A short, professional bio
Jack Martin Leith is a now-to-new exponent and value advocate. He writes about complex problem solving, breakthrough innovation and whole system change — see index and abstracts here. His first venture was Leith & Price, a consultancy serving the advertising, marketing and media sectors. He subsequently co-founded the organisation development and innovation practices Innovatics and thenew.org, later moving to Amsterdam where he established The Centre for Large Group Interventions. This was an enterprise that helped clients such as Shell GameChanger and Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways) use Future Search, Real Time Strategic Change, Open Space Technology and other collaborative methods to address strategic and operational challenges. On returning to the UK, he launched The Innovation Agency, providing consulting services to a wide range of corporate and non-profit clients. Jack was a founding member of Partners in Whole System Transformation, a community of practice. He contributed a chapter, Creating Collaborative Gatherings Using Large Group Interventions, to the Gower Handbook of Training and Development. His teaching work includes seminars at University of Brighton, London Business School, and London School of Economics. He lives in Bath, in the west of England.
A long, personal bio
The problem with writing a bio is that you either hide your light under a bushel or you risk being seen as a self-regarding loudmouth who’s all hat and no cattle. It’s almost impossible to get it right. This one has turned into a bit of an epic, so if you’ve got a 10 minute window and plenty of stamina, hold onto my hat and we’ll get started. (Or go straight to the next section.)
I was born and raised in an east London funeral parlour. B. Wallis & Son had a social purpose as well as a commercial one,
providing round-the-clock service to the bereaved, most of whom were not paying customers. (The real customer is the person in the box.) In its own small way, B. Wallis & Son enriched the world.
While still a toddler I contracted polio, eventually making a full recovery, thanks to an extended programme of brutal but effective physiotherapy at London Hospital (now Royal London Hospital) in Whitechapel and specially modified shoes.
I was a shy introvert with a passion for trains, buses, maps, timetables, Meccano, experiments with chemicals and electrical components, and adventures to far-flung places with the help of a Red Rover, which provided one-day access to the entire London Transport bus network.
When given the job of librarian at my junior school, the first thing I did was carry out a reorganisation. The stock of books was catalogued and rearranged, a new system for borrowing and returning books was introduced, and new opening hours came into effect. Blissfully unaware of the benefits of co-creation, I simply thought up the new system and announced it on a hand-drawn poster.
I spent five years as a boarder at an oppressive grammar school in rural Essex. The boarding house was a harsh environment. Fortunately I figured out how to make long-distance calls from the village phone box for the price of a local call. This entailed stringing together the dialling codes that connected one town with the next. I kept the bullies off my back by providing them with a very long routing code that enabled them to phone home for next to nothing.
The sixties were in full swing, I’d been cooped up for way too long in what was little more than an open prison, so I quit school as soon as I could, at the age of 16, along with the other boarders in my year. We’d had enough.
In the mid 1960s it was easy for a resourceful teenager to find work. I had a swift succession of jobs: apprentice telephone engineer, music packer at Campbell Connelly, a Denmark Street music publishing company (Reg Dwight did the same job at Mills Music, just along the street), back office nobody at J Walter Thompson, an advertising agency, and merchandiser at a London fashion house.
A random hitchhiking adventure took me to Taunton, the county town of Somerset, where I landed a management trainee job at Chapmans (now Debenhams), rapidly moving on to senior positions at the Bath, Bournemouth and Brighton stores.
A friend by the name of Jack Stokes, who I’d met during another hitchhiking expedition, came to see me in Brighton. He told me he’d acquired the lease on a Burmah petrol station in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, but he would be tied up in another business venture for some time. Would I like to manage it? So my French wife Christiane (she was 19) and I (now 21) packed our bags and moved into a caravan on a Suffolk field owned by Jack’s father. A new adventure began.
Jack introduced me to one of Edward de Bono’s early works, The Dog Exercising Machine, which sparked a 50-year enquiry into the nature of the creative process. The photo shows Ted Matchett, author of Creative Action, a delightful little book that greatly influenced the way I think about creating the new.
My advertising career proper (the earlier job at J Walter Thompson was just a pay packet) began in media sales at SuperMarketing. We were David fighting Goliath in the shape of industry bible The Grocer. Similar roles followed, first at IPC Women’s Magazines, where I was a group sales exec working on Woman, Ideal Home, Mother and many other titles, then at Marketing Week, where I was part of the launch team alongside Anthony Nares and Michael Chamberlain.
