Stay Alive, stay Creative. A Conversation with Myself

September 2, 2022

I recently thought differently about something important to me. As its importance is only to myself, I would see it as an example of everyday creativity.  

To share it with others, I posted it on Twitter, and started a note about the idea and how it began to suggest more ideas. The note turned into a conversation with myself.

The Tweet 

What’s the best way to retain your love of life? Give your everyday creativity every chance to flourish.

The Conversation with Myself

At risk of sounding pretentious –

You are sounding pretentious.

I’ll ignore that remark. I found creativity early in my working life. 

You are still sounding pretentious. Why don’t you add … ‘I suppose creativity found me’? 

So how should I explain what I mean?

Quit the health and wellness stuff. Get a bit more personal.

Good call. Let’s see. Take the time I was feeling a bit down on my birthday. Way down. 

Understandable, it was your eightieth. Thoughts turning to shuffling off the mortal coil, no doubt.

Sort of. As if I was heading for a creative black hole. Yes, and the feeling of emptiness. Then I made a decision, And that led to another one.

Go on, that’s better.

First, I’m going to give up writing books.

That’s the most negative thought you could have had. 
Probably not. I had some other pretty black ideas. But then!

…You rediscovered creativity and things started looking better.

Sort of. Instead of thinking what I wasn’t going to do in future, I saw what I was going to do.

You discovered podcasting.

That, and more. I made the connection. Loss of creativity. Feelings of depression. Rediscovering creativity. Feelings of elation. Feeling alive. Life’s worth living sort of stuff. In the zone. The inner child released.
A bit over the top?

That’s right. 

It’s still a bit of a leap to start spouting about a life-enhancing moment.

I need to sneak in a few theoretical ideas which I’m finding important.

Now that’s super-pretentious. You’re getting away from your immediate direct experiences into academic speculation. 

I was coming to that …

Creativity in action

May 2, 2018

Winter of discontentThe Government suffered a defeat yesterday (appropriately, the 1st of May) brought about by the creative actions of two former ministers.  

The vote was over the proposed measures against money laundering by the Government, and considered by opponents to be weak on disclosures from well-known territories including the British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands. This in turn followed revelations in what became known as the Panama papers.

The leaders (or ring-leaders, from another perspective) of the opposition were an unlikely couple, a former labour cabinet member, and Andrew Mitchell, a former conservative international development secretary. Both are currently out of favour.

Both have reputations of independence of thought and strong enough characters to take on all-comers in causes they believe in. However, without context, it is hard to imagine them plotting together.

The context, and the creativity of their actions deserves study. According to The Guardian, [May 2nd 2018] Mitchell ‘has frequently worked across party-lines’ , requiring independence and resilience in bucketloads. Hodge was a powerful and outspoken chair of the publics account committee for five years.

The strategy they adapted was aimed at protecting recent back-bench MPs from rebelling, as they were easier targets for political influences from the Government heavies (aka Whips). Instead, they concentrated on influential former ministers who were less vulnerable, and some with experience as members of the awkward squad opposing government policy. Mitchell was able to deploy an extra argument, that their proposals were a reviving of plans under preparation in 2015 by the former conservative leader (David Cameron).

In a nutshell, this was no knee-jerk reaction by two discontinued ex-ministers. It was a well-thought out plan which required both creative thinking and a lot of grunt work in the background.




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



February 4, 2015

Tudor Rickards & Susan Moger

University of Manchester, Manchester, England


Upsalla Creativity DayKey Terms:  Creative leadership, Creativity, Leadership, Team effectiveness, Bruce Tuckman, Benign Structures, The Manchester Method, MPIA, TFI


The post is offered as an extended research communication with formal reference citations. It is based on a presentation given at The Advanced Seminar Series, University of Upsalla, Upsalla, Sweden, [3rd March, February 2009].   It extends Bruce Tuckman’s well-established stage model of team development. Creative leadership is suggested as producing new routines or protocols designated as benign structures which help teams progress through two barriers to team development. The first is at Tuckman’s storm stage, (a behavioural barrier), and the second a barrier at the norm stage (a norm-breaking barrier).

