Towards a New Cadre of Creative Leaders

To research and educate about new forms of leadership, and to deliver a new generation of creative people able to deliver this leadership.

shutterstock_347800229This is the new mission for our Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice at Cass Business School. During 2017, research undertaken by the Centre identified increasingly complex, unstructured and dynamic worlds that leaders need to operate in. It revealed that societal, business and social challenges are no longer predictable, and traditional planning leadership and processes that are derived from single disciplines often generate inadequate solutions. Something new is needed.

Over the last 8 months, our Centre team has worked with its new external Advisory Board to develop the new mission. Together we recognised that the world is increasingly complex, unstructured and dynamic, even chaotic to the uninformed observer. We concluded that societal, business and social challenges are no longer predictable, and traditional planning leadership and processes that are derived from single disciplines generate inadequate solutions. Under the chairmanship of Professor Steven Kyffin, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at Northumbria University, we have identified the need for new forms of interdisciplinary leadership to provide the new forms of structure that make sense of complex, unstructured and dynamic worlds.

Therefore, the Centre’s new, and exciting mission is to research and educate about these new forms of leadership, and to deliver a new generation of creative people able to deliver this leadership. The new challenge and mission statements are reported in full at the end of this message.

We are excited by this new mission for the Centre, and hope that you are too.

Now, we want people to involve themselves in the Centre’s progress towards delivering this new mission. There will be plenty of opportunities to do so. To get involved, contact the Centre Director, Professor Neil Maiden, at

The challenge statement – in full

The world is increasingly complex, unstructured and dynamic, even chaotic to the uninformed observer. Societal, business and social challenges are no longer predictable, and traditional planning leadership and processes that are derived from single disciplines generate inadequate solutions. Use of the skills and processes generated from these single disciplines does not inform people about what will happen tomorrow or next week, let alone how to respond to this perceived chaos.

The mission statement in full

New forms of interdisciplinary leadership are needed to provide new forms of structure that make sense of the chaos. The Centre will research and educate about these new forms of leadership. This research and enterprise will build a new cadre of creative leaders. The new cadre will be delivered with the new interdisciplinary frameworks, knowledge, techniques and skills to investigate, generate, envision, prototype, critique and reflect on creative solutions to these complex, ill-structured and chaotic problems, and provide new forms of intellectual resilience. Moreover, these new interdisciplinary frameworks, knowledge, techniques and skills will be synthesised from not only business and engineering disciplines, but also from the arts, the social and the creativity sciences. Framework development will both inform and be informed by emerging practices. As a result, the new leadership cadre will enable teams to take ‘leaps of faith’ in more structured and controlled environments, to empower their organisations and teams to do the same. It will empower businesses to be non-business in business, and to be entrepreneurial with these skills, in new contexts. It will enable a wider range of organisations to be more interdisciplinary and business-like.

The Centre’s external Advisory Committee members

Prof. Steven Kyffin (Chair), Pro-Vice Chancellor of Business and Enterprise, Northumbria University

Prof. Alan Blackwell, Professor of Interdisciplinary Design, University of Cambridge

Claire Bridges, Founder, Now Go Create

Brian Dorval, Founding Partner, Think First Serve, Inc.

John Loder, Head of Strategy, Nesta Health Lab

Frank Milani Co-founder, Powergoat

Evelyn Wilson, Director, TCCE (The Culture Capital Exchange)

Photo credit: Sensay/



David Cox author of ‘Creative Thinking for Dummies’ speaks at Cass

Shivanee Brigham, a postgraduate on the Masters for Innovation, Creativity and Leadership shares her thoughts on ‘I wouldn’t start from here…’ with David Cox, author of ‘Creative Thinking for Dummies’. The seminar was hosted by the Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice.

So we hear a lot about innovation, but what does it mean in the company context? What does it look like and how does it happen? Too often, we think product development, R&D and technological or scientific breakthrough. Like everyone, I often think of tecCassCreativitySeminarDavid Coxh companies like Apple when I hear the term innovation and ponder what innovation looks like in a ‘normal’ corporate business and if a leopard really can change its spots in terms of management practice?

With over 30 years of experience of working with companies like Lego, Saab and publishing group Wiley (behind the ‘for Dummies’ book range) as a consultant, David Cox gave us a different insight into innovation and why companies find it so hard to innovate. The starting point being that since 2000, half of the Fortune 500 companies have disappeared – mainly because of digital.

David talked us through Lego’s journey of transformation: from being a traditional toymaker with typical corporate structures and a rigid set of principles on the brand and product; to being challenged by a rapidly-changing world where children were now problem-solving through electronic games and excited by Pixar movies and a new revival of comic heroes.

