beCause Associate Peter Cook just released a book with Bloomsbury Publishing, Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise . I asked Peter for some insights into this, the 11th book he has written or contributed to over 22 years in business.
What prompted you to write this book?
I have had three passions across my life – science, business and music. When I was four years old I wanted to be in The Beatles. By nine, I wanted to be a brain scientist. At 18, I joined a pharmaceutical company as a chemist and traveled the world, fixing factories and scaling up life-saving drugs, including the world’s first treatment for HIV / AIDS and work to introduce human insulin to the world. By 29 I became fascinated with management and started working in a Business School alongside my day job. At 34, I started my own business and some five years later I began the synthesis of science, business and music via The Academy of Rock. Creativity has been a constant in my three “Shumpeterian” 18-year long cycles of innovation in my life. The book has therefore been maturing for nearly 20 years, having written my first book on creativity and innovation in 1996. Tens of thousands of hours of diverse experience have gone in, working as a business practitioner across a wide range of sectors and fueling my thinking via my work as an MBA academic and adventurer. Crossing the chasm from science to art has informed my writing as a business consultant much more than traditional MBA driven textbooks. Bloomsbury were struck by the quality and depth of thought leadership without making the book inaccessible through the use of jargon.
What is the main focus of the book?
Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise is divided into two parts. The first deals with you, the individual whilst the second addresses you and your enterprise. Having great ideas and realizing them as innovations is one thing but leading teams and whole companies such that creativity and innovation are embedded into the corporate corpuscles of the enterprise is entirely another.
In part one of the book we address questions such as:
- What are the roots of creativity and imagination?
- How can we create the physiological and mental states under which creativity happens naturally rather than having to rely on creative thinking tools like some kind of mental crutch?
- How can you lead Brain Based Enterprises?
- What is the role of technique in engendering creativity within teams? What are the most effective and reliable recipes for team based creativity?
In part two of the book, we scale these thoughts to the level of your enterprise, addressing questions such as:
- How do culture, leadership style and values support or limit innovation and creativity?
- How does organisation structure support or limit innovation and creativity? What can we do about it?
- How can we encourage others to bring their heads, heart and souls to work to create a Brain Based Enterprise?
- How may we become a genuine learning enterprise? How can agility and anti-fragility become part of the enterprise’s core competences?
Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise is punctuated by a vast number of examples and case studies to help you use the ideas in your own enterprise, be it large or small.
How did you get the book deal?
My whole life as an author started by accident, when I wrote a letter to a magazine requesting companies to come forward for research on creativity and innovation. I was underwhelmed by the response but got a letter from a reputable publisher requesting that I write a book. This became “Best Practice Creativity”. To my surprise Professor Charles Handy sent me a postcard with a very complementary handwritten note about it and that was the spur to other things.
Most people will tell you that you must have a literary agent. It ain’t necessarily so. In my case, I have used the side door (rather than the front door) to gain entry on more than one occasion. I got a publishing contract for Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll by spending 30 minutes on the publisher’s stand. They began to notice that I’d sold more books in that time than they had probably sold all day themselves. They became curious and I pointed out that there was one book missing on their shelves … mine! The sales manager went back to the office and told the managing editor and the rest was simple.
In the case of Bloomsbury, my friend Professor Adrian Furnham invited me to his book launch. On arrival he ambushed the managing editor and told her that she needed to meet me to discuss having a book from me! We did and she was struck by my more academic side, so we ended up signing a deal for this work. My advice to anyone considering writing a book is to look for the side doors into the publishing world rather than following the (usually) intensely bureaucratic route, which can take longer than writing the book itself!
You talk about Brain Based Enterprises. What is a BBE?
Nearly 30 years ago, Fred Moody and Bill Gates recognized that the basis of competitive advantage had fundamentally shifted from the agrarian age to the industrial era to the information superhighway, when it was commented that Microsoft’s only factory asset is the human imagination. The corresponding shift is from what could be crudely called Brawn Based Industries (BBIs) to Brain Based Enterprises (BBEs).
Research has shown that our brains absorbed five times more information every day as compared with 1986. During our leisure time every day, each of us processes 34 gigabytes, or 100,000 words. In such a world, strategy changes from a long-range plan to a flexible posture, where the half-life of knowledge is in freefall and success depends on creativity as a key input and innovation a key output. Adapt, innovate or die has never been more true in an age of exponential information growth and discontinuity.
Is everyone creative?
