Pretending to be Authentic?


Practicing storytelling on the London Business School & Faurecia IGNITE People & Teams leadership programme

How developing acting skills will help you to make a bigger impact at work

I met Maria in a bar in a foreign city. She was telling a story. It was about her life as a director in a global company. The colourful tale was full of humour and pithy insights. It encapsulated how hard it was for Maria to influence other senior execs. The rowdy group we were with had spent the day together in a leadership programme I was directing. This audience felt Maria’s frustration. They leaned forward, entranced.

The following morning Maria was required to give a presentation to the class. Against my advice, she fell back on the familiar crutch of PowerPoint slides, She presented with her back to the audience, reading the bullet points one-by-one.

The presentation was about the very same leadership challenge her story memorably bought to life in the bar. But this time Maria’s voice was flat, unimpassioned, a grey monotone. The charismatic and persuasive woman of the night before was nowhere to be seen. When her presentation finally stuttered to a halt we were all relieved.

I’m a businesswomen, not an actress!

Later that morning, I informed the group they were going to work with professional actors. They were going to practice telling stories that would help drive the vital changes needed in their business. During the coffee break Maria strode up to me. With a look of wounded incredulity, she hissed. “I’m a businesswoman, why are you asking me to become an actor?”. Turning away, she added: “You’re wasting my time. This exercise is pointless.”

Maria is not alone in being a compelling storyteller in a bar, but an uninspired presenter in the office. She’s also not alone in intuitively mistrusting the idea of ‘acting’ as a personal skill. This is a mistake. She is failing to benefit from the incredible power of storytelling. Research shows if you want to influence others, a good story has infinitely more impact than a boring, data-driven PowerPoint presentation. Neuroscientists have found[1] that when we’re told a character-driven story, with emotional content and colourful metaphors, it causes our brain to release a very special neurochemical called oxytocin. The same thing happens when we’re trusted, or shown a kindness.

She found that using acting skills involves using emotion as well as analysis, stories as well as data, your body and voice as well as your content. But, it’s not about becoming an actor. Or, pretending to be someone else. Quite the opposite in fact. Its about practicing how to allow your authentic self to appear at work. About being yourself, more, with skill.[2] In Maria’s case this meant channeling her fluent bar-room persona into pivotal work situations.

So, what happened? At the end of the session Maria delivered a story to the group that provoked a prolonged round of applause. She made her point about the need for better collaboration quite brilliantly. And, the experience left a beaming smile of satisfaction on her face.

In our fast-changing world you’ll need more than ever to persuade the people around you to take a risk and try something new. Of course, you’ll need to know your stuff. You’ll need statistics. But people are never influenced by data alone. They are only ever convinced by what data means to them. The most effective way to get to that influencing moment is to wrap your evidence in a story.[3]


A brainstorm list of storytelling techniques to use at work

The creative techniques you can use are limited only by your imagination. In the embedded picture is a list of simple techniques we brainstormed in just ten minutes. They’ll be familiar from your childhood, as well as from the books and movies you love. How many could you use the next time you are trying to land a new idea, illustrate a problem, or shift opinion at work?

Whatever the number, if you want to live happily ever after in your career, develop your storytelling abilities. A well-told story stimulates engagement and trust. It captures a listener’s heart, by first stimulating their brain.

Do you agree with this argument? How does it relate to your life? If you like this article please do comment, like and share!

To read more about managing for creativity and innovation check out my book The Spark – How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity (FT Publishing, 2014) available on Amazon.


[1] ‘Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling’, Paul J. Zak HBR OCTOBER 28, 2014

[2] The summary in the research underpinning ‘Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?: What It Takes To Be An Authentic Leader’ Harvard Business School Press, 2006 by Robert Goffee, Gareth Jones

[3] This lovely phrase with thanks to my London Business School colleague Professor Niro Sivanathan

Copyright © 2018 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved


Is Donald proving us wrong?

president trumpAfter 6 months of President Trump, should we rewrite the leadership books? 

Recently a business exec posed an fascinating question during a coffee break: “Trump has now been the US President for nearly six months,” he said. “When do you guys stop using him as a cautionary tale about the ‘wrong sort of leader’, and start changing your views on what good leadership looks like?”

In my leadership development programmes I often use an a picture of Trump to provoke discussion about what works in business, and what doesn’t. Even allowing for the imperfect read-across from politics to business, it works. Donald’s angry face makes people smile – or groan – with recognition.

