Driverless cars, perils of AI and the importance of creative thinking

September 18, 2015

Trolley tracks


We are discussing artificial intelligence tonight, said Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark, and we have some very intelligent humans with us to help us do it.

That, by the way, is a sort of Newsnight joke. I think.

Artificial intelligence and the driverless car

To be fair, there followed a very intelligent discussion by the very intelligent humans on the increasing impact of artificial intelligence and the ethical dilemmas raised, for example in the emerging era of the driverless car.

Unsurprisingly, one expert had been brought in to reassure us of the unlikely prospects of some disaster scenario of the ‘computers will take us over’ kind. Another took the contrary more cautious view. The debaters showed even more respect towards each other that was shown earlier in the day at PMQ by David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn.

Agency theory

At the core of the discussion is agency theory. I don’t mean the narrower ideas of corporate control between owners and managers or agents. I mean the great sociological issues of the nature of structures and the potential of humans to act as free agents.

In Newsnight, human agency was examined as potentially under threat by computers taking decisions. This introduces questions of whether the computers in cars and anywhere else will be able to deal with ethical issues on our behalf

To connect this to a problem of immediate practical importance, the case of driverless cars was introduced. The experts gently considered the possibility, concluding that it did not influence the positions they had outlined. But the Newsnight production team had their own secret weapon introduced by David Grossman, their excellent culture and technology editor.

The trolley problem

David has set up an experiment to replicate one of the famous ethical dilemmas known as the runaway rail truck or trolley problem.

Scientific American also had a look at it a few years ago, and I seem to remember a few references in The Economist. David, drawing on the BBC’s vast budget had obtained what looked like a bit of model rail track complete with a little red truck, and a switch that could be used to divert the truck way from the line that would kill five people and on to a branch line which would result in only one person being killed.

Grossman’s volunteers had the life or death choice of pulling the switch and after that the more tricky task of reflecting on the ethical dilemma to which they had been exposed. The volunteers conformed to the behaviours of countless laboratory subjects who had taken part in such experiments in the past. Yes, mostly they preferred to act. They also confirmed that it is jolly difficult to sort out that darn moral dilemma. What right had someone to take a life? Or not intervene to save five lives?

Hmm. What do you think?

When reintroduced to the viewers, the experts in ethics and artificial intelligence were given a chance to consider the implications of the experiment for philosophy, and the ethical problems of driverless cars. They tactfully avoided mentioning that a genius called Ludwig Wittgenstein has more or less drawn the poison out of ‘mind games’ as a bunch of linguistic traps.

More interestingly, one discussant pointed out a fundamental principle of creativity when anyone faces a tricky either-or decision. The concept is repeatedly found in my textbook Dilemmas of Leadership. A dilemma can be effectively re-framed if the binary nature of the ‘either-or’ is examined and its assumptions tested. You can apply that principle to the practically important issues of driverless cars, loss of human agency and ethical resolution of dilemmas.

I welcome comments and will elaborate on the conclusions later in an update to this post.

Berkeley group as a study of entrepreneurial leadership

September 15, 2015

Tony PidgleyBerkeley Group reports a profits surge as it prepares to enter the FTSE 100 index. This news is tempered by resistance from its instructional investors over its executive remuneration arrangements

The Berkeley Group corporate web page suggests this is a modern company complying with the ‘newer bottom lines’ of Corporate social responsibility. Its financial growth has been found attractive to institutional investors. Now the cachet of entry into the FTSE 100 as a solid blue chip company beckons.

Its situation is even more positive at present as government house building policies have given the sector a boost.

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Kim Clijsters, the US Open and the Wimbledon Roof

September 13, 2015

Kim ClijstersThis post was written but never published about an event that took place in 2009. It involves a celebration of a new roof at Wimbledon. It has  relevance to what happened at this week’s US Open championships in New York

September 14, 2009

When Kim Clijsters won the US Open in 2009 her success is hailed as a remarkable example of happenchance which resulted in her returning from retirement. But was it?

The match stood above a seemingly endless sequence of technically correct but stereotyped women’s contests of recent times. Her young opponent Caroline Wozniacki showed enough tennis to suggest she will win major tournaments in the future, and with enough style to ensure a sparkling career.

A minority sport?

Tennis remains a minority sport in most countries. Maybe recently it has grown in wider popularity through Justin Henin and ‘the other Belgian’ player, Kim Clijsters. In Switzerland Roger Federer’s impact globally has attracted wider attention. Unfortunately all too often, the sport can be upstaged, even during Open Championships sports headlines from football, golf, or athletics, juiced up if those athletes have been on the naughty step for ingesting the wrong stots of chemicals.