After that, (we’ll gloss over the six months I spent in Jeddah, but here’s a clue), I joined the small but exotically named advertising agency Beavis Shrimpling & Softly as an account manager, later moving to Lonsdale Advertising where I worked on the pan-European business of Pioneer hi-fi and Ever Ready batteries. My boss was Hugo Dunn-Meynell, a charming old-school adman who wore a monacle and had a flat on Berkeley Square.
Throughout this period, I witnessed the widespread adoption of account planning and the birth of media agencies, then known as media independents. My boss back at IPC Women’s Mags, an aggressive Scot named Bill Macintosh, forbade me from doing business with what he called the “bucket shops”. Not only did I ignore his orders — I made the bucket shops a priority. My job remained intact.
Jessica, the resident Leith & Price babyI was sharing a flat in a Hampstead mansion block with Sharon, Steve, Tim and Pat. The landlord wanted to sell the property to make way for a new development but we refused to budge. After prolonged negotiations, each of us was paid £4,000 (that’s around £20,000 in today’s money) to move out.
My payment enabled me to quit my job at Lonsdales and start a small consulting business called The Direct Mail Department, with advertising agencies as the target market. As things turned out, agencies weren’t that keen on adding direct mail to their clients’ media schedules. Too fiddly and too risky and too little reward. What they were interested in, however, was getting help with their new business prospecting. They wanted to be sure their letters and brochures were reaching all of the right people, and none of the wrong ones. Out with the index cards kept in a shoe box, out with the haphazard mailshots, and in with a proper strategic system. Could I help? You bet.
At the time, media expenditure data was obtained through a publication called the MEAL Digest, the capital letters standing for Media Expenditure Analysis Limited. The data was organised by category and brand, and did not show the company that owned or marketed each brand. Campaign, the advertising industry magazine, published an annual league table of the top 250 advertisers, but the listing did not extend any further.
What happened next was pivotal. First, I took the latest edition of the MEAL Digest, and attributed each of the thousands of brands to its owner or marketing company. This was a lengthy and painstaking research project. Then I hired a team of freelancers to replay the MEAL expenditure data by company, using paper, pens and calculators. The result was a ranking of around 3,000 marketing companies. This information was truly unique. No one else was in a position to do what followed.
My friend Richard Price was working as an account manager on the Procter and Gamble business at Saatchi & Saatchi. I persuaded him to join me in a company that we named Leith & Price. (PunterHunter was one of the many names we considered and rejected.) We put together a small team that set about researching each of the 3,000 companies to determine the names of everyone with some kind of marketing role, from the managing director all the way down to the most junior brand manager and marketing assistant.
As this was happening before the advent of desktop computers, the information was hand-written onto A4 datasheets, which our researchers updated on a six-week cycle. We must have been London’s biggest consumer of TippEx correction fluid. Some years later, I learnt how to build sophisticated relational databases. We finally went digital and consigned the datasheets to the shredder.
We provided this valuable information on an annual contract basis to the new business directors at most of the top 30 advertising agencies, and to the sales departments of well-known publishing houses and TV companies. Our account managers worked face to face with clients, helping them identify the most promising prospects and orchestrating their through-the-mail new business activities.
Leith & Price had an open, sociable, egalitarian, no bullshit culture — and remember, this was back in the 1980s. Even today, many business are struggling to create this kind of work environment.
View the Campaign article: Peter Wilson had the perfect job with which to kick start his career in media
In 1984, I took part in the est training. Originated by Werner Erhard, this was an immersive transformational experience, what some call a large-group awareness training, that stretched across two weekends. The training had a reputation for being gruelling and authoritarian, but I signed up immediately after reading The Book of est, Luke Rhinehart’s a fictional account of the training, which had silenced my doubts.
Former est participants often asked those who had just completed the training: “Did you get it?”
“Rhinehart describes the est training as a form of participatory theatre, writing: ‘Seeing the trainer as a master actor … permits us to evaluate his acts and words more intelligently than if we misinterpret him as being a scholar or scientist giving a lecture.’ In an analysis of how to approach the est training, Rhinehart comments that ‘It might best be described, if it can be described at all, as theater—as living theater, participatory theater, encounter theater. Once we begin to see est in these terms, much that fails to fit the scheme of therapy or religion or science begins to make sense.’”
Source: Wikipedia: The Book of est.
I experienced the training as an elaborate practical joke, something like the one played on Michael Douglas’s character by his brother in the movie The Game. So yes — I got it. This is what I got: We are autonomous beings, free to do as we wish, but we must take responsibility for our actions and their consequences, and accept that “what is, is, and what ain’t, ain’t.”
