Policing innovation and enterprise: weaponising creativity

The ambition of progressive policing

As a professor of policing innovation – the only one I know of – I wanted to start a different conversation about what I see my mission as, and how we may find some common ground between us to work together.

The central message I offer here is that policing innovation and enterprise is not a nice thing to do when we get the time, it’s a must for thriving, and, indeed, surviving.

In a world currently dominated by ‘what works’ in policing (and to an extent ‘how much [cost]’) I will argue the case to re-balance and put more effort into ‘what if’. Mantras of professional policing efficiency (as so defined) have forced imaginative growth into relative oblivion. And yet, policing reform is a hot topic, but maybe for all the wrong reasons. Efficiencies, or should I say management accountancy, counts every copper (pun intended) yet can totally miss the fundamentals about why policing does, or should, exist.

Crude efficiency helps do the ‘what’ better but has no time to wonder about why we’re doing what we’re doing. Replicating yesterday’s patterns in ever deceasing circles of efficiency is not progressive policing. Policing should not be constrained as tight-fisted museum artefact maintenance caretaking, but should be socially-informed and organically progressive.

When we consider some fundamental principles of professional policing around notions of legitimacy, I would suggest that the contemporary observable evidence is that when the need for policing reform is stifled by the various influences of the status quo, societal movements step in. My view is this: policing must be actively progressive, looking to the future of societal evolvement, or it will fracture and lose its legitimacy and purpose.

I’m also talking at a cultural level: all that means the ‘what actually happens around here’ – the what of reality rather than the misleading fantasies of what is said, written and politicised. For all the narrative about policing being ‘action-orientated’ (for which there is considerable evidence) I’d suggest its bigger, and still growing dominating trait, is for processes, bureaucracy and complexity. That encourages re-structing (readjusting the chairs around the office time and time again) as if such tactical fiddling addresses the big issues – it does not and never will.

Talking about this as a cultural level means first and foremost it’s about the strategy of why we are doing what we are doing based on the need for continual improvement; that then drives how to go about achieving it.  By talking about this as a cultural level means I am saying this is not a game – so either do it authentically or not at all as people will see through veneer quickly and then the whole exercise can further delegitimise policing.

Whilst I will address much of the content of this piece to internal police culture around innovation (or the need for more of it to be more precise), I need to make clear that the wider language of policing is not just about the police. The whole of society should be involved in setting the agenda and direction of policing to continue its Peelian founding principles.

 Minding language

Before getting started proper, I would like to make some preliminary points. Firstly, on language. It is something of a traditional ritual in academia to write in such a way that very few people can make head nor tail of what it is you are rambling on about. This is regarded as ‘proper’ and there can be considerable snobbery about not speaking plainly. Not with me. I prefer to go with my preferred heroes like North American Ernest Hemingway, Pulitzer and Nobel prize winner in literature, who to my mind shows a lot more skill in his writing – and thinking – than many pretentious academic journal writers.

The thing about Hemingway is he learned his writing craft, like me – although I’m no Hemingway – through the speed, accuracy, succinctness and humanity of journalism. He learned to speak directly to you, and often from the heart. To me his writing is something you can trust because he isn’t playing games. He isn’t arrogant either, in fact he is so modest he drafted and redrafted time and time again to try and get his point to you in as short and direct way as possible.  I probably miss that goal, as I often tend to take the scenic route more than Hemingway’s direct line of communication, but I do seek to follow his style of lucid earnestness in a conversational tone between respectful human beings.

Hemingway, and Einstein as it happened, argued if you can’t explain something simply it means you probably don’t understand it yourself. So, no games here from me showing off with language – I do know big and often ambiguous words – but I choose not to use them unnecessarily. This is just me, speaking to you. Being simple isn’t being dumb, it’s an ultimate goal; complexity is often a smokescreen for folk who don’t want to get to the point, maybe because they’re not quite sure what it is.

What is knowledge?

Some more quick ground rules context. I operate as a professor of practice, rather than just theory, meaning I am interested in enterprise – giving things a go and learning (which includes from ‘failure’). Concerning policing practice, I believe in the interface of theory with practice (some call this ‘praxis’) and for me that boils down to informed situational judgement making, that police professionals have to exercise very regularly. Like all professional practice, be that medical, teaching, social work and so forth, I believe this skill is about having a handle on the research literature but having to make a decision in what is very often an imperfect situation. What I mean by ‘imperfect’ is that it is rare to have all the information and data you might like, but where a decision needs to be taken anyway because there is a live risk to someone. 

