Innovation Undressed

29 Jan

articleKaren-Millen-Baroque-Multi-Jewel-Shoes,-£170Decoding Innovation at Karen Millen

For the last two years we’ve had behind-the-scenes access to one of the world’s most innovative fashion houses: Karen Millen.

Our aim? To decode the innovation formula that has catapulted the brand from being $100 startup to a $400m global business.

This is our story of the culture, tools, hacks and leadership that’s driving disruptive innovation in one of the world’s fastest moving creative industries.

Read the story.


How the world’s biggest gaming company teaches Executive Storytelling

20 Oct

Last month I got to spend a week in Hollywood with gaming giant Electronic Arts (Fifa, Sims, Battlefield etc.).  The assignment?  To co-design and facilitate a disruptive leadership experience with Chris Parles and help 30 leaders make breakthroughs in their storytelling ability.  Awesome.

This video is a 3 minute sprint through what happened when EA leaders were let loose in downtown LA and made to work with Hollywood directors, rock bands, storytelling gurus and innovation experts.  Andy Billings, EA’s VP of Profitable Creativity sets the scene for us.

If you’d like to run something similar inside your organisation, let me know at:

Innovation’s Executive Trust Trap

27 Feb


In the March edition of the Harvard Business Review, David DeSteno gives some useful advice to help increase the level of trust inside organisations (summary at the end of this blog).

I’m currently working with a guerilla negotiator to help a major record label untangle the trust issue.  Why?  Because trust and innovation performance are dynamically related, and the music industry needs innovation.

Managers who don’t trust their teams don’t encourage innovation for risk of ‘screw-ups’.  Employees who don’t trust their managers aren’t motivated to take risks for fear of screw-up repercussions.

Capability and character are two useful lenses to consider why trust is lacking; but often the deeper root issue is a culture of fear within the organisation that few executives are ever happy to acknowledge.  The idea seems ludicrous to them.

Yet a senior manager in one of the world’s biggest cell phone companies recently told me that despite an outward reputation for innovation, employees are petrified to take the smallest of risks. “It’s hard enough to survive here, let alone try something new,” he told me. There’s even widespread anxiety about talking to customers for fear of hearing something that would contradict management’s vision of success.

So why the guerilla negotiator?  It’s part of a wider program to build leadership innovation capability in multiple dimensions, but the negotiator is an expert trust builder amidst conditions of extreme uncertainty and ambiguity.  Something that most executives are becoming increasingly familiar with.

Finally, here are David DeSteno’s proposed tips from the Harvard Business Review article to prompt trustworthiness in new or potential partners’ behavior:

  • Be generous. Feelings of gratitude foster trustworthy behavior. 
Giving new partners a reason to feel grateful to you is a win-win: They benefit in the short term from your generosity, and you reap the rewards of their loyalty.
  • Find commonality. Emphasizing common ground increases the likelihood that your counterpart will see you as someone with whom it’s possible to build a lasting and beneficial relationship.
  • Don’t punish. Threats of punishment can prevent untrustworthy behavior in the moment but can be counterproductive in the long term: new partners may be less likely to take risks to support one another.

4 Factors to Stop Leaders Flirting With Innovation

24 Feb

Flirting image

FutureBook recently asked me to write an article about how to create a culture of disruptive innovation in a fragmenting industry.  In it I outline four crucial factors that leaders must confront if they genuinely want to see innovation breaking out across their organisations.

What other ideas would you add?

Fifty Shades of Innovation


Rita McGrath On The End of Competitive Advantage

8 Nov

Last night, DPA hosted a dinner with the brilliant Professor Rita McGrath. This short video outlines some of her key ideas around the end of competitive advantage.


The 7 stages of employee engagement

1 Nov

Ask someone to get involved in a new project and you’ll provoke one of seven likely responses:

7 stages of motivation

Use this tongue-in-cheek graphic from dpa to plot your team and ask the questions:

1) Why have I put them there?

2) Would they agree with where I have placed them?

3) What would it take to move them to the right?

Of course a great first step is always to start with yourself!

What’s the point of creativity?

10 Sep

Dan Pallotta asks this question on Harvard’s blog today (  And he’s right to ask it.

DPA describes innovation as “the marriage of creativity and pragmatism.” While a recent IBM study showed that creativity is the No.1 CEO desired trait in corporate talent, the reality is that most boardrooms are stocked with pragmatists who are incentivised to defend the status quo, and so find it hard to embrace creativity.

Or do they?

Our experience is that executives actually love creativity. But only if the context is right.

Ask a team to find a great new way to cut costs around an initiative that supports today’s business model (often in response to a crisis), and you’ll see a degree of creativity emerging and solutions that get an enthusiastic thumbs up in the boardroom.

Ask a team to find a great new way to reinvent the way we make most of our money (because the competition will anyway, eventually), and the boardroom radio station soon gets re-tuned.

Creativity will always be valued according the context in which it’s applied. When it’s set inside a robust innovation strategy – – and backed by an executive team that is genuinely intentional about creating new value, it stands most chance of success.

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