Theft is Creativity

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”


All rights reserved © 2015 Andrew Hutchinson

Creative Leadership

Leadership and creativity are subjects which excite me, sad I know and I am looking to get out more. I’ve written on both of topics extensively but so have others. The last year or so have seen a number of attempts to address the subject.  Some of the best offerings are listed below.  Perhaps not the ideal poolside reading, nonetheless they will give the mind a workout and tone up the grey matter.

1. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom and David Kelley

I may be biased, but I think Creative Confidence, penned by my colleagues Tom and David Kelley, is a great primer on how to unlock your innate creativity. It’s the perfect place to start if you’re fearful of taking creative risks or want to understand more about the skills and mindset you need to adopt for creative problem solving.

2. A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger

Journalist and innovation expert, Warren Berger, explores the world of curiosity and explains why simply asking “Why?” can lead to important change. If you’re an aspiring leader—creative or otherwise—it’s time to channel your inner child and start questioning deeply, imaginatively, and persistently in order to uncover novel opportunities.

3. Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation by Linda A. Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove & Kent Lineback

Collective Genius is about building creative cultures and creating a stage for others to perform upon. Authored by Linda Hill of Harvard Business School, former Pixar tech wizard Greg Brandeau, and two other leadership experts, they debunk the myth of the lone creative genius and give valuable tips for releasing the combined creativity of organizations.

4. Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less by Robert I. Sutton & Huggy Rao

Once you’ve asked the right question and found the right idea, there remains what is arguably the most important and most challenging task for creative leaders: taking them to scale. Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao of Stanford University have spent years researching how effective organizations expand their ideas and influence. Many of the impediments they’ve found are cultural, not technical, and the authors outline principles that the best leaders use to scale their successes. If you want your company to have impact, this is a must-have tome for your leadership library.

5. The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition by Don Norman

A reissue of a design classic, Don Norman wrote the original The Design of Everyday Things in 1988 and it had a tremendous impact on my own career as a designer. In the latest version, Norman expands on his thesis about the relationship between products and people and includes new chapters on design thinking and the role of design in business. If you’re leading a product team in the physical or digital worlds, this book contains a treasure trove of important lessons such as when something doesn’t work, it’s usually the product’s fault, not the person using it.

All rights reserved © 2014 Andrew Hutchinson

17 Ways to Murder an Idea

It must be ten or fifteen years since I first came across 17 Ways to Murder an Idea.  I think that they were published by the Synectics Corporation in one of their promotional booklets of the time. Their excellence in the field of creativity and ideas generation is second to none. It fact at some point I’ll talk about synectics as a technique and how I’ve used it to great effect over the years but for now…….

Still as relevant today as they were all of those years ago.  Enjoy!

17 Ways to Murder an Idea

  1. See it coming and change the subject
  2. Ignore it. Dead silence intimidates all but the most enthusiastic
  3. Feign interest but do nothing about it. This at least prevents the originator from taking it elsewhere
  4. Scorn it. “You’re joking, of course”. Make sure to get your comment in before the idea is fully explained
  5. Laugh it off. “Ho, ho, ho, that’s a good one. You must have been awake all night thinking that up.”
  6. Praise it to death. By the time you have expounded its merits for five minutes everyone else will hate it
  7. Mention that it has never been tried before. If the idea is genuinely original, this is certain to be true. Alternatively, say, “If the idea’s so wonderful, why hasn’t someone else already tried it?”
  8. Say, “Oh, we’ve tried that before” – even if it’s not true. Particularly effective with new-comers. It makes them realise what complete outsiders they are.
  9. Come up with a competitive idea. This can be a dangerous tactic, however, as you might still be left with an idea to follow up.
  10. Stall it with any of the following: “We’re not ready for it yet, but in the fullness of time…”; “I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time, but right now…”; “Let’s wait until the new organisation has settled down…”
  11. Modify it out of existence. This is elegant, you seem to be helping the idea along, just changing it a bit here and there. By the time the originator realises what’s happening, the idea is dead.
  12. Try to chip bits off it. If you fiddle with an idea long enough, it may fall to pieces
  13. Make a strong personal attack on the originator. By the time he or she has recovered, the idea won’t seem so important
  14. Appoint a committee to sit on the idea. As Sir Barnett Cox observed, “A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured, then quietly strangled.”
  15. Drown it in cold water, as in: ‘We haven’t got the staff to do it…the intangible risks would be too great…that’s all very well in theory, but in real life…’
  16. Return it to sender with, “You need to be much more specific about your proposal.”
  17. If all fails, encourage the originator to look for a better idea. Usually a discouraging quest!