In professional practice, my working assumptions are that situational judgement making is done in the best way possible at the time. That doesn’t mean such judgment making is haphazard, because using things like the National Decision-Making Model (which is Bayesian in nature) a thinking rationale, underpinned by ethics, is the compass to navigate by.

Without getting bogged down here (this is a subject where I have published separately, as it’s fairly complex in its own right) my ontological position is that much knowledge, and what we call data for that matter, is inherently, and inevitably, infected by social constructionism in the highly complex social world. so for me, the situational judgement making is as much about how you think as what you know because I would argue you can never know everything.

My stance makes me an interpretivist. I believe data is created, or at least facilitated, not born, in the social sciences and that this branch of enquiry is quite different from the natural sciences in particular because to believe one can control, order and reduce human social complexity to a series of numbers and statistics may be appealing to the analyst, but is, in my view, naive.

I’m asserting my working assumptions openly here as I think it’s important to be clear philosophically about fundamental issues such as what is truth, knowledge and reality. I get quite frustrated with some positivists who seem to assume their world view is, of course, right and the only approach, and exercise (their school of) ‘science’ as some form of unchallengeable power-wielding evangelical weapon. I’m not arguing here that I am correct in my ontology, I am simply declaring my beliefs, as I think all should, with some rationale, which in my case is heavily influenced by reflective policing practice, and not just policing analysis. The best way of handling all this is to think about things yourself and come to your own conclusions – that is the basis of rational enquiry.

That word – innovation

With all that out of the way, to begin. For a start the term ‘innovation’ is used an awful lot. Not just in policing of course. But what does that label mean? There we go with an exam question; and I didn’t want to turn this into a very long essay listing every mention of the word. What I would rather do, and I hope this is less painful to the reader, is to give my view on what the term means – for policing.

You’ll notice as well that the term innovation and enterprise was used earlier, so I’ll wrap these two together as we go along. I’d welcome you coming along on this discussion with me, as part of my mission I see as catalysing and brokering future change, and that will be a team effort between us all.

Keeping limitations and parameters to a minimum, I have initiated a new national competition in policing innovation – open to all – to try and incentivise a wider social agency. This action I am hopeful will also gain traction in international contexts too in due course (Coxhead, 2020). 

Psychological safety

The research and insight literature I particularly value (as before, yes, I know that’s a split infinitive, but it sounds better to me) starts with Professor Amy Edmondson’s work at Harvard on ‘psychological safety’ (2019). The thing about this insight is that it focuses upon the environment and culture of the team. Don’t be put off by that word culture if you find that a little ethereal, as what I understand by the term is simply the ‘ways things are done around here’.

What I find interesting and valuable here is what can be achieved when peers are able to be open with other, meaning they can say what they are thinking as opposed to playing ritualised power games. What a refreshing thought.

I have encountered some people who regard even this initial point as being idealistic, irrelevant and not in the ‘real world’. I find that interesting too. Professor Edmondson gives lots of concrete examples of how those ‘open’ teams can be the very best performing teams in the world. I don’t get how that isn’t to do with the real world. I appreciate that being ‘open’ in what may be a cynical, critical and competitive culture may be a brave and lonely step; but maybe that’s about ‘others’ being stuck in ritual group-think, kicking back against any form of difference as something to be scorned and scoffed at.

Edmondson’s work prompts me not only to look at the environment of psychological safety, but consider also those environments that are psychologically unsafe. It may be that those who scoff at psychological safety as naive would prefer the alternative.  I don’t mean to be confrontational or argumentative, I’m just curious about what that alternative appeal would be. For me, it represents a place or space where if I ever get it wrong (and like all other humans I often do) then there’s a queue of folk lined up waiting to mock, condemn and ridicule. Lovely.

It means a place where even though you may have an idea you keep it to yourself because the risk of being made to feel a fool outweighs the benefit of offering a new insight. It means a place where we all stick to what the rule book says and yesterday’s experience alone as we want to – ironically – play it safe. At worst, it means that we’re in denial over change or learning so we just lie a lot to pretend everything is perfect and orderly.

