Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Blog no more

The Creativity and Innovation blog has moved although current material will remain here. The RSS feed at will pick up new material and will not be affected. You can also go directly to the blog posts at

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Creativity - why we must break with tradition

It's time to deeply question the traditions of the past and focus on reinventing the future. It's time to question, imagine and create

What are you having for your Sunday lunch this week? If you live in the UK I would lay odds on the reply being a Sunday Roast with all of the trimmings. And if I asked you the same question in a month or two the answer would more than likely be the same. If I asked the question a third time you would wonder what type of idiot I was. "Of course I am having a roast dinner" you would say.You are following a good old fashioned tradition and have become a creature of habit. There is no need to even think about what you eat every Sunday lunchtime.

While traditions might be nice in a family or community setting, they can be less than helpful in the business world. Tradition and habit can cause us to switch off our brains.This becomes the easy option, no need to think critically about what you are doing, no need at all. You will just do as you have always done, and will get the same results!!

If your business is more than 12 months old, it will have traditions or norms and you and your colleagues will have developed habits. These will may not be helping to move your business forward. Ideas, processes, techniques, and past habits will hold you back in today's competitive (and dangerous) economic climate. Even Worse, your workers may be turning off their minds and failing to create new ideas at the time you need them the most.

Great leaders are advocates for change, they acknowledge the past but they win by adapting to the present and creating for the future. They are open minded and brimming with curiousity.They love to challenge the status quo whilst focusing on what is possible.

Charles Handy gives a good example of this in his book "The Age of Unreason". Does our NHS have to keep paying consultants higher salaries? Habit says that we pay them more (if we have the money to do so) but critical thinking asks "what is it that consultants want?". They may want more money but how can they get it? Handy's suggestion is to let them work less for the NHS so that they can work in private practice (or even play more golf). We can then use the money that we save to employ more junior doctors, spend it on hospital equipment or perhaps training.

With fierce global competition, we must question past habits and focus on inventing and shaping the future. What do we want the future to look like, how can we make it so? The alternative is that the future is merely an extrapolation of the past. It's time to question, imagine and create. Each one of us has an unbelievable creative capacity which can be used in our jobs on a daily basis if the leaders and managers in our organisations allow it.

So whether you're passing the gravy at Sunday lunch or at the office, now is a perfect time to break with tradition.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Creativity - hiring the right people

If you want to make you organisation more creative, you might be thinking of hiring some staff to help you with this. If these people are likely to be creative then you must keep a tight rein on them and make sure that their job descriptions are comprehensive, right? Wrong!

If we hire people against a strict job description then we run a risk of several things happening:

1. We hire people who only do what it says in their job description
2. We are unable to be flexible about how we make use of these people
3. We will hire people in our own image (since we have created the job specification) and will fail to inject the free thinking that we require

So what can we do? First of all think about what it is that you want these people to actually do or the areas in which you want them to work. If you were a bank and wanted new staff to help you work on making your branches a better place to be you might be thinking of reducing queues. Previously you might have looked at someone with project management or mathematical skills to work out how much time a cashier should spend with a customer. If you wanted your branch staff to allocate more time to satisfying customers then customers will get stuck in queues. So why not make queues a better place to be? Hire someone who has worked at a theme park such as Disney World or Alton Towers. They have huge queues but people do not mind being in them because when they get to the front they are not disappointed by their experience.

When asking for applications, try asking for something different. Ask a potential manager to draw a picture of the sort of workplace that they will create as a result of the changes they will implement or ask customer service staff what a satisfied customer looks like. Make interviews practical experiences if possible, potentially throwing people into completely unfamiliar situations.

By doing something different we can expose the hidden but creative qualities that we are actually looking for. If we always hire the same type of employee we will always be muttering "you can never get the staff these days". By varying the staff we hire we can easily find out the type that best fit our business whilst bring fresh ideas and energy. If you are averse to the risk of hiring in this way you can always experiment a little by bringing in contract staff and then making them permanent or hiring staff similar to the ones that have helped drive your business forward.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Ban The Boss - update

Recently we brought to you the story of Dr Paul Thomas' work with Blaenau Gwent CBC Environmental Services. Here we give you another chance to watch the BBC programme and also a brief update on what happened afterwards.