To gain an understanding of creative leadership it is helpful to examine briefly the wider fields of creativity and leadership, before addressing the specific focus of creative leadership at the level of organizational teams. Creativity and leadership have been constructs which have attracted a great deal of attention, much of which exists in relatively loosely connected bodies of work across a range of professional and scholarly domains. Creative leadership, the region of investigation common the both, is relatively unexplored.

 Multi-definitional features of  creativity and leadership

Leadership and creativity  have both been regarded as constructs suffering from inadequate definition. More precisely, each has acquired a plethora of definitions, with no unequivocally accepted one, up until present times.

Stogdill (1956) in his review of leadership, and particularly through his celebrated handbook (1974) drew attention to this embarrassment of definitional riches. This was as part of his influential attack on leadership research at the time, and the dead-end toward which he believed it was heading. Stogdill is widely accepted as changing the course of leadership research from the dominance of trait studies (Bryman, 1996; Yukl, 1999), without resolving definitional difficulties (Rickards & Clark, 2005).

Similar definitional complexities can be found in the literature of creativity. Rhodes (1961) had made an early attempt to integrate the multiple and disparate definitions in the literature, into a taxonomy based on the four components of person, process, product and press. Later, Magyari-Beck (1993) suggested that creativity as a multi-level phenomenon could be further structured into levels of individual, group, organization, and culture.

Scholarly interest has not resolved the definitional issue (Isaksen, 1987; Mackinnon, 1978; Sternberg & Lubart, 1996; Rickards, Runco & Moger, 2008). Boden (1994, 2008) has also pointed out a similar lack of clarity and an abundance of definitions of creativity.

The overlap of creativity and leadership literatures

One complication that has contributed to the definitional problems in creativity and leadership research is the wide range of professional and academic fields in which they are studied. Both concepts have attracted psychologists, social and organizational scientists, decision-theorists and educationalists. However, only a small proportion of these have shown interest in both creativity and leadership. These would include Amabile et al, (1996); Basadur, (2004); Mumford, (2000); Puccio, Murdock, & Mance, (2007); and Rickards & Moger, (1999a, 2000)

 Creative leadership is doubly difficult to characterize

Attempts to define creative leadership inevitably retain the complexities associated with the two primary concepts. Unsurprisingly, the integration of leadership and creativity into remains an important and challenging area of study.

In this contribution, we concentrate on a relatively small region of the territory, while attempting to draw a conclusion about the broader implications for creative leadership. We confine our study to leadership processes operating in project teams. If leadership and creativity are considered as overlapping domains, our territory is that of the project team leader. This draws on a sub-set in the creativity literature of work on creative problem-solving structures, (Parnes, 1992; Basadur, 2004; Isaksen, Dorval, & Treffinger, 2000, Rickards & Moger, (2000); Puccio& Capra, (2008) and in the leadership literature the sub-sets of team leadership (Ancona and Caldwell, 1992; Kimberley & Evanisko, (1981); Manz & Sims, 1992; Mumford, 2000) and facilitative and trust-based leadership (Rickards & Clark, 2007).

The conceptual basis of our two barrier theory of teamwork

‘We propose that theories of project team development and of creativity can be integrated into a new conceptual framework. The framework proposes two structural barriers that bear on team performance, and modifies the well-established team development model of Tuckman. Creative leadership is suggested as an important means of breaching the barriers. Its differentiating feature seems to be its effectiveness in establishing protocols that sustain the creative efforts of team members. We have designated the protocols ‘benign structures’ (Rickards & Moger, 2000: 273).

Background to the MBS studies of creative leadership

A major early influence on our thinking was the work in the USA on techniques for stimulating creativity in teams, reported in Parnes & Osborn, 1992; Prince (1970) and Gordon (1956, 1961). These studies had been providing evidence of numerous empirical applications of the techniques. However, claims that techniques such as brainstorming could stimulate creativity were to become contested among more reflective researchers within the creativity paradigm (See reviews by Stein, 1975; Parnes, 1992; Kurtzberg & Amabile, 2001).

The pioneering American studies attracted interest internationally. In The United Kingdom, researchers and practitioners formed informal networks, at first at a national level, and subsequently internationally (Rickards, 1993, 1994). In the UK, our studies (Rickards, 1974b, 1982) reported that application of a creativity technique helped produce experiential learning and the development of effective modifications to team behaviours or routines, a process described as creative analysis.