Like him, or loathe him – he’s a great way to get a conversation going.

I’m work with organisations trying to be innovative. In this context, my research is clear. Donald’s style is counterproductive when leading for new ideas and creativity. Here’s a few of the reasons why..

Donald likes to portray himself as the smartest man in the room. But, in an increasingly complex, fast-moving world, its far more effective to leverage collective intelligence. My advice is to business people is counter intuitive: just admit you don’t have all the answers. Instead, empower people with engaging ‘what-if?’ and ‘why-not?’ questions.

Donald often draws attention to his own gifts. Last week, hilariously, he even claimed to have dreamed up the notion of cladding his Mexican border wall in solar panels. “Pretty good imagination, right? It’s my idea”, he crowed. In fact, the idea came from the architectural submissions to the Department of Homeland Security. I advise leaders to be the cheerleader-in-chief for those around you. And, of course, never, ever, take credit for other people’s ideas!

Donald loves to remind people he’s the most powerful man in the room. In his first cabinet meeting members of his administration were encouraged to lavish praise on him for 11 cringe-worthy minutes. I work with leaders on how to flatten, not exaggerate, hierarchy. To become a “context-creator” who sees the job as facilitating an environment in which other people excel.

So, my reply to the executive’s excellent question was : I’m not changing my views just yet. President Trump is an anomaly who’s risen on a tide of global populism fueled by a historically-febrile US political environment. For me, he’s still a ‘how-NOT-to’ case study for business leaders to learn from.

If you like this try my book ‘The Spark: How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity’ (FT Publishing)  available on Amazon.

Copyright © 2017 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved


Is your business one of The Walking Dead?

the-walking-dead-episode-601-daryl-reedus-post-1600x600Companies don’t die. They turn into zombies.

Here’s how it happens.

Year 1: managers realise new technology, shifting customer needs and competition is changing the game. But, hey, there’s still life in the old dog yet. So, they do that Monty Python impression: “tis but a flesh wound!”.

Year 2: managers pay lip service to innovation. But actually pour 99% of their energies into lowering the costs of delivering the existing value proposition. Rather than doing different things; they just try to do the same things, better.

Year 3 onwards: managers realise a measured innovation strategy is now no longer enough. The zombie sickness is well established. The business needs full-on electro-shock therapy.

By this time, it’s usually too late. The cautionary tales of Yahoo, MySpace, Xerox, Blackberry, Borders Books, Kodak, Polaroid, Nokia and Blockbusters are all sad examples of The Walking Dead Syndrome.

You see, irrelevance isn’t an event, it’s a process.

Why do highly-intelligent business leaders ignore reality over and over again?

Because the barriers to change inside the business are allowed to overpower the threat outside. These barriers are built on an uncreative, risk-averse culture, fear of failure and an unwillingness to make tough choices.

It’s better to eat your own, than have your own eaten by others. Take Apple.  The iPad Stole sales away from the original Macintosh but ultimately led to an expanded market. Apple CEO Tim Cook said: “Our core philosophy is to never fear cannibalization. If we don’t do it, someone else will.”

Many companies are already bitten. The value proposition which made them rich and famous is in decline and they’re blindly shuffling towards the grave. For some there’s still hope. But it’ll take courage to facilitate a creative culture and to invest time and money in a focused innovation strategy.

The question is: how a long have you got before your business is one of the irretrievable Walking Dead? And what can you do about it?

If you like blog check out my book The Spark: How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity’ (FT Publishing)  available on Amazon

Copyright © 2016 Greg Orme. All Rights Reserved.

Don’t be like Donald, it doesn’t work

Republican presidential candidate Trump gestures and declares "You're fired!" at a rally in ManchesterWhy copying Mr Trump kills innovation

The US presidential campaign has catapulted Donald Trump to global significance. The world now holds its breath to see if he can win the Republican nomination.

Whatever happens, one thing’s for sure.

Trump has become the undisputed poster boy for directive leadership. “Follow me, without question, and I will crush your enemies” is the key message. Donald needs you to believe he knows where he’s going.

If Trump’s style feels like a throw-back to another era, it’s because it is. My 10-step model for business creativity in The Spark, based on insights from the world’s most innovative organisations, shows his approach is old-fashioned and unfit for purpose.

Nobody knows it all

The business world is changing at dizzying speed. To win, you have to be more nimble than the competition. Innovation requires that you engage the innate creativity of staff. This is where Trump’s know-it-all leadership style fails miserably.