In 2008, colleague Dr Paul Thomas started working within Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council and was filmed by the BBC. This resulted in the BBC programme 'Ban The Boss' which can be viewed by clicking here.

The programme follows Paul as he applies Complexity Theory whilst working  with the Environmental Services Department (Highways, Refuse and Recycling, Litter-picking, and Street Cleansing).

The bin-men viewed management, 'innovations', 'new ideas' and cost-cutting, job losses and more-work-for-less with great suspicion and didn't trust anyone (even the BBC film crew). With change comes risk and uncertainty and the biggest challenge was the acceptance that uncertainty is a natural part of the process. For example, inspiring frontline staff to choose their staff uniforms, arrange shift-patterns, or order equipment, gradually increasing responsibility.

So what happened? The Bin-men were released from filling in a number of forms before they left each morning, this was replaced by a simple checklist. Environmental Services has no managers at all, just leaders. Apart from one manager who chose to leave, no staff were forced out of the organisation. They were moved to other areas where their talents were better utilised. Staff were encouraged to provide input into routing, rostering and how to increase the amount of recycling within the Borough.

The money saved by this intervention, estimated to be in excess of £1m is being re invested  in frontline services, decided by the staff themselves. They were also recognised as the best refuse collection service in the UK, not missing a single collection in the 3 months of the snow disruption. Anyone who knows the steep valley roads will realise that this was no mean feat. Oxford in comparison, a fairly flat region, lost 6 weeks in collections. Recycling rates are also soaring thanks to the hard work of the staff in educating residents and school children. The mechanics in the workshop are also happier and generating revenue for the council by working on, and MOTing vehicles from outside the Council.

As part of this project staff were asked a number of questions, the answers speak for themselves:

Do You Trust Management?                                                        Before  94% - No     After 91% - Yes
Do you feel empowered in work?                                                 Before  78% - No     After 94% - Yes
Are you in a Trusted Workplace                                                   Before  98% - No     After 83% - Yes
Are you able to make suggestions in to improve service/outputs?   Before  68% - No     After 87% - Yes
Do you feel BGCBC appreciates the work you do?                      Before  89% - No     After 96% - Yes
Do you feel you have the 'tools' to do the job?                              Before  63% - No     After 82% - Yes

Are you delivering a 'Good Service' to the Public of BGCBC?      Before  67% - No     After 89% - Yes

Staff Response Rate - 92% 

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Creativity in Government

Governments all over the world talk about 'Innovation' and 'Creative Policies' but do they actually just give us more of the same? Do they ever come up with, or even discuss things that are a little off the wall? Below is the text of an email that I received with some suggestions as to how we can sort out our issues here in the UK. They need some further thought but could some of them actually work?

Dear Mr Cameron,

Please find below our suggestion for fixing the UK 's economy. Instead of giving billions of pounds to banks that will squander the money on lavish parties and unearned bonuses, use the following plan.You can call it the Patriotic Retirement Plan if you like. There are about 10 million people over 50 in the work force. Pay them £1 million each severance for early retirement with the following stipulations:

1) They MUST retire.
Ten million job openings - unemployment fixed

2) They MUST buy a new British car.
Ten million cars ordered - Car Industry fixed

3) They MUST either buy a house or pay off their mortgage -
Housing Crisis fixed

4) They MUST send their kids to school/college/university -
Crime rate fixed

5) They MUST buy £100 WORTH of alcohol/tobacco a week .....
And there's your money back in duty/tax etc

It can't get any easier than that!


Let's put the pensioners in jail and the criminals in a nursing home. This way the pensioners would have access to showers, hobbies and walks. They'd receive unlimited free prescriptions, dental and medical treatment, wheel chairs etc and they'd receive money instead of paying it out. They would have constant video monitoring, so they could be helped instantly, if they fell, or needed assistance. Bedding would be washed twice a week, and all clothing would be ironed and returned to them. A guard would check on them every 20 minutes and bring their meals and snacks to their cell.

