Rock On, Part 1Interview with Peter Cook, Author of Sex, Leadership and Rock'n'Roll and Best Practice Creativity
December 6, 2009. By Vern Burkhardt"Music has become global language in the last forty years." "By contrast, the language of leadership put forward by so-called professional management consultants is dry, unnecessarily complex and does not rock."
Vern Burkhardt (VB): Would you talk about your company Human Dynamics, including what services you provide?
Peter Cook: In a nutshell I have a daytime job and a nighttime job. By day I do management consulting, and training and development. It's business and organizational development, usually without guitars.
In what I call my nighttime job I give speeches and presentations at conferences and events, under the Academy of Rock brand, although these sometimes also take place during the day! They are very participative. They include team building using music, keynote speeches, and participative events. It might be described as conferences and events with a difference.
I also do business and executive coaching for managers and leaders, or anyone else wanting to acquire or enhance their business skills.
VB: Let's firstly talk about your day job. How do your scenario planning exercises work?
Peter Cook: Scenario planning is not the same as crisis management and disaster planning. Scenarios deal with multiple possibilities, not fixed events. They can describe macro futures, such as fundamental technological, economic, social and political trends, as well as micro futures, such as changes in a competitor's strategy.
We start with the recognition that we are often planning with chaos and uncertainty about the future. A number of probable futures are identified against which strategies can be planned to mitigate the related threats should any of them become a reality. Then we populate those scenarios to test their robustness. Of course some aren't so they fall by the wayside.
I use the analogy of writing a retrospective newspaper article about the history of possible future events considered through time. It's a metaphor to get people thinking about what might be said about the company if a certain series of events were to happen in future dates, such as 2015. How would a journalist write the history of the company's future?
Then we analyze the various scenarios paying particular attention to key discontinuities and decision points. We ask what would be the critical moment for certain things to happen if the various scenarios were to come true.
Expressed another way, we go through a creative process of envisioning alternative futures, and then a traditional process of analyzing those futures to assess how probable they are. And we speculate what we will do if any of them were to happen. The end result is a set of policies and strategies that will accommodate the various scenarios, and an assessment of each of them for their robustness.
I've done scenario planning for a quite a few companies. In fact just last week a company told me that scenarios we had developed several years ago made a major difference in dealing with a product they had been having some marketing difficulties with. According to them the scenario planning was instructive about where they put their resources to head off new market entrants. They said the value to them of the scenario exercise was in the millions of pounds. So it works – that's the interesting thing about it.
VB: Turning to the more unusual part of what you do, what is the Academy of Rock?
Peter Cook: It's my nighttime job. It's the grand title for what I do with music and business.
There is no physical academy. I suppose you could say my office is the academy's virtual headquarters. I didn't want to build a university, so decided to build an academy that had a loose network of people but no physical buildings. So, in an English ironic way the Academy of Rock is a title for something that is otherwise a bit ephemeral.
VB: You are the leader of a band?
Peter Cook: I mix with a lot of musicians, including a couple of famous ones – session musos that work with Anastasia, Celine Deon, Cyndi Lauper, and the woman called Mrs. Loud that sang on Meatloaf's hit "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)". My all time musical love is Bill Nelson, who led Be Bop Deluxe, now produces ambient guitar music, and is a friend.
I don't have a band; I'm too busy working to be a full-time musician. But I do participate in a lot of open microphone sessions, and I like to play with people I've never worked with so we can see how much we can do with signs, symbols, and a bit of shared knowledge.
A lot of musicians are a bit frightened of this approach. They prefer to play the same songs at the pub that they have for the past 10 or 15 years. I like to be more adventurous because there isn't really any risk, apart from appearing foolish in an open mic session.
VB: You use music in your consulting practice?
Peter Cook: Yes, there are quite a few academic comparisons of music to business, although we wouldn't want to stretch the comparisons too far because music is not business. Here's a couple.
People like the music they've heard before, and most musicians tend to produce the same type of music over and over again. We don't like radical surprises in music; most of us are creatures of habit. That's also true in business. In business, people are attuned to buying the same things they have become accustomed to buying. That's why many radical product innovations don't succeed.