The term creative analysis was developed in an examination of creative problem-solving techniques. It suggested that each empirical application of a technique was a situated experience which drew on analysis of prior experiences, and provided a learning opportunity for future experiences. The work can now be seen to anticipate conceptual advances made into situated creativity (Jeffcutt & Pratt, 2002; Stoetzler & Yuval-Davis, 2002).

Early work at MBS  examined the effectiveness of teams of technical professionals seeking product innovations within an R&D department (Rickards, 1976; Rickards & Freedman, 1978). Results confirmed that application of creativity techniques could be a productive way for a team to generate promising ideas. However, we found it difficult to establish the link between the application of techniques and generation of more imaginative product ideas. That is to say, we had evidence that techniques worked ‘sometimes and somewhere’ but the mechanisms leading to enhanced creativity remained obscure.

 The Manchester Method

After the early studies of R&D project teams, our attention turned to studies of teams of business students tackling real business projects for corporate clients.   The opportunity for involvement with such teams was a consequence of taking part in an educational innovation at Manchester Business School (MBS) known as The Manchester Method (Drinkwater et al, 2004).

Each cohort provides approximately twenty teams of MBA students engaged in projects.  Across several decades, approximately 4500 participants in 700 such teams experienced creativity training as preparation for their project work .   By the late 1990s, when executive education activities were added in, ‘over 2,000 work teams from 40 different countries were involved’ (Rickards & Moger, 1999: xi).

The composition of project teams within the MBA programmes, and the activities they experienced have remained remarkably consistent across the extended time-period from the 1970s to the late 1990s (although details of the course and creativity training provided changed over time. This was consistent with the precepts of creative analysis, as learning from experience influenced later course designs.

Most projects were selected as being suitable for a small project team working over a time period of weeks. When projects were substantially larger, the work was shared across teams by splitting up a large project into sub-projects. For example, in a project for UNIDO, (Rickards, Hyde, & Papamichail, 2005), each small team explored sustainability in an industry sector. Collectively, the work produced a diagnostic tool across sectors now in use by UNIDO, for supporting the transfer of technology into its third-world sustainability projects.

From these various studies, insights emerged into the nature of team effectiveness and creative leadership. Informally at first, we also began to collect evidence in a longitudinal fashion of leadership patterns of executives engaged in innovative work (1990s-2000). They were often, but not always, sponsors of MBS projects with whom we had built longer-term relationships.

 Team development and the limitations of prevailing theories

Over time, our experiences encouraged us to seek explanations for our findings in the established theories of teamwork. However, we found difficulties reconciling our experiences with the prevailing orthodoxy of how project teams develop stable performance practices or norms.

In our teaching, as well as our research, we were aware of the influence of the work of Bruce Tuckman on teams and team development processes. According to Tuckman (1965), teams develop through stages (form, storm, norm perform). A subsequent closure or adjourn stage was added later (Tuckman & Jensen, 1977).

One difficulty for us was repeated evidence that some of the teams involved in the projects we were studying were failing pass Tuckman’s  storm stage. This might just have been explained as arising from an extended delay in some groups in passing through the Tuckman stages.  However, even if that were the case, there was another, and more serious challenge to the four stage model. A minority of the teams not only reached the norm stage but went on to challenge and break out of norms.   This seems to be consistent with what might be described as achieving creative breakthroughs in their project work. The Tuckman model had no way of explaining how teams might break out of norms toward new norms of behaviour.

The two-barrier hypothesis

In addressing these conceptual difficulties, we proposed a two-barrier solution (Rickards & Moger, 2001), which is a modification to Tuckman’s stage model rather than a total rejection of it. Consistent patterns of behaviour had been discovered across the hundreds of teams studied. A small proportion of teams struggled to reach any effective result from their work. The majority of the teams achieved goals set them to the satisfaction of the client. A minority of teams performed beyond expectations.

We concluded that the most dysfunctionalteams had been defeated by a barrier beyond which the majority of most teams had been able to pass. In our view this was a behavioural barrier. We were led to that conclusion because the weak teams appeared to be permanently mired in behaviors which seemed to be consistent with Tuckman’s psychological storm stage of team development. The teams that passed the behavioural barrier for the most part behaved as predicted by the Tuckman model, arriving at stable group norms permitting effective functioning.

