Creating for a client

May 8, 2007

creating-for-a-client.pptThe process of creating insights for a client is helped by a creative team leader. This post offers a systems model for such insight leadership.

[Post under construction: use trackback to be notified of later versions]


Project leaders have sometimes told me they do not understand how they might support team creativity (rather than individual creativity). This has been the topic of earlier posts, under the Project Leadership category (To be found in the Categories list in the sidebar, right). In this post, I offer a descriptive model or conceptual framework with which to explore the processes of creative leadership. The abstract ideas will be easier to follow if you are actually involved in a ‘live’ project, and follow the powerpoint presentation as an additional explanatory aid.

The framework

The framework draws on the basic principle of a creative leader which I came across many years ago. My mentor was George Prince, co-founder of the Synectics organization, and author of an excellent practitioner handbook, The Practice of Creativity.

A recent web posting gives some idea of the principles of synectics. That post under-estimates the importance of a team-leader as facilitator. However, it does illustrate the kinds of micro-structures which have become adapted and borrowed over time, into other various non-proprietory systems.

Many years of work with experimentation with versions of techniques and principles for creative teamwork have led me to the view that the role of the creative team leader lies in supporting the team members through various ‘process’ interventions for enhanced positivity, extended effort, and various ways for seeking unobvious ideas of value.

The creative team leader in projects

We may apply the principles to the context of a creative team leader within a project for a client or sponsor. The dynamics have some similarity with the facilitator in the original synectics writing, but also some contextual differences.

First, the similarities. In a synectics session, the facilitative leader attends to process. The client or ‘problem-owner’ is the arbiter of insights. That is to say, the client receives the suggestions of team members, in search of any ideas which trigger insights into the client’s belief systems. The key roles:

Creative facilitator: who sets the climate for insight through ‘creativity-triggers’
Team members: who generate their ideas
Client: who seeks insights which go beyond his or her prior beliefs and assumptions.

Differences: The insights in a project (compared with a creativity session) are likely to occur when with the client, creative team leader and team members are not co-located. As a result, the ideas from team members have to be transferred and tested.

The creative leader, and the creative team

The differences between the creativity session and a project are shown in the powerpoint presentation. I hope to revise this. In its current form, the slides show how a formal leader is a restriction of insights, and a process leader in contrast balances freedom and structure.

The presentation indicates how a client will have a world-view or Platform of Understanding (POU -c), which can only be glimpsed in a project brief. During any project, the team will build up its shared Platform of Understanding (POU – t). For the client, team suggestions become opportunities for confirming or disconfirming the original (POU – c). An insight will tend to disconfirm some aspect of the earlier POU – c.

The team in its efforts to understand and help the client will seek to operate with a POU- t which they believe to be a close representation of POU – c. With or without help from a creative (process) leader team members seek insights arising from their emerging POU- t and which they believe will also be insights for the client.

If this process were to take place in a creativity session, the team would be encouraged by the process leader to listen and learn from the client, and vice-versa. My experience is that teams who engage in such sessions frequently find that the process indeed helps a client reach creative insights.

In a project team, the creative leader has to work towards the same sort of open climate. The context is now different. In practice, team leader and client (and perhaps members) have to find a way to recreate the conditions of exploring (POU -c) and (POU -t) together

One important opportunity will be the final meeting when the team and its process leader presents findings to the client, as closure on the project brief. This is where the proposed ideas or ideas have to find a client prepared to receive them.

If the POUs are well-matched, there will be more chances that the client will be open to ideas that disrupt the original POU -c and assumptions carried into the project brief. If they are not well-matched, the outcome is highly uncertain. Some clients will be able to make the required ajustments; other will not.

What do you think?

This has all been very abstract. I think it helps explain how some teams are able to spark off creative insights, and how others fail for reasons to do with failing to understand where the client is coming from’ and where he or she is likely to go.


A week is a long time …

May 8, 2007

_42890517_mayweather2031.jpg… in politics and boxing. What leadership lessons can be learned from the narrow victories of Nicholas Sarcozy in France, Alex Salmond in Scotland, David Cameron in England, and Floyd Mayweather in Las Vagas?