As all music balances a score, improvisation, and an audience desire, so must business balance the need for structure, creativity, and customers' wants and needs. Some companies are more improvisational than others.
Business leaders find these analogies inspiring and imaginative, even if they're not musically inclined.
VB: You have been described as a business creativity consultant. Is that you?
Peter Cook: Yes, but my take on it is without analysis creativity doesn't offer any organizational value. It's much the same as music – unfettered creativity leads to music that isn't very saleable or listenable. So we use analysis as well as creativity.
VB: Do you, as a business creativity consultant, also help companies with innovation?
Peter Cook: Yes, especially the human dynamics side of the business. We specialize in creativity, co-creation, and turning new ideas into implementation. This results in innovation and in most cases leads to change. The focus isn't necessarily always in that order, sometimes there is implementation before the strategy is fully developed.
This is because business leaders sometimes have to improvise even when the overall strategy, constraints, and outcomes are unclear. That may be preferable to doing nothing or retreating in the face of competition.
But if there is to be order to the process it makes sense to know where you're going. Generating interesting options is the creative part. Perspiration and hard work – the analysis and implementation parts – can turn great ideas into an innovation provided those ideas are implemented. Often it means change.
A lot of people who call themselves creativity consultants only focus on thinking divergently. The troublesome and challenging part is taking a great idea and making it work when an organization has procedures and ways of working that no longer fit.
The innovation part is more difficult than coming up with the ideas. I rarely talk about creativity and innovation separately, even though some people in businesses are better at one than the other.
Creative leadership is more than merely leading people. It is leadership that realizes the innovation potential of an organization. It entails dealing with four different roles involved in the development of a product or service. The inventor generates the initial idea and often works relatively autonomously. The champion is an influential person who is able to secure resources to develop an idea, and defend that idea against detractors and critics. Another role is the innovator, often a team, who is excellent at problem solving. They develop the product or service in a form that will be accepted by the marketplace. Not to be forgotten is the entrepreneur, who takes on the financial risk, or persuades others to take on the risk. Sometimes some of these roles have to be embodied in the same person.
VB: You have written that "choose life" was at least as influential as an MBA in your decision to leave a well-paid job and start your business 12 years ago. Would you describe what you mean by "choose life," and why it has had a huge influence on you?
Peter Cook: When I was in my 20s I worked in some exotic places. An example is Indonesia where I participated in setting up a factory. We trained the staff, and made sure the equipment worked. It was quite hard work with long days.
I needed a weekend off so I went to Bali. At that time, 1983, I was surprised to find so much Western music in the bars; for example, David Bowie's album "Let's Dance" and many others, such as George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley's album "Wham Rap!" – very popular in Europe. Some years later, Wham! had a T shirt with "Choose Life" printed on it. Those two words hit me. I wasn't particularly happy with the career I'd taken in Human Resource Management. It wasn't what I had hoped the HR field would be, as compared to working with scientists.
I decided I would rather not have on my tombstone, "He did more of the same. He worked hard to maximize shareholder value." I thought I would rather have it say, "He was interesting." Those two words – "choose life" – crystallized a decision I would make some years later.
VB: And by choosing life you were able to do something you felt passionate about?
Peter Cook: I loved working in the sciences, but I didn't find the passion I was seeking during the four years I spent doing HR. During 1993 and 1994 I realized I wasn't happy doing what I was doing. I thought I ought to only do things I'm happy with – so I said to myself don't do it.
My MBA taught me to do a rough and ready calculation to cross check decisions, and I like to think a good decision is like on the old TV program Star Trek. A good decision needs the right analysis but it also has an emotional part as demonstrated by Captain James Kirk. Of course I confirmed the financial calculations with my wife to make sure we could survive. A good decision is often a balancing act between the head – Dr. Spock – and the heart – Captain Kirk, and I'm sure there is an analogy in Star Trek we could pursue.
VB: Has your MBA been useful?
Peter Cook: Very useful. It helps when making value analyses to support making intuitive decisions.