However, this was not the case in the minority of teams which appeared to go beyond the Tuckman norms of stable behaviour and achievement of pre-established production outputs. These teams passed the norm stage by going beyond the project brief in a creative way which added unexpected value for the client. We suspected that a differentiating principle of the behaviours of high-performance teams was the effective establishment of conditions favouring creativity, particularly by a team-leader appointed by the team.

To summarise: Our findings posed two challenges to the prevailing model of team development. The weak teams posed the question ‘what is happening if a team fails to develop beyond the storm stage? The exceptional teams posed the question ‘what happens if a team breaks out of the performance norms developed? Our hypothesis was that teams were differentiated by two barriers to performance. The weak barrier was behavioural, and defeated a minority of teams; the strong barrier was a barrier to creative or innovative performance, and defeated the majority of those teams passing through the weak barrier.

The two-barrier model offered a rich starting point for exploring how a team leader might be influencing the performance of teams. As our training interventions were intended to facilitate a team’s creativity, we began to look for a deeper understanding of how the practice of creative leadership might explain the observed behaviors.

Creative leadership and benign structures

We began to refer to the leadership practices in the most successful teams as establishing benign structures for creative success (Rickards & Moger, 1999a; 2000). This implied a mechanism through which creative team leaders helped reconfigure the behavioural structures and practices under which team members operate:

 ‘We propose that theories of project team development and of creativity can be integrated into a new conceptual framework. The framework proposes two structural barriers that bear on team performance, and modifies the well-established team development model of Tuckman. Creative leadership is suggested as an important means of breaching the barriers. Its differentiating feature seems to be its effectiveness in establishing protocols that sustain the creative efforts of team members. We have designated the protocols “benign structures” ’ (Rickards & Moger, 2000: 273).

We later extended the concept beyond project teams, suggesting that trust-based leadership and creative leadership shared the capacity to develop benign structures, even using as case examples work on pain-free horse training and horse-whispering (Rickards & Moger 2002).

Much work remains before a satisfactory theory of benign structures can be advanced. Our understanding developed initially in our analysis of the behaviours observed in teams applying creative problem-solving techniques.

It should be noted that in real-life project work, the period in which a team is engaged in such deliberate structuring of creative activity is a fraction of the time spent together as a team. This point is unremarked on in the literature, and illustrates an area of future work in examining how a team engaged briefly with creativity-structuring activities carries over (learns from) such behaviors to influence the broader inter-personal and goal-oriented work of the group.

To illustrate our understanding of benign structures we will begin with the simpler case of how a team leader applying a creative problem-solving structure may influence a team through that structure. This gives the critical and distinctive set of circumstances within which we were postulating that leaders introduced benign structures to a project team, with positive consequences for its creative productivity. Creativity techniques situated in real-life applications are then regarded as emergent products adapted to circumstances through an experiential learning process (Rickards, 1974, 1993).

We refer to the pioneering work of William Gordon in his Synectics approach to stimulating creativity in teams.   Gordon suggested that a creativity technique at the level of an innovation-seeking team might achieve results through a facilitative leader applying procedures which influence the psychological states of team members to permit easier discovery of new ideas. He used the vocabulary of operational mechanisms to describe the procedures, and precepts to indicate guiding principles behind the procedures.  This is an approach which provides a way to tease out the essential features of leadership behaviors which are necessary (if not sufficient) for the introduction of benign structures into group processes.   In any application of a creativity-spurring technique, we may need to assess what principles (precepts) are implicit in the approach, and what structures, routines, or rules are introduced (operational mechanisms).

If we apply Gordon’s classification to Osborn’s celebrated brainstorming approach, operational mechanisms and principles can be seen, although these are not all as easy to disentangle as might be desired. Instructions to the team to ‘, go for a large number of ideas, and build on other people’s ideas’ and clearly operational mechanisms structuring behaviors. The ‘rule’ that ‘quantity’ [of ideas] increases ‘quality’ is offered as an operational mechanism, but it is a rather loosely framed instruction regarding actions, and cold arguably be closer to a precept sometimes referred to as the deferment of judgement principle).

This example demonstrates that the ‘rules’ or structures for stimulating creativity are sometimes quite precise, sometimes less precise. The precepts serve as ways in which variations in the structures can be developed through experience, proposed as a process of creative analysis, (Rickards, 1974).

