The secret recipe of creativity…

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Where do ideas and inspiration come from ? This question has been intriguing the humanity since Plato’s times. While providing a comprehensive answer to this golden question is extremely difficult, there are some theories about how to create the right conditions for inspiration to arise and innovation to take place….

Today, I wanted to share Cédric Villani’s “recipe” for creativity. For the ones who don’t know him, Cédric Villani is among others one of the best mathematicians in the world (winner of the Fields Medal in 2010) and a politician in current Emmanuel Macron’s government.

According to Villani, there are 7 elements that are present in any creative process leading to innovation. I will briefly present each of them below including the personal thoughts and examples that come to my mind:

1. Documentation: In scientific research, you need to take into account all the existing works in a concrete field before starting carrying out your own research in order to contribute to the progress of that field. This is the same in innovation. In general, we don’t innovate from scratch, we are actually inspired by previous ideas and inventions in your same field or in different ones, ideas that you revisit, combine, change of context… In my own words, we could say that, without past, innovation has no future! 😊

2. Motivation: I often say to my students that the first step in innovating is willing to innovate. We are speaking about the motivation and the excitement of finding something that no one else has proposed before (at least in that shape or context). Powered by that motivation, ideas will emerge and, with the right implementation, they will become successful innovations. However, if you don’t have this thirst for innovation, it seems unlikely that all this actually happens. According to Villani, motivation in the most mysterious and elusive ingredient of creativity, but also the most important one…

3. Environment: Good ideas don’t arrive to lonely workers but rather to connected people, and that is why the environment is crucial: it is the place were innovators meet and ideas flow. In the past, places like Perspepolis, Paris, Budapest, London or the Silicon Valley have been the reference of wisdom and progress in different periods of history. They all shared the fact that they constituted an eco-system favorable to the birth and growth of ideas. The creativity environment can be a city, a laboratory, an organization, a school, a library, a co-working space, a coffee shop…

4. Communication/exchanges: A critical ingredient of creativity and innovation are the exchanges and conversations that people from different fields have, because sometimes inspiration comes from exploring contexts and fields that are very far away from ours. That is why at Pixar, one of their core creativity principles is that “everyone should be able to talk to anybody”, in order to make the most of their collective intelligence and creativity. That is also why they installed the toilets at the very center of their headquarters…

5. Constraints: it may sound like a contradiction, but actually, creativity would not exist if there were no constraints. Indeed, these limits make arise a creativity that can not be found in normal circumstances. These can be time constraints, such as the time pressure in Design Thinking workshops. But there are other types of amazing constraints, such as the ones that some artists and writers impose to themselves in order to boost their creative capabilities. For example, French writer Georges Perec, wrote his book “la disparition” forcing himself to avoid the use of the letter “e” all along the 300+ pages of the book! That is particularly remarkable if you consider that this the most used letter in French language… 

6. Hard work + illumination: That is, a mix of very hard meticulous work that sometimes allows you to have rare sparks of illumination, leading to what is called « eureka ! » or “aha!” moment. After all, as Thomas Edison said “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. In the artistic field, that same ideas was expressed as follows by Pablo Picasso : “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”. 

7. Luck + tenacity: We may have a large amount of ideas, but very few of them will become successful innovations. Indeed, most ideas we have do not actually work; this is why 99% of the patents in the world will never become a profitable invention. That is also why you need 3,000 raw ideas to generate a commercial success (according to researchers Greg Stevens and James Burley, 1997). No one said it was easy, but it is definitely not impossible either, and tenacity is precisely what makes you not to give up and finish up finding that one opportunity to innovate…

Now that you know all the key ingredients to prepare an innovative recipe, what would you like to cook? You may want to apply some of these principles (or all of them!) to a concrete challenge you face… what would that be? Food for thought…

You will find below a very short Villani’s video presenting these ideas with his own words:



  • Cédric Villani on the 7 ingredients of creativity (youtube video)
  • Catmull, Ed (2014), “Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration”, New York: Random House – summary of the 7 core creativity principles from Pixar available here
  • Greg Stevens & James Burley (1997), 3,000 raw ideas = 1 commercial success!, Research Technology Management,, May/June 97, Vol. 40, Issue 3



Ready to get “inspiHRed”?!