Lego’s initial response was interesting and perhaps unsurprising to those of us who have worked in corporate environments. Nevertheless, the company did embark on changing itself to survive in a crowded and complex marketplace. That meant really focusing on what was going on around them, listening and realising how digital was changing children’s’ play.

What was really interesting was the story of when businesses face-up to reality and recognise that they need to change to survive and the emotions behind it: resistance, (even reluctance) and fear of the unfamiliar. Innovation means more than new products – it also involvees creative output from all employees, not just a select few. As David put it, “Innovation is not a bolt-on.”

As a Cass student on the Masters for Innovation, Creativity and Leadership (MICL) for me, David gave an interesting perspective on what innovation really means for organisations. The intricacies between creativity and innovation, and how it can be taken forward in businesses that were not born in the digital revolution, because innovation is more than just digital – it is as much about leadership and management practice.

As I near the end of the MICL, I am now faced with choices about what to do next and how I can put my creative skills into professional practice. I don’t yet have the answers but what I have realised from the programme, reinforced by this talk is that you don’t have to be working for Amazon or Google to be part of innovation. It depends on creative thinking and recognising the need for change. What I do know is there are plenty of organisations out there that need people who can think creatively and are ready to tackle the choices and opportunities unleashed by digital, and the MICL has helped me unlock that potential.

Follow #CassCreativity and see our website for more seminars and events.


For the last three years running, my company Now Go Create has worked with the Holmes Report to co-author what is now an annual survey on the state of creativity in PR. This is a subject I know well: as a former Creative Director at a WPP agency and nearly 20 years practitioner experience I am all too familiar with clients’ exacting demands on PRs to hit the creative sweet spot. I also know that a chasm can exist between where a company was two years ago and where it needs to be tomorrow – it’s a fluid industry, ever adapting to changing times as so many are.

As a Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership (MICL) student, (I am in the final throes of the course), I was inspired to approach a publisher with the idea of the report, in no small part as a result of studying at City University London and being exposed to robust research which was I felt was lacking in my industry. Our report ‘Global Creativity In PR’ now The Holmes Reportin its third year is published today.

With input from more than 600 people in 35 countries, the data is collected via Survey Monkey with an open invite to readers of the PR industry monitor, The Holmes Report It takes several months to collate; the results help give anyone with an interest in PR a snapshot of how the industry values, rewards and feels about creativity. Given that the PR industry is considered to be part of the ‘creative industries’ then I hope the findings reflect some best practices with something to glean for other disciplines.

Key findings for 2014:

+ 1 in 3 clients are unhappy with the quality of creative work being delivered by their agency.

+ 55% of clients think that agencies lack big ideas.

+ 49% of respondents rated the creative thinking and personnel within their business as “ordinary” or worse.

+ Only 35% of respondents say their business adequately rewards creativity.

+ Dedicated Creative Director roles are up 10% over the past three years.

+ ‘Client feedback or risk aversion’ is cited by PRs as the biggest barrier to creativity (three years ago it was simply ‘lack of time’). Respondents were also crying out for more insight, more creative tools and the ability to take more risks.

+ A quarter of PR businesses still do not have a creative process. Fortunately, well over two-thirds of respondents (72%) do have the mechanics in place (a slight rise on last year, when it was 66%).

+ When asked ‘If you could only do three things to improve your own or your company’s creative capabilities, what would they be?”

• Improve use of insight 33%
• More knowledge of creative tools 32%
• Ability to take more risks 31%
• More budget 28%
• Educate clients 25%
• Clearer client briefs 24%
• More time 20%
• More training 19%
• More expertise 19%
• More diverse workforce 19%

+ Idea-time is being supported by almost 30%, mentoring is employed by 37% and training in creative techniques is 37% – all cited as creative investments.

I hear talk all the time of an industry that is going through change, an industry keen to start claiming a slice of the creative glory traditionally reserved for ad-land. To get to the truth of the matter, and to augment the findings of the survey, Now Go Create also conducted 12 interviews with a number of top-level creative directors and industry leaders to ask about their views on the future of creativity in PR. You can read them here. This wouldn’t be complete without comment from the inimitable Dr Sara Jones, Programme Director for the MICL at City University London, who has supported the study since its inception. Sara’s view is that the PR industry is missing a trick when it comes to her particular area of interest – technology.

