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


Women! Like men, only cheaper

gender pay gap 3People who are passionate about their work come up with new ideas. Research shows they also stay longer in a business – and work harder. But a passionate, engaged workforce only happens in an organisational culture that’s fair.

For this reason, alarm bells should be ringing in board rooms across the country.

Latest figures show women in the UK earn a whopping 19% less than men. Up to the age of 40, there’s little difference between pay packets. But beyond 40, when more women are likely to have taken time out to raise families and work part-time, there is a very big gap. In skills-based roles men enjoy a pay premium of nearly 25%.

That’s huge. And this embarrassing skeleton may well soon be kicked out of the closet and into the glaring sunlight.

The British government intends to bring in regulations in the first half of this year to force larger employers to publish the amount awarded to men and women in bonuses. They’ll also have to come clean about the difference between average pay.

If successful, this is going to cause a lot of red faces.

What many female executives long suspected will be demonstrated very clearly indeed. I’m guessing, when they find out, whatever passion they had for their business will be severely dampened.

Treating half of your employees worse than the other half just isn’t fair. And, with this new level of transparency, companies will no longer be able to hide it away like a guilty secret.  If any business wants to retain the vital edge an engaged workforce offers, they need to act now.

It’s time to clean out the closet.

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.

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

Have you got The Spark in your business?

This article is a sneak preview of “The Spark – How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity” (FT Publishing) now available at all good book shops

What is The Spark?book

Have you ever walked into a business and sensed something special in the air?  A glint in the eye of people you meet that speaks volumes about their passion for the job and the company they’re working for. A spark of playfulness, curiosity and potential. An exciting static charge of courageous creativity. Is that kind energy pulsing through your business?

The Spark is about how to lead an organisation, department or team in which creativity and innovation flourish. Accelerating global competition, disruptive technology and radical changes to employee expectations mean a creative culture is no longer a “nice-to-have”. To dodge these commercial bullets your business must be able to keep deliver new ideas. Fast.

Innovation is business critical because creative companies make more money. A burning passion to improve things – to make a difference to the world – is no longer an adornment to the usual success factors: reliable delivery, high productivity and outstanding service. If efficiency and execution are this year’s profits; next year’s profits – and the years after that – are driven by creativity and new ideas.

In over twenty years of working with creative businesses I’ve been privileged to experience an exciting energy in those studios, offices and meeting rooms. I call the crackling electricity in truly creative companies The Spark:

  • The Spark is the potential for creativity in a person, a team – or a whole business.
  • The Spark is a great idea that changes perceptions, drives innovation and makes money.

My mission is to offer you a practical tool kit to develop a charged climate in your team or business. To make sparks common place so your organisation can successfully innovate in a fast-changing commercial world.

The Ten Habits

The Ten Habits are designed to demystify the leadership capabilities needed to turn up the power supply: to create sparks in you, your team and your business.  They are numbered and will have a big impact if you approach them sequentially. But they also work together interdependently. To truly transform your business, practise all ten habits together over time.

10 Habits BIGGER

The Spark between two people is created when a person decides to:

Habit 1: Start an Electric Conversation… how to create The Spark in your business

Passionate People are the rocket fuel of any creative business. The three habits that help inspire passionate people are:

  • Habit 2: Break the Management Rules… how to become an Electric Manager
  • Habit 3: Lead with Creative Choices… how to choose to be an authentic and inspiring leader
  • Habit 4: Become a Talent Impresario…. how to fill your business with creative talent

An Inspiring Philosophy is your belief system. The twin habits that helps develop it are:

  • Habit 5: Know Why You Do, What You Do…how to find an inspiring business purpose
  • Habit 6: Connect through shared values…how to inspire passion in your people

An Energised Cultured is the weather system in which inspired people and teams work. The two habits that help make the weather are:

  • Habit 7: Build a Business Playground…how to electrically charge your creative climate
  • Habit 8: Balance Focus and Freedom…how to manage creative tensions

Collaborative Teams make the most of scale in your business.The habits that promote creative team teamwork are:

  • Habit 9: Break Down Barriers… How to dynamite the walls that block creativity
  • Habit 10: Encourage Collisions… How to spark Electric Conversations to power collaboration    

If you’ve linked this sneak preview taken from the book’s introduction and want to find out more about developing the Ten Habits you can find The Spark on Amazon and at all good book shops.

All Rights Reserved, © Copyright Greg Orme 2014

Video snippets: Capturing Creativity In your Business

The individual answers from a one-to-one interview I gave tackling the key questions of business creativity. We’ve cut it into individual snippets so you can view the videos most relevant for you first!  If you want to watch it all in one sitting – that video is also posted on the blog.

Why is it important for businesses to be creative?

Are there other benefits for a business if it becomes more creative?

How difficult is it to lead creativity in a business?

Why is culture so important to creativity in business?

How do you influence culture?

What are the habits you’ve seen in good creative businesses?