 Pensioners would have family visits in a suite built for that purpose. They would have access to a library, weight room, spiritual counselling, pool and education. Simple clothing, shoes, slippers, PJ's and legal aid would be free, on request. Private, secure rooms for all, with an exercise outdoor yard, with gardens. Each senior citizen could have a PC a TV radio and daily phone calls. There would be a board of directors to hear complaints, and the guards would have a code of conduct that would be strictly adhered to.

Criminals would get cold food, be left all alone and unsupervised. Lights off at 8pm, and showers once a week. Live in a tiny room and pay £600.00 per week and have no hope of ever getting out. And just one more thing.....

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it amazing that during the mad cow epidemic our government could track a single cow, born in Appleby almost three years ago, right to the stall where she slept in the county of Cumbria? And, they even tracked her calves to their stalls. But they are unable to locate 125,000 illegal immigrants wandering around our country. Maybe we should give each of them a cow!

So come on Mr Cameron, do some real thinking and do something different if you don't wish to look like the Labour Party

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Ban The Boss - see the BBC's Business Doctor at work

Colleague Dr Paul Thomas is known as the BBC's Business Doctor. He has some unusual, almost radical, ideas about how to make the workplace a better place to be whilst at the same time making the workforce perform more effectively. This is a record of his time working with the waste management team at Blaenau Gwent Borough Council which was made into an hour long programme for the BBC.

These ideas can be applied to public or private sector organisations. If you would like to discuss how these ideas might be applied to your organisation then please get in touch.

Note: If you want to watch the video on the VEOH website or download the full length version then click on the VEOH logo in the bottom right hand corner of the player.

Friday, January 06, 2012

PM aims to tackle 'care problem' - oh really?

Today this article was published on the BBC website as David Cameron announced measures to tackle problems within the NHS. Read the article here.

In short, Mr Cameron recommends that the public be encouraged to carry out inspections and nurses carry out regular ward inspections. There are a number of flaws in the logic here. First of all those urged to carry out inspections will already be doing so. The public will be looking because they are concerned about the environment that they and their relatives find themselves in and nurses will be looking anyway because it is part of their job. Nurses, however, are busy and will not be quite so vigilant. If they are to me more vigilant then which aspects of their job does Mr Cameron suggest they give up?

These are trivial issues, what is more important is the fact that Mr Cameron thinks that Quality can be inspected in to a system. This is an old fashioned argument that simply does not work. If you regularly inspect any system and you keep finding faults then you only have 2 options 1) Find the same fault again during your next inspection 2) spend a huge amount of time firefighting.

When Japanese products first became popular it was because of the high quality. When we in the west tried to emulate these methods we failed dismally. Why? It was because we inspected everything thoroughly and we did produce quality items but only because of the large number of defective items that we threw away. The cost was enormous.

So there are two main issues, poor quality costs, in terms of both money and health as far as the NHS is concerned and also the fat that the more you monitor a system the more expensive it becomes to run.

The answer to all of this is simple. To make the NHS work better at a lower level simply change the system. Avoid high level edicts about how things should be done, just state what they targets are (infection rates, bed occupancy or whatever) and let the people who know, those on the front line such as nurses and junior doctors, fix the system with the excellent knowledge that they have.

Call this creativity or innovation within the NHS if you like but surely it is just plain common sense?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Innovation - A Human Race (Christmas remix 2011)

This article is perhaps more relevant now than when it was originally written. The balance seems to be shifting rapidly and those who once led the world in terms of Innovation are struggling a little and those who considered themselves to be lagging behind are feeling the wind in their sails.

I often get asked about the pace of innovation in different countries or their ability to innovate. Many such questions come from people whose awareness of global issues is sadly lacking and who represent so called developed countries. The answer I give to them is the same as the one I give to those in less developed countries who are seeking inspiration and motivation for their efforts.

My own personal definition of Innovation is purely based on Human Capital so I choose a metaphor that involves people. Think of Innovation as a race, but with a difference. Some runners have an advantage in that they start further ahead, perhaps because of a time or resource advantage and some start with varying degrees of disadvantage.

