developed unhelpful ways of sitting in front of your computer. Your standard procedures can be improved. She suggests a series of procedures or rule you can follow to break old habits and develop ones that are more beneficial for your health.

She has introduced you to benign structures, which if you accept and follow will improve your future behaviour and health.

Benign Structures in Teams

In project teams, benign structures can again be thought of as procedures or rules introduced by the team leader. As with the structure provided by the physiotherapist, these also increase chances of improved performance and team climate or health.

How does a Leader Provide Benign Structures? The Two-Barrier Explanation

For many years, Organisational Behaviour texts describe a theory originally proposed by Bruce Tuckman, in which all teams develop progress through a series of stages labelled forming, storming, norming, and performing.

The Manchester researchers suggested a modification to this theory. They propose two barriers to team effectiveness. The first barrier defeats the poorest teams, probably at the storm stage of team development. Standard and dream teams progress beyond the first barrier but then the second barrier arrests progress of the majority of the residual teams.

The second barrier is at the norm stage of team development. Only by breaking out of its accepted norms is a team able to establish new norms. Then we have the conditions in which team is able to exceed the expectations of its corporate sponsor, but also its own assumptions about the project.

This modified theory has now been studied in Russia, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and the United States as well as in the United Kingdom.

Leadership, team barriers, creativity, and benign structures appear to be a universal feature of effective leadership practices. The results have been found far beyond work in the business-school projects.

Benign Structures take a team ‘Out of the Box’

It has become a business cliché to describe creativity as out-of-the-box thinking. The cliché takes on more specific meaning if we relate it to the process whereby the dream teams successfully challenged their project briefs. Their creative outputs were novel, unexpected and yet relevant.

Development of Creative Team Leaders

The studies offer ways of developing creative leaders, and supporting the production of benign structures. Within the MBA courses, various possibilities for benign structures are introduced. These include a creative problem-solving approach developed from the well-known Parnes-Osborn treatment. Another structure draws on Edward de Bono’s celebrated Lateral thinking methods, including Six Thinking Hats .

Other ways of structuring creativity include ways of dealing with unconscious rejection mechanisms towards new ideas in teams. The team leader is sensitized to the importance of developing a positive ‘Yes And’ approach to replace a negative ‘Yes But’ one.

On-going Studies (1999-2008)

A long-running project now approaching its 10th year is tracking the progress of highly successful business leaders for their creative leadership characteristics. One of the findings is the identification of a process described as Network Activation.

Conclusion

In the past, creativity may have been considered distinct from the skills needed for success as a leader. This view is likely to be revised in the future, as leaders are recognised as achieving added-value through the introduction of creativity-supporting interventions (benign structures) which help groups overcome self-limiting assumptions, in a wide range of social and economic contexts.