It has also opened a number of doors for me – it's been a useful calling card. But then your life experience, knowledge, and skill kick in. I've been fortunate to have traveled around the world and gained a lot of experience and knowledge by fire, which complements my MBA.
However, if you only have your attitude from your experience on the street all you can say is, "I did it my way." Conversely, if you only have an MBA you've got a bunch of models for analysis, but not practical knowledge of how to apply them in the world. I'm lucky to have knowledge and skills from my work experience, and a positive attitude from my street experience. I've lived a rather lucky life in that respect.
VB: What led you to include "sex" in the title Sex, Leadership and Rock'n'Roll? Has it been effective in helping make your points about creativity, innovation and business leadership?
Peter Cook: Why not include sex? It makes the world go round!
Seriously, it has created problems with some people who haven't read the book. By the title they may think it's going to be rather hard core and inappropriate as a book for business.
Would I change the decision on the title knowing what I do now? No. These days if you don't have a good title on your book no one is going to pick it up. The title was partly designed to attract attention, but it is purely an analogy – not hard core. It's what we call "naughty, but not nasty."
VB: The title certainly generates intrigue about its potential contents.
Peter Cook: It creates curiosity for some people. It's good for reading on the train to London in the morning – others do look at you!
VB: Has it been effective in making your points about creativity and innovation.
Peter Cook: Very much so. Last week I was working with a group, at Johnson & Johnson, which had asked me to do a program on authentic negotiations. Specifically, how to be creative in negotiations rather than following the traditional bartering process.
I didn't take the book when I was interviewed for this assignment – it was a serious consultancy assignment! But the person who interviewed me knew of my work and said, "I hope you're going to bring something of your Rock'n'Roll self to our project." I thought about it and said, "I've had some prior training about making relationships work, but I have a shorter mode than the usual suspects: foreplay, intercourse, climax, and afterglow." The person interviewing me decided this model was a much more memorable way to help the group think about the negotiation process. He said, "We often go straight into intercourse, and don't get the deal because we haven't done the groundwork – sometimes that backfires on us!
It has tremendous resonance in its simplicity, and it registered with the Johnson & Johnson people. They started to use that language and I thought, even if we don't discuss this much further they've got it.
We're only talking in metaphors. This is a potentially dangerous area and we need to be careful to not cross over a line of respectability. The workshop participants indicated it was valuable because half of the negotiations that have gone wrong were due to back and forth stated positions getting out of hand before a trusting relationship was established between the parties.
VB: "Sex" and "Rock'n'Roll" fit well together the way you use them.
Peter Cook: Of course. The triad of Sex, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll.
The drugs thing is even more dangerous, with people assuming we're talking about all sorts of negative things, but there are some serious points to be made. Addiction at work, not to drugs, but to behaviours that are out of synch with an organization's requirements, is very difficult to change. People have to practice many times to get free of those behaviours, what we call "unlearn."
You can learn from the field of drug addiction about how to get people to change. Behaviours and habits can, in some cases, be considered a physical addiction. This approach to the topic doesn't take us too far down the dangerous and difficult discussion of drug addiction. I've worked with social service people in this country and they deeply understand the analogy when I give it to them. The difficulty of getting people to change their behaviour shouldn't be underestimated.
VB: How did you come to realize that music has countless lessons for those interested in creativity, innovation, and business management?
Peter Cook: I've always loved music; it was my hobby. I kept it separate from work because I didn't think you could mix intellectual subjects with ones that were enjoyable.
I tried to get bands to work using only my intuition about how to do it. I didn't have any training or experience in getting members of teams to work together, or exposure to techniques offered by management theory. I probably used some management techniques but without realizing it. The formal explanation for what I was doing was to come some years later.
At some point I started to draw a parallel between getting members of a band to work together, and organizing a department of scientists who need to collaborate to achieve common goals. Although scientists share an interest in their particular branch of science each individual is quite unique and sometimes even eccentric. They likely wouldn't want to live together.
Also, I used to cook my work team a 12-course Chinese meal about every three months, to thank them for their work. I became their servant for the evening, long before the term "servant leadership" became popular, and then we would play music and games together.