Serena loses it

Even Kim’s victory this week was in danger of being upstaged by the bizarre end to her semi-final win over tournament favourite Serena Williams, who was reduced to a blind rage over line calls and was defaulted at match-point.

Here is the backstory to Kim’s revival:

Clijsters shows precocious talent as a junior, but another junior from her own country, Justin Henin was to overtake her and become world No 1 and a multi-slam winner. Both retire young to seek more stable family lives. Klijsters has a baby, daughter Jada, and appears to be settling for comfortable domesticity away from the sporting headlines.

Then she took part in a match to commemorate (bizarrely) a new roof. OK, a new roof on the Centre Court at Wimbledon, but the event still seems to capture something about the slight nuttiness of Tennis and its promotion. In the televised event Kim plays a set partnering Tim Henman, England’s almost man of tennis, and the sport’s most glamorous couple, and superstars, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graff.

The exhibition game demonstrates the special skills of its very top performers. Immediately after the display, almost jokingly, Clijsters remarks that she might just give tournament tennis another go.

After a few warm-up tournaments, she gets a wild-card into the US Open. There is some press interest in her early rounds, to catch the dram of her inevitable demise. But there wasn’t an early-round demise. Her progress to the final included wins not just over Serena but over Venus, the other formidable Williams sister.

The story as it is being told (you might say as it is being weaved or spun) is that ‘if Kim hadn’t played at Wimbledon in the roof-opening exhibition, she would never had an opportunity to rediscover her appetite for the game, and would never had won that American Open championship.’ It is a plausible idea, and I can nearly believe it. It fits nicely into a widespread belief in fate or luck playing a part in our destinies.

‘If only I had done that …’

‘If I hadn’t caught that particular train…

‘If Kim hadn’t accepted the invite to celebrate the opening of the Wimbledon Roof’

Here’s another possibility

A year into being a mum with a much-loved daughter, Clijsters begins to miss something. She watches women players win events, and thinks maybe she could do better than that. She agrees to play in the event, and starts training hard because that’s what champions would do. She discovers, as with the Wimbledon experience, that she might still be able to get to the top again. Or she figures that a few million dollars might still make a worthwhile nest-egg. And where better than the US Open, scene of her only Open win, and arguably her best chance again? She puts together a great back-up team.

Even while pregnant, Kim remained a celebrity. Jada has become an important part of the story, and her arrival on court after her mother’s US Open triumph was a media dream

My point is this. There may be other more complicated explanations that go beyond the story that Kim’s victory would not have happened if she hadn’t played with Tim Henman and enjoyed it so much at that ‘Wimbledon at the roof-opening ceremony’ .


Kim played on for another three years with considerable success, although never matching the successes of her earlier career. Serena was to become unrivaled No 1player in the world and hailed as perhaps the greatest of all time. She ran her own campaign sometimes explosively against what she saw as racially-biased treatment against her. In the US Open in 2015 her attempt to achieve the Calendar Grand Slam was not successful.

In the US Open a nearly completed roof is being constructed for the Arthur Ashe stadium.

Creativity in Health Care: The Fourth Annual Salford Research Day

September 8, 2015

Presentation by Tudor Rickards for The fourth Annual Salford Research Day, September 10th 2015

Creativity pervades the actions of health care workers. While ‘Big C creativity’ attracts the plaudits, there are many opportunities for ‘little C creativity’ in every day interactions.

I will draw on work carried out at Manchester Business School, wherever possible connecting the  concepts to practical illustrations from health care environments. The issues of creative leadership, work environment, motivation and teamwork are particularly important.

Your invitation for me to speak today came with a severe warning that I have 25 minutes to present. After 20 minutes I will receive a visual warning, and after a further five minutes I will be disconnected from the audio-visual system. This manifestation of time management reminded me of the iron laws of quality for all projects in which a balance is required between time, quality and cost.

For obvious reasons today it also reminded me of those pressures placed on GPs in the NHS so that they are able to deal with fifty of sixty people needing their services every day, a process which may be different now but used to involve flashing lights and buzzers. I am sure the illustration could be applied to the work environment of heath care workers generally.

It is worth mentioning that deadlines are as much a valuable necessity for creative action. I had been requested to fit myself into the production and consumption process. In doing so I have accept what I think of as a hard deadline. As did a lot of other contributors. According to the well-established principles of project management, the result is a rationally planned and efficient process which arrives at desired goals. Anyone who tries to design a work system without some sets of rules for negotiating interim checkpoints or hard deadlines quickly realizes the difficulties that presents.