Video Interview: Capturing Creativity In your Business

In just over seven minutes I tackle some of the key questions of business creativity. If your’e in a rush, don’t worry!  The individual answers to each of the six questions can be found in another of my blog posts as handy video snippets – I hope you find it useful.

  1. Why is it important for businesses to be creative?
  2. Are there other benefits for a business if it becomes more creative?
  3. How difficult is it to lead creativity in a business?
  4. Why is culture so important to creativity in business?
  5. How do you influence culture?
  6. What are the habits you’ve seen in good creative businesses?

Carrots and Sticks (Why They Don’t Work in a Creative Business)

In Brief: Traditional management tactics of reward and punishment fail where the business is selling creativity – businesses like this need management to encourage people’s inner motivation.

Enormous amounts of time and money are expended to motivate employees to be creative. Sadly, much of it wasted because traditional management thinking is obsessed with external rewards in the form of carrots and sticks. This external (or extrinsic) motivational approach leads to carrots in the form of higher wages and bonus payments. The sticks are demotion, performance management and even dismissal.

But there’s a problem. External motivation works well for people who are naturally driven by wealth, or are in a repetitive, process-driven job. People drawn to creative fields are often driven by a purpose higher than money – things like challenge, learning and peer recognition.

I work with some of the world’s best companies in TV, film, games and advertising. They produce creativity to order – week in, week out. So, how do they do it? And, what can they teach the rest of the business world?

My research with creative organisations shows encouraging people’s inner motivation is far more successful in delivering sustained creativity. Intrinsic motivation comes from inside. It’s a person’s abiding love for certain activities and challenges: coding a website, designing a brand, developing an idea for an online drama. This form of motivational management applies to creativity and innovation in “non-creative” industries as well. So the person might equally be searching for a new way to organise business information or manage customer relationships.

Let’s be clear. Nobody wants to be starving artist. But above a certain level of remuneration, when reasonable market rates have been met, or slightly exceeded – or when personal finance has been “taken off the table” as an issue – more cash doesn’t equal more creativity.

In summary, the sorts of people who end up in complex or creative jobs are often most creative when they are intrinsically motivated—in other words, when the work and the work are stimulating.Here’s five tips to manage for intrinsic motivation – and hence creativity:

  1. Match People and Task: Select the right people to do the right work – all the way from hiring to team formation.
  2. Create Challenging Teams: Good ideas get better through rigorous exposure to different backgrounds and skill sets.
  3. Offer Freedom within a Framework: Tell people which mountain to climb, but not how to put on their boots and put one foot in front of the other.
  4. Give Generous Support: Offer great support in terms of time allocated and investment – too stingy on either is a recipe for disaster.
  5. Show Gratitude: Let staff know senior management place great value on what they are doing by showing your face from time to time – and saying thank you.

Copyright © 2012 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved

Caution Change Ahead!

6 Ways To Avoid Being Tripped Up When Leading Change In Your Organisation   

Creating change is often difficult, expensive, and prone to failure. And as a leader when you initiative the “pet project of the month” over and over again but nothing really changes guess what? You start to look a little like a politician: all mouth and no trousers.

Change is difficult because it’s about new behaviours. And we all know how difficult it is to alter our own habits (drinking less, exercising more or turning the TV off once in a while!) Imagine how much harder it is when you are trying to modify the attitudes and actions of an entire organisation.

Over the years I’ve been involved in the implementation of major change in a variety of businesses. From my experience – and research into good practice – here are six handy tips to help you to become a successful Change Maker.

1. Start Shouting Fire – Many businesses are too inward looking. They don’t listen enough to their clients or know enough about their competitors. An inward-facing mentality can breed complacency, even arrogance. As a leader you need to show your people that the need for change is urgent. If there is not a pressing commercial or operational “fire” in your business (and there normally is) you might need to start it yourself.

2. Get the right people involved, at the right time, during the process –  change often starts with one or two people, but making it stick is not a solo sport. To get things going you need to get enough people involved with the expertise and credibility required. And ensure they are working as a team. Change Management is like getting a car started when it’s bogged down in the mud. You need a coordinated, sustained push with as many people involved as you can rope in.

3. Develop a Clear Inspirational Purpose – if it’s not there already start with a rigorous and collaborative development process to find this, then add specific objectives. Anything less is a recipe for confusion and apathy.

4. Communicate, communicate, and then communicate again – It is amazing how many businesses do not communicate effectively. Try this as a test: ask six team members what the fundamental purpose of your business is and see how different their replies are. You might be surprised.

5. Empower Your People – Make sure your team can grab the purpose and make it happen. But empowerment is pointless if it’s just a word. Take a look at your systems, structures and skill levels to make sure the sort of behaviour you want is even possible in your business.

6. Plan for some short term wins – Change is painful and difficult at times and it needs a sustained effort; timelines are normally not weeks but months and even years. To show your team the late nights are worth it make sure the changes you are bringing about delivers short term wins along the way.

Copyright © 2011 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved

With thanks to John P. Kotter’s ‘Leading Change’