Creative Leadership: From Manchester to Moscow in the new Trump era

November 21, 2016

Donad Trump

A scheduled lecture via Skype from Manchester to students in Moscow took place in the week of Donald Trump’s victory in the election campaign. Here are the lecturer’s notes of the lecture content

Professor Gershman developed the course ‘Managing Creativity and Innovation’ for the Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK) within the Higher School of Economics, Moscow.

ISSEK is a well-known research and analytical centre in Russia, specializing in science, technology and innovation studies. ISSEK is collaborating closely with the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research (Prof. Ian Miles is the head of ISSEK’s Laboratory of Economics of Innovation, Prof. Luke Georghiou is a member of ISSEK Advisory Board).

Monday 6 November 2016

Introductory remarks:What is creativity. Many theories.

My background: A scientist, chemist, studied worked in UK and New York

Creativity background:

The Creative act that had me fired for insolence. When ‘permission was not granted’.

Definitions are ‘contingent not universal‘.

Consensus has formed around creativity as a process generating new, relevant, useful outcomes.

Creativity and Policy:  Not my strong area: My research has been more at level of individual, team.

Educational policy in USA after ‘Sputnik’: the creative initiative 1957, Dawn of space age.

Guilford’s earlier speech to The American Psychological Association: Was said to have drawn attention to the potential in studies of creativity for educational advances (pedagogy). Torrance tests, also later sent into space with other artefacts

Education policy in Venezuala: via Minister of Education to stimulate creativity through De Bono’s models (lateral thinking) Information processing (Cognitive) model. Escape from fixation via contradictions, randomness, fantasy. His work supported by recent neurological studies.

Creativity theories: Support Kahnman’s biases in economic theory.

The technology hotspots model: Richard Florida’s controversial creative city model. Three factors of Talent, Technology, Tolerance, resulting in economic hot spots

Questions:

Creativity ‘past present and future’ [PowerPoint]

Psychological approaches to creativity in Heath service [PowerPoint]

Questions:

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Creative Leadership: From Manchester to Moscow in the new Trump era

November 17, 2016

A scheduled lecture from Manchester to students in Moscow took place in the week of Donald Trump’s victory in the election campaign. Here’s the content of the Skype arrangement

With some trepidation, I accepted an invitation to address an international course on the topic of creativity from my home base in England. The inevitable teething troubles with technology were solved in a somewhat tense day prior to the first of two lecture sessions, which took place [Monday 6 November 2016] a few days before the conclusion of the American Presidential election.

Professor Gershman developed the course ‘Managing Creativity and Innovation’ for the Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK) within the Higher School of Economics, Moscow.

ISSEK is a well-known research and analytical centre in Russia, specializing in science, technology and innovation studies. ISSEK is collaborating closely with the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research  (Prof. Ian Miles is the head of ISSEK’s Laboratory of Economics of Innovation, and Prof. Luke Georghiou is a member of ISSEK Advisory Board).

Here are the outline notes I had propped up in front of me, and also visible to the students

Introductory Remarks

What is creativity: Many theories.

My background: A scientist, chemist, studied worked in UK and New York

The Creative act that had me fired for insolence

Definitions: ‘contingent not universal’.

Consensus around creativity as a process generating new, relevant, useful outcomes.

Policy and creativity:

Policy is not my strong area: My research more at level of individual, team

Educational policy in USA after ‘Sputnik’: the creative initiative 1957, Dawn of space age.

Guilford’s earlier speech to The American Psychological Association: Was said to have drawn attention to the potential in studies of creativity for educational advances (pedagogy)

Torrance tests, were later sent into space with other artefacts

Education policy in Venezuala: via Minister of Education to stimulate creativity through De Bono’s models (lateral thinking) Information processing (Cognitive) model. Escape from fixation via contradictions, randomness, fantasy. His work supported by recent neurological studies.

Creativity theories: support Kahnman’s biases in economic theory.

The technology hotspots model: Richard Florida’s controversial creative city model. Three factors of Talent, Technology, Tolerance, resulting in economic hot spots

The USA election: Say it may be worthwhile taking a look at the election for the next session, after the result is known.

Questions:

Creativity ‘past present and future’ [PowerPoint]

Psychological approaches to creativity in Heath service [PowerPoint]

Questions:

To be continued


McBride’s head revisited: Spads spin and creativity

April 13, 2009
Machiavelli

Machiavelli

The sacking of Gordon Brown’s special advisor Damien McBride raises questions about the moral neutrality of creativity and the implications of this for leadership

Politics, like any sub-culture, has its own dialect and signifiers which are viewed with suspicion by outsiders, and used unthinkingly inside the tent. This week the word spads oozed into the wider public consciousness from Westminster, referring to special political advisors.