So, all in all, I find that like a culture of bullying, fear and delusion. For me that’s not a great alternative to psychological safety. Let me get to what the (better) alternative is. Psychological safety means we can be quite vulnerable with each other; to say what we don’t quite understand – to say ‘is it just me?’

Ever heard the parable of the Emperor’s clothes? This sounds like a psychologically unsafe story that gets its bubble burst when the psychologically safe kid points out the obvious that everyone else has been desperately avoiding coming to terms with. Welcome to the human race and welcome to reality!  

I’m being opinionated I accept. It’s tough not to be relatively subjective as a human being, but I do bring with me a rationale about why I think the way I do, which I will share with you. It remains a discussion of course, and what is healthy here is think and debate: please do not take my word – or anyone else’s for that matter – as gospel. Make up your own mind. 

Command and control culture

To try and balance the argument let’s consider the more pragmatic directness of ‘just do it’ cultures (I purposefully missed a word out there just in case I incited offence). Occupational psychologist Professor John Seddon (2005) has written extensively about systems thinking and how to make work, work. (Yes, I know that’s a noun followed by a verb.) He explored the merits, at length, of top-down command and control: the management of people and budgets. 

Seddon acknowledges command and control management has been influenced by Taylorist science, Fordist mass production and Sloanite ‘management by numbers’. Command and control, as Seddon states, and I agree, has its place. Yet (yes, I know that’s a sentence starting with a conjunction) the core difference for me in Seddon’s comparisons of approaches between command and control and systems thinking is between, respectively, control and learning. That is such a profound insight as it exposes the variant motivation between the charade of apparent order and authentic reality. Any notion of the real world in all this for me is about someone trying to socially construct a nice and neat version of events that may have little resemblance to the messy reality.

Agility, adaptability and cohesion

Stanley McChrystal, and his co-authors (2019), offer an alternative approach to command and control. Before anyone accuses Stan of being out of touch with command and control just bear in mind, he is a retired Army General. The ‘team of teams’ approach advocates a more democratic approach to doing business, and argues that in an increasingly complex world, you need to use what you’ve got more (all the people) as the ‘boss’ doesn’t know it all. Key words here for Stan are agility, adaptability and cohesion – and all in a team (not boss) context.

Just to pause a moment. Surely the thing that bonds us all together is an interest in trying to do the right, or best, thing. Different approaches may simply be about how to achieve that.

The rationale, so far, of Edmondson (2019), Seddon (2005) and McChrystal (2019), is that open and honest peer communication is often better than rigid direction. 

Let me offer more evidence and insight.


Former Harvard teacher Dr John Kao (1997) celebrates the creativity of teams when he compares their process as akin to ‘jamming’. A musician himself (he had an interesting career that included playing keyboards for Frank Zappa) Kao recognises the ‘flow’ of the jazz quartet as a form of ‘team of teams’ illustrating a focused, yet shared, pursuit of collegiate rather than competitive greatness as sharing the qualities of the world’s greatest performing teams.

The outcomes can still be quality. In fact, they may constantly surprise everyone, including the team members, in their brilliance because this is not just about compliance but about being the very best you (all) can be. Sticking a conductor into a jazz quartet would simply kill the flow: a manager can, at times, just get in the way.

Letting go

Naim (2013) makes a persuasive argument that traditional notions of what we call power are eroding. Moises Naim, a former professor of business strategy and industrial economics in Venezuela, is influenced by sociologist Max Weber’s analysis of big power being created through big bureaucracy. The 19th century interpretation identifies core components of big bureaucracy including hierarchies, strict subordination, unambiguity, the reduction of friction (as was later espoused by Lean principles) and centralisation.

Naim builds on Max Weber’s influences and cites business historian Alfred Chandler, who notes the varying types of bureaucratic administrative structures that have support the big, centralised organisation. But, as Naim, points out this strong 19th century model is losing its benefits in the 21st century. One of the main reasons is the way bureaucracy stifles innovation. It instils order and efficiency (as defined by previous success) certainly, but it actively suppresses innovation as it rocks the boat of order.

What some would see as a threat of change though is the lifeline for survival in an ever-changing world. Evolutionary or disruptive innovation both require letting go of yesterday’s traditions and letting new ideas run wild, and that means having less of a pyramid of power and more of a flat interactive circle. Timms and Heimans (2018) add that new power dimensions are looking increasingly collaborative rather than competitive, even though the politics of ‘winners and losers’ is still alive, even if not well, in some quarters.