Those initially at the front may be well trained and have the latest sparkly gear but they are running almost as fast as they can - improvements being measured only in small amounts. Our runners at the rear will acquire the trappings of leading athletes such as running gear, coaches etc in due course.

There are still two very important factors to consider. How long is the race and how fast can those at the back run? The race we are in is, I believe, a long one with sustainability and resilience to crises being key. So, the longer race will provide greater opportunity for less developed countries to narrow the gap. If their natural talent is greater than developed countries, the race could be close.

My word of warning to those in the lead currently is never underestimate the opposition and look over your shoulder once in a while. My words of encouragement to those at the rear is to believe in your talent.

2012 will be an exciting year!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Elf and Safety Issues (remix)

Do you think that we should consider cancelling Christmas?

No this is not a manifesto from a fringe group who are avoiding the frayed nerves and expense associated with Christmas Shopping, cooking, boisterous children and upset tummies. Christmas is a time where a million and one things must happen and be in place (more or less) by the time presents are unwrapped on Christmas day.

To be honest most of us manage it. We enjoy (or tolerate) the influx of friends and family and for once we seem capable of multi tasking i.e. having a drink, fixing the tree, carving the turkey. Using Christmas as a metaphor, why can't we do all these things in the workplace? Why can't we encourage diversity, set objectives, plan and execute strategies?

A subtle clue might be in where the focus lies. As individuals, who do we focus on at work, who do we focus on at home (especially at Christmas)? Now think about where the most dramatic results are achieved!

So far we have considered taking Christmas to work, but what if it were to be the other way around? Just think of all of the rules which we tolerate at work, or at least put up with because it suits us. Here are just a few of the issues that might surface during the festive season:

  • Tall object with pine needles - removed for health and safety reasons 
  • Three Wise Men - disbanded because of contravention of equal opportunities policy 
  • Baby in a stable - social services involved, baby now in care, animal rights protesters angry because of displaced donkeys 
  • Larger house needed - health and safety dictate that there is not enough floor space per human/animal/present 
  • Christmas dinner cancelled - no proper workstation assessment carried out on dining table and various rickety items of furniture that we use 
  • No presents - Santa has not been on a manual handling course 
The list could be endless. There is a serious point to be made though. Yes we do need some frameworks to work within, and for someone to look out for the less fortunate and disadvantaged, but too many rules and too many people saying NO is stifling. In the current economic climate we need to bend or even break the rules where necessary.

So its time to decide whether in 2012 you wish to embrace a more creative and productive way of working or wither away under a pile of rules and red tape. Remember, if Christmas really was like work, it would be cancelled. Long live Creativity and Christmas!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Creativity - Why It Pays To Be Inefficient

This seems an odd thing to be calling for, especially when trying to sell the idea of creativity to businesses. Generating ideas for a purpose consists of divergent and convergent phases but our brains cannot handle divergence and convergence simultaneously without exploding!! Have you ever tried sitting in a group brainstorming to solve just one problem. It probably failed, partly because you selected the wrong technique but also because you were trying to do 2 things at once. Separating these phases will help but will introduce inefficiency. You will generate many more ideas (good) but you may have to spend more time sorting them out (not so good).

We also tend to build a framework around our idea generation sessions, partly because we wish them to be focused. But these restrictions on the problem/process will also have an effect on ideas and solutions generated. If you lead people down a particular path, do not be surprised if their ideas only reflect the scenery observed from the path! People must be allowed to wander off piste a little.

There is also pressure to jump from the normal state of creating relatively practical ideas to creating wacky ideas. If this is what you need to do then you will need to build up to it. People need a little practice in the techniques that they use and also some time to realise that they have permission to leave normality behind. For this reason I find that a 2 day session is better than 1, the most useful being day 2 and day 1 almost being a warm up.

To obtain maximum inefficiency:

  • Allow time for distinct divergent and convergent phases
  • Ensure suitably provocative stimuli
  • Create an appropriate idea management system
  • Use an experienced facilitator