How to Be More Creative at Work

The results of client surveys are clear. Clients are increasingly looking for more creative solutions to their problems. So let’s get more creative!

In a previous life I led the project team that invented CLOVER – the first spreadable ‘butter’. I learned a lot about creative processes.

Forget the thought that creatives are a different breed. You don’t have to be an artist or musician. It’s a process. We can all do it!

My favourite quote is this…

The creative act is not an act of creation in the sense of the Old Testament.

It does not create something from nothing: it uncovers, selects, re-shuffles, combines, synthesizes already existing facts, ideas, faculties, skills.

Arthur Koestler (Austro-Hungarian essayist): The Act of Creation


Here are some examples.

  1. The Gutenberg press, widely thought to be one of the most ground-breaking inventions ever, was invented around 1440. It combined a die punch for making coins with a wine press!
  2. The Sony Walkman was the hi tech item for teens to have in the 1980’s. It allowed people to walk around listening to music on magnetic cassette tapes (invented by Philips) without annoying others too much! The breakthrough in thinking came from:
    1. Discarding the tape-recording function of the cassette decks that we had at home
    2. Moving the speakers to the ears using headphones (that already existed)
    3. Miniaturizing the rest

The objective for CLOVER was to taste as good as butter but spread straight from the fridge. Before I joined the team they’d tried different formulations and different temperatures. No-one had thought of adapting the churn! Maybe it was something to do with my Austro-Hungarian heritage!

What tweaks could you introduce to transform your product or service offering to deliver better solutions for clients?

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Falling Off The Ladder of Inference

Here’s a typical scenario which explains the ladder of inference…

You briefed your assistant Jo yesterday to draft a document and give it to you first thing this morning. It’s on your desk at 10.00am (not exactly first thing!) and it’s got errors (the client name) and typos in it.

The information you are choosing not to focus on is:

  • Jo is very busy on other work with tight deadlines
  • You didn’t ask how busy Jo was when you did the briefing
  • You briefed Jo in a hurry and the briefing was incomplete
  • Jo didn’t ask any questions because she didn’t want you to think she is unintelligent

Within seconds, your subconscious mind adds meaning and makes assumptions about this experience, such as:

  • Jo is a typical Millennial
  • She isn’t diligent and is likely to hand in sloppy work in future
  • Jo isn’t interested in developing her career

You then go further and draw conclusions and develop additional beliefs, such as

  • Jo is not reliable
  • She is not professional

On the basis that you now don’t trust Jo, you take action and avoid using Jo on your projects in future. Wow! Seems harsh. Poor Jo!

Is there a happy ending? Well, not for you! Jo’s career doesn’t flourish with you, but she finds another job with a rival firm where there is a better boss who delegates work thoroughly and doesn’t jump to conclusions. You end up under-resourced and working even later most evenings!

Do you recognise how easy it is to make these false judgements? All because we select what information we choose and then make invalid assumptions.

Tip for Supervisors: check all the data and ask yourself what beliefs and assumptions you are adding.

Best practice in delegating and supervising at

Source: The above process is adapted from The Ladder of Inference, a model developed by Chris Argyris and developed further by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline.

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How to Change Our Work Habits

Gretchen Rubin has recognised that there are four types of people at work, based on our tendencies to respond to expectations. It turns out there are two types of expectation:

  • outer expectations, such as work deadlines or accepting requests from work colleagues, and
  • inner expectations, such as learning Portuguese, writing more blogs or finding time to do more exercise or meditation

An Upholder

The first type are the Upholders. They meet both expectations. There aren’t many of this type. Think Hermione Granger in Harry Potter. Surely they don’t have a problem? Well, apparently they can be too rigid and can find it hard to let go when they should.

Then there are the Questioners. They’ll probably be ok at meeting their own expectations but find it hard to accept outer expectations. You will need to convince them why they need to do something, then they’ll do it. The problem is that they can overwhelm others with their questions. The way of dealing with their tendency is to give them deadlines or limited their resources or scope.

The Obligers meet the outer expectations but not the inner ones. Their motto is ‘You can count on me!’. What rocks of the world! They hate to let others down. The trouble with this tendency is that it’s not sustainable for their long-term welfare. Their supervisors will do well to recognise this type and provide accountability to help them meet their personal needs.