Some years later, it occurred to me that what I was doing on these food and music nights was affecting the work climate in a good way, and wondered if it could be directly applied in other situations. Someone had also said, "You should write a book about what we did on team nights and the insights and metaphors of a music band that could be applied to business leadership, creativity and innovation." I spent a lot of time thinking about which lessons were applicable and realized there were many.
After the book was published I was discussing leadership with a musician who is also a senior businessperson at a large pharmaceutical company. He was assuming what was in the book – he hadn't read it. He said, "You can't compare rock stars with leaders. Rock stars are dysfunctional characters with faults." I replied, "I haven't." Then he read the book and learned what he had assumed about the book was wrong. It isn't about narcissistic leaders and solo heroes. It's about the idea that creative leaders encourage followers, not fans.
VB: "…the power of music is that it brings together the lyrics of management with the music of leadership. In other words, it's a whole-brained rather than half-witted approach." What do you mean by this?
Peter Cook: It's a way to describe both the right and left elements of your brain – using both analysis and intuition.
"Half-witted" suggests you are using either analysis or intuition, not both. For example, being a robot type who thinks the only things that matter in an organization are the data on a spreadsheet. You may be doing good analysis and have all the facts and metrics, but find your company is collapsing because no one with talent wants to work for you.
Or perhaps you're running a company like a rock star – you're taking huge risks based on whims and not crosschecking with financial and other data.
I do believe in data and numbers. The ultimate is taking calculated risks, and using intuition to help do the job. It's all about not being half-witted.
VB: In one of your analogies, you point out that for the past two hundred years enterprises have been led like orchestras – with employees doing what they're told, "command and control." You also say that jazz is not the best analogy because jamming involves chaos. Why is Rock'n'Roll, using improvisation and structure, the best analogy for innovative businesses?
Peter Cook: An organization that is primarily involved in research and development, constantly stretching itself, getting groups of people to do amazing things all the time, and trying to constantly innovate may well be working in a jazz approach. This is the case where there is more improvisation and less cross checking with spreadsheets. An entrepreneurial organization may be jazzy, but they have to put up with the resulting chaos.
Jazz is a more complex form of music and, generally speaking, people with a great level of skill play it. If what you're doing requires complex work, and the people you're selling to expect complex products and services, then jazz is a good analogy.
The jazz analogy isn't a good recipe for large organizations, because they tend to be "procedurialized." Large organizations are not good at doing complex things in a non-standardized manner. Richard Branson has demonstrated this fact with his approach to entrepreneurialism. His maxim is to keep things simple.
For most of what we consume we want something that is quick, simple, and works. It's not that we want things boring, but we want companies to get on with it. It's controlled improvisation; there's space for innovation but it's not endless.
I like jazz, but organizations find it hard to be as nimble as is required to improvise all the time. And based on 100 years of management research, we can definitely conclude we don't need any more organizations that operate by control and command. I had to get off the fence and therefore chose rock music as my main analogy.
VB: We need Rock'n'Roll?
Peter Cook: Certainly we do. We need people bringing all of themselves to work, including their creativity. We need leaders who will pass their leadership skills around and say, "You have a go at it." And we need people who want to play together. They may not always get along but they have to work together.
VB: You say, "Unfettered creativity accounts for a lot of product failures…" Would you talk about this?
Peter Cook: It will vary by country but the average success rate of new products may be as low as 1%. That means for 99% people are wasting their time putting products on the market. Just look at popular TV shows like The Apprentice and Dragons Den.
If we leave Rock'n'Roll for a moment and talk from my other interest – academia and MBA-type thinking – some great thinkers talk about why products fail. They talk about products being too complex, not offering something extra that people want, not fitting in with existing systems, and so on.
I am often surprised to find that many innovators don't read books on innovation even though people are sharing their observations, experiences, and knowledge about creativity, invention, and innovation. If they did they might learn how to improve their innovation processes. But they're in love with the idea that people will beat a path to their door to purchase or use their product or service. And 99% of them are wrong.
