Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise [interview]

by Peter Cook

Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise [interview] - Innovation ExcellenceEditor’s Note: Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise is a new book from Bloomsbury, written by Innovation Excellence contributor Peter Cook. In the interview below, Peter answers some questions about the book and its contents.

You talk about Brain Based Enterprises (BBEs) in the book. Why?

Nearly 30 years ago, Fred Moody and Bill Gates recognised that the basis of competitive advantage had fundamentally shifted from the agrarian age to the industrial era to the information superhighway, when it was commented that Microsoft’s only factory asset is the human imagination. The corresponding shift is from what I call Brawn Based Industries (BBIs) to Brain Based Enterprises (BBEs).

At a personal level, research shows that our brains absorbed five times more information every day as compared with 1986. During our leisure time every day, each of us processes 34 gigabytes, or 100,000 words. In such a world, strategy changes from a long-range plan to a flexible posture, where the half-life of knowledge is in free fall and success depends on creativity as a key input and innovation as a key output. Adapt, innovate or die has never been more true in an age of exponential information growth and discontinuity. Enterprises based on brainpower therefore need to understand higher order business questions of leadership, innovation and creativity to stay ahead. Questions such as:

  1. Where does creativity and imagination come from at a personal level? How can you make collective creativity work? What part do tools and techniques for divergent and convergent thinking play in the mix?
  2. What kind of leadership is required to make innovation and creativity “business as usual” in your enterprise?
  3. What ensures creativity turns into innovation? What stops it?
  4. What are BBEs really doing beneath the veneer?
  5. How do culture and structure support or limit innovation and creativity? What can we do about it? How may we become a genuine learning enterprise?

How does leadership change in such a world?

Leading intelligent and passionate people is different than managing people who are willing to be told what to do. It’s much harder and requires leaders to be better at finding what gets people out of bed in the morning to work at your enterprise, and, more importantly, what keeps them coming over the long-term. How then do you design work as an experience that gets the best out of your people and which engages them to give their best? My own experience in leading teams of scientists is relevant here in so far as they expect what Daniel Pink discusses: an alignment of passion and purpose.

In addition, leaders are now expected to look after the ethical and sustainability agendas of their enterprises. They are constantly “on stage” in terms of scrutiny via social media and that means that they must find harmony between the enterprise’s purpose and its contribution to social value. Trust is a precious commodity in such circumstances and I am privileged to discuss the strategic value of trust in the book with Barbara Brooks Kimmel, author of “TRUST, Inc. Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset”. The five-year study took 2000 of the largest US-based public companies and showed that America’s most trustworthy companies have produced an 82.9% return versus the Standard and Poor’s 42.2% since 2012.

Which companies are featured in Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise?

We have exclusive interviews with Sir Richard Branson, Sir James Dyson and a host of companies from healthcare, technology, banking, music, science and food / drink. Additionally we have contributions from a number of thought leaders in the field of leadership, creativity and innovation, including Nadine Hack, CEO of beCause.

What prompted you to write Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise?

I have had three passions across my life – science, business and music. When I was four years old I wanted to be in The Beatles. By nine, I wanted to be a brain scientist. At 18, I joined a pharmaceutical company as a chemist and traveled the world, fixing factories and scaling up life-saving drugs, including the world’s first treatment for HIV / AIDS and work to introduce human insulin to the world. By 29 I became fascinated with management and started working in a Business School alongside my day job. At 34, I started my own business and some 5 years later I began the synthesis of science, business and music via The Academy of Rock.

Creativity and Innovation have been constants in my three “Shumpeterian” 18-year long career cycles. The book has therefore been maturing for nearly 20 years, having written my first book on creativity and innovation in 1996. Tens of thousands of hours of diverse experience have gone in, working as a business practitioner across a wide range of sectors and fuelling my thinking via my work as an MBA academic and adventurer.

You used some of your experiences in your life as an interviewer of music giants. What do they bring to the table?

Over the last few years I have met music giants from Sheila E to George Clinton, Barry Ainsworth who engineered Bohemian Rhapsody and new talents such as The Rival Sons, The Temperance Movement etc. What we are able to extract from such people are parallel lessons on things like flow, dissonance, creativity, innovation etc.

One such example comes from George Clinton, a great ‘synthesiser’, fearlessly fusing musical genres in ways that others fear or may not even consider. Combination is a powerful strategy for generating and developing innovative ideas and we discuss a suite of techniques to help people supplement their own natural creativity in the book. Clinton is mentioned alongside James Brown and Sly Stone as the key influencers in the development of soul and funk music and is the second most sampled artist in the world, his music having been used as the template for Hip Hop. Speaking to George, he is unafraid of mistakes, seeing these as opportunities to learn, exemplified by a story he told me about the creation of the song ‘Atomic Dog’ which we will leave for another article.

How did you manage to gain an exclusive interview with Sir Richard Branson?

The headline answer to your question is through networking. I won a prize for my work in leadership from Richard Branson nearly two years ago. This led to gaining a job as an author for Virgin.com and delivering events for them. By the time I asked for the interview with Richard I was almost a family member! Although this seems simple, I observe almost daily that people expect to gain similar results without the investment of time and care that often goes into a relationship based on trust. I’ve also done extensive work with other companies such as Pfizer and Roche over the years, which they are still using. Thus it was an easy ask to gain inputs from such companies. In general the lesson here is to create value before seeking reciprocity. Virgin has interesting strategies to keep itself fresh and vital as a corporate entity and we explore aspects of Virgin’s culture, structure and approach to success and failure in the book.

How can people access the ideas in the book?

Whilst reading “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise” is a great start, concepts like creativity and leadership benefit more from living them collectively and applying the lessons to tough business challenges. We offer a range of “stand and involve” keynotes and longer masterclasses, which include opportunities to participate rather than just passively consume. The book also supports the “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise Programme”, spread out over 1-2 years. This offers the opportunity to really practice the strategies and skills for massive ROI.

Wait! Before you go…

Choose how you want the latest innovation content delivered to you:

Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock, providing Keynotes, Organisational Development and Coaching. He is the author of seven books on business leadership. His three passions are science, business and music, having led innovation teams for 18 years to develop life-saving drugs including the first treatments for AIDS and the development of Human Insulin. Peter is Music and Business editor at Innovation Excellence. You can follow him on twitter @Academyofrock.

Leave a Reply