Friday, 29 October 2010

Who is creative?

Many people think of artists, writers, product designers and marketing professionals.

I believe that creativity and innovation show up in all walks of life, but may look different in each domain.

Here's a BBC radio 4 documentary, which explores creativity and innovation in tax avoidance. Who are the creative people in this area?  Bankers, accountants, multinational companies.

The tax gatherer's dilemma?  'It's like a fat policeman chasing a Ferrari'.

Friday, 15 October 2010

How do you solve a problem like slums?

What do we do?  

Increase benefits, provide courses, send in health and social workers to protect children.... adapt the architecture, install security lights, increase local policing........ introduce drug programmes, send in the police to stop prostitution and drug dealing on the street.....  start parenting programmes........

Does it work?  How many children from the slums end up in good jobs, with self respect and a fine reputation?  I can think of one lawyer who made it, but not many others.

One man in another country came up with an idea that seems counter intuitive:  give a child a musical instrument and teach them classical music.   It sounds bonkers.  This is the result:

José Antonio Abreu founded El Sistema and the Simon Bolivar youth orchestra of Venezuela is now world famous for the energy and commitment of its players, some of whom have moved on to major orchestras overseas.

The movement is spreading to the UK.  There's a project in Scotland and a recent success in Everton:

Politicians have increased the emphasis on distinguishing between beneficial activities, (such as science & engineering subjects for degree study), making an assumption that other activities have no value.

I'm not so sure.

When I say SOLVE, I don't mean that slums disappear. In the case of Venezuela, large numbers of young people and their families now have opportunities, meaning and purpose. There are still gangs, drug problems, criminality and prostitution, but el sistema has made an impact that is visible to the world.

You can't build a house without a solid foundation

One of my favourite concepts is by Krackhardt & Hanson.  They worked on the organisation behind the chart and discovered that trust and influence may have greater power than position in the hierarchy.  They diagram advice, trust and communication networks within organisations. (Here's the crib notes version):

This idea seems fundamental for today's managers. How can you solve problems and initiate change and innovation if you haven't built a solid foundation of people support?

We recently had a change of Vice Chancellor at the OU.  We, the great unwashed mass of part time tutors (Associate Lecturers), were not optimistic that Mr Bean, formerly of Microsoft, would have much interest in supporting and expanding our role.  The great fear was that we would become a technology only university.

Martin Bean knows a thing or two about building communication, trust and influence.  He has travelled around and met all his heads of schools and regions (and given them a nudge to make better contact with all their staff).  He has written articles in the OU magazine praising the work of ALs and reassuring us that we're here to stay.   He's also started podcasts/video broadcasts to staff on a regular basis.

He is upfront about the future and limits of what he can do in the current climate. The former government prioritised first degrees and reduced support for postgraduate education.

He seems to be listening to staff concerns and has taken steps to involve part time tutors in contributing to current development.

Here's Martin Bean's comment on the latest government proposals for Higher Education.

Have all ALs dropped their misgivings?  No. However there is greater confidence that the VC is listening and acting on feedback as well as having a clear vision for the future.  He walks the talk and doesn't just schmooze with politicians.

I've noticed that Business School ALs are more willing to contribute again to discussions and that confidence is building.  I've had direct experience of contacting Martin Bean and resolving an issue for some of my students last year.

You don't climb Everest in one leap and neither do you build trust and influence straight away.  It takes regular and consistent effort.

I bang on about this concept as it is the single thing that has made the biggest difference to my clients' careers over the years.
In my coaching practice, I've helped turn around career prospects of clients from near redundancy to secure footing (shifting from threat to ally of senior management) by changing their focus towards building trust and influence.  With some functions such as IT, when senior bosses are technophobes and would dearly love to outsource the whole department, internal marketing is vital for survival.

What is creativity?

Every year I gather 20+ MBA students together and many of them think they're NOT creative.  Somehow they have the idea that it's all about flower arranging, strutting around in a tutu and composing symphonies.

Wikipedia defines it thus:

'Creativity refers to the phenomenon whereby something new is created which has some kind of value.' 

We then find out who they are.  Some are parents who face new challenges daily and find ways to overcome them without reading a baby manual.  Some are motorcyclists or mountaineers and have worked their way out of tricky problems miles from any other human being, improvising with whatever materials they have to hand.

All of them work in organisations that have internal politics, competition, external threats and various levels of chaotic management.  They've all navigated their way through the rapids and waterfalls to arrive on the course.  

I conclude that they are all creative, but most of them don't recognise it...