The passion inventors have can be a bit of a problem for them because they largely ignore the body of knowledge pointing out that most innovations usually have a number of common factors. If you look at the failures often they have left out one of these factors. There's a lot of room to get above 1%; getting to 20% would be good.
VB: Inventors may not accept the possibility of failure?
Peter Cook: Some actually believe they're on a journey, and that 1,000 tries will get them to the solution. They want to emulate Thomas Edison. In a sense, they may be 'blinded by the light'.
I would say you shouldn't feel bound to put checks or restraints on your innovation initiatives, but there comes a point when you need to ask some simple but telling questions. Is the product simple, does it fit in with the lifestyles of the people who you hope will use it, and so on. Too many times, when you look at a failed product in hindsight, the innovator didn't do that simple check.
Pfizer Inc. had an inhalable insulin product called Exubera. It was a great product and had promise to make a lot of money for Pfizer. But they designed it with an inhaler that was far too large to discretely take with you – it opened out to about the size of a can of tennis balls. A 70 year-old who wanted to travel around the world was told it was too large to take with him. With an inhaler this size, not surprisingly the product wasn't used.
A lot of money went into the development of that product, which was a fantastic leap forward, but the weak spot was the user compatibility of the delivery system. Pfizer had also not taken into account the fact that needles have gotten so thin they cause virtually no pain and diabetics are not as reluctant to self-inject as in the past. To top it off the dosage was harder to adjust, and it could apparently cause lung problems.
The question is how could a really clever company make a mistake with the delivery system, given their years of experience in innovation. It seems to come down to what I call "stuck thinking," having a blind spot that allows the innovator to think the new product or service is great and therefore the market will buy it.
Even great companies sometimes manage to miss these simple lessons about innovation. They seem to think, "If we build it they will come."
VB: "Extreme dissatisfaction and extreme optimism both have the power to fuel creative thinking." Would you talk about this?
Peter Cook: At the risk of gross generalization, the character of the U.S. is one of great optimism, of wearing your brand on your sleeve and standing proud. There seems to be a real "go for it" attitude, which accounts for why America has been very enterprising. People who take the opposite approach and say, "You can't do this or that" are judged to be a problem, an unacceptable exception.
This tendency to think about creativity through a glass-half-full perspective has merit because if we're happy and have a positive attitude then new, novel and radical ideas are more likely to come to us. We are open to explore the unknown believing there is a solution waiting to be found. There are plenty of examples that reinforce the view that if we keep going and remain optimistic then creative ideas will come.
By contrast, if I were to characterize the UK, I would say we have a core competency of getting dissatisfied about things. We tend to see the glass as half empty. It's much less popular to say that the glass is half full.
Consider a cup that's holding our coffee. We could become relatively obsessed about it, examining it in microscopic detail to find out what's wrong with it. This attitude and skill has led to thousands of inventions that have become innovations. It isn't universally a UK skill for a small island, but because we're good at moaning and being dissatisfied there have been lots of innovations. I talk about a number of them in the book. I don't know if you have the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner in North America. It works using cyclonic separation.
VB: We do.
Peter Cook: That magic moment wasn't produced by a man who had been on a vacuum cleaning improvement retreat! James Dyson was trying to use a Hoover that wouldn't suck because the dust was clogging the catch bag, and in frustration he wanted to throw it out the window. He decided that rather than just write about it or moan to his neighbors he'd make a better one. It's what I call "bitching with attitude." Moan and do something about it.
Just moaning is no use. Often trying to do something about a problem with no sense of purpose isn't of any use either. What works is both finding out what's wrong, and having a sense of purpose and drive to do something about it.
Often people are frightened to talk about or criticize a company or product. Just raving at people gets you nowhere. It's not only about dissatisfaction, it also requires positivism. Often leaders in a company encourage their people to think positively. I try to get them to also recognize the benefits of getting their employees to think about what's wrong with things around them, because that approach encourages them to identify what may be possible. Of course, it depends on the company whether they welcome employees identifying faults and problems.
VB: Is being dissatisfied and moaning a trait unique to the UK or do you see it in other European countries as well?