When summer approaches, it is a good moment to look back and think about this ending 2016/2017 academic year. It has been particularly exciting for me because for the first time I have a run a full-year module/project on Human Resource innovation for the super students of the International HRM Master at the Ciffop (school specialized in HR at Paris 2 University – Panthéon Assas, in France). I am really grateful to Yasmina, in charge of this Master, who agreed to give it a try together.

We started the year working with the students on the basics of innovation and design thinking and on how to apply them to Human Resource Management. It was also the moment of inspiring them by sharing some examples of successful HR innovations on the market. Later in the year, I trained them to become innovation catalysts, that is making sure they could facilitate innovative approaches and methodologies in the organizations in which they work. Indeed, these students work part-time in HR fields such as training & development, compensation & benefits or career management in a variety of sectors and companies such as L’Oréal, LVMH and Schneider Electric among others. Based on these new approaches, around 20 HR innovation workshops and experimentations run by these students took place in these companies with great feedbacks – well done guys!

One of the deliverables we asked to students was to identify some of the best HR innovations on the market and centralize them on the first existing HR innovation database. Under the name of “inspiHRation” this database created by the students has more than 50 innovations in the HR fields worldwide, and future students of the Master should continue it…

Just to mention a couple of examples, did you know that employees at the dutch home care organization Buurtzorg fully manage their training in an autonomous way? Were you aware that when some Zappos staff log in their computers in the morning a picture of a co-worker appears, and they have to guess his/her name between 3 options as a way to connect employees? Did you know that Deloitte proposes in New Zealand a fun online interactive game in order to know if you would fit in their company and values? And what if I told you that several HR hackathons have already taken place in the world?

This is just a bit of teasing. I let you now surf and discover this great HR innovation database. You will be able to navigate via tags or categories such as recruitment & employer branding, training & development, career & performance and other HR subjects…

You find here the link to the “inspiHRation” HR innovation database.


To innovate, find your own way

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Let me tell you today the story of Carolina, a passionate Spanish girl who decided when she was 8 years old that she would become the best badminton player in the world (by the way, badminton is the second most played sport in the world just behind football-soccer). This is an impressive ambition for a child of this age but, how realistic is this for a person living in Spain, a country with no badminton tradition at all?


Carolina trained very hard from the beginning and when she was 14 she did something that changed her life forever: she proposed to a young sport teacher called Fernando Rivas to become her coach and she shared with him her dream of becoming the number 1 badminton player. Fernando was very impressed by her determination, as well as by her playing style and personality. He accepted this proposal and started coaching her right away.

Fernando had developed his expertise not only in Spain, but also in England, France, Germany and The Netherlands. He had also explored a wide range of fields and disciplines: ”I liked sitting for classes at University and listening to teachers speak. I picked notes from science, history, architecture that could help me in sport. Later I specialized in physiology, psychology, bio mechanics”. All this led him to acquire a very rich and diverse experience and, over time, develop a different and innovative way of understanding badminton. His radically new method includes among others original ways to approach physical and mental preparation, game visualization, studying the opponents, moving differently on the court and using science. In Carolina’s own words, “Fernando is very innovative, he likes always creating new things, be different. We can’t be like Asian players because otherwise we would never win”.

Fernando has developed a revolutionary method already known as “the Spanish method” or “the Rivas method” in the badminton world. And it works. This new approach allowed Carolina to become world champion in 2014 and 2015 as well as winning the badminton Olympic gold medal in 2016, becoming the first non-Asian athlete in history to achieve this feat.