In a world of accelerating change nobody knows it all. The days when the leader came up with all the ideas and then handed them down on tablets of stone is ancient history. If your people are waiting for you to come up with the solution, I guarantee innovation will grind to a halt. Directive leadership might gain some traction in a carrot-and-stick world of external motivation – but it doesn’t inspire people’s inner motivation where new ideas happen.

Innovative leaders facilitate a culture and process in which other people are heard and supported. Ed Catmull, the CEO of the animation studio Pixar, talks of a “town hall” culture in which anyone feels secure enough to raise their hand and challenge the status quo.

Being an innovative leader is:

Not about telling, it’s about listening.

Not about ordering, but enabling.

Not about “me”, but about “you”.

Trump’s style might work in the fiefdom of his self-aggrandizing business. It might sadly even win through in America’s febrile political mood. But transplanted into a modern global business it’s a liability.

If you want to win in the modern business world, don’t be like Donald.

Not just because he’s a ludicrous bully. Don’t do it because it doesn’t work.

If you like this try my bookThe Spark: How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity’ (FT Publishing)  available on Amazon

Copyright © 2016 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved

What matters most: people or ideas?


To be innovative in business what matters more: people or ideas? This seems like one of those insoluble chicken-and-egg question, but it’s not.

People matter far more than ideas.

Pixar President Ed Catmull learned this simple but powerful lesson during the painful birth of Toy Story 2. He’d assigned an inexperienced “B-Team” to producing the Toy Story sequel because he figured making a hit would be easier the second time around. Half way through the production it dawned on Catmull he’d made a huge error – and he had a complete disaster on his hands.

Radical action was required.

For the first time in the company’s history Catmull removed directors from the movie in the middle of a production. He placed his trust – and the failing movie – in the hands of Pixar’s “Brains Trust” – the most talented team in the business which included legendary director John Lasseter.

The Brains Trust made important changes to the story, and the rest is history.Toy Story 2 became one of the few sequels in cinematic history to outshine the original and took $500m at the box office.

In his book Creativity Inc. Catmull sums up the lesson for leaders everywhere:

“If you give a good idea to a mediocre team they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.”

If you want your business to be consistently innovative don’t focus on great ideas, focus on forming your best people high-performing teams with the right chemistry.

Ideas come from people. Therefore people are always more important than ideas.

If you like this try my bookThe Spark: How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity’ (FT Publishing)  available on Amazon.

To inspire others – uncover your leadership purpose

The four challenging questions which transform your leadership approach


Managers who lead with inner purpose inspire their people to be more passionate, engaged and creative. I’m lucky enough to work with business people across the world – supporting them in a deeply personal journey to uncover their leadership purpose. The logic is simple: to inspire others, first inspire yourself.

Sir John’s purpose

When I was writing The Spark: How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity Sir John Hegarty, founder of the legendary creative agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty revealed his purpose to me: “To inspire everyone around me.” This simple statement guides his day-to-day actions and informs his empowering management style. Of course, this non-dictatorial philosophy is put to the test when a person’s work is not quite up to scratch. “I turn to them and say: ‘This is really good, but is it great?’ I want you to be famous. I want you to look back and say: ‘this was a great moment in my career’.” Laughing, he adds: “Creative people love a challenge!”

Hegarty believes in the moment after failure a manager can inspire something special: “The trick is to find a bit of what they have produced already that is good and focus on that. I need them to walk out feeling – we can crack this! It’s vital they don’t feel deflated – they must feel passionate, energised and positive. When they leave my room they must feel they can go and do something great. If I belittle them then I destroy them. Cynicism is the death of creativity.”

Finding your purpose

Exploring your leadership purpose can sound too big to even start, but it’s not. It’s inextricably linked to the activities that put a glint in your eye. Those challenges which naturally lead you to offer your unique value to the world. Here are four questions to help. Ask yourself (and other people) the first two questions; the last two are just for you:

  1. What do other people see as your strengths?
  2. What do the individuals on your team need from you?
  3. What really inspires you about your work?
  4. What do you want to be remembered for?

Having a North Star to follow is not just helpful when things get complicated. It transforms work from the daily grind into a personal mission. It’s the difference between inspiring your team to great things – or handing them a license to just go through the motions. As the American Civil Rights Activist Malcolm X once said: “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.”

This is an edited extract from ‘The Spark: How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity’ (Financial Times Publishing) by Greg Orme which is available on Amazon.