Spads, we learn, are functionaries hired to bring in fresh ideas, supplying their political masters with ‘out of the box’ thinking (to use another much-loathed signifier of management and political speak).

If Spads have a patron saint it would be Machiavelli, widely remembered for his handbook of political advice to leaders, a best-seller ever since it was written nearly five centuries ago.
Our story this week deals with the sudden dismissal of Gordon Brown’s special advisor, Damien McBride. Damien’s ideas hardly compare with the wisdom of mighty Mach for the power of their insights. About the only thing the two spads have in common is loyalty to a patron and to the patron’s perceived best interests.

Spads occupy a world which often brackets off moral judgments in its preoccupations with extreme pragmatism. I happen to think it raises another important issue for leaders on the moral neutrality of the creative act (which I’ll get to later).

McBride’s head revisited

First, the context to the McBride story. Seems that while musing on how to support the waning cause of his master’s popularity, McBride hit on the idea of smearing Gordon’s political enemies. In the manner of spads, he ran it up the flagpole to see who would salute it. Or, less metaphorically, he sent the idea by email to a friend and fellow Spad, Derek Draper. Said e-mail gets into the public domain. Let’s spread around some juicy rumours about David Cameron. Oh yes, and George Osborne as well, and what’s her name, that Nadine Dorries. What a wheeze! The stories don’t even have to be true. Brilliant.

Not very clever at all, really. According to Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political correspondent [April 1th 2009]

[McBride] had been by Gordon Brown’s side for many years, paid to try to control the media coverage of his boss. But the e-mails he wrote to his old pal – another former Labour spin doctor, Derek Draper – crossed the line even in the often brutal world of politics.
He is leaving Number 10 with no severance pay, no fat pay off, according to a Downing Street source.

And not everyone appears to be buying Cabinet Office minister Liam Byrne’s explanation that this was “one private e-mail exchange between a couple of friends who were knocking backwards and forwards ideas.”

Drearily, the story survives a few days

Something has to fill the headlines over the Easter holiday period. Gordon Brown (with or without spad advice) seems to have acted decisively in damage limitation. It seems likely that without some unexpected twist to the tale, the Prime Minister will endure short-term public embarrassment, the cost of closure of the episode. Why no long-term damage? Partly because of the likeliness that efforts to do so will require political energies as well as media enthusiasm. The conservatives are unlikely to divert too much effort from more promising targets, already identified or hopping into view of their artillery.

In essence, it is a sad and not unfamiliar political story. Remember the tale of the humiliation of a spad who had the idea of a good day to bury bad news, [after the twin towers atrocity of 2001] and who lost her job when the idea leaked into the public domain?

A question of creativity

If we look at the story differently, we see that it raises questions about widely-held assumptions about the nature of creativity.

Creativity is about thinking the unthinkable. Yes. Creativity is often associated with drawing attention to ideas which have been ignored and gone unnoticed. Yes. The touchstone of a creative idea on these grounds is the moment of insight. The emotional charge accompanying the act of creation. ‘Eureka! Why didn’t I think of that before’.

Social conditioning reduces openness to the unconventional so that the feared and challenging and unfamiliar become ‘unthinkable’. The nonconformist serves to draw attention to such ideas. Less concerned with social criticism, he or she presses on. For Shaw, it is unreasonableness that is needed for progress. More recently, for Richard Florida, it is bohemianism which gives added vitality to a creative culture.

I find it more convincing to recognise the dangers of over-rigid and limited evaluation of ideas in inhibiting individuals and groups from accepting the merits of new ideas. Two cheers for Florida’s bohemians and Shaw’s unreasonable man. One cautionary reminder: unconventionality can be a form of knee-jerk rebellion or of eccentricity, both of which may help shake up the over-tight bonds of conventional thinking. We may chose to label all such behaviours examples of creativity in action.

For me, most politicians have accepted the view that they didn’t get where they are through outstanding abilities at coming up with good ideas. This opened the way to spads to do their creative thinking for them. And also to be there to get the blame if something unpleasant results from their subsequent creative actions.

This line of reasoning takes me to the conclusion that Mr McBride was not particularly creative. His moment of inspiration amounted essentially to ‘let’s smear Cameron’. As an idea, its down there with Kenny Everett’s less than inspired cry ‘Let’s bomb Russia’, or more recently Russell Brand’s on-air ravings against another media figure. Novelty is not an adequate criterion for creative productivity.


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

November 18, 2007

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

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

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

Definitions, definitions

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

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

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

The second suggestion is that creativity occurs when somneone is

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

Looking but not seeing

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

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

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

Theories of creativity

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

Creativity in action

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

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

The creative individual

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

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

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

The creative group

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

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

The Creative organization

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

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

The Creative culture

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

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

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

To go more deeply

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