 Change-oriented leadership

Later, evidence from a group of Swedish workers helped us to an understanding of how the work might be accommodated into the broader literature of leadership. Ekvall and Arvonen carried out extensive studies of project teams, reworking the methodology of the classical Ohio State studies (Arvonen, 2008; Ekvall & Arvonen, 1991, 1994). Their results challenged the long-accepted two-factor model of management influence on team work. Ekvall and Arvonen carried out extensive examination of leadership styles and reported that a third factor was emerging, one they termed a change-oriented style. They conclude that the style had just not been visible under the conditions in which teams were studied by the earlier workers. Rather, they suggested, increased organizational uncertainties had contributed to its emergence. This analysis provided us with a rationale for investigating the third style, which describe as a creative leadership style.

 The MPIA structure and team factors

Might the components within creative problem-techniques provide insights into the nature of a leader’s impact on a team? From this question we examined the most commonly-applied technique we had been developing, which had been derived from many years of experimentation in search of a system with widespread applicability as a teaching and development aid.   The system had originally developed from the Parnes-Osborn technique (Parnes, 1992).

In the 1990s, when we began developing interest in benign structures, we had settled in our work for a four-stage creative problem-solving model, presented by the acronym MPIA. Details of the model and its applications can be found in Rickards & DeCock (1994).

Prior to their engagement with the project we explain to participants that their work will be assisted if they follow principles of creative problem-solving, and structure their work into the four stages of the MPIA structure, namely mapping, perspective seeking, idea seeking and actions.   Also in the early training sessions, teams are provided with opportunities to experiment with applying the system on realistic exercises.

In applying the MPIA, teams consciously engage with a series of processes of information management. Experienced facilitators of creative problem-solving will recognise variations on the Parnes-Osborn system which includes stages of fact finding (akin to mapping); objective seeking (perspectives), idea finding and acceptance-seeking (ideas and actions). There are differences of emphasis in the treatments by different researchers but these are not salient to the present paper, and can be found in, among other published accounts, Rickards & De Cock, (1994) and Rickards & Moger, (1999a)

The MPIA structure helped us to derive suggests team factors which may be influenced by a leader following its stages. These became the focus of much quantification as cited below.

(1)        POU: Mapping suggested to us a process of building a platform of understanding (POU) around the project task.

(2)        SV: Perspective seeking suggested a system which encouraged the development of shared point of view, which we rounded up to a shared vision or common goal (SV).

(3)        IO: The idea seeking stage was refined when we conclude that for some groups generation of ideas without commitment to own them was less effective than groups which moved towards ideas that were owned. This the stage became one of idéa ownership processes (IO).

(4)        CLI We associated the MPIA protocols with a team factor arising because application of each of stages seemed to contribute to a constructive or creative team climate (CL)..

(5)        LFE Our systems model of MPIA indicated the possibility that experience gained through applying the technique fed back into new possibilities for subsequent applications. This gave us a the factor of learning from experience (LFE)

(6)        RES One aspect of the projects seemed to differentiate groups into those which were defeated by unexpected setbacks, and those which transcended setbacks (for example, in having a proposal rejected by a sponsor of client). This suggested the factor of resilience (RES)

(7)        NA This factor arose out of interviews with team sponsors, one of whom suggested that effective creative problem-solving in his experience often required networking skills. We borrowed his terminology of network activation (NA). .

Of the seven team factors we had arrived at, four arose directly from considerations of the MPIA model, and three from our involvement with the projects over an extended time period. [Footnote: strictly speaking the idea ownership factor is a hybrid factor. The operational mechanisms and precepts of the Parnes Osborn and MPIA models drew attention to a team’s capacity to generate powerful (‘creative’) ideas’. Our treatment added the component of commitment or ownership to the factor of idea generation skills]

The Team Factors Inventory

The seven team factors became the focus of empirical testing. After preliminary studies it became possible for us to make claims for an instrument through the use of which the seven factors could be extracted from self-reports (Rickards, Chen & Moger, 2001). This was to become known as the Team Factors Inventory (TFI).  Further testing has been conducted, including studies with Brazilian entrepreneurs (Gimenez, 2006) and Saudi Arabian finance professionals (Al Bereidi & Rickards, 2003).