But what interesfrts us today is not the detailed content of “the Rivas method”, but rather the MINDSET that allowed a humble coach to develop a brand-new approach to his sport that made him become the best badminton coach in the world. This achievement is particularly extraordinary considering there is no badminton tradition in Spain, especially compared with other countries: currently there are around 2,000 licensed badminton players in Spain versus for example 100 million players in China! However, Fernando managed to upturn the 100-year Chinese tradition of badminton by challenging status quo: “I’ve never accepted what’s taken for granted. China were the best at badminton. Ok. So what”, and mixing science, creative thinking and a lot of hard work: “It’s about studying, innovation, studying more”.

What made Fernando become a man of genius lies in the fact that he managed to transform a strong weakness in a unique strength… if you come from a country with no tradition in a specific sport, why not seize the opportunity to rethink it totally from scratch? This is what Fernando did, was this is his philosophy in his own words: “because we did not have any badminton tradition in Spain, we had to implement a different method based on things that are not done in other places precisely because tradition impedes them”. “Badminton is very new in Spain but very developed in Asia. If we do exactly the same thing they are doing, we would be at the tail end. If I don’t create new knowledge, a new method, and I explore other ways, I will lag far behind”.

Fernando’s key lesson here is that in order to innovate with success, even with unbelievable success as he did, you need to find your own path: you better do things your way, think differently, experiment, take risks… than doing things exactly like everyone else. This will only lead you, after a lot of hard work, to eventually become what we could call “the worst of the good”.

There is a Spanish saying that goes like this: “más vale ser cabeza de ratón, que cola de léon”, which means literally “better be the head of a mouse than the tail of a lion”. There are other versions in the world such as “better be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion” and several others including -believe it or not- chicken, oxes, lizards, pikes, cats, foxes and even sturgeons… I let you chose the animal you prefer, but you get the idea: It is better to be able to lead a small humble project or adventure your way being free (and innovative!) than to be obliged to follow and stick to the norm in bigger ones…

This was the story of Carolina Marín and specially of Fernando Rivas; I hope you enjoyed it. Coming back to you now… In which subject can you innovate and find a unique way that will bring brand-new results and value? Or in other words, what lion can you stop following to start leading innovation as a small mouse full of potential? Food for thought…



Informe Robinson: El Milagro de Carolina Marín (video, 2016, in Spanish):

Enfoque TVE – Fernando Rivas (video, 2016, in Spanish):       

How to tame a dragon: Coaches are overcoming the dominant Chinese badminton world (The Indian Express, 2016):

Fun HR commercials!

Christmas is approaching; the perfect moment to propose a more fun and playful blog entry. I therefore chose to share some really funny commercials who deal with Human Resource subjects, such as induction and recruitment. What we could call “HR humor” is definitely an innovation to me. No more talking for today, just enjoy the videos below!

German coast guard trainee – Berlitz:

Accountants recruiting commercial – EY:

Job interview commercial – Pepsi Max:

Better work, better life – Adecco:

Pandora’s box of employee experience


I have the chance to work more this year on HR Innovation with the students of the Ciffop International Master HRM, at Paris II University. They are excited about the subject and they are on their way of becoming great HR innovators themselves. As the year progresses, students share interesting market HRM innovation practices with the class and I want to pay tribute to their work by sharing one of them today.

Pandora is a free internet radio streaming and recommendation service which has launched Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Put simply, an ERG is a group of employees in an organization who share common interests, characteristics or affinities. The objective of this initiative is to make employees connect around a subject and reinforce networking, collaboration and engagement. Although companies proposing ERG often decide the subjects (eg. diversity) and the funding themselves, at Pandora things are a bit different: they give total control to employees. Indeed, any Pandora employee can create a PERG (Pandora Employee Resource Group) by finding at least 4 other employees who share the interest in a given subject and the company will sponsor the ERG up to $1,000 a year.

There are currently over 400 PERG in the company, focusing both on professional topics, such as data analytics and leadership, and more personal hobbies and interests going from meditation and running to brewing beer and flying drones. The company’s aim is to create more opportunities of new connections among employees and encourage more moments of cooperation, learning and fun. This is only one example of Pandora’s “box” of employee experience initiatives used to strengthen the engagement and sense of belonging of their staff.

