Creative Leadership – From There to Here

I recently found myself in a hotel room with some time, some paper, some paint and a brush, a fatal combination. I started to play and here’s what happened at first.

Creative Leadership #1

Frankly – this is awful. It’s overcrowded, it’s a mess. There was a time, not so long ago when I would have thrown this in the bin, shut the paintbox lid and gone and done something else. Not this time. This time I thought a while and tried again.

Creative Leadership #2

Attempt number two. This time I get something quite different. This time, though the basic colours remain the same, water plays a much bigger part in flowing and diffusing the image. Is it any better? It hints at movement, dance, maybe something floral?

Creative Leadership #3


Attempt number three. This time the blue has gone, replaced with a red. I’ve tried to apply different quantities of water on the paper to create different depths of colour. I titled this image Roses In The Hospital, to me it somehow evokes life blood.

Creative Leadership #4

Attempt number four. I’m due to go out soon, and before I go I decide to have one more play. This version interested me as I tried to draw one colour into another. I called it Pressed, as it reminded me a little of pressed flowers.

I learned, and was reminded of a couple of important things as I moved through a journey that took around 50 minutes.

You can’t jump into creativity. It isn’t an app you just switch on. It isn’t PowerPoint, it isn’t Excel, it isn’t Word. Creativity is something you need to slide into. I gave myself enough time to experiment. How much is enough? I don’t know, and I do know it’s often more than we first think.

Mix and match. Subtle changes in direction can bring about marked differences. All through this experiment I used the same basic equipment, altering only the volume of water, and swapping one colour for another. I wasn’t looking for the next big thing, I was placing small, low risk bets and getting on with it.

Rob Jones wrote recently about creativity and implementation. In his post he says:

It is my belief that to successfully drive innovation within an organisation it is not creativity that needs to be addressed (walk around your business tomorrow and ask if anyone has any ideas – there’ll be loads) it’s how the organisation successfully considers those ideas, turns them into plans, funds them and executes them into sustainable change that is the challenge in being more innovative. In other words how does the system adapt to the change required that requires focus not the impetus for change.

I agree that often the impetus for change is not the challenge, and that businesses are often not good at considering ideas, sequencing and prioritising them, and acting on them. However from my experience, ideas are not as plentiful as Rob suggests, and they’re certainly not encouraged out into the open often enough. You can’t begin to consider, sequence, prioritise and act if you can’t first create the environment for ideas to seed, grow and develop.

As for that first awful picture I showed you – it did end up in the bin, where it belonged (though it was later rescued). The other three? We’ll see what happens with them later.


We’re Going Back to Being Human

My good friend and associate Gareth wrote a piece this week called ‘Conversation is the New Currency’. I think the post is interesting and I disagree with his assertion about newness. Long before social media ever existed and (insert religious being of choice here) willing, long after too – conversation will be vital. It is indeed a currency older than the Roman Sestersius. The fag break, the lunch break, the hello on the way into work, the goodbye on the way out – all these and more existed long afore ye twitter and ye olde Facebookke.

Rob Jones has written a piece called ‘The One With the Wrong Era’, in which Rob challenges Gareth’s assertion through the lens of his father. Both these posts are well worth a read, and if you’re not already following Gareth and Rob on Twitter, I think you’ll get a lot of value from doing so.

I’m sitting in the sun, reading and absorbing all this stuff when I spot Matt Alder (yeah follow him too) tweet about Rob’s post. Matt said, ‘Agreed, we’re just going back to being human.’ I love it, we’re just going back to being human. If I was some kinda inspirational tweet guru I’d stick that top of my list, or at least on a t-shirt.

Before Frederick W Taylor came along and fucked everything with his well meaning and bonkers ideas around command and control, we used to get stuff done at least partly through talking with each other. Talking, learning, sharing; skills, ideas and methods. And as Rob’s post shows us, we still managed even though FWT’s ideas became widely adopted. Some of the best examples of engagement in the broadest sense and between the broadest range of stakeholders, occurs through the art of conversation. Yes we need to listen, do, feedback, improve, loop the loop and all that. But we’ve all been there. The best places we work are the ones where useful conversation helps to make work better, where the art of conversation is seen as inspiring, not inconvenient, winning not wasteful.

