How do you like your Brexit: Hard, soft, scrambled, or Vegan?

December 8, 2017
Today, after a tortuous period of over a year, the departure of the UK from the EU takes one step further forward. The week demonstrated the difficulty in setting a deadline as an absolute one, rather than a guideline in a search for reaching an objective.
I made the point some years ago in a talk to NHS professionals. Deadlines, I argued, could be treated as hard or soft. As an advocate of creative thinking, I was arguing for avoidance of Either Or thinking.
The Government (and worse, large numbers of people in and outside the UK) will, I believe, suffer from the unnecessary imposition of hard deadlines on the process of moving towards leaving the EU. The process has been widely described as Brexit, helpfully explained by Prime Minister May as ‘Brexit means Brexit.’
As with deadlines, Brexit was variously seen as hard or soft. The PM had the find ways of gaining support from those who wanted a  harder version, as well as those who wanted a softer.
Ways of serving an egg
But even that over-simplifies the assorted dilemmas to be addressed. For from being Either-Or, Brexit could be seen in a range of different ways.  How would you like your Brexit egg served: hard, soft, scrambled or without eggs at all. After all,  for ethical reasons, Vegans don’t eat even eat eggs.




Don’t lose that deal over lunch

February 13, 2017



In this Trumpian era, it is important to understand deal-making. I pass on a hint to deal-makers.  Don’t lose the deal you almost won in the morning, by something you do over lunch.

I write, not as a great deal-maker, but as a student of those who claim to be. My case-example goes back some years to a time when executives would swap leadership stories in workshops encouraging the sharing of their experiences.

In one of the workshops, I came across the account of an international deal that had been moving to a satisfactory conclusion. The tale-teller came from a UK international organization. The deal was in a country with a very different culture. Negotiations were made with simultaneous translations on each side.

The technical details of the deal were surprisingly easy to wrap-up. Most had been agreed through professional teams working in advance of the meeting of the corporate leaders. Having reached the point at which a decision to go ahead seemed certain, the final morning meeting broke up for lunch. A celebratory mood prevailed.

The senior British figures were driven to a top dining place in the country for lunch. “They spoke in a few words of English,” the British manager told us “We had been briefed that it was vital to keep up with them in the drinks and the toasts. Unfortunately, the booze got to us more than it did to them. Worse, their broken English was a sham.  At least one understood every word we said about them, our real thoughts about them, not the censored versions they had been hearing before. You could say we won the contract in the morning, and lost it over lunch.”

Please take from my story what you will. As we are learning from events in America and around the world, this is a time when we all have to learn the art of the deal.

The case may also apply to those political figures setting out on Brexit negotiations.

Gina Miller and Theresa May are contenders for leader of the month

January 27, 2017

Gina Miller and Theresa May are contenders for Leaders We Deserve award of the month. Each has supporters and vehement distractors

Two political figures have emerged in the UK as leaders of the month. The stories of Gina Miller and Theresa May intersect, and also relate to Donald Trump’s first tumultuous week as President of the United States (POTUS). As I write, [27 January 2017], Theresa May is embarking on her first visit to meet Mr Trump.

Gina Miller’s campaign

Gina Miller launched a campaign which clarified an important constitutional issue at our Supreme Court of Justice.  The success of her action forced the Government led by Theresa May to back off from efforts to bypass parliamentary scrutiny of their plan for exiting the EU.

A torrent of abuse

Gina Miller’s intervention in the courts threatened a delay in the March deadline for triggering the start of Brexit. This week saw the High Court ruling in her favour. Cue to frantic efforts of damage limitation to the government’s plans to trigger the Brexit button, aka Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty .

Her campaign has brought with it a torrent of abuse. Coincidentally, it took place as women around the world were matching in protest at their treatment, and at the appointment of Donald Trump, seen as epitomising bullying treatment against women. And the week when Theresa May was urged to raise such matters with Trump at their up-coming meeting. [See? I said these stories were inter-related]

Miller’s back story is a fascinating one, yet typical of many high-achievers who overcome early life set-backs which strengthen their resolve.


Her sense of injustice stems from childhood experiences of being bullied and left to fend for herself after her parents ran out of money for boarding school. Born into an influential family in Guyana, at the age of 10 she was sent to boarding school in Britain.

She recalls how her mother had given her a bottle of her favourite perfume Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps to take with her so she wouldn’t feel homesick, but the first weekend in school, girls emptied it out and filled it with water.