All rights reserved © 2013 Andrew Hutchinson

Just What Is Your Problem?

As a consultant I would say that fifty per cent of the time I am asked to solve either a non-existent problem, or the wrong problem.  There is no shame in not being a ‘sophisticated client’.  It is interesting how the meaning of some words change over time due to popular usage.  To be sophisticated is now interpreted as being something of an all-rounder, exhibiting taste and refinement, but of course its root is in practicing the art of sophistry – the power to twist and manipulate with a method of argument that is seemingly plausible though actually invalid and misleading, subtle but unsound or fallacious in its reasoning.  Enter the early-retirement graduate into the consulting business, the former local authority chief executive ready to change the world.  Don’t get me wrong, some of them are good but a lot of them aren’t, trading on once held positional power.

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There is no shame in not being a sophisticated client but there is shame a plenty in a ‘consultant’ who practices the art of sophistry, seeking a parasitic relationship more akin to an umbilical cord.

Problem Definition

I would always encourage a client to sit down with his or her team and scope out the problem, to dry to determine if the ‘problem’ is really a symptom.  This is the most important stage, don’t solve the wrong problem!

The objective of the problem definition is to develop an objective statement of the problem that is clearly understood by all members.  The group may develop a statement of “the desired state” (or an “I wish….”) to be achieved by solving the problem.

I’ll share a few examples of how this might be achieved.


Develop an objective “as is” statement of the problem, that is free of cause and solution.  E.g. ‘32% of order forms processed by our department contain errors’.

The desired state in that example may be “order entry errors reduced by 50%”.   The desired state often helps provide focus, a target and direction.   A quantifiable goal makes evaluation of the solution easier.

Here follows three methods of problem definition:

Method 1 

  1. Start with the presenting problem, a general statement about what is ‘wrong’.
  2. Ask the Problem owner what they have done to solve the problem, provide some background to the problem, what’s been tried, clarify their power to act (don’t try and own someone else’s problem).
  3. Break the problem down into smaller problems – ‘what are the possible reasons for this problem?’.  (Idea:  Can use ‘Cause and Effect’ to identify problem components and Brainstorm the branches or use ‘Force Field’ Analysis).
  4. Review the ideas one by one (grouping and combining where appropriate – idea: use Snowball Technique) – seeking clarification from originators where appropriate.
  5. Select a few ideas that seem to best reflect the problem  (idea: use ‘Weighted Voting’ for gaining consensus for a group-owned problem or ask the Problem Owner).
  6. Can use criteria to choose the problem to look at.  Criteria may include:
  • Control (‘Are we the right people to tackle this?’)
  • Importance (urgency, seriousness)
  • Difficulty (‘Is it possible to do this?’)
  • Time (‘How long will this take?’)
  • Return on Investment (‘What is the pay off?’)
  • Resources (‘Have we got what it takes to do this job?’)

Method 2 – Forwards & Backwards Planning

  1. Start with the presenting problem (Ask the problem Owner).
  2. Write this in the middle of the flipchart
  3. Ask the Problem owner what they have done to solve the problem, provide some background to the problem, what’s been tried, clarify their power to act (don’t try and own someone else’s problem).
  4. Write underneath the presenting problem (‘forwards planning’) – “What new opportunities does this give you”, or, “If you had achieved this then what would you be able to do”).  Repeat twice.
  5. Write above the presenting problem (‘backwards planning’) – “What other problems does that solve”, or “Imagine this was your solution.  What does this solve?”  Repeat twice.
  6. Ask “What stops you from making this happen?”
  7. Ask the problem owner to choose the problem that now best fits their problem.

This method is more effective with one Problem owner – if it is a group owned problem then a representative could be chosen to own the problem and then consensus reached before progressing with the problem, or try Method 1.

Method 3

  1. The problem owner presents the problem and states what they would like to get out of the session.
  2. All participants spend a couple of minutes writing down questions beginning with Who? What? Why? Where? When? How? to ask the Problem Owner about the problem.  The aim is to challenge the Problem Owner’s assumptions and definitions of the problem.
  3. Each participant, in turn, asks the Problem Owner their questions, with supplementary questions as  necessary.
  4. After the Problem Owner has answered the questions each participant spends a few minutes listing “how to’s” that set out what they consider to be the main elements of the problem.
  5. Participants read out their “how to’s”.  The facilitator writes these onto a flip chart.
  6. The Problem Owner selects the one(s) (or rewords the one) they feel represent the main problem(s) that they need to solve.

It is very unusual for a group to easily and clearly state their problems.   Don’t start solving problems before you have a clear understanding of the problem! – Let me know how you get on.

All rights reserved © 2013 Andrew Hutchinson