The broad thrust of our work has been to work with teams on business tasks with minimal intrusion through application of measurement instruments. We have found this requires instrumentation of a minimalist kind. The most widely-applied version of the TFI is one that has retained its items once these were established as providing reliable indicators of the seven team factors. We acknowledge that this by no means ends the pursuit for psychometric improvements and welcome any such studies. Web-based data collection appears to be one promising way of achieving further improvement in factor resolution, while retaining ease of use of the instrument.

Assessing the evidence for the two-barrier model of team performance

There is overwhelming evidence that a minority of teams of all kinds perform ‘beyond expectations’. Furthermore, from the same diverse sets of experiences, another group of teams perform in a disappointing fashion. This group could be said to perform ‘beneath expectations’. The majority of teams seem to fit into those who might be said to achieve but not exceed expectations.   Over a period of a decade of application we have accumulated extensive evidence that a two barrier model is consistent with, and yet strengthens the earlier proposal by Tuckman that teams acquire improved performace over time. The evidence has also received overwhelming support when presented back to teams in survey-feedback fashion.   The next stage in exploring the model is to add convincing quantitatively-based evidence of its validity.

Some years ago we had hopes to establish such evidence from the TFI data that would add strength to the qualitative findings. To date, various statistical manipulations of the database suggest that a three factor resolution into high, medium, and low clusters of teams can be demonstrated. We have hesitated to report these findings, however, as our cluster analyses fail to exclude the possibilities suggested by two factor or higher factor solutions. In hindsight, we feel that the TFI serves as an excellent survey-feedback instrument with high face-validity with respondents. However, the quantitative evidence is too indirect to be taken as more than indicative.

For this, further work is required, with additional (or even different) instrumentation which would probe more directly the nature of barriers to creative performance.   Much the same can be said of the impact of benign structures within the processes of team development. Discussion into the nature of such instrumentation would be welcomed and acknowledged.


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Is the Two Pizza team the future for project management?

September 6, 2014

Amazon Web Services believes it has found the recipe for successful innovation in Two Pizza teams which it claims have launched nearly three hundred new services and features this year

A BBC article on innovation [September 2014] pointed to the fate of once-successful companies that had lost the innovation game to more dynamic and younger competitors. It cited Polaroid, Alta Vista, Kodak among the recent casualties.

The article went over ground that can be found in textbooks of innovation management: Innovate or die. One consultant was quoted as saying “Typically, big companies are much more conservative than start-ups and won’t do anything that is untested or could risk future profits”,  It then listed an approach advocated by Amazon Web Services:

Two Pizza teams

The challenge is to find ways of recreating the energy an dynamism of lean start-up operations within larger companies. Which is where Amazon’s Two Pizza teams come in: Perhaps it is online retailer and web services provider Amazon that best exemplifies lean start-up principles in action.
“Keeping teams small enough to be fed by two large pizzas, giving them autonomy and direct access to customers, encourages risk taking and innovation”, says Ian Massingham, technical evangelist for Amazon Web Services (AWS), the retailer’s cloud platform. “AWS has launched 280 new services and features this year – it’s all about making things better for our customers.”

Most commentators accept there is no one way for big companies to innovate, but they all agree that without innovation your days at the top could be numbered.

As simple as that?

Not really. The basic point has been around as lean thinking since the 1980s and a best-selling book of that name by Jim Womack and Dan Jones, founders of the Lean Enterprise Institute and the Lean Enterprise Academy. Lean thinking is a mix of practical advice for project managers with a philosophic (sometimes evangelical) background for overcoming the functionalism and silos of large organisations. The shift is exemplified in the shift from Fordist production lines to Toyota’s dynamic small teams.

Teams shall not live by Pizza alone

But teams shall not live by Pizzas alone. Amazon already had an innovation culture before the Two Pizza concept was announced. As Massingham said, encouraging risk-taking and innovation requires more distributed leadership, and autonomy to workers. Transformation requires more than a smart name.

Is Amazon under control or under the influence?

July 28, 2014

Bezos bullet train
Amazon announces disturbing financial figures. Its charismatic chairman Jeff Bezos will, as ever, be taking the long view

The mighty Amazon – the company not the river – may be in temporary trouble. Its second quarter sales reported on Thursday [24th July, 2014] showed powerful growth in revenues but unanticipated losses. The results worried the numbers people. Shares, already drifting downward, slumped around 10% on Wall Street the following day.