Mine was one of the last est trainings to be held anywhere in the world. In 1985, it was superseded by a gentler and more compact training called The Forum. This evolved into the Landmark Forum.
A small lump turned out to be breast cancer — it’s pretty rare in men but they do sometimes get it, as this experience proved. The people in the photo montage helped me survive and recover. From left to right: Barry Grimaldi, doctor; Patrick Pietroni, doctor and complementary health practitioner; James Wellwood, surgeon; and Maryann Madden, spiritual healer.
Following surgery, I left Leith & Price and embarked on a quest, seeking an answer to the question: What needs to change, such that I never have to endure a similar experience? The quest brought me face to face with people I would never have encountered in my previous incarnation, including Maryann Madden, a soul-directed astrologer named Mary Russell, and a pair of past life regression practitioners in the shape of two elderly women I secretly named Hinge and Bracket.
More than a year after the hospital visit, my question was answered: “Be open.” A spectacular mastectomy scar serves as a permanent reminder to heed these words. Be open to life. And be open to death. My cancer was a call to surrender to and embrace life and its inevitable conclusion.
In 1988, I took part in OT6, the Sixth International Symposium on Organization Transformation, held near Stockholm on the island of Djurö. This gathering of some 200 people used the Open Space conferencing method that Harrison Owen had introduced three years earlier at OT3.
Whereas OT1 and OT2 were fairly traditional conferences, OT3 was a participant-driven event with no invited speakers and no pre-arranged agenda. Instead, participants were invited to create their own programme of self-initiated and self-facilitated sessions (e.g. discussions, brainstorms, experiential workshops) in response to a thematic question. Open Space was used as the structure and process for almost every OT symposium from then on. And in 1989 it cut loose from the OT mothership and went into the wild.
I played my part in its liberation. When OT6 was over and I returned to the UK, I facilitated my first Open Space meeting, for a short-lived group called the British Organisation Transformation Association, and set about promoting Open Space via my postal newsletter.
“And then, in 1989, Open Space escaped. Within a period of less than a month, Open Space was utilized with two vastly different groups in widely separated areas. Polymer Chemists from Dupont wrestled with the future of Dacron in the USA, followed immediately by a group of scholars and executives in India considering the issue of Learning in Organizations. It both cases, everybody sat in a circle, identified what had heart and meaning for them, and collectively organized a multi-session gathering in less than an hour. Something rather strange was taking place.”
Source: Opening Space for Emerging Order, by Harrison Owen.
We are here to create a positive vision and future for humanity and the planet.For three months, I was a consultant in residence at Findhorn Foundation, a long-established spiritual community, ecovillage and international centre for holistic education located in Scotland. My brief was to help the community expand its guest programme in order to fill empty beds during the so-called shoulder season and generate more income.
While engaged in this work, and uninvited, I urged Craig Gibsone, the foundation’s focaliser and de facto chief executive, to encourage the community to find its collective purpose. He gently explained that such a quest was easier said than done, given that people had joined the community for many different reasons, and that it would be unthinkable to exclude anyone or force a consensus. I quickly realised I’d gone a long way off piste and decided to let the matter drop.
But on returning to Findhorn for a brief visit a year later, Craig pointed to a notice attached to the dining room wall, right by the serving hatch. “Is this what you were looking for?” he asked, with a twinkly smile. Mission accomplished, and with no intervention on my part other than a brief but impassioned conversation with Craig. The declaration of purpose was prominently displayed on the foundation’s website and remained unchanged for many years.
Stafford Beer (L); James Wilk (R)I enjoyed an eventful and rewarding friendship with Mike Owen, a former social worker, who acquainted me with the work of Gregory Bateson, Virgina Satir, Milton Erickson, Paul Watzlawick, Stafford Beer and other significant people from the fields of psychotherapy and cybernetics.
One evening at a meeting of The Cybernetics Society, Mike buttonholed Stafford Beer, who had just given the Gordon Hyde Memorial Lecture, and arranged for the three of us to have dinner some weeks later at a Manchester curry house. Stafford was delightful company throughout the meal and we remained in contact until his passing in 2002.
But most importantly, Mike introduced me to James Wilk. He is the founder of Interchange Research, the developer of Minimalist Intervention. If you would like to know something about this, you can download Kaleidoscopic Change (pdf; 10pp), by James Wilk, and Realizing Possibilities: Effective Action in the Real World (pdf; 27pp), a conversation between James Wilk and Dave Franzetta. James has influenced my thinking profoundly. He remains a good friend.
1980s / 1990s
I took the two-week Transformation Game® Facilitators Training at Findhorn and subsequently facilitated many Transformation Game workshops, at first for individuals, then for companies such British Petroleum, where I was propelled into the world of management development.
