In the beginning...
This may turn out to be rather a personal account in places, since it will tell the story, however briefly, of how this work came about and some of the philosophy which can be seen peeping through here and there. Much of the philosophy is held with equal commitment by all who are connected to building this new website since we have worked together on lots of diverse projects for many years. One of our common interests is learning.
When I completed my Oxford degree (MA OXON), and my teacher training there, I began my career as a schoolmaster which I had set my heart on. I had to change course due to polio which impaired some of my strength especially as sport was such an important part of school life. I diverted into industry where there was less of a robust physical demand. After climbing ladders of opportunity in several innovative firms I eventually started my own consultancy. My mission was to help organisations ‘learn’. How do you bring about new things for the better? How do you reach new ideas? How could individuals learn to use more of their imagination and bring it through in their organisations? Working with people on these questions was for me the most worthwhile thing I could possibly do. At once I put all my energies into research on creativity. While I had been a manager this had been a hobby horse for years and now it was to be my livelihood.
The curse of ‘theory’
‘Theory’ is not for me a word of scorn, in stark contrast to ‘practice’ which is labelled good. Theory actually arises from good practice, where what works well is observed, analysed, learned from and replicated elsewhere to good effect. There is another side of theory, though, the more speculative or hypothetical aspect and it may be that blunt folk, who want to call a spade a spade, are prone to react against anything they see as academic, by which they usually mean remote from the sharp end of the realities of the world of work that they inhabit.
Yet some form of academic approach is often necessary in order to discover and analyse sufficient quantities of information from which advances in practice can be made. Companies are learning this as big data becomes more readily accessible and the marvels of modern technology reach into every corner of the globe. Bringing rational rigour and discipline into the messy job of managing the unacademic realities of business can produce real productivity gains, but the humanity of the need for creative contribution is at risk of being imprisoned. Things such as emotions and creativeness might not seem to respond to the processes of logic but should be allowed to flourish within a logical management framework.
Finding patterns of excellence
So when I started out my approach was to explore how something as wonderful as ‘creativity’ could be brought down from its mystical heavens into learnable form. I began looking for the invisible patterns that might be discerned in actions that had resulted in unusual excellence. Not simply in business, marketing and product innovation, but in any field of human activity where people seemed to have reached exceptional heights: in all of the arts, in sport and war, in love and learning. It was indeed possible to distinguish certain patterns of thinking that seemed to be common to a wide variety of different forms of endeavour. Then it was a matter of taking these abstract patterns, labelling their components and converting the results into hypothetical ‘rules for being creative’.
One company heard what I was up to in creativity and asked me over to Eindhoven in The Netherlands. It was Royal Philips. After I had worked with them for a few days they asked me to join, as their external consultant, a project team they were forming. The project was to develop a methodology for problem-solving which could be used for improving management performance anywhere in Philips worldwide. Naturally they were aware of most of the existing methodologies used by other companies round the world, but they wanted to go one better if possible, and especially to develop something which would not be too idealistic but would carry the smack of authenticity. I had named my consultancy Joint Development Resources: here was an ideal opportunity with a prestigious organisation where we could develop state of the art training and learning tools - if we succeeded.
Four exciting years
We set to work. We agreed an iterative fast prototyping method of working, where we generated ideas, checked out with one another, put them to the test with real managers and came back together with our findings, and started over again. Constant review, challenges and laughter ensured the spirit of friendly collaboration among equals continued throughout. We built tools for thinking and published internal manuals to support training. We emphasized the need for excellent visual representations to portray vividly the energy and drive of thought. Over four years we laid the foundations of a fundamental understanding of skilful thinking which placed the faculties of imagination on equal footing with critical judgement and subtle observation and showed how to map mind and task together in one clean, clear language of thought.
Ahead lay the enormous task of innovation in Philips while I was looking outwards to other companies which could also benefit from these discoveries. Of course the research and development didn’t cease for me, even though the original project team was disbanded when the project had proved a success at the end of the first four years. I continued to work in Philips, bringing back the results of my further research with other companies. I was fortunate to have a rich source of experience working with hundreds of very tough minded scientists in Philips and in parallel in Shell. Their keen trained minds were an ideal testing ground.
The wider world
After the formal end to the project I kept close contact with the individual members of the team and updated them as my own work grew. In the early stages I found it a challenge to bring the ideas to the market, as my quest to raise standards and performance of thinking among managers seemed to be so far ahead of anyone’s understanding. Some early takers gave me confidence that we could make a real difference with the tools and training I could offer, and within a few years I had a cohort of associates who took the work to North America and a selected few European countries.
As you might suppose from my story most of our work has been in industry and commerce. Along the way many original and challenging people have brought their ideas and initiatives to add to the work. I especially pay tribute to one, Alastair Sandiforth, a schoolmaster from the same mould that had made me as a young man an enthusiast for education. Alastair brought the work to children in his school where he was Head of Science. He found many original ways to introduce it, and incorporated it into the text books he was engaged to write. One delightful project involved two very bright teenage girls monitoring the lessons they attended to record the kinds of teaching they were observing. The girls took to it immediately, and it has remained with them to this day even as married women and mothers.
In fact the work we have done in schools and universities has always been great fun and very illuminating. Young children especially delight in it. They learn the language very fast and see the easy way it enables them to understand themselves and how they think.
It all continues
The work keeps growing. There is always more to discover. My original project research notebooks are archived, along with the 7000 additional numbered documents that chart the developments since the beginning. Modern technology is giving us new opportunities to explore and expand our outreach.
back to top