Finally there are the Rebels. They meet neither outer or inner expectations. Their motto is ‘You can’t make me!’. They resist taking orders from anybody. They are motivated by choice and freedom. They dread habits. These need subtle managing to avoid clashes. Carrots might work better than sticks. Try to find benefits for them if they were to comply.

It’s hard to change habits. But a good place to start is to recognise what type we are. Which one are you? And if you don’t fancy answering that question, maybe you’re a Rebel!

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Better Ways to Run Meetings (and Firms)

What’s stopping us from working at our best? It’s the way we work. Bureaucracy.  Hierarchy. Compliance. Everything that slows us down and makes us feel less human. Our organisations are broken, says Aaron Dignan in his book Brave New Work.

Aaron is contributing to the latest thinking about how to produce more effective company cultures and values. The new buzz words in firm governance are Sociocracy and Holacracy.

Key parts of our work lives are how we make decisions and how we conduct meetings.

We all know what it’s like in most meetings. Few people say what they’re really thinking until they know what the boss thinks. This is madness because it tends to produce groupthink and useful potential insights are missed.

My work alma mater was P&G who encouraged the most junior person to speak first after the external agency presented creative ideas for advertising campaigns. It felt scary but at least ideas were shared honestly. Impactful advertising was usually produced. Fewer mistakes were made. Money wasn’t wasted.

But here’s another way of running meetings that addresses the potential hierarchy problem. A powerful yet simple process is to use thinking rounds, a technique written about by Nancy Kline in Time to Think.

Here’s how the process for this might work:

  1. propose – invite a team member to describe a problem followed by a proposal and recommendation. Everyone listens.
  2. clarify – participants ask questions of the proposer in turn to understand the proposal. Participants ask, proposer answers and everyone listens
  3. react – participants react in turn and/or make suggestions to improve the proposal. Proposer accepts the feedback and stays silent
  4. adjust – based on the questions and feedback the proposer may edit their proposal or remove it
  5. consent – participants in turn can voice an objection if they have one. It’s recommended to set a high bar for objections eg unsafe or might do harm to the team or organisation. The goal is progress
  6. integrate – ask the objector to work with the proposer to edit the proposal to make it faster, cheaper, better

But if we want to make a bigger difference, we need to change firm cultures and what Aaron calls our operating systems. He argues that we need more of the following:

  • Distributed authority, rather than a command and control approach
  • Dynamic teams, rather than a fixed hierarchical organisation chart
  • Decentralisation, rather than a dominant head office
  • Emergent leadership, not top-down directives
  • Responsiveness, rather than a focus on strategic planning
  • Transparency, rather than handing out information on a need-to-know basis
  • Simple rules, rather than complicated bureaucracy.

Most of us, particularly Millennials, would definitely prefer to work in a firm with such a culture. And the work quality would almost certainly be better as well.


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What Effective Leaders Need to Know About Hormones

Leaders who understand some key aspects of neuroscience will be more effective leaders. This is the message in Simon Sinek’s book Leaders Eat Last.

Sinek explains that there are four key chemicals that relate to leadership:

  1. Endorphin
  2. Dopamine
  3. Serotonin
  4. Oxytocin

Sinek divides these four neurotransmitters into two separate categories — selfish and selfless

  • Selfish hormones — Endorphin and Dopamine help us get things done and achieve more.
  • Selfless hormones — Serotonin and Oxytocin strengthen our social bonds and create meaningful connections and more effective collaboration.
  1. Endorphin

Endorphins are pain-masking hormones that help us push ourselves through tough circumstances.

We needed endorphins in the Palaeolithic era when out hunting. Enduring harsh climates and rough terrain for hours or days on end to catch a meal, endorphins would mask the pain and allow us to press forward until we caught our prey.

Today, we most often get a rush of endorphins from running called a “Runner’s High” that helps us push our bodies through tough workouts.

This feeling is actually addictive and that’s why you see so many people who are addicted to working out.

In the modern world, effective leaders can obviously provide stretch in their work goals to create a sense of achievement and this endorphin rush.

  1. Dopamine

Dopamine is the most dangerous hormone of the four because it is the most satisfying.

Alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, and even cell phones send dopamine through our body whenever we use them, which is what makes those things so highly addictive.

On a more professional note, even completing tasks, achieving goals, and simply getting things done can give us a rush of dopamine. That’s why crossing items off your to-do list feels so great. If you’ve ever completed a task, realised it wasn’t on your to-do list, added it, then crossed it off, you’ll know this feeling.