Taking the long view

Its founder and leader Jeff Bezos is famed for taking the long view. He is a business visionary who fitted the bill as a great leader for the near classic story he has helped bring about at Amazon. His leadership style is restless and remorseless.

He is noted for personal involvement and fermenting a culture of creative challenge. He also likes to ‘back-engineer’ strategy from a desired future to reach and deal with imminent decisions.

The immediate future

The immediate future suggests that his enthusiasm for innovation in the interests of that more distant future may have incurred costs for the present. The ideas at times have breath-taking simplicity. Sometimes there is an initial appearance of craziness that often accompanies great creativity. Think Steve Jobs, or Napoleon even.

This week, the craziness appears to be found in the diversity of effort which may suggest a lack of a cohesive plan. The results were timed to accompany the launch of the company’s new smartphone, the Fire Phone. Other recent plans have included grocery delivery, video streaming, and drone delivery of products.

Not to mention The Washington Post

Then there was the recent takeover of the Washington Post, with assurances from Bezos that under his ownership the newspaper will retain its independence, and certainly without influence brought to bear to advance Amazon’s interests.

Bezos is a fascinating business personality. He has created one of the Century’s most successful businesses with a simplicity of its core competence of rapid, safe product delivery at highly competitive prices. Perhaps its strategic trajectory constrains the creative impulses of its remarkable founder.

To be continued


Creative Leadership: Broken Windows, Maps and Dilemmas

June 13, 2014

Creative Leadership: Broken Windows, Maps and Dilemmas illustrates an approach for changing dysfunctional environments into more positive and creative ones

Creative leadership: broken windows, maps and dilemmas from Tudor Rickards

Who Broke my Windows?

The Broken Windows approach was initially used as a way of understanding how the quality of a physical environment can influence criminal behaviour. Thinking about this in terms of a creative climate we suggest that neglect of a physical working environment, together with poor quality personal behaviours (lack of courtesy, sarcasm and so on) can lead to a deteriorating atmosphere in which people feel demoralised and that their work is of no value. This leads to a downward spiral of performance and morale which can be very difficult to deal with.

We know from the work of Teresa Amabile, Steve Kramer, Goran Ekvall and others that behaviours are critical to sustaining a creative climate. If put under the stress of change we can all behave poorly, without realising it and without meaning to. It is the role of a creative leader to understand how these behaviours happen and how they might be addressed.

The unintended behaviours are

Being Rude
Being Greedy
Having Favourites

And the way to address them is to think about

Connecting and

so as to involve individuals, teams, and wider social groupings.

To be continued

Dilemmas of leadership: Test your judgement on creative leadership

June 5, 2014

Dilemmas of Leadership 2nd EdnTest your judgement on this five minute quiz on creative leadership. The questions are based on the chapter on creative leadership in the textbook Dilemmas of Leadership.

The challenge

A sample of students helped ‘test the test’ and scored around 60% (3-10 range).

Click this link to find the quiz

What I want to become: An exercise in creative leadership

May 11, 2014

Here’s an exercise in creative leadership. It takes five minutes to complete. Try it out for yourself or for your friends or with people you work with


You can do this exercise using an A4 sheet of paper, or a flip chart or using a computer or tablet. I will describe it for working with a sheet of paper but it is easy to translate for working from a flip chart or computer.


1 First you take a piece of paper and make two columns by drawing a line vertically down the middle of the page

2 Then at the top of the left hand column you write
I want to become ……

3 Then you complete the sentence with your wished-for future dream in no more than three additional words. It may be a professional wish or a personal one.

4 At the top of the right hand column write a statement about some quite different wish. You can select from this list of wishes suggested to me in the past. Select something as far away as possible from your statement in the left-hand column:

Airline pilot
Nobel Prize winning scientist
Famous explorer
Famous peace maker
Role model for children
Olympic athlete
Respected family person
Great teacher

5 Write down quickly ten ideas that would help you or someone else achieve the wish in the right-hand column. Let your imagination rip

6 Take a short break

7 Now turn your attention to the left-hand column

8 Look at the first item on the right and see what needs to be changed for it to suggest something in the left hand column

9 Write down the first thought that seems to connect with your own wish, opposite the first item on the right.

10 Repeat the process with the next item from the right hand column

11 Keep repeating the process. It will always be possible to find a connection for each idea

12 Take another short break before identifying idea you like most for a first step towards you reaching your dream

Why the exercise works and what might prevent it working

I know the exercise work because colleagues and I have tried it out on creativity courses around the world countless times. I expect it to have worked for you as a subscriber to Leaders We Deserve. The basic principles are derived from application of techniques for re-framing thoughts and visualizing future actions.