At 14, her parents’ financial circumstances had changed and she was forced to become a day pupil, living alone with her 16-year-old brother in a flat in Eastbourne, supplementing her allowance with a stint as a chambermaid. [The Guardian 25 January 2017The Guardian 25 January 2017]


Theresa backs down skillfully

May had repeatedly insisted that to make details public would reveal too much to European political leaders in negotiations about the UK’s ‘bottom line’. The wisdom or naivety of her point is open for discussion. It is unlikely to be an effective approach for nuclear negotiations where  the ‘finger on the button’ does not want to conceal the intentions of the owner of the potentially Armageddon-triggering digit.

The week, Prime Minister May broke her self-imposed restraint with a prepared statement helped clarify her previously concealed exit (Brexit) strategy. Then at Prime Ministers Question time, she announced the miraculous birth of a white paper, fully formed, and to be presented to the House. [Wednesday 25 January, 2017]

Out means out. Out of the Economic Union. Out of the shared tariff zone arrangements. Out, out damn plots robbing us of controls of our borders.

Deal or no deal

So what’s up for negotiation? Anything which deprives the UK of getting ‘the best deal possible deal’ Err, not quite so clear. The statement did indicate a ‘deal or no deal’ possibility involving the UK from ‘walking away’ from the negotiating table (note please, it’s another metaphor, although a not-unknown gesture of defeated participants in high and low political practices). The no-deal option which secures ‘the best deal for Britain’ has been dubbed by opponents of the Government as heading the country for a bargain-basement low-wage tax-haven society.

A footnote to history?


The years 2016-18 may turn out to be of particular interest to students of leadership. The sweep of events touch on humanitarian crises, environmental decay, to political shocks to the system. Donald Trump is likely to grab headlines as the most unexpected political story of the decade and beyond. from his change of job title as an entertainment host to the most powerful leader in the world.

Both May and Trump are untried in the fog of international negotiations. Each utter words or reassurance to their respective supporters. This week they share headlines with Gina Miller. Theresa May will have more chances to demonstrate her leadership qualities. Perhaps Gina Miller will as well. In any event, she has been guaranteed a footnote in contemporary political history this week.

She is my nominated leader of the month.

To be continued


Theresa clears things up: A fairy story for our times

January 17, 2017



Once upon a time (as all good stories start) there was a little girl called Theresa. She was brought up to be very well behaved and always did her homework, brushed her teeth and ate all her greens, even Brussels sprouts which she particularly didn’t like


Theresa was always top of her class and so eventually became a politician. Her nice-manners and retentive memory served her as well as her elegance of dress and footwear. So it was, she rose to the very top of her profession entrusted with making great decisions of state. Then there came a grave crisis to which there was no answer. At first, Theresa won time by reassuring words, such as we cannot reveal the answer because our enemies will turn it against us.

But as days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months, the crisis deepened. Critics spoke out against her. Theresa had to come up with another plan. Eventually she and her advisors decided what to do.

“I will explain everything,” she said. “There are twelve principles, just like there were twelve Apostles, and the twelve days of Christmas and the twelve angry men. Just listen as I explain them.”

And then she went through them one by one. They were wonderful, and promised everything anyone could wish for.

“Oh, that explains everything” cried the grateful people “That’s alright then, you have saved us from the crisis.”And that was how Theresa became even more popular, and everyone lived happily ever after.



BT Openreach franchise to end

November 30, 2016

Discworld Gods Wikipedia

After a lengthy period of negotiations over the structure of Openreach, the Government Communications watchdog OfCom has lost patience with BT, and proposes the establishment of an independent company

LWD has followed this story in earlier posts which examined the case for and against such a move. [See Is it Openreach or overreach? and The divestment of Openreach is not a simple case ]

The Plans

This week the Government announced its plans to deal with what it sees as a failure by BT to address its concerns regarding OpenReach. According to Reuters:

Britain’s telecoms regulator will go to the European Commission to try to force BT to legally separate Openreach, the division that supplies broadband to millions of homes and businesses, in a major reform aimed at spurring investment in the country’s ageing network.

The regulator, which despite Britain’s vote to leave the European Union still needs European Commission support to force through change at Openreach, wants BT Openreach to plough more money into upgrading its copper networks to fibre to catch up some European rivals and the likes of South Korea and Japan.