Peter Cook: I think it differs around the world and I'm not sure why. People in the U.S. seem more at ease with an unconditionally positive outlook on things, even though in private conversation most will reveal their views which reflect greater levels of critical thinking.
Some people in the UK seem quite happy to be at work and be paid, but they moan about their work. It's too prevalent actually. We should wake up and smell the coffee, understand that the company is paying us a salary to get on with our work, but it seems we can't help ourselves. That's the Brits. In academic terms it's what we call deviant innovators. Long may they continue to bitch!
We need deviant innovators around to put a bit of tension in the organization. Perhaps describing it as tension makes it more agreeable than calling it dissatisfaction.
VB: "Hire experts and idiots if you want more creativity." Why idiots or people who are naïve?
Peter Cook: I'm prone to exaggeration to emphasize important points if the truth be known!
Sometimes I use a hot word where a warm one would have done, but I'm not apologizing for it because it often jolts the imagination. When readers see my use of the word idiot for the first time, they may think it means stupid people and it gets their attention. I mean naïve people but I've exaggerated it because I often find when giving a piece of advice that people back it off or modify the meaning to make it less harsh or intense. I exaggerate hoping it'll encourage readers to think about it.
Naïve people are those who have no knowledge about the topic being considered, so their questions are genuinely "stupid." They don't understand the technical complexity or some other aspect of the problem. A "good" naïve person is someone with loads of experience in the company, or in business in general, and therefore is able to ask fairly good questions. Someone who doesn't have all the details and can come at the problem or issue like someone from another planet.
Some non-executive directors operate like naïve people. I suppose in relation to our recent financial melt down we could say a number of them were idiots because they didn't speak up!
VB: What is your best idiot story?
Peter Cook: From reading the book you will be aware in 2006 I tried to fly a cult punk rock act around the world on a two-week spinal tap tour – it was to be called the John Otway World Tour. The idea was to charter a jet to fly Otway, his band, and 300 fans around the world to perform gigs in Las Vegas, Sydney Opera House, Shanghai, and Dubai. We were also going to make stops at other locations such as Central Park in New York City and even Tahiti. I poured a lot of money into the project, and lost 100,000 pounds when it had to be cancelled, due to not enough airplane seats being purchased by fans. And we hadn't anticipated the dramatic increase in the price of aviation fuel, which dramatically impacted the charter cost.
At the beginning I was trying to do something for a friend in need and it is especially hard to be objective in such circumstances. However, I did some due diligence. I asked the question, "How many passengers do we have to sell tickets to in order to cover costs." One thing I didn't know was that my friend John Otway, the rock star, is also prone to exaggeration. I think some of the names on the passenger list provided by the travel agent selling the tickets must have been pets!
Otway is an "idiot." Various people tried to wake him up to the fact we didn't have enough passengers, and needed some famous people to endorse the tour so we could fill the plane. It was perfectly possible to have gone around the world but his idiocy was due to his ego – a bit like inventors. He would not permit the name of another rock star who was going to be on the tour to be on the side of the plane. His weakness – idiocy if you will – was professional jealousy and it cost him the tour.
On reflection, I think the term "idiot" is a little unkind, but we couldn't turn John Otway's mind around. It was disappointing. There has been a considerable lapse of time since the failure to launch the tour, and we're now thinking of rejuvenating the project. If successful, we may be able to reclaim our lost hard earned cash, and have the good time we anticipated when we envisioned the first attempt. We'll need to ensure we're not idiots once again!
VB: You say, "Although it is known that good teams come up with fewer ideas than individuals do, these ideas are often better developed and more doable than those produced by lone geniuses." What makes up a good team?
Peter Cook: People who are different who don't mind that they're different, and they rely on the strengths these differences add to the team. They're like a band. The bass player is different than the drummer or guitarist. There is a stereotypical sketch of bands in my book. Drummers are insane and depressed, of course!
Generally speaking, people in various roles in bands do similar things in their day jobs. There's no scientific proof but band players do fit into stereotypes. I've met many drummers who are accountants. Often bass players are careful; they have to hold the band together. They don't want to be at the front of the stage, they do the sound checks, they're reliable, and they probably despise people like me who are the ‘peacocks' of the band.