1980s / 1990s
Mo Cohen and I met in 1989 at an event hosted by The Breakthrough Centre. Mo was born on a kibbutz in Israel, grew up in London, did military service in the Israeli army, and trained as a family therapist. Mo and I have an enduring friendship, evidenced by the fact that we founded Innovatics (vaticination is the ability to see into the future), an innovation and organisational change consultancy, and, after doing some great work together, ended our business relationship a little prematurely. Yet, a year or two later, we revived the partnership and started another consulting firm: thenew.org.
We were among the first to use Open Space as an organisational change intervention. Rather fittingly, we carried out this work on behalf of the change management practice of Coopers & Lybrand, which subsequently merged with Price Waterhouse to form PricewaterhouseCoopers. For the benefit of any fact checkers who may be reading this, our services were commissioned by Terry Gibson, and the participants included Alan Arnett and Jean-Marc Le Tissier. I’ve since collaborated with Jean-Marc on several client engagements and I remain in contact with Alan.
During the Innovatics era, a team consisting of me, Mo and Judith Lowe — a talented NLP trainer — led a series of Advanced Facilitation Skills programmes for ICI Melinex, where our client Bob Janes was the director of the Melinex change programme. The Advanced Facilitation Skills moniker was a smokescreen, the true purpose of the 10-day residential programme being profound personal development.
John Grinder (L); Richard Bandler (R)Neuro-lingustic programming (NLP) was moving from the fringes into the mainstream. I took part in a rigourous training course with Ian McDermott, the founder of International Training Seminars, emerging as a certified NLP practitioner.
I’m a little apprehensive about mentioning NLP here, and with good reason. It has been a controversial topic from the outset, not least because it threatened the belief systems and livelihoods of many people. NLP forebears, training bodies and practitioners have not done enough to refute orchestrated demolition jobs such as this:
“NLP is an attitude of curiosity, experimentation and flexibility, leading to a methodology of modeling that leaves behind it a trail of techniques.”
I have issues with certain aspects of NLP myself, mainly the emphasis on strategies and the fact that there are aspects of people that defy modelling and codification.
“Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is a pseudoscientific approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in California, United States, in the 1970s.”
… and so it continues.
Despite these concerns, I continue to get value from the ITS practitioner training, and find these concepts and practices particularly useful:
“Bandler and Grinder spent four days with me and thought they got my techniques in a nutshell … What they got was the nutshell.” – Milton H. Erickson
Source: Bruce Grimley, quoting an email from Bill O’Hanlon, 2011
Timeline work and future pacing (see for example Episodic future thinking, by Cristina M. Atance and Daniela K. O’Neill, in TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences Vol.5 No.12 December 2001)
TOTE (cognitive psychologists George Miller and Eugene Galanter, and neuroscientist Karl Pribram)
NLP presuppositions (example: “the meaning of your communication is the response you get”)
Theory of logical types (Bertrand Russell — philosopher, mathematician etc.)
Meta Model (derived in part from Alfred Korzybski’s General Semantics)
Behavioural flexibility (Ross Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety)
Context and pattern intervention (Gregory Bateson)
Reframing (as exemplified by the nine dot problem)
The map is not the territory (Alfred Korzybski)
Well-formed outcomes model
I await a late night visit from the pseudoscience witch-hunters. There’s a baseball bat by the door.
Throughout the 1990s, the Association for Management Education and Development was a hotbed of innovation, learning and networking. If you worked in management development or organisation development — either in a corporate role or as a consultant — and an AMED meeting, workshop or conference was happening, you really needed to be there
I was new to this world but I threw myself into it, hosting meetings of AMED South West, running business development workshops for independent consultants, co-hosting a two-day conference on facilitation (the participants tore down the agenda and created their own) and joining the editorial team of Organisations & People, the quarterly AMED journal.
In due course, I was invited to join the governing council. Our chairman was Philip Sadler, who helped build Ashridge Management College (now Hult International Business School) into one of Europe’s leading business schools. He was made a CBE for services to management education.
I was a member of the teams that initiated, organised and hosted three international conferences on organisation transformation: OT12 (Wimborne, UK), OT13 (Crete) and OT14 (Ireland). Over the years, the OT conferences provided the impetus for the creation of Open Space Technology, the books Transforming Work and Transforming Leadership, both edited by John D. Adams and still in print, and the consulting firm nowhere.
Read about the series of organisation transformation conferences that began with OT1 in 1983 (location: Durham, New Hampshire, USA) and ended with OT23 in 2005 (Milwaukee, USA).