Other companies leveraging on ERGs use them for cultural assimilation (Johnson and Johnson), diversity (Macy’s) or product development (Cisco). Check references below to go further.

According to Jeanne Meister, best-selling author and Fortune 1000 companies’ consultant, ERGs and more broadly rethinking the employee experience in the workplace are part of a larger trend called the “Consumerization of HR”, which “refers to creating a social, mobile, and consumer-style experience for employees inside the company”. According to her, the lines are blurring between HR and other fields like marketing, communication or IT, and therefore “the new objective is to create one employer brand which provides a seamless experience for current employees, potential employees, and consumers”. Others call this, the “symmetry of attentions”, that is, treating equally well your employees and your clients.

In all cases, following the Design Thinking philosophy, employee experience is becoming more and more central in HRM, which has not been the case traditionally. Organizations therefore need to accept the difficult but critical challenge of rethinking their HR policies and practices in order to put the individual right back to the center of all its activities. Food for thought…

Reference articles:

“How Pandora Created A Culture of Purpose Driven Music Geeks ”:

“Creating a Great Employee Experience – Lessons from Pandora”:

“Employee resource groups (ERG) that drive business“:

“Consumerization Of HR: 10 Trends Companies Will Follow In 2016”:


“Out of the box” remuneration practices


I wanted to share today a couple of the ideas coming from the outstanding research carried out by Belgian author Frédéric Laloux for his book “reinventing organizations”. Laloux has studied around 30 organizations in different sectors and regions of the world and despite the fact that they did not know each other, all of them have something in common: they have found similar innovative practices to fight the frustration, silos, hierarchy, ego fights and lack of engagement present in many companies nowadays. In other words, he studies organizations reinventing themselves because they consider that current systems have reached their limits. That is why he speaks about the emergence of a new paradigm based on more inspired and inspiring ways of seeing management and cooperation.

According to him, the organizations that are the most adapted to current VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) are self-organized companies with flat structures, a distributed decision making and a flexible purpose, able to adapt to new opportunities and needs. He names these organizations “teal” (some kind of blue-green color) and considers they are the most evolved type nowadays. Less self-organized and adaptable kinds of organizations include for him: green organizations (focused on shared values and empowerment), orange ones (focused on competition, meritocracy and profit), amber ones (focused on control and processes) and ultimately, red ones (focused on authority and fear). This was a really express presentation of his classification. Check references if you want to go deeper on this.

Teal organizations therefore have a brand-new way of seeing management and cooperation. We are speaking about a non-hierarchical system that allows any employee in these companies to make any decision for the organization as long as he/she has checked it with experts and people impacted by this decision. This does not mean that a consensus must be reached, just that their opinions have to be considered when making this new decision. This self-organizing mode may not work for everyone (some people just want to be told what to do at each moment) but these new systems can really unleash the creativity, passion, proactivity and engagement that many current organizations do not manage to reach via traditional practices. Let’s see a couple of innovative HR practices coming from teal organizations. More concretely, I am going to present original remuneration policies in two companies in which salaries are not decided by hiearchy or through salary grids: Morning Star and W.L.Gore & associates.

morningstar_large.gifMorning Star is a large tomato transporting and processing company, transporting 70% and processing 50% of all the tomatoes in the US. The company has 400 full time employees and they go up to 2,400 in the most active moments of the year. They have a very innovative way of calculating staff remuneration, that we could call “self-set and advice-based salary system”. At the end of the year, each employee has to write a letter to the company explaining the % of salary raise they think they deserve (if any, and on top of inflation). They can add to this request any documents highlighting some of their achievements of the year and the feedback of colleagues. Within this original “advice process”, a dedicated committee treats all the requests by calibrating them, that is, putting them together and in order to compare and grade them. Some humble employees having only asked for the minimum raise linked to inflation will then be advised by this committee to ask for a higher raise considering their accomplishments. At the opposite side, a few colleagues will be proposed not to ask such a high raise, as this does not make sense taking into account this big picture of all the employees.

