Today’s Top Business Stories tend to have a High Gloom Factor

November 25, 2011

The twenty top business stories provided by Google today reflect a general mood of pessimism. There are no tales of heroic leaders. Bad news stories dominate over inspirational ones. The stories mostly register high on a simple ‘gloom index’

Some years ago when I started collecting leadership stories, such a sample would have contained quite a few feel-good ones would have described the successes of heroic leaders. The proportion of those stories has since that time dwindled.

Introducing the Gloom Index

This week [Oct 24th 2011] I took a look at the twenty business stories obtained from scanning the pages of Google. My crude [1-5 star] Gloom Index rating is a representation of my judgement of the mood conveyed in the stories. Don’t take too much notice of it as a scientific measure, although it might offer promise if developed into an index of cultural mood of business confidence, a kind of ‘feed bad’ factor.

The stories and their gloom factors:

Bank of England ‘to kick start ailing economy’ Presented as reaction to gloomy outlook. Gloom Index ****

Weir group buys US fracking firm for £430 million (good news unless you disapprove of fracking). Positive innovation story with slight gloom factor. Gloom Index *

JD Sports slowdown. Mildly negative financial story Gloom Index ***

James Murdoch resigns from British Boards (Bad news except for Murdoch haters so modest gloom index Gloom Index ***

Banks have ‘racist’ lending policies. Negative leadership story defended in letter to FT Gloom Index *****

Daily Mail profits fall as newspapers come under pressure . Negative leadership story Gloom Index *****

Gas prices to rise. British gas chief asks for forgiveness. News Night yesterday had CEO of British Gas defending corporate policy against assorted pressure groups,no pun intended]. He mostly apologised for lack or transparency re tariffs and promised self-regulated reforms. Negative story. Gloom Index *****

Manufacturing output falls in EU and China
A real five-star gloom story Gloom Index ****

Wage gap for young men widens (could be positive for young women but presented as a bad news story Gloom Index ***

Compass (catering giant) shows good growth globally. Hooray. A good news story [Gloom Index 0]

Nokia Siemans cuts 17,000 jobs world wide. Negative business story, but could signal attempts to survive. Gloom Index ****

Nestle creates 300 jobs in coffee pod manufacturing in UK . A mild hooray for regional good news but tempered with a slight gloom factor at its scale when opposed to the high-gloom Nokia one. Gloom Index *

Poor results from another Utilities company (United Utilities) Gloom Index *****

Tesco slashes prices in promotional campaign (good news for Consumers but neutral presentation with some negative factors as might be expected from The Independent) Gloom Index *

Qinitec (defense firm) in 45% profit rise Good news, unless you consider rise in profits of defence firms in a negative light. Gloom Index *

Banks accused of dishonest lobbying by Sir Roger Jenkins Letter critical of Sir Roger, but still high gloom factor implied in the letter. Gloom Index *****

Lloyds promises more to SMEs and start ups (good news if you believe this; slight gloom factor for cynics) Gloom Index *

50% tax rate risks talent drain from UK (bad news slant, wouldn’t you say?) Gloom Index ****

Note on the Gloom Index

As I indicated above, The Gloom Index is no more than my personal shorthand assessment of the tone of the business stories of the day. It has some connection (in a negative sense) with current attempts to develop a happiness index and measures of feel-good factors. Feel-good measures and the Gloom Index link with the interests of behavioural psychologists, and particularly those interested in the merits of a positive approach to life.

A properly-researched Gloom Index could have value in studying leadership and change. It would connect with work of Teresa Amabile on the progress principle and Richard Boyatzis and colleagues. These approaches are described in the textbook Dilemmas of Leadership.


Teresa Amabile talks on Leadership, Employee engagement and The Performance Principle

October 18, 2011

Professor Teresa Amabile summarises fifteen years of research into creative leadership in terms of her concept of the progress principle

Creativity researchers consider Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School as the most distinguished and influential researcher into creativity of her generation. Her recent book with husband Steve Kramer distils this into The Progress Principle. The TED video captures the evidence reported in the book.

How creative leadership makes a difference

In productive organisations it is the everyday actions of managers and co-workers which made the difference. In unproductive organisations there is a risk-aversion and fear of making mistakes. On the contrary in productive organisations, mistakes are lived with ‘as long as we learned from what we did’.