I established The Centre for Large Group Interventions, based in Amsterdam, helping corporate and non-profit enterprises use Open Space Technology, Future Search, Real Time Strategic Change and other ‘whole system in the room’ methods to address strategic and operational challenges.
A large group intervention (large-scale event, ‘whole system in the room’ event, co-creation meeting) brings together diverse stakeholders, often in large numbers — the upper limit being constrained only by the venue capacity — and with widely-differing agendas and perspectives, to discuss issues of heartfelt concern, share ideas, pool knowledge, explore possibilities and devise plans for sustained collaborative action.
In 1996, I self-published a 20-page booklet, Leith’s Guide to Large Group Interventions, which is now out of print but still requested. In 1999, I contributed a chapter, Creating collaborative gatherings using large group interventions (pdf), to the Gower Handbook of Training and Development.
With Julie Beedon and others, I formed a community of practice called Partners in Whole System Transformation.
GameChanger, a radically new way of doing breakthrough innovation, was developed jointly by Tim Warren, director of Shell’s Research and Technical Services facility located in Rijswijk, Netherlands, and Gary Hamel, founder and chairman of the consulting firm Strategos.
I worked extensively with the Shell GameChanger team soon after its introduction, designing and facilitating a series of workshops that took place in Den Haag, Moscow, Trondheim and Ascot, with participants drawn from various universities and engineering institutions. Today, the approach would be called open innovation, but it would be another five or six years until this term was coined by Henry Chesebrough.
My contribution to the global adoption of GameChanger involved running several Group GameChanger workshops and providing advice to Math Kohnen, a GameChanger team member who had been seconded to the Group Strategy unit to develop the business case and secure board-level approval.
Leo Roodhart, who had become global head of GameChanger, and several people from Group Strategy and other parts of Shell, were among the participants in one of the Innovation Masterclass workshops I designed and facilitated together with Bob Janes.
View the article Shell GameChanger – A Safe Place to Get Crazy Ideas Started, on the website of Management Innovation eXchange
During this decade I provided consulting services in the areas of complex problem solving, breakthrough innovation and whole systems change to a variety of corporates and non-profit organisations. A year was spent working alongside Paul Miller, the founder of Intranet Benchmarking Forum (now Digital Workplace Group) as head of interaction, and as programme director for IBF Live, a major conference on intranets.
In front of an audience of 200 people at the Tobacco Factory theatre in Bristol, I gave a five-minute Ignite talk (motto: Enlighten us, but make it quick) in which I made a convincing business case for enriching the world as advocated by Woodrow Wilson. Watch the video of my talk Enriching the world: is it good business practice? and see how the 20 slides auto-advance every 15 seconds.
Klára Lauritzenová (L); Peter Lauritzen (R)Klára Lauritzenová and Peter Lauritzen invited me to host a session at European Sharing on Systems Thinking, held in Prague, Czech Republic across two days in June 2015.
My workshop was a Gurteen-style Knowledge Café with the title Designing Innovation and Change Work to Create Maximum Ecosystem Value: the why and the how.
My contribution to the e-book sent to participants after the event is Creating Greatness in the Realm Beyond Systems Thinking (website page) | pdf document (22pp)
Ashridge House, Berkhamsted, UKPrompted by widespread interest in Holacracy, Teal organizations and other new approaches to organising and working, I designed and facilitated a one-day workshop, Organizing Without Managers: exploring new forms of organization, in partnership with Andrew Campbell, a founding director of Ashridge Strategic Management Centre. The workshop was held at Ashridge Business School (now Hult International Business School).
Download Organizing Work, Creating Value: the story so far, a set of 60 slides I presented during the workshop, illustrating the 150-year history of management theory and practice: pdf document | PowerPoint file (editable)
Today, I’m a now-to-new exponent and value advocate living in the west of England. I write about complex problem solving, breakthrough innovation and whole system change. You will find some of my writings indexed here.
Some of the organisations that have commissioned my services
ABN Amro Bank
Bristol City Council
Department of Health
Food & Drink Innovation Network
ICI Melinex Europe (acquired by DuPont Teijin Films)
Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways)
Royal Dutch Shell
University of Brighton
The Value Engineers
The main fields of knowledge and practice that inform my work
Collaboration and co-creation
Creative problem solving
Large group interventions
Whole system change
I am the originator of numerous organisational terms, concepts and methods
Co-creation meetings, three types
The Creative Lifecycle
Creative power, three kinds
Ecosystem value specification
Heart sink / Heart sing process
Vision of realised potential