The interesting thing is that each employee can then decide whether or not to follow the committee’s advice and grant him/herself the initially desired amount. However, as all the information is available to all staff, if an employee decides not to respect the proposal of the “advice process”, he/she will have the pressure to prove why they were worth more than what the neutral committee proposed… in terms of figures, 25% of the staff asks a raise beyond inflation every year, but only 4 our 5 employees a year are advised to lower their request and most of them do. Other companies like Buffer or Hanno have similar salary systems.

Gorelogofullcolorcalogo1934.jpgW.L.Gore & associates is a global conglomerate industrial company of 10,000+ people, known among others for having created the Gore-tex technology, one of their most popular and successful products. The company is also a reference on the market concerning self-management practices, which is confirmed by their innovative remuneration system based on a peer review process.

Once a year, each employee is asked to rank his/her colleagues from 1 to 9 according to past and expected future contribution to the success of the company, but also according to the quantity and quality of interactions and cooperation with each colleague. The aggregate results allow the company to have a ranking that will help them establish the salaries for the year, making sure that the pay curve is in line with contributions. If needed, a committee can slightly amend the rankings if they have the impression that they do not totally reflect the observed reality (eg. some peers giving votes based on loyalty or friendship and not only on real contribution). The results are then communicated to each employee, not necessarily giving the exact place in the ranking, but rather sharing a position in the top/middle/bottom zone, including mobility/training measures for the bottom area. Other companies use similar peer ranking remuneration systems, such as HolacracyOne, but in this one, each employee includes him/herself in the review and ranking too.

I hope you enjoyed these innovative people practices. As usual, the idea here is not to propose perfect solutions, as of course those do not exist, but rather share innovative and inspiring practices that could make you challenge your own ones… check references for more examples.


“Revintenting organizations”, by Frederic Laloux (book):

Wiki is based on this same book and including a lot of innovative “people” practices:

Laloux’s full conference presenting his book (in French only, sorry):

A very good video on Laloux’s 5 types of organisations:

HR Design Thinking


Design Thinking is mature enough for more and more people knowing and using it, but also new enough for it to be useful to start by providing a definition.  Tim Brown (CEO of IDEO, said to be one of the most innovative design companies in the world) defines Design Thinking as “a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity”. It is also described sometimes as an innovation methodology/technique or a problem-solving approach.

According to Brown, there are 3 phases in Design Thinking, that are described as follows: “inspiration,” for the circumstances (be they a problem, an opportunity, or both) that motivate the search for solutions; “ideation,” for the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas that may lead to solutions; and “implementation,” for the charting of a path to market. Projects will loop back through these spaces—particularly the first two— more than once as ideas are refined and new directions taken”.

One of the key characteristics of Design Thinking is that it is an empathic human-centric approach. This means that the person (eg. the customer, the user, the employee) is at the core of the inspiration-ideation-implementation loops mentioned. This is also why empathy is a critical success factor in Design Thinking. And now comes the question I have been asking myself for a while now… if it all starts with observing and understanding the preferences and drivers of human beings in order to come up ideas and proposals that make them more satisfied… how is it possible that Design Thinking is so rarely used in the Human Resources Management field?!

Indeed, I strongly believe Design Thinking is going to become a major trend and approach in HR in the very close future. Therefore, better understanding HR Design Thinking, its power and its implications is crucial for HR professionals. I am not saying HR Design is not at all applied in HRM (I will actually provide some examples below), but I think it is really underused taking into account its potential to fully reshape the HR function.

First of all, what exactly is HR Design Thinking? According to Deloitte University Press (see references), applying Design Thinking to HR means “to focus on the employee’s personal experience and to create processes centered upon the worker. (…) new solutions and tools that directly contribute to employee satisfaction, productivity, and enjoyment”. In other words, it is all about “designing a productive and meaningful employee experience through solutions that are compelling, enjoyable, and simple”. To do so, according to the author, HR professionals need to start working in questions like “What does a great employee experience look like from end to end?.