Yes. However, not all creativity is what I call “good creativity”. In business, good creativity is defined by ideas that are novel, appropriate and feasible such that they turn into sustainable innovations rather than next week’s fads. Whilst we are all creative, we all need to channel that into what it is that turns good ideas into innovation. Random creativity is the stuff of entrepreneurs that do not manage to find a market for their ideas. Pure creativity is fine but it is the stuff of pure artists who have no concern for an outlet for their creativity.
At a strategic level, some people fear that creativity is the enemy of strategy. It is not. A good strategy allows for responsiveness and agility and this requires creative responses to opportunities that appear which are consistent with the general direction of travel. A bad strategy either fails to respond or, worse still flip flops around to every fad that appears on the horizon, with the result that there is no focus in what the enterprise does. Good creativity is needed at all levels to help Brain Based Enterprise flex their corporate synapses and corpuscles to respond to a VUCA world. In the book we visit companies such as FujiFilm and Nokia to examine how they learn collectively.
How do you lead and manage Brain Based Individuals?
With thought and care is my starter on this! Many creative people refuse to be managed, but they can be led, which is more about aligning their passions with a purpose. Embedded in this short sentence is a huge mass of complexity around finding what gets people out of bed in the morning to come to work at your enterprise, and, more importantly, what keeps them coming over the long-term. How then do you design work as an experience that gets the best out of your people and which engages them to give their best? There is a whole section in the book on the importance of doing Organisation Development properly and I also cover the topic in another micro book on HR and OD called Punk Rock People Management – a no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff”.
How do you create a Brain Based Enterprise?
We need a much more organic / biological outlook on organization development than an industrial / process model if we are to create enterprises which think, learn, adapt and respond to a changing environment. I compare an industrial approach to one that is more humanistic. As we computerize businesses and commerce in general it seems to me that we are in danger of returning to industrial algorithms for getting things done which do not align with the hugely complex organisms that we are as human beings. Just today whilst writing this, I suffered the indignity of phoning the tax office to get a form to send my corporation tax in, to be told that I could not have the form without a special code. Trouble was, the reason I called them was because they had not sent the code in the first place!! I pointed out the irony of the circular nature of the problem, yet the “assistant” was only able to repeat the algorithm and tell me that was “ what the system required”. I began to wonder just what the point of being honest was.
That said, the enterprises I interviewed for the book may have the same amounts of information and intelligence, yet they use it to superior value. We study the examples of MetroBank, Innocent Drinks, Ingentis etc. in the book to gain practical insights into how these ideas translate into everyday practice.
How did you gain engagement from major companies like Virgin, Roche, WL Gore, Pfizer etc. in the book? And some of the music celebrities that you mention?
The headline answer to your question is through networking. I won a prize for my work in leadership from Richard Branson nearly two years ago. This led to gaining a job as an author for Virgin.com and delivering events for them. By the time I asked for the interview with Richard I was almost a family member! Although this seems simple, I observe almost daily that people expect to gain similar results without the investment of time and care that often goes into a relationship based on trust. I’d done extensive work with Pfizer over the years, which they are still using. Thus it was an easy ask to gain a case study from them and others. In general the lesson here is to create value before seeking reciprocity.
In the music industry, through network contacts I’ve interviewed people as diverse as Roberta Flack, John Mayall, George Clinton, Sheila E, Patti Russo etc. This gave me direct access into the minds of people whose business it is to turn creativity into innovation. For me there is direct transferability of these concepts into the world of enterprise.
How can people access the ideas in the book?
Well, reading it would be a great start! :-) All joking aside, concepts like creativity and leadership benefit even more from living them collectively over just reading them individually. We offer superb “stand and involve” keynotes and longer masterclasses, which include opportunities to participate rather than just passively consume. The book also supports the “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise Programme”, spread out over 1-2 years. This offers the opportunity to really practice the strategies and skills for massive returns on your investment. Working alongside other Global Associates offers us the unique opportunity to customize each program to meet the specific needs of a given client enterprise.
On occasion we supplement our serious work with parallel lessons from the field of music. Here’s a sample of some work we did in Italy where we were asked to demonstrate the gentle art of improvisation within a “score”. This was a solo demonstration. More unusually members of the client business are involved with these “thought experiments” for unforgettable experiences alongside the business concepts we present.
Peter Cook, CEO Human Dynamics, is a scientist, business academic and musician offering conference keynotes, organisational development, training and coaching for the world’s top companies. He appears on television, radio and print media, blending leading ideas on business with the power of music. See 3-min video of him performing at Frontiers of Interaction Conference.