Your question mentioned lone geniuses. Prince is both a lone genius and an incredibly good team player. He's so good that sometimes when he's performing in a loose arrangement with others he will stand at the back of the band. I don't know of many rock stars prepared to step back from the microphone, and assume the position of a session musician. That's a remarkable piece of emotional intelligence.
The usual lone genius is not accustomed to doing what they're told. If you have a genius in your organization, provided they have the emotional intelligence to know when it is or is not useful to be a genius working alone, they can function in the organization. More often than not geniuses work in universities or other places where they can work alone, and continually create. They don't always produce something that comes out as a product at the end of their creative process. That's fine for research, but if you're in a company it's neither affordable nor very often tolerated.
VB: You play at the back of the band, don't you?
Peter Cook: Sometimes, yes. I've taken the lead from a careful study of bandleaders, leaders like Prince. I think my day job is in the back; my night job is often in the front helping people new to ideas from rock music to figure things out and how to put on a performance. It's a great experience for business leaders to not be standing on the platform of their expertise all the time. By forming a temporary band they learn a lot about themselves, and about relying on others to accomplish a lot in a short period of time. Writing lyrics and performing in front of their peers is a learning moment at many levels.
VB: You say, "The physical and psychological environment is a key component of a high-performance climate." And you refer to a study by Swedish Professor, Goran Ekvall, who found that a team having a sense of humor was the biggest factor related to superior performance in a Swedish newspaper office. Have you found this to be true for most of your clients?
Peter Cook: Not entirely. That study wasn't a very extensive or proper piece of research. The trouble with trying to generalize based on observing the Swedish newspaper team is that some environments are very serious. If you drop in humour it will make things worse.
You may be aware of the sitcom, The Office. If you try to manufacture this type of environment at work there won't be the same genetic makeup. You may even have a situation that is as funny as often represented in The Office, but it isn't a sitcom – it's real life.
Humour in balance is what's appropriate.
I had the opportunity recently to work for the United Nations Weapons Inspectorate. Their work is very serious although, like all people who do serious jobs, they need levity to cope with it. But suggesting they change to an environment where they are telling more jokes would probably be ill advised.
Vern's Note: We will continue with this interview with Peter Cook in next week's IdeaConnection Newsletter. Peter will cover a wide range of topics including creative leaders, conformist innovators, a Tom Peters presentation, and how executives attending one of Peter's MBA programs burnt his Fender Stratocaster guitar.
Peter Cook's Bio:
Peter Cook is Managing Director of Human Dynamics, a creativity and innovation management consultancy, which serves organizations such as Pfizer, Kent County Council, Glaxo Smith Kline, the Open University Business School, Unilever, Nat West Bank, Electronic Arts, London Metropolitan Police, and Johnson and Johnson. He has over 20 years of business, academic and consultancy experience, including leading innovative new product development teams to bring multi-million dollar life-saving drugs to the market, acting as a manufacturing trouble-shooter to businesses around the world, internal business and organisational development consultancy, and designing and delivering learning and development programmes. Cook also records and performs music as part of his leadership and creativity training.
Peter Cook started his career as a chemist, has a master's degree in business administration from the Open University Business School, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. He has a "university of life" qualification in international troubleshooting and leading rock bands. He plays instruments in his spare time and organizes jam sessions around Kent. He is tutor on a number of Executive MBA programmes, including 'Creativity, Innovation and Change' and 'Human Resource Strategy' programmes.
Peter Cook is a noted speaker and writer on the subjects of strategy, creativity, innovation and the leadership of change. He has been invited to speak at major conferences for organisations as diverse as British Telecom, Allianz Cornhill, the United Nations, and London Business School.
He is author of Best Practice Creativity and Sex, Leadership and Rock'n'Roll: Leadership Lessons from the Academy of Rock.
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Another fine interview this week - with Peter Cook! Thanks for doing these and making them available. They're a great resource. I'm working my way back through your catalogue of interviews = lots of xmas book ideas for business colleagues!
- B. Ziegler
What We Do