“My main area of interest is in the use of digital tools and technologies to support creative and innovation processes, so these are the particular points I’ve picked up on. First, although 88% of respondents say they are using group brainstorming to generate ideas, only 44% feel that it’s effective, which lead me to wonder how many companies are taking advantage of new digital tools for brainstorming that can be used even with distributed teams, and can help mitigate against some of the unwelcome social phenomena, such as production blocking, evaluation apprehension, and social loafing, that can get in the way of a productive brainstorming session. With the growth in use of digital as a means of communicating directly with consumers, there are many ways in which PR could benefit from ongoing research on digital engagement and user experience design, and we would be very happy to work with anyone who would like to know more about this.” Dr Sara Jones, City University London

It won’t come as a surprise that none of the agency Creative Directors we spoke to were shouting out for bigger whiteboards or better snacks for group brainstorming sessions either: the people charged with improving the creative output of their teams and giving clients meaningful ways of engaging with consumers were talking about things like using multiple, lean, two-man creative teams. They were talking about introducing more specialists. They were talking about seizing the creative lead in client briefs. Read the full interviews here.

For PR practitioners with an eye on the coming couple of years, these are exciting times.

The full results of the survey can be found here.

Claire Bridges is a current MICL student and Founder of Creative Training Consultancy, Now Go Create, co-author of the Creativity In PR Study with the Holmes Report and a Cannes Lions Judge on the PR Jury 2014. Claire works with brands and agencies to improve their creative capabilities. Find out more at, and follow Claire @nowgocreate

Leading for innovation: the one thing you need to know

I have seen a lot of blog posts lately with titles such as ‘The 20 Top Leadership Traits’. It reminds me of magazines at Christmas emblazoned with ‘300 ideas for an easy Christmas’. So I thought it would be simpler to identify the one thing a leader for innovation cannot do without: it’s curiosity.

Curiosity is the key to all things innovative. We have known this for a long time. In Ecclesiastes it says ‘Be curious in unnecessary matters for more things will be revealed to thee than men understand’.  Let me explain why I think curiosity is so important.

Curiousity about yourself

A leader must also be a learner and that means being curious about yourself. To lead well you need to understand your strengths and weaknesses, adapt to new situations and learn all the time. I find active reflection a very valuable part of my day. I think about a situation, how I have behaved and what happened and reflect on how I might have behaved differently to get better outcomes. Reflection should not just be navel gazing, that is why I say active reflection: it should result in some learning about yourself and be a catalyst for improvement.

Curiosity about ideas

As a leader you have a big responsibility to support new ideas. New ideas are fragile and can be killed by a shrug or a negative comment, especially if it comes from a person with power. So instead of saying ‘We don’t do things like that’ or ‘We’ve tried that’ when a new idea comes along, a leader needs to be curious about it and show interest. Even if it turns out to be a bad idea, a great deal of damage can be done by crushing it: not only will you lose a possibly good idea, you will also send a message to staff that you are not interested in hearing new ideas. In the first weeks of my starting a new job there was an ideas competition. As a fresh new recruit, I could see lost of ways of doing things differently so I submitted an idea. At the whole organisation meeting about the future the CEO announced that there had been five ideas for the competition but that they were all ‘rubbish’ and that was that. I never gave him another of my ideas.

Curiosity about people

Of course whilst a new idea is necessary for innovation, it is not sufficient. It needs to be the right idea for the situation and you need to make it happen. You will not be able to make it happen without the right team. You will not know who that team needs to be or what skills they need if you are not curious about people. Being curious about people you meet, your own staff, beneficiaries and volunteers will introduce you to a wealth of skills and experiences. I met a social entrepreneur recently who knew he wanted a particular style of crafted website. He had no web skills or art skills but because he was very curious about people he happened to know an animator and a web design person. Connecting them together resulted in the look he wanted for his website. Being curious about people allows you to make the connections you need to innovate.
Curious enough to take a risk

Innovation by definition involves doing something you have not done before. That involves taking an informed risk. If you are curious you will want to know what will happen if you try something. It will give you the courage to take the risks that you need to innovate. Whilst I said I would stick to one quality, I’m going to sneak another (connected) one in here…


Innovation requires courage: the courage to take a risk with something new; the courage to hold on to a shared vision and not lose your nerve when those around your are doubting; the courage to trust a team to develop an idea with freedom to experiment and adapt the idea; the courage to admit when you have to give up and a new thing has failed; the courage to be honest and open with your team; and the courage to challenge orthodoxies, ask questions, break rules and live with uncertainty.

To quote from Ecclesiastes again

Just as there is no perfect moment, there is no perfect knowing, no certainty. To remain inactive until you are certain of the result is to do nothing at all. So accept uncertainty.’

Have courage: try something new!

This blog was contributed by Katherine William-Powlett. Katherine is an Innovation specialist, and blogs about innovation for the National Council for Voluntary Organisation Blog, and has written a series of posts on Leading for Innovation.