Ofcom’s decision to up the ante follows the failure to reach a voluntary deal after more than a year of talks. It said it was “disappointed” that BT had not done enough to separate Openreach from the rest of the group. It had ordered the former state monopoly to run the network arm as a legally separate company in July [2016].

The Independent suggests that the announcement is only the start of what might be an extended commercial battle. BT rivals Sky and Talk Talk may make some gains, but BT still retains powerful influence through its monopolistic ownership of the landline monopoly in the UK.

In the dispute, BT has not exactly argued their case convincingly. Their CEO in one radio interview was emphatic about the success of their efforts at upgrading broadband services, and dismissed alternatives as too small. The regulator thinks differently.

Amongst the ironies, is the prospect of the EU passing judgement to permit an improvement in an important advanced-technology industry sector in the soon-to-be departing UK after its Brexit vote is converted into a full EU exit.


A Postcard from Potsdam: The Consumption of Chocolate Fredericks

October 18, 2016


A visit to Potsdam for a conference combines memories of its place in history, with a few thoughts on today’s confusing global political scene


October 10-16 2016

Our visit to Potsdam was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the journal Creativity and Innovation Management about which more later, including news of the chocolate Fredericks.

The immediate consequences of the Brexit vote

Preparing for the trip, the immediate impact of the Brexit vote was apparent, as I bought euros in the UK. The best rate I could get was parity, as the pound sterling had dwindled in value since the referendum. I await the promised economic benefits from a revitalized UK economy sometime in the future.

Potsdam and Keynes

Potsdam is associated in my mind with the visionary, John Maynard Keynes, and his contributions to history through a historic conference held in 1945, which was in some ways a re-run of the Versailles treaty of 1919, in which he also played a part. Versailles was to impose harsh retribution on Germany for its bellicose actions during the Great War. Keynes wrote in horror of what he saw as the inevitable consequences of the conditions being forced on Germany after the Great War ended in 1918.  [Note: this is not intended as an explanation for the rise of the third Reich, but a comment on the contributing factors after Versailles according to Keynes. Not for the last time, his predictions were eventually found to be prescient].

Le Monde’s view of the US Presidential debate

I am not sure why a plane from Manchester, bound for Berlin via Amsterdam, should only offer late-boarding passengers a complimentary copy of Le Monde. However, the paper gave its own cultural treatment of current World events.  Information on the state of affairs in England was noticeable by its absence.

Le Monde headlined the remarkable second Presidential debate between Clinton and Trump. It built its story around Trump’s assertion that as President he would appoint a prosecutor to imprison Hillary Clinton for her assorted crimes against the State. It also had a magnificent analysis of contemporary economic ideas, at a depth rarely found in the Anglo-Saxon press.

 Students are students

We arrive at the University of Potsdam. Students are wandering around like students do all over the world. A kebab bar is doing a roaring trade.  A statue outside the University is daubed with an Adolf  moustace. The weather is doing a good imitation of a drizzly day in Manchester.


Settling down and news from the UK

A dinner for two at our hotel cost 60 euros or pounds.  Sorry to bang on about this. A few months ago, it would still have cost 60 euros but rather less than 50 pounds sterling. Before our visit ended, we learned of the tensions back home as retailers fought with suppliers to deal with price rises of consumer goods resulting from the weakened pound.

The last Trump?

We kept up with the increasingly bizarre events in the US election campaign. Recently, Donald Trump appears to be dipping in the polls, criticized by significant republican politicians, even if some are avoiding voting for Clinton, by choosing writing a named alternative of their ballot paper.

At the end of the second debate, each candidate was asked to say something positive about the other (stifled laughter for the second time from the audience. The first was when Trump explained his ‘gentle’ treatment of Hillary, because he was a gentleman.). Hillary said she admired Donald’s children, a reply that hinted at another American political dynasty might be on its way. A bemused Donald muttered about whether she was joking, before making a genuine-sounding and generous remark, that he recognized his opponent’s resilience. Perhaps we are witnessing the last trump for Donald’s political aspirations and of his offspring after all.

The political trolls of the Trump campaign

Why is Hillary Clinton hated so much by Trump supporters? Are political trolls causes or symptoms of the strong emotions being generated? A rather normal-looking woman stares out at me from the BBC website. Her actions and words are anything but normal.  Emily Longhurst is an everyday illustration of a political troll, using extreme language to make her case for supporting Donald Trump by her vehement attacks on Hillary Clinton. Emily is an active member of a group known as Hillary for Prison.