In practice, and following IDEO’s philosophy, HR design thinking can take the form of rapid prototyping workshops powered by collective intelligence aiming to boost subjects in HRM by putting back the employee experience at the center. More concretely, it involves aspects like identifying innovation or improvement needs, brainstorming and idea generation, building-up concrete tangible prototypes and finally testing and improving them through series of feedback and new prototypes. Brown advises to “seek outside help”, which in this case would mean to involve non-HR professionals, such as managers, experts or even students. Another advice is to “try early and often”, what highlights the fact that failure is also a key element in Design Thinking. Indeed, some of the learning and improvements you will achieve during this process are only possible by trying and experimenting things, failing, learning from it, trying again, failing better, further learning, etc. That is why one of IDEO’s mottos is “fail often to succeed sooner”. In that same direction, I personally like very much the sentence “sometimes you win, sometimes… you learn!”. This aspect has a strong implication in the corporate culture of a given company: you will never manage to be innovative unless you encourage experimentation and grant the right to fail. This also explains my opening quote: Thomas Edison did not fail at inventing the light bulb… he just found 10,000 ways that did not work until he came up with the one that did work…

Let me share a few examples of HR Design Thinking that can be found on the market. Let’s start with the field of Learning and with a company in the telecommunications industry facing a very high turnover of the sales agents in their retail stores. Upon arrival, these employees were asked to learn in little time a very large amount of information about the company’s products and services, what explains that 2/3 of them left within their first 60 days. As a traditional training program was not seen as an adapted solution, the company decided to leverage on Design Thinking to adopt a brand new approach to training. They started by observing and studying the sales agents in their stores (identified as representative “personas”). This allowed the company to build a “journey map” which highlighted the key learning needs of each sales agent over their first months in that position. Based on this, the company proposed an app which made the agent’s life much easier. To start with, the could begin discovering the company and its offer even before joining. Once in the company, this app gave them access to internal development resources such as social networks, coaching and videos which supported their progression in a personalised way, also adapting it to their specific stage in the learning journey. Thanks to this stimulating Design Thinking approach, the company improved both the turnover and the satisfaction of their sales staff, but also the business results of their stores and very likely the image of the HR function as a key Business Partner for the company. The essence of this short case study by Bersin  (2016) is summarised in this central idea: “shifting from instructional design to experience design”. According to Deloitte, other companies such Deckers Brands and Nestlé also leveraged on Design Thinking to propose highly experiential and engaging learning programs. Looking backwards, the case of the telecom company follows -without a surprise- the “HR innovation cycle” I shared some time ago: opportunities identification -> HR innovation design and implementation -> HR added value and recognition.

Mars, Inc. also leveraged on Design Thinking to renew some HRM subjects such as talent attraction and C&B according to an interesting MOOC on Design Thinking proposed by the University of Virginia. Deloitte proposes other examples such as Adobe applying Design Thinking to performance management, Zappos to redesigning the candidate experience and DuPont to leveraging on digital tools to improve employee experience. As we can see, Design Thinking can help rethink, boost and reshape any HRM field, what highlights its huge potential for HR professionals. Beyond HR, a book called “design your life” just released by Stanford professors invites you to apply Design Thinking even to your full life…

On top of being a strong collective intelligence booster and a powerful team building exercise, facilitating innovation workshops is something fascinating I have the chance to have done for a while now. So, did I manage to convince you that Design Thinking can be a new and powerful way to rethink Human Resource Management in your organization by becoming more employee-centric? If yes, how ready is your organization to think a bit out of the box and embrace HR Design Thinking? Deloitte shares three interesting figures: 79% of the Executives consider Design Thinking is important; the readier a company is to embrace Design Thinking, the faster it will grow, and finally, the most value-adding HR teams are almost five times more likely to be using Design Thinking than their peers. Food for thought…


“Design Thinking”, Tim Brown (HBR, June 2008)

Global Human Capital Trends 2016 – The new organization: Different by design, Deloitte University Press, 2016

“Using Design Thinking to Embed Learning in Our Jobs”, Josh Bersin  (HBR, July 2016)