Further reading article: The Demand for Curiosity Creativity and Innovation

More on Innovation:

Microblogging in a Care Home Context

Can microblogging be used to improve the richness and quality of care notes made by care staff?

Screenshot showing test data – not real data.

In our research project MIRROR we are working with the Registered Nursing Homes Association (RNHA) to support the capture of more reflective observations by care staff through the use of microblogging tool to improve sharing of work relevant information and collaborative work as well as improving the data capture processes for information about a residents daily activities, health, mental health and needs.

Carers already make notes about the care they deliver, the health and the mental status of the residents in their care. This is often still done entirely on paper. Only a minority of care homes currently use digital care plans, and where these are implemented there are usually only one or two computers available for carers to use to enter their notes – resulting in a queue to type up their notes at the end of each shift. Not exactly ideal for encouraging rich care notes. Also, in their current form, the care notes are not easy to review and it can be difficult to identify a very gradual change in a resident’s condition which may occur over a longer period.

So in MIRROR, we are planning to use mobile devices running apps that enable care staff to record information about care in situ at the time that it is generated. As a proof of concept we ran a 3 day trial using protected Twitter accounts and the free Twitter App running on an Apple iPod Touch locked to provide only the capabilities needed by care staff during a shift.

Unlike regular tweets that can be followed by members of the public, the observations captured could only be accessed by the other devices being used by care staff and the shift supervisor who monitored the tweets throughout the shift. And unlike the current process with paper notes, each observation was shared in real-time, which increased communication between the care staff in the residential home.

For the next phase we are implementing an enterprise microblogging tool called Yammer. Unlike Twitter, which is designed to be a tool to broadcast public posts that can be accessed by anyone on the web, Yammer is designed to be used internally within an organisation and is accessible only to members of that organisation. This provides a closed, encrypted network where carers can post observations and care notes for their residents. These posts will be monitored by the shift supervisor for patterns in resident behaviour and changes in mental or physical condition. The posts will also be incorporated into a daily or weekly summary for each resident, which the nurses and senior carers can use to track changes over time and to input into revisions of care plan for each resident.

We’ll be trialling this later this year, and we’ll keep you posted. We’d love to hear from you about your experience using micro-blogging tools in an organisational context.

Author: Kristine Pitts

Creativity to Design and Support Care for People with Dementia

Can we design creativity tools to support residential care staff?

On the 31st January 2012 – Professor Neil Maiden gave a talk on the mobile apps we have developed as part of the MIRROR project. His slides have been made available here (through Slideshare).

Creativity techniques and software support tools have the potential to be applied successfully to a wide range of problems. In the EU-funded FP7 MIRROR project we are working with the UK Registered Nursing Home Association to apply creativity to the design and delivery of new tools to improve the care for people with dementia. Our focus has been to support the care staff in residential homes.

Neil talked about two uses of creativity in this domain. The first was the use of creativity techniques such as improvisation and role play to engage and empower care staff in the design of new mobile technologies and apps that can improve their care of residents. The second was the design and implementation of a new mobile app intended to support care staff to think creatively to overcome challenging situations. Care staff can use the app to generate more novel, person-centred resolutions to these situations based on different creativity techniques that it supports. Neil also described how this creativity support app can be used along side other tools also under development, such as a life history app and digital rummage box running on portable tablets.

We’re interested in hearing from anyone working with similar solutions or with technology & care. Do get in touch.

Author: Kristine Pitts


Facilitating Serendipity

A few weeks ago I attended a seminar given by a young man from UCL titled “Designing to Encourage Serendipity – an Oxymoron?”. He wanted to facilitate, through interaction design, the conditions for serendipity to take place. What a strange idea. Or is it?

Serendipity is considered a ‘happy accident’. A fortunate discovery that you did not expect to make. I’m rather fond of serendipity. Many of what I consider the best things that have happened in my life, I put down to serendipity. Meeting my husband is one. My current job is another. Life is full of these moments.

The idea of artificially creating the conditions for it however, seems impossible. How do you know which conditions, events or actions will lead to a happy accident? If I think about the things that I attribute to serendipity there are few common factors. The big one they do all have in common is that I was open to the opportunities that arose unexpectedly.

Creativity is like that. The connections we make when trying to creatively solve a problem is often serendipitous. A combination of several ideas coming together to form a new and surprising idea. We’re only able to make these connections, if we’re open to the potential outcomes. We can facilitate the conditions for which creativity can happen. So perhaps the idea that we can facilitate serendipitous outcomes might not be quite so farfetched after all?

What’s your take on it?

Author: Kristine Pitts