Creativity in the work environment

This is a suitable starting point for considering creativity in the work environment. My Powerpoint for the deadline is shown above. It helps me considerably to deal with the topic I was requested to address.

However, since providing the Powerpoint I thought of two additional points, each of which I believe are worth including in my presentation. The first and more minor point requires a modification to the introductory remarks on work environment and project efficiency.

Motivation and the progress principle

The second is a wonderful summary of the work of Professor Teresa Amabile [The Progress Principle, see below] which I obtained within days of providing my own contribution to this workshop. It is a ten minute video on the fundamental principles of creativity and motivation in the workplace. I recommend you find time to take a look at it and discuss its implications for you and everyone you work with in the future.

My work may boil down to the development of ‘benign structures’ through creative leadership. Teresa shows how such benign structures support creative actions, motivation, and progress towards personal and social goals. I may have time to give some examples which are also to be found in the web-based materials below.

Web based resources

The Progress Principle

The Power of Yes And Thinking

Reflections of a medical pioneer

Creativity in Health Care

Dilemmas of Leadership

The Manchester Method


Charismatic Animals

September 7, 2015

How far is it helpful to extend the construct of charisma into the animal world?Desert Orchid

For many people there is little doubt. Some animals are treated as ‘the special ones’, just as is the case for humans.

Race horses are already genetically special ones, bred for performance. In this respect they begin life as ‘born to lead’, and receive intensive training to release their natural potential.

Desert Orchid

A classic example from the 1980s in England was Desert Orchid, a magnificent white creature (or grey, in racing parlance). His spectacular appearance, coupled with his front running style and stamina, gave him iconic status. Dessie seemed to enjoy attention, enthralling his audiences as he cantered up to the start, or as he paused to acknowledge applause. His National Jump racing results were exceptional, considered to place him among the top six hurdlers of all time.

Janice Coyne, long-serving stable girl, had to defend Dessie after a rare act of its petulance. “He’s only human” she protested.

Red Rum and Sea Biscuit

In some contrast is the more plebeian courage and stamina of two other horse legends, Red Rum and Sea Biscuit. Whereas Dessie had an ethereal beauty, neither Red Rum nor Sea Biscuit stood out for their natural grace among the other horses on parade.

Red Rum suffered from a form of arthritis that threatened his career and left him with a rather ungainly gait. Under different circumstances he might not have been spared from an early end. To add to evident physical weaknesses he was lethargic in training and inclined to prefer sleep over exercise. He was not even bred for jump racing at which he excelled. He was to become one of the greatest of racers over Aintree’s’ Grand National course, an idol for his fans. He was to star in films and books about his remarkable career. On retirement, he appeared on the celebrity circuit ahead of B List humans in demand for opening charity events and supermarkets.

Sea Biscuit, an earlier sensation in American horse racing history, was as unpromising as a foal as Red Rum. Undersized, ungainly, almost unmanageable, the damaged horse was rescued by an equally scarred Jockey. The combination released Sea Biscuit’s potential. During the Great Depression the horse became a symbol of hope and even a money earner for the near defeated masses who backed it.

Perfection and hope

I think of Dessie as symbolizing perfection; Red Rum and Sea Biscuit as symbolizing hope, and triumph of the weak over the privileged, the flawed over the perfect. Or maybe  beauty. as is often suggested, lies in the eye of the beholder.


To Susan Moger for her unrivaled knowledge of equine history

The Charismatic League Tables September 2015

September 2, 2015

Donad TrumpSince the last publication of the charismatic league table, a league structure of charismatic individuals has been instituted.

Relegation  and promotion based in the latest news stories of those individuals nominated for inclusion who are still generating media attention


The tables are designed to encourage discussion about our beliefs on charisma, and no scholarly claims are made of their reliability or validity.

The tables will be revised monthly until further notice. A rather old-fashioned spreadsheet is under preparation.

To avoid entryism

All proposals will be examined carefully by the editor of LWD before changes are made. The editor’s decision on such changes will be final. This utterly undemocratic process is one designed to avoid entryism, and any such attempts to influence the league tables in underhanded ways.

Read  on to see the five league tables for September 2015.

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Creativity and leadership

September 1, 2015

Creativity and Leadership Twente

Tudor Rickards and Susan Moger of Manchester Business School review their work on creativity and leadership at the 5th Creativity and Innovation Management Community Workshop at the University of Twente



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