Dopamine is what produces that irresistible urge to check every notification on your phone.

Each time we clear the notification, respond to the text, or read an email it gives us a boost in dopamine. Since dopamine makes us feel great, we instinctively do things that give us a quick dopamine fix without considering the value of those things.

Leaders can create a bigger dopamine hit by making goals more tangible. But you may want to consider ways to manage the dopamine addiction by restricting times for sending messages (ie fewer pings on the phone in the evening).

It is important to note that endorphin and dopamine provide short term hits that don’t require contributions from others.

3. Serotonin

Serotonin is the hormone produced when we feel valued, respected and admired.  It boosts our confidence and makes us feel good.

When people see you and respect you as their leader, it boosts your serotonin by making you feel great and it boosts their serotonin because they trust you.

However, leaders who get too high on serotonin and don’t follow through on their responsibilities as a leader lose the trust of the group. Once they’ve lost the trust of the group, their serotonin drops and so does their confidence.

The more that leaders create a safe environment and give team members a sense of pride and status, the more serotonin they will have surging through their body and the more confident they will feel when taking on challenges.

Without trust you’ll have an environment of cynicism and paranoia.

4. Oxytocin

Oxytocin is stimulated when we get feelings from emotional bonds. Unlike endorphin and serotonin, it builds slowly.

Leaders that sit up in their ivory tower, never to be seen by the group and only communicating through emails don’t form this kind of bond with their team.

Effective leaders get out amongst the people to say well done and give people one-on-one time to address their concerns. Being honest helps stimulate oxytocin as does making other people feel heard.

And maybe you’ll get fewer team members going off to rival firms!

An important rival to oxytocin is cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol makes us more selfish and paranoid and restricts our creative thinking. It also reduces our immune system. So if you notice staff getting sick more often, you might needs some actions to enhance levels of serotonin and oxytocin.


Final thought…

Traditional male leaders tend to be better at providing the endorphin and dopamine hits. Females tend to be better at delivering the serotonin and oxytocin responses. It seems like the balance between the two styles might be ideal.

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Leadership Development in Just Two Hours (and less than 500 words!)

Source: Nice Colleges

I spent several years on the faculty of the Nottingham Law School teaching a two-year MBA in Legal Practice.

Then I was asked to design an MBA in a day! My consulting colleagues teased me that I hadn’t got it down to 45 minutes by now!

Well I’m getting there, having just designed a two-hour version on the important topic of Leadership aimed at mid-level associates. My interactive workshop covers:

  • Delegation/Supervision skills
  • Motivation
  • Project Management
  • Feedback skills

Here are some of the key messages:

Delegation/Supervision skills

  • Your firm has hired good people – if they give you poor quality work, might it be because of how you delegated it?
  • Prepare by considering what information needs to be given rather than ‘winging it’.
  • Try to avoid delegating by email – a conversation is much better.
  • Ask for a summary at the end to ensure total understanding of what’s required, by when etc – but avoid being patronising.
  • Adapt your style of supervising (Ken Blanchard) given the experience and motivation of the junior and don’t over manage!
  • Consider a less directive approach for experienced juniors by asking them what approach they’re thinking of adopting.


  • We tend to assume that other people are the same as us when it comes to what motivates and demotivates them – this is unlikely to true.
  • So, don’t listen to my Mum (and probably yours!) and treat everyone like you want to be treated! Treat them as they want to be treated!
  • Use your antennae to tune into what motivates your juniors.
  • Expect Mastery and Autonomy (Dan Pink) to be motivating factors, but there may be others.
  • Giving some positive feedback usually goes down well!
  • Invest some time in getting to know your juniors.

Matter Management

  • Having transitioned from a junior to a mid-level or senior, you now should have a role in supporting your partners in managing matters effectively and efficiently.
  • Consider what needs to happen to delight your clients.
  • Consider the needs of your firm, such as managing your firm’s reputation and making an appropriate margin.
  • Consider the needs of your internal team members, such as interesting, challenging and varied work.
  • Try to avoid permanently being in the detail and get into that helicopter to see the big picture.
  • Ask your partners what role you can usefully play.