This week in France, the biggest contest of the year to date came to a close but predicted conclusion with victory to Nicholas Sarcozy. This requires a closer examination in its own right, elsewhere. Sarco-Sega round two has inevitably been bigger than Sarco-Sega round one. Its own prime-time TV blockbuster attracted an audience of over 20 million viewers.

Even these figures threatened to be eclipsed by the viewers of the biggest boxing contest of the decade in Las Vagas, as Golden Boy Oscar de la Hoya went head to head against Pretty Boy Floyd Mayweather. Fight addicts in the States, and insomniacs elsewhere around the world-wide united in watching the richest gladiators on the planet …

In Britain, there were elections in Wales for its National Assembly, In Scotland for its Parliament, and in England at local Council level. All had their points of interest from a leadership perspective.

In France

A clear, yet uneasy triumph for Sarcozy, with 53% to 47% of an awesome 85% turnout. The uncertainties among the electorate were not translated into a low vote. The uneasiness was confirmed in demonstrations by his bitterest opponents, although these were assessed as minor by the standards of the nation’s tradition of action direct. Sarcozy’s earliest remarks after his victory indicated his wish to serve all the French people. (Echoes of Margaret Thatcher’s debut utterance on taking power, from the steps of Number 10 Downing Street?).

The local election results in England

There is no English parliament, per se, and so there are never English National elections. In England, The local council elections have been taken as an indicator of the wider political struggles. For months, the (United Kingdon) Government had been acknowledging the inevitability of significant loss of support, reflected in the outcome at the local elections. This painful admission was, at least, one which could hardly be attacked by their opponents. The ultimate meltdown which was hinted at in the run-up did not take place. The departure of Tony Blair as PM, (now anticipated to be more a matter of days rather than months), will be an opportunity for the party to distance the party and its new leader from the unpopularity of Mr. Blair, now particularly damaged for his identification as an architect of the Iraq war and its consequences.

The political battle in Wales

The new composition of the Welsh National Assembly shows how a sizable proportion of voters in the Principality have, at least temporarily, found a new political favorite. Wales has always been suspicious of Socialist-lite Labour, and has never been enthusiastic for the new-fangled Blairite version. This week, voters even deserted Old labour in favour of the nationalism of The Plaid. (Plaid Cymru, The Party of Wales). The results disrupted the stranglehold exercised by the Socialists.

And the De La Hoya/Mayweather contest?

This contest also offers insight on leadership. At one level we are aware of how boxing fits well with the metaphor of leadership as a form of warfare. The most recent example was Mr Blair’s outburst about the clunking big fist which would smite the opponents of the Labour Party in the near future.

The De La Hoya/Mayweather contest was an example of a battle between combatants of differing strengths and weaknesses. De La Hoya, aging, but physically more powerful De La Hoya. In contrast, Mayweather was younger, swifter, technically outstanding.

Game theorists would be able to examine the uncertainties within a predictable pattern of behaviors. De La Hoya tried to deliver a ‘clunking big fist’. To do so, he had to withstand the elusive moves, and energy-sapping if lighter blows of his opponent. Which was partly why the contest was so fascinating.

Mayweather won. But De La Hoya was always going to win another battle, through another piece of the action, as major investor in Golden Boy promotions, the company which had put on the fight.

Leadership lessons of the week?

What a week. Leaders in action, winning and losing, but often able to claim wriggle room to fight again. For the most part, the lessons seem to show that the political leaders were instruments, symbols, which helped ‘followers’, particularly voters, to show their allegiance. The symbols were the primary focus of decision-making.

We are learning of the role of atavars, or constructed identities, in webworlds. Are these really so less ‘real’ than the constructed images of our political leaders. Do they shape our judgement of their policies? Or is the ‘direction of causality’ more from our prior social beliefs and values to our interpretation of the worth of the individual leaders? Which brings us back to the idea of how we create the leaders we deserve.