Friday, 23 January 2015


Gustav Holst’s The Planets Suite is a remarkable piece of music not only for its gigantic scope and excellent, colourful orchestration, but also for the way it encompasses two very different ways of perceiving music.

The music starts powerfully with ‘Mars the Bringer of War’ and travels outwards through each planet in turn, finally reaching the delicate and mysterious atmosphere of Neptune.

‘Mars the Bringer of War’ is a brutal onward march towards a terrifying climax. This forward movement, the feeling of being carried along a path that leads to some kind of inevitable destination, is typical of the very linear way in which most of us perceive and appreciate music.

‘Neptune the Mystic’ is very different. The music flows outwards rather than onwards. It seems to radiate from a central point, reaching further and further outwards in all directions until those listening can no longer discern its journey.

When thinking about problems we tend to comprehend them in a ‘Mars the Bringer of War’ way. We perceive them as developing in complex but essentially linear ways, one aspect leading to another and another and so on. Our minds create two-dimensional flow charts of our problems that progress in more or less predictable directions. We expect and therefore perceive that past causes have led to present difficulties and that these in turn will have future consequences.

To address problems creatively we need to start thinking about them in three dimensions, in a ‘Neptune the Mystic’ way rather than a ‘Mars the Bringer of War’ way. We need to start creating holograms rather than flow charts of our problems. We must place ourselves at the centres of these holograms and imagine our problems expanding and developing around us. We will then be able to raise our thinking up and away from the constricting tracks of linear thinking, gain access to new viewpoints and benefit from the valuable insights they enable us to see.

The next time the onward momentum associated with two-dimensional thinking is carrying you away from effectively addressing a problem try:

  • Constructing a three-dimensional model of the problem or creating a physical prototype of a possible solution.
  • Imagining yourself at the centre of the problem watching it develop and expand around you.
  • Going to where the problem is, placing your self within it and experiencing it directly.
  • Imagining the problem as cyclic rather than linear. As the problem repeatedly swirls around you which aspects seem to evolve and grow stronger?
  • Identifying the energetic elements at the problem’s core that are continuing to power and develop it.
  • Identifying the energy hungry ‘blacks holes’ at the heart of the problem that are sucking in and devouring your time and resources.
  • Identifying those aspects of the problem that are expanding towards you and those that are shrinking away from you.
  • Identifying those elements of the problem that seem to link, entangle, merge and coalesce. What is the effect of all this upon the rest of the problem and your relationship with it?

Thursday, 22 January 2015


Many years ago I witnessed the unique way that the famous cellist Paul Tortelier prepared himself for a performance.

As I was entering the foyer of the concert hall where Tortelier was imminently due to perform I was greeted by the sight of a strikingly tall man with angular features, hat and coat clutched firmly in hand, purposefully striding towards the exit. This man was none other than the great cellist himself!

I stared after him in surprise, thinking that perhaps the great virtuoso had experienced an attack of stage fright, or that someone or something had offended him so much that he had felt compelled to make a swift and dramatic exit.

The seasoned concert-goer accompanying me showed no such surprise. She simply watched the great man leave and nodded to herself knowingly. Then, after a short pause, she turned to me and said, ‘Don’t worry, he always does this before a performance. It is his way of managing his nerves and energising himself before going on stage to perform’.

And she was not wrong. Ten minutes later, with my friend and I seated and expectant in the concert hall, Paul Tortelier strode dynamically to the centre of the stage, grabbed his cello and began to perform. The effect was immediate. It was as if Tortelier had gathered up all the energy and momentum of his last minute walk and focused it all upon the one instant of time that was the opening of his performance.

Tortelier’s intention had not been to make a dramatic exit but a dramatic and memorable entrance. Having achieved this, he immediately and virtuosically built upon the initial energy he had created: one vibrant and dynamic moment led to and built upon the next to create some of the most exhilarating cello playing I had ever heard.

Tortelier’s method of energising himself can be applied more generally. If you want to approach your problems and challenges creatively, stimulate not only your mind but also your body. Create a sense of physical momentum and energy that you can carry with you into creative problem solving sessions and other demanding situations. Take a brisk walk or have a light workout in the gym before that important workshop or presentation. At the very least take a few deep long breaths before diving into the problems before you.

By giving yourself a physical run up to your problems and challenges you will maximise the energy that you can focus upon their effective resolution.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Elgar's owls

If you have a few moments do an Internet search and listen to "Owls: An Epitaph", a short piece for chamber choir by Edward Elgar.

It is a surprising piece; within a short space of time Elgar experiments with some very dissonant, other worldly harmonies and some halting, oddly unsettling rhythms.

By writing the piece Elgar disproves the most common of excuses given for not trying out new ideas and approaches: that it will take too long and use too many resources.

The next time you want to experiment with something new assume you can do it within a short space of time and with the minimum of resources: if you want to try out a new way of receiving customers do it for a couple of hours only and within just one or two areas; if you are thinking of creating a new form or questionnaire quickly brainstorm some key questions, order them into a list and try them out on a small number of volunteers; if you want to test the potential of a new on-line process use a simple and quickly drawn storyboard to explain it to a few people and facilitate their feedback.

If you assume that trying out new ideas will take less rather than more time and resources you will likely be pleasantly surprised by how much you can achieve and learn (and how innovative your ideas turn out to be).