Feedback skills

  • It’s so important to help others learn, so give feedback!
  • You know what works for you: the feedback should be Balanced, Non-judgmental, Specific, Timely.
  • In some situations, it can work well to ask them what they think they did well and what they would do differently.
  • Be clear about your own feedback and ensure you manage the work product. The reputation of your firm is everything so do not tolerate poor quality!
  • Try to be a reflective practitioner.

There you are…MBA level material now in fewer than 500 words!


For more on these topics see:



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Motivation Theories and Professional Service Firms

Source: pinterest

Professional firms are finding it difficult to retain their talent. Is there anything they can do to motivate staff? Here’s a look at what we can learn about motivating talented people.

Personality, abilities and experience are all relevant indicators to assess a person’s potential to perform the work required of them. However the best predictor of someone’s performance is his or her motivation. There are three traditional theories to explain how motivation works:

  • Satisfaction theories – a satisfied worker is a more productive worker. Sadly there is little empirical evidence that this is the case. However satisfied workers do tend to stay with their employees longer, so there are benefits to firms in maintaining useful know-how in the firm.
  • Incentive theories – workers will increase their efforts to gain a reward. This is generally thought to be true if the following conditions apply:
  • The reward is perceived to be worth the extra effort
  • The performance can be measured and clearly attributed to the individual
  • The individual wants the reward
  • The increased performance does not become the new minimum. In law firms that depend on collaboration and teamwork, the second condition above can be difficult to satisfy.
  • Intrinsic theories – someone’s reward is the satisfaction of a worthwhile job. This works best when intelligent people can work independently on challenging problems. It does not work when an individual does not have control over his or her own work. 

More recently, Charles Handy has developed a new thesis on motivation. He believes that a person will be motivated to achieve a result if he or she perceives that the result will satisfy a need he or she has and that the result is worth the effort required to achieve it.

Even more recently, Dan Pink in his book Drive says that three factors are required to increase performance:

  • Autonomy – this enhances greater engagement rather than just compliance
  • Mastery – this creates a sense of well-being through getting better at something
  • Purpose – to provide a sense that the work has meaning and is worthwhile

What are needs?

There have been many different classifications of needs, as follows:

Maslow’s hierarchy from the most basic to the more complex:

  • Physiological
  • Safety
  • Belonging
  • Esteem
  • Self-actualisation

Maslow thought that needs would only motivate to the extent that they were not satisfied and that higher order needs could not motivate until lower order needs were met. 

Hertzberg’s two-factor theory . He believed there were two factors which affected workplace motivation:

  • The hygiene/maintenance factors (environment, conditions of work, money, interpersonal relationships)
  • The motivators (the work itself, responsibility, recognition, achievement, promotion)

Hertzberg claims the hygiene factors address the question “why work here?” and will lead to dissatisfaction if not met (but not satisfaction if they are). The motivating factors help answer the question “why work harder? If they are in place they will lead to satisfaction.

McClelland’s work. He identified three categories of need:

  • The need for power (perhaps a necessity for owners and managers, but needs to be balanced to avoid authoritarian rule!)
  • The need for achievement (perhaps a pre-condition for successful people, but needs to be balanced to avoid too much individualism)
  • The need for affiliation (can provide the balance for the above needs)


Charles Handy believes that whether a person will be motivated to make an extra effort depends on whether the ‘E’ factors of effort, energy, excitement and expenditure (of time money or passion) are perceived to be worthwhile. He describes this as “the motivation calculus” which is made up as follows:

  • The strength of the need that the result is intended to satisfy
  • The expectancy that the effort will yield the result
  • The likelihood that the result will satisfy or reduce the need

The calculation is multiplicative; that is, if any of the three elements is zero the final result is zero (ie no motivation).

Other issues of motivation

  • Individuals belong to several organisations (work, family, social). It is not necessary for one organisation to meet all the person’s needs.
  • If the employer’s and employee’s expectation about efforts and results are not mutual, there are likely to be problems about motivation.
  • When money meets an individual’s needs, it becomes relevant only to make comparisons with other people.

Conclusions about motivation in professional service firms

 Different things motivate different people. Partners, other fee earners and support staff may be motivated by different things.

Professionals and senior support staff tend to be self-motivated, so it becomes important to avoid an environment that demotivates (ie Hertzberg’s hygiene factors), such as:

  • Being given poor quality, boring work
  • Being treated as subordinates
  • Always being criticised and never praised
  • Having independence stifled

For more on research findings on what motivates and demotivates lawyers, see

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