The Palace fire and the Chocolate Fredericks

So, to the conference.  Susan and I as co-founders have the pleasant task of making a brief overview of twenty-five years of the publication of the journal Creativity and Innovation management, and awarding the prize for the best paper as voted by the editorial board

Use of Social Media in Inbound Open Innovation: Building Capabilities for Absorptive Capacity

Authors: Ward Ooms, John Bell, and Robert A.W. Kok

This study investigates the effects of the use of social media in inbound open innovation on capabilities for absorptive capacity of companies. Seven explorative case studies were conducted in an R&D and business context of two large global high-tech companies. The results suggest that if the necessary conditions are met, social media usage increases the transparent, moderational and multi-directional interactions that in turn influence four capabilities for absorptive capacity: connectedness, socialization tactics, cross-functionality and receptivity, a hitherto overlooked capability. Hence, we observe that social media are boundary-spanning tools that can be used to build and increase companies’ absorptive capacity

The new editors of the journal are into brilliant problem-solving mode with the hundred and one duties for the workshop, including fire-fighting. Just to illustrate the point, a banquet in an historic palace is cancelled, after a fire breaks out in the kitchens. Within two-days, an excellent substitute is found for the dinner, in a local Italian ristorante.

Each presenter receives a chocolate image of Frederick the Great. Susan and I decide to save ours for our return, as emergency rations in Post Brexit Manchester.

The bridge of spies

Conferences are often full of ‘what might have been’ opportunities missed such as visits to tourist sites outside the conference hall.

We managed to fit in the latest tourist attraction, a walk across the Lange Bruche, location of one of the memorable scenes as the Bridge of Spies in the eponymous movie.

Back in Manchester. No riots in the streets

No sign yet of rioting in the streets, as the price of Marmite takes it beyond the reach of hungry and angry consumers at Tescos. I can report that eating an effigy of Frederick the Great was a curious experience, (Bring me the head of Frederick the Great, with or without Marmite).


Brainstorming Brexit

September 1, 2016

Image result for last supper wikipedia
As Teresa May’s Cabinet re-assembled this week,  reports suggested it would ‘brainstorm’ to review progress towards Brexit.  Here’s why that didn’t happen:
Media reports surfaced this week [29 August 2016] accompanied by official images of the cabinet room, chock fulla ministers surrounding the Prime Minister, and looking like a version of The Last Supper as portrayed by Banksie.
The Guardian lampooned the suggestion by asking a few creative thinking and team-building consultants how brainstorming might work:
Get them out of the the Westminster bubble, was one Guardian suggestion.  More audaciously, dress them up as penguins, was another.
All the gurus agreed the location and the composition of the team were both serious inhibitors to success in an attempt to create useful and imaginative ideas for Teresa May’s most serious political problem in the absence of dealing with a functional opposition.
I recently suggested how brainstorming might work. The topic is important, such as finding a new advertising slogan
Various earlier posts in LWD have looked at the scope and limitations of brainstorming as a means of creative problem-solving.
Technically, a brainstorming provides a structure and a few principles which help individuals (or more commonly groups) to challenge and go beyond old beliefs and ideas.
Newer versions such as electronic brainstorming are appropriate for ‘virtual’ groups operating remotely.
Anyone interested will find information in the most recent edition of my textbook Dilemmas of Leadership, and its chapter on creative leadership, which provides a good starting point for studying the subject.
Misunderstanding of brainstorming is widespread.  Politicians and business people us it as any attempt to dream up ideas.  (My favourite misunderstanding was a well-known politician who made the perilous journey from Westminster to the bandit territories of the North to take part in a brainstorming. Unfortunately he had accepted because he imagined he had been invited to make a barnstorming speech about his department’s achievements.
Brainstorming: a personal view
After much effort and numerous publications, I have reached a view that brainstorming in the narrower sense  requires:
a topic to be considered,
a structure which tries to overcome preconceptions participants interacting to overcome social and psychological barriers
a person experienced and skilled in facilitatating the process
and a physical space conducive to new ideas.
These conditions do not completely  preclude the possibility of a Cabinet meeting carrying out a brainstorming. But they do make it highly improbable to function effectively.  The more guarded and invested in a prior idea the participants are, the less likely there is of a positive result.
And with that, I rest my case.

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