Inner work life

For long-term development, inner work-life is supported and reinforced by everyday interpersonal exchanges. “Support people and support their processes every day” Amabile argues.

The unobserved progress principle

Most managers do not think consciously of the importance of small wins. [I have a recollection of such a point being made within the new leadership literature, but more typically leaders we more influenced by the virtues of setting ‘great hairy goals’ and inspiring visions.]

Challenges

However, an organisational crisis may release great organisational, team and individual creativity. A crisis and positive leadership support can work but “You can’t just turn this on and off”.

What can you do?

“Think what you can do to help co-workers feel good about what they are doing”. [Catch someone doing something good]. A simple and effective principle we can all apply at work.

We are all creative leaders

When I updated Dilemmas of Leadership earlier this year, I introduced one additional chapter. It examined creative leadership. I selected Teresa’s contributions as a core example of a shared ‘Platform of Understanding’ in the field. The Progress Principle was published just a few months too late for inclusion in the chapter. It is just about the first amendment for a future edition. It implicitly supports writings on distributed leadership, and enriches our maps of creativity and engagement in the workplace.


Creative Leadership and Creative Problem-Solving

September 28, 2008

Research into creative leadership and creative problem-solving seem to be converging. Gerard Puccio outlines work coming out of Buffalo’s International Center for Studies in Creativity

Two research groups which can claim to be among the longest-established internationally are those at The Manchester Business School England, and at the State University New York, (SUNY) Buffalo.

The groups have collaborated on the nature of creativity since the 1970s exchanging ideas and scholars. Buffalo has appointed two Alex Osborn visiting Professors from Manchester, and Manchester has been where members of the Buffalo group (including its current Director) have completed their doctorates in creativity. Further collaboration between the groups is planned after exchange of visits this year.

In his visit to Manchester, Professor Gerard Puccio, Director of Buffalo’s International Center for Studies in Creativity traced the origins of the Buffalo creative problem-solving model from the pioneering work of Parnes and Osborn (inventor of brainstorming) to its current form.

For many years the Parnes Osborn model of creative problem-solving was taught as a sequence of steps which were sometimes modified, but retaining the appearance of a mechanically-applied process.

The Manchester and Buffalo work arrived at similar conclusions through countless practical applications of the basic model. At Manchester, cohorts of MBA students tackling business projects with the MPIA model (Mapping, Perspectives, Ideas and Actions).

Its similarity to the Parnes Osborn classical model of Objectives, Facts, Problems, Ideas, Solutions, and Action steps (OFPISA) is clear.

Both groups have moved towards a process-oriented approach to creative leadershop and creative problem-solving.

The approaches also subscibe to the importance of a team facilitator or leader whose job is primarily to encourage the other team members to be open in the generation of ideas.

The view from Harvard

The principles are accepted by other researchers into creativity. At the time of writing of this post, [September 2008] an article in Harvard Business Review by Professor Teresa Amabile and Mukti Khaire of Harvard Business School offer similar guidance for stimulating creativity.

They advise leaders to map stages of any project so as to target creatve opportunities, create mechanisms for exhancing diversity and its benefits, enable collaboration, and for leaders to offer ‘an appreciative audience’ .

We have explored similar concepts in Leaders we deserve under such labels as creative leadership, benign structures, and yes and thinking.


Creativity is a Leader’s not-so-secret Weapon

November 18, 2007

convergence_jackson_pollock.jpgCreativity has always been a powerful attribute of successful leaders. This has become more obviously the case over the last few decades, as leaders are seen to be engaged in creating visions, strategies, products, designs, businesses, and even creative networks. Change involves creative individuals, teams, organizations, and clusters or communities

This post accompanies a presentation on creativity and leadership (fostering creativity)

Creativity has pervaded so many aspects of all our lives. It transcends business life, as it transforms it, and in many of its manifestations it can be linked with leadership.

Definitions, definitions

Like leadership, creativity has acquired a bucket-load of definitions. One explanations of their shared profusion is that both cut across a range of academic and practical domains, so that ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ definitions have not yet successfully been reconciled. (Will they ever be?)