Sometimes it doesn’t work. There are various possible explanations for this. Most are to do with the specific circumstances under which the exercise was carried out. If it didn’t work for you, A conversation though the comments section of LWD may be found helpful. You can also find out more from courses and many books about creative problem-solving.

21st Century Leadership: the jury is out [part 2]

May 1, 2014

Venus ascendingThe judge continues his summing up by examining the evidence brought before the court of five emerging trends in 21st Century Leadership

Members of the jury. I will complete my summing-up this morning and then provide you with final instructions which you are to follow in reaching your verdict.

I turn first to the five emerging theories brought before this court as relevant to leadership in the 21st century. Before I do that I will comment on the uniqueness of the five theories. In this respect I am reminded of an ancient authority who said that there is nothing new under the sun. Indeed, each of these ‘new’ theories has connections with earlier theories, and may be seen as emergent of the old with new definitions. You must not become confused by such labels. I will offer a working definition and a few brief notes on each theory paying particular attention to connections with the Dominant Rational Model of Leadership

First we heard about Level 5 leadership. This is considered a style which is characterized by personal humility and fierce resolve. The theory presents itself as evidence that Level 5 leaders are more successful than charismatic leaders in comparable situations. This is seen as evidence we are moving towards a post-charismatic understanding of leadership effectiveness. I should add that the major study of Level 5 leadership reported to us applied the scientific methodology of establishing rational proof. This makes its approach modern and supporting the dominant rational model, rather than post-modern and challenging it.

The second emerging theory, is Distributed Leadership. As implied in its name, Distributed Leadership is a theory about sharing of leadership responsibilities. This description is close to the roles and structuring found in in the older models of scientific management. Witness statements were provided from contemporary sports teams, musical ensembles and military tactical teams. Distributed leadership was presented mostly as a strictly rational approach. However, business practitioners also mentioned the benefits of fostering team spirit and initiative, leading to ’empowered’ team participants acting beyond formally designated leadership roles. You may conclude that such considerations go beyond a totally rational explanation of the theory

The third emerging theory is Trust-based Leadership. Trust-based leadership has become popular among consultants and practicing leaders as we heard from the witness statements. The special feature of trust-based leadership is achieving results through gaining trust of colleagues and the wider network of social contacts. As described my practitioner leaders, trust based leadership appears as an instrumental approach to achieving a leader’s goals. This was described by the academic Joseph Rost as typical of the technological and rational belief system of much of 20th century leadership. In other words, the belief systems of advocates of trust-based leadership are strongly influenced by the dominant rational model.

The fourth emerging theory is that of Creative Leadership. A creative leader is someone who stimulates creative outcomes in others through a style encouraging change and innovation. An important aspect of creative leadership is that it helps overcome dilemmas in decision-making by escaping ‘either-or’ thinking. Creative leadership is a challenge to purely rational approaches and as with trust-based leadership can be traced to pre-modern theories such as charismatic leadership.

The fifth emerging theory is Positive Leadership Positive Leadership promotes positive self-image as a means of personal development. It is based on the positive psychology movement, which itself can be traced to humanistic psychology. The style is affirmative, encouraging and celebrating success. It is regarded with suspicion by many authorities of cognitive psychology who remain more closely wedded to models of internal mental constructions. Put simply, Positive Leadership challenges the dominance of rational models of psychology and of leadership.

You will have to examine each theory in turn and explore how it relates to the dominance of the rational model of leadership. Before you retire to begin that task, I intend to summarize one more set of witness statements. These were five other leadership themes which were mentioned more briefly in the evidence provided in this trial. They may nevertheless turn out to be highly significant in your deliberations. I suggest we take a short break, after which I will complete by summing up with reference to these five theories.

Witness Statements

British Quality Foundation: Leading with Vision, Inspiration and Integrity

To be concluded