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/




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

In Conversation with Trish Kill – MICL Student

Trish Kill - MICL CogsTrish is a current student of the Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership (MICL). After successful completion of her first year she is now undertaking the second year of the part-time course and will be embarking on her dissertation in 2014. Trish worked for News International until 2012 and now runs her own consultancy business

Tell us how you became a MICL student.

“I initially made my first enquiries in April 2012 and started the MICL course in October 2012. 2012 was a big year, I hit the big 50; and having spent 15 years at ‘News’ building a challenging and rewarding career with lots of long days and late nights, I decided to leave and try new things. I came into News when I was in my mid-30s with an appetite for making up for lost ground in my career. I put an MBA I’d started on hold as promotion and responsibilities took over. So, there was some ‘unfinished business’ which I aim to complete through the MICL. MBA studies certainly served their purpose, however I needed a new angle, which the MICL is certainly delivering.

What helped you in your decision to become a MICL student?

“I liked the feel of City and it was the only University offering a combination of creativity, leadership and innovation. I was looking for something new and like me the MICL was finding its feet – a shared challenge. I came to an open evening in April and met Dr Sara Jones the Course Director and two students from the previous year. I was sure that I’d find it difficult, and getting back into study was daunting so, when signing up for the MICL which started in October 2012, I also signed up for a ten week creative writing course which started that May as a precursor. Completing that meant I was able to get myself comfortable with my surroundings and that was reassuring. I have been thrilled by how its all worked out, it was the shot in the arm I needed.

Can you walk me through what it’s like to be a mature student?

“Most of us forget how old we are until we are looking in the mirror! The MICL is about a new way of looking at things. On a peer group level I have had the opportunity to be helpful and useful –importantly it’s reciprocated. You never know when an avenue of learning is going to open up. My advice to someone would be to be prepared to jump in and make a splash. People will support you making mistakes as long as you do likewise for those around you.

Can you talk about an encounter on the MICL that completely took you by surprise?

“The ‘Creative problem solving and leadership’ (CPSL) module in the first semester helped us be patient with each other. This meant that when we started the ‘Leading creative design’ module there was this established climate of good will and respect, and we were able to identify with each other’s problem solving styles. All credit to Andy Wilkins our CPSL tutor. He uses principles that encourage collaboration and resists the creation of factions. We have had teams that were competing against other, yet still shared information. It was very sporting and supportive. We were also able to draw on our creative writing/script writing module in our team design project. Realising how to use the MICL modules to build a holistic approach to projects was very satisfying.

You’ve set up your own consultancy. What advice would you give on becoming an independent consultant?

“My key advice is to go slowly and consider the following
• If you’re employed then take a year to plan towards becoming an independent consultant.
• Be very careful about the profile you want to develop if you want to develop one at all. You have to maintain and evolve it.
• Get an accountant, and decide if you are a self employed or limited company and find out about the different responsibilities, liabilities and opportunities associated with each..
• Have a rate-card for your products and services and know your own value.
• Gather information and understand your market. Look at what others are offering and be flexible and imaginative about how you can give a company what they’re looking for without devaluing your rate-card.
• There are times when you have to say NO to work. Even in lean times.

What challenges have you had to face working as an independent consultant and studying, how did you overcome these?

“You’ve got three things that you are managing. You’re managing the work you’re doing for your customer, the work you’re doing for yourself (unpaid because you’re not paying yourself), and then you have your study. It can be stressful but there are peaks and troughs. It can also be difficult on your own, so find your network. Having a range of people, who aren’t necessarily doing the same thing that you’re doing, but in the same place enables you to compare notes and give each other a well done. Express an interest in the people around you and be flexible. Humility and humour will also take you a long way.

What books on the MICL have inspired you?

‘Jack’s Notebook’ by Gregg Fraley, I loved reading it before I joined the MICL. It gave me the courage to persist in the first few weeks in the Masters degree, and as a result I couldn’t wait to get to the creative problem solving module. ‘Creativity’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was both insightful, and useful, and helped me to prepare for the interview I did with Andrew Mullins of the Evening Standard.

Watch Trish’s interview with Andy Mullins, Evening Standard

Taking the MICL – Lived experience

We here at the Centre for Creativity could tell you all about our Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership (MICL), but there is nothing quite like hearing about the experience directly from current students, so why not have a look at some of the things the current MICL students are saying about the course:

Alison Duffy, one of the students on the MICL has posted a very nice piece on her experience of the first year of taking the MICL on her company website, Per Diem Projects (

Marc Scheimann, last year’s scholarship competition winner writes about the MICL experience in his blog,

Katherine William-Powlett, also a MICL student writes a blog about innovation, you can read it here:

By the way, the 2011 scholarship competition is still open until the 5th July – don’t miss out!

We’ve come a long way in 5 months!

It’s my birthday and I’m celebrating by starting to blog on the Centre for Creativity website, as one of the first students to study the MICL.

Our induction day on 17th September last year seems a very long time ago.  As strangers, we were thrown together in teams to explore the locality.  Our brief was to capture (as photos or in physical format) anything that was relevant to us in terms of innovation, creativity and leadership.

Nearly five months later, we are back in those teams working on a case study exercise as part of our Leading Creative Design module.  We’ve learnt a lot about ourselves and each other through our Creative Writing exercises, sharing our innermost secrets, our desires and our largely undiscovered talents.  We’ve explored our personalities and leadership styles, facilitated workshops and explored real-life problems during our Creative Problem Solving and Leadership module.  We’ve examined behaviours and personality traits in the workplace with the Psychology of Creativity module.

We’ve covered a lot of ground in a short space of time and for me, the course material is all starting to knit together.  As a group, we are also starting to gel.  Certainly in the group I’m working in at present, we’ve managed to create an open and supportive climate.  It’s starting to prove really helpful in  getting things done.  Climate is so important…

MICL Student Launches: Smile for London

Jo Kotas, a student on the MICL, this week launched an exciting new project aimed at brightening up the daily commute for Londoners.

Smile for London, is a unique two week filmshowcase across digital platform screens throughout the Underground network (running from the 17 – 28 January 2011). Developed by creative team, Meme Partnership, the Smile for London campaign harnesses art and creativity to bring short films to London’s Underground commuters.

The Smile for London campaign has been a year in development and was founded from a desire to promote young talent as well as introduce diverse forms of creativity to public spaces. Jo Kotas and Alex Stevens, co-founders of the Smile for London project, said: “This is a hugely exciting project for us. We want to celebrate the creative talents of our city and at the same brighten the journeys of London’s commuters. Our ambition is to send people to work with a smile and gather as much support for the campaign as we can.”

Check out the website:

Also featuring on the City University News pages:

Have you seen the Smile for London in action?