We’ll be talking more about this stuff at the upcoming Stop Doing Dumb Things event on June 27th if you’d like to join us (I couldn’t resist!), and it’s the subject of my talk at the Ohio SHRM in September, although Matt’s title is waaay better than the one I’m currently using (note to self – change it!).

We’re Going Back to Being Human. Thanks Matt.

photo credit


Hong Kong Wait Long

I’m delighted to welcome the excellent Rob Jones as today’s guest blogger. When he’s not kicking up a racket over here, you can check Rob out over at the excellent Masters or Bust. As the late great Joe Strummer would have said, take it away Jonesy…

“In my experience you don’t have to look far to see either the good or the bad in customer experience. The best businesses have it systemised – it’s part of their DNA, everything they do is with the customer in mind (Apple stores come to mind) and the worst rely on individuals to bring their personal standards to work and trade off the back of them.

Airlines have had a torrid couple of years. With the advent of technology making global communication easier and cheaper along with the global economic situation making business travel far less attractive, the airlines have been facing an awesome challenge to remain profitable and in facing that challenge some cost engineering has clearly gone on…. with a few employee relations issues, the ghosts of a bygone era still challenging some!

I have had the (mis)fortune to fly a lot over the past few years (I think I did around 45 work flights last year) and it’s amazing how the service standards on the Asian airlines are very different to those elsewhere. I’m not sure whether it’s cultural but the attention to customers and the care taken in the service (irrespective of flight class) is just a notch above.

Last night I flew from Shanghai to Hong Kong on Dragon Air. Dragon Air is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cathay Pacific and operates regionally in Asia, winning quite a few awards. Despite being ‘down the back’ I still received great service. A menu for dinner, my choice of Haagen Daazs ice cream and even the landing card was delivered with a smile and the proactive offer of a pen. For not a large sum of money it was a great experience which had me landing in Hong Kong on time and in a great mood….

Which is when the wheels came off the wagon and all of Dragon Air’s good work was flushed!

We arrived at a satellite terminal and rather than a train or walkway to get to the main terminal we needed to get a bus. No big deal. Apart from the fact that 3 flights had arrived at the same time and there was only one bus and NO communication. After waiting 25 minutes (at around 11pm) to finally get on the bus we arrived at the main terminal to see queues for immigration that resembled the opening of a Star Wars movie.

Staff were promptly mobilised and the rate increased when two things happened that got me ranting and given I was travelling on my own I had to rant by email…

1. More immigration officers opened more desks and they split the queue across more desks. All good so far… Apart from they took the back of the queue to the new desks so people who were behind in the queue were processed first. My exhausted righteous gland was twitching

2. A video was looped to TV sets showing to the queue. The topic of the video was the proposed third runway at Hong Kong airport. The video featured Hong Kong business people and celebrities talking about the need to expand the airport and WAIT FOR IT – what an amazing airport it was. How it is a model of efficiency to airports all over the world and how easy and effective they find the airport. At this point I nearly ruptured something!

I understand that every operation has challenges. I recognise that the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley etc etc but DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT, play a video bragging about how brilliant your airport is to a queue of people who are experiencing first hand that it isn’t always brilliant!

I landed at 2242. I picked up my bag at 2356. I will not for fear of distress discuss the taxi queue…

Dragon Air – we doff to you

Hong Kong International Airport – epic FAIL!”

In other news, our recent BA flight from Nice to London was delayed for over 90 minutes with no explanation. At least we had a seat to sit on, a game of Yahtzee and a small bottle of wine purchased from the café just before closing to help pass the time. Has anyone else found themselves hanging around at the airport lately?

photo c/o Giacomo P