However, in preparing this, I was somewhat encouraged to find myself able to condense down a lot of the definitions into two robust ones that serve to capture much of the variety. Borrowing from various sources, I offer the all-purpose general suggestion that:

‘Creativity is concerned with discovery processes leading to new and unexpectedly valuable ideas’.

The second suggestion is that creativity occurs when somneone is

‘Looking where all have looked, and seeing what no one has seen’.

Looking but not seeing

The looking and seeing definition is an old favourite of mine. It captures the received wisdom that a creative act for someone, a moment of insight, occurs because many others have looked but not seen. I seem to remember a quote from Lord Chesterfield who confided in a letter that ‘from a hayloft, a horse looks like a violin’. The violin/horse in the presentation illustrates the noble Lord’s insight.

More significantly, the history of creative discovery relates of numerous people who were the first to see something that subsequently established as true (or, in an even more philosophically complex description, ‘truly creative’).

From Archimedes to Alexander Fleming; from Newton, to Mme Curie; from the little boy who saw that the Emperor had no clothes, all have been hailed for their significant moments of insight.

Theories of creativity

The insight school of creativity is but one among various sub-sets within cognitive psychology. Humanistic psychologists have contributed self-actualizing and transcendent theories. Information scientists have offered data-processing models. From rather different directions, we have natural scientists taking an evolutionary stance, and creationists offering their own theological interpretations.

Creativity in action

I want move from more refined theory into creativity in action. In doing so, I borrow a neat taxonomy which I learned from the Hungarian scholar Istvan Magyari-Beck. Isvan proposed some years ago that a new discipline of creatology could be developed, which could be structured into levels of the individual, group, organization and culture.

At each level, different issues arise, although there remains an overriding practical concern that requires some theoretical grounding at each level: How might creativity be fostered?

The creative individual

Magyari-Beck indicated that most studies have been at the level of the creative individual. This was true in the 1980s, and is only marginally different today. One difference is acceptance (particularly through the impact of the work of Teresa Amabile) that creativity is essentially a socially-constructed phenomenon.

Another shift parallel one in leadership research. For as long as they had been studied, Leaders were considered exceptional individuals, with special inherent traits. Only around the 1960s did the trait view of the exceptional leader soften into the situational and contextual view. Even today, the leader as ‘somebody very special’ is a widely-held belief.

Likewise, the creative individual was for a long time considered to be inspired and gifted. Around the time leadership was taking on a more egalitarian hue, educationalists and humanistic psychologists were exploring ‘everyday creativity’. Maslow, Carl Rogers, Fromm and others introduced a wide audience to the notion that ‘we are all creative and have the capacity to achieve that potential’.

The creative group

The creative group has become the shock-force for organizational change. More and more non-routine tasks are conducted in projects. Project teams are expected to show creative skills while seeking goals or targets of the wider organization.

Tuckman’s celebrated four-stage model suggested that all teams develop and change, until they achieve the norm of an effective team work. Rickards & Moger and co-workers at Manchester wondered how teams might be able to outperform expected behaviors. Their answer was through creative efforts which broke through behavioural and structural barriers.

The Creative organization

The creative organization was the subject of one of the earliest texts on creativity. However, it took the rise of the so-called Creative Industries to accelerate interest in such institutional forms. Today, the largest players in the world of electronic, communication and entertainment technologies have exploded into economic and social importance.

Nevertheless, we do well to remember that creative organizations can compete successfully in what appears to be rather ill-favored origins. Toyota, and the Chinese multi-national Haier come to mind.

The Creative culture

And so we reach the highest level of complexity in Magyari-Beck’s taxonomy. His own country had been at one time a hotspot of creative culture. Hotspots from ancient cultural clusters in China, Mesopotamia, Athens, Paris moved to modern hotspots including Cambridge (England and New England), Silicon Valley, even, some say, ‘Madchester’.

Peter Kawalek and his team seem to be rescuing the creativity in Manchester from the Madness.

The still-controversial social scientist Richard Florida is mapping the creative hot spots of the world in increasingly in-depth studies.

To go more deeply

This brief voyage around the world of creativity leaves too many ports of call unvisited. I hope to collect the views of several audiences (including blog readers) which will lead to suggestions for other perspectives.


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