How leaders start Electric Conversations

Powerful tips to facilitate more creative team meetings


Have you ever been in a conversation that takes on a life of its own? You lose track of time and become completely engrossed? Sometimes, it even makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end? In the The Spark, How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity (FT Publishing) I coined a phrase for these special interactions that has chimed with a lot of business people: Electric Conversations.

After years of working with management teams in creative companies on leadership and change, I noticed an important skill that separates inspiring leaders from the rest: they facilitate meetings in which Electric Conversations are encouraged.

You’ll have experienced an Electric Conversation. They often precede important decisions and change in your life. Sadly, they’re often stifled at work. People clam up because they’re scared of sounding stupid – especially when the boss is the room. This kills off any hope of innovation.

Allowing creative discussions to flow couldn’t be more important to your business; these conversations are behind every profit-making idea you’ll ever have. They lead to that most precious of commodities: new ideas. Ideas change your future. Electric Conversations allow ideas to develop in the spaces between people.

You can tell when you’re having an Electric Conversation because they are:

Idea-Driven: Not focussed on hierarchy – all about the idea.

Brave: Constructive conflict is part of it – and the potential for failure takes courage.

Passionate: It’s not possible to be creative without caring.

Playful: No assumption of a “right way” – unpredictable, playful and fun.

Purposeful: The team can disagree – but share values and an inspiring purpose.

If you want to start some Electric Conversations here’s how:

  1. Find a Challenging Question: Think of one of the biggest or most intriguing questions facing your business. Something that makes you scared and hopeful all at the same time. Some examples: How could we improve our products to embarrass the competition? What are we really good at – AND really bad at (but have been too scared to admit it?) What new technology do we need to exploit before it makes us irrelevant?
  2. Pick a Diverse Team: Invite a group of people to a no-holds barred creative conversation – be careful to select them from all levels and all parts of your team or business.
  3. Drop Hierarchy: Make it clear you are all there “on the same level”. Listen more than you speak. Facilitate a flowing discussion where all are involved and then summarise what was achieved. This is a golden opportunity for you to demonstrate what an Electric Conversation should look, sound and feel like.
  4. Observe Carefully: Use your eyes, ears and instincts to make sure the conversation embodies the Electric Conversation characteristics listed above.

This blog is an adapted extract from The Spark, How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity (FT Publishing, £14.99). There’s more information at It’s available in all good book shops and on Amazon.

Copyright © 2014 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved

Why smart business leaders LOVE creativity

7 compelling reasons to invest in innovation right now


A recent global survey of 1,500 leaders showed eight of ten CEOs considered innovation vital to reap the benefits of the economic recovery.[i] Business creativity produces ideas which break the mould and have the potential to turn a profit. Smart leaders love business creativity because it….

Delivers ALL new products and services

Let’s face it, human breakthroughs since the dawn of time have begun with a single spark of creativity. It first happened when a caveman (or woman!) grabbed a stick and thought “hmmm, what can I do with this?”

Improves business processes

Even in an economic downturn incremental steps to lower cost and improve quality keep the flame of business creativity going strong.

Improves returns on R&D investment

Consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton analysed the top thousand R&D spenders. The result surprised everybody. It showed there’s no relationship at all between R&D spending and shareholder returns. American Academic Keith Sawyer argues investment is ineffective because it’s often funnelled into a single R&D team. “Collaborative organisations are creative in all divisions,” he argues.

Wins the War for Talent

Sadly, the majority of people report they are unengaged by work. So, how can you persuade the best talent to love working for you? Be more creative – it attracts staff. It’s especially true for younger workers demanding more transparency, authenticity and freedom at work than ever before.[ii]

Helps companies avoid the ‘Kodak Moment’

Business creativity is the only long-term response to a world of accelerating change. Change means extinction to businesses that find themselves wedded to the “old ways”. Famously, Kodak invented digital technology but then refused to cannibalise its lucrative film-based business model. The company went bankrupt in 2012; suicide by complacency.

Makes more money

Finally, the commercial clincher. A battery of analytical studies show businesses which innovate outperform their rivals. Put simply: companies which produce a stream of new ideas and transform them into new products make more money.

Check out my new book The Spark: How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity (Financial Times Publishing) available at all good bookshops and on Amazon.

[i] BCG Report Innovation 2010 A Return to Prominence – and the Emergence of a New World Order

[ii] Great expectations: managing Generation Y, Institute of Leadership & Management and  Ashridge Business School, 2011