The industrial revolutions were just that – and it’s fine to protect the status quo but don’t forget change was the core reason for advancement. Some people resisted the industrial revolution and the Enlightenment – are you going to be one of those for the next iteration(s)? I’d argue for a balance, but that the balance is too one-sided in policing, currently, in favour of hierarchical tradition.

It’s about letting go, and, for policing managers, in getting out of the way more.

Doing and dreaming

In a perfectly logical way, Professor Peter Kawalek (2020) has discussed the notion of ‘ambidexterity’ in business innovation. Simply, he cites research that shows it is difficult to be creative if you are being compliant and efficient, in the same space at the same time. The implications of this insight is that where you have to have a tight logistical business delivery framework, but still want to grow start-ups and develop for tomorrow, you may need to find a different space to do your ‘dreaming’ in (like Silicon Valley).

Where is policing’s Silicon Valley? Was it the temporal movement in Seattle in 2020 when the police were forced out and new social contracts were (temporarily) established? There seems to be more of a Death Valley in policing thinking, where much of the social reform of policing narrative knows what it doesn’t want but less of what it does. Defunding policing is one suggestion, but are there any more progressive options?

Matt Ridley (2020), who sits on the science and technology select committee of the House of Lords, has made a persuasive argument that innovation, in its various guises, being often a combination of inspiration and perspiration, is not about being fanciful, but more about surviving. Better. Tomorrow. (They’re called one-word sentences before you start, and are for dramatic effect I’d have you know.) So, I would argue there is a need in policing for a progressive movement to explore reform proactively and embrace innovation and enterprise as a healthy diet for a longer life.

There’s some social Darwinism to Ridley’s point, as he provides case after case of innovation that has enabled longevity, better than before, as a hallmark of progress. Things change, it’s a kind of universal law. Organisations who do not accept, or rather embrace and influence, change, tend not to survive. Being creative in that vein doesn’t sound so much of a soft naive skill after all.

Adapt or die

Avoiding the risk of change is a bigger risk. Dan Heath (2020), of Duke University, North Carolina, points out that not getting upstream is not only inefficient but probably a sign of imminent organisational obscurity or extinction. Reactively coping in a control and compliant world offers an illusory order suggesting everything is OK. The reality may be folk are busy doing the wrong thing well until they are overwhelmed and can’t even continue to do that. Getting upstream for Heath is about making your own luck by taking the initiative rather than the passivity of reacting more and more until you burst.

We’re busy and we’ll get around to that nice to do stuff another time. That’s one stance. Innovate or die. That’s another. Think about it. Muhammed Ali was great at defence but he won when he eventually attacked – taking blow after blow and just playing the role of an absorbent punchbag will finish anyone off over time. Taking the initiative and using energy proactively rather than reactively and defensively is a hallmark of survival. Innovation is about taking a risk when the greater risk is to play it safe, because nothing is static and, as Heraclitus of Ephesus is credited with saying, change is the only constant. In more stark language, do something before something does you.

The best teams

Let me pull things back to innovation as an opportunity, as I don’t mean to frame everything as a stark threat if we are not innovative. In many ways the potential future is simple. In fact, it may be that many of the trappings of bureaucracy and hierarchical traditions in policing that are incredibly complex and fickle are part of the problem as they kind of makes you tone deaf to simplicity. If you wander about the bureaucratic administration in policing just go count the forms. People who have to use them daily can get immersed in all that ritual and feel uncomfortable without them.

It would be interesting to see just how much administration could be taken out of policing. Even though the arguments for administration for transparent accountability and legitimacy have been versed time and time again, there is increasing dissatisfaction with them. Stop search statistics, informed by forms, cause ongoing angst to the police and public. You think the issues there can be fixed by forms? They haven’t been so far.

Winsborough (2017) charts how understanding of how teams can work has been muddled due to incremental complexities, that have in turn blurred some of the more simple fundamental basics of psychological fusion and trust.

The best teams can naturally produce innovation, if there is an enterprise culture underpinned by two fundamentals: teams and trust. Dan Coyle’s 2018 book The Culture Code is a fine compendium to illustrate the opportunities that highly successful groups can offer – if you let them. Example after example follow in Coyle’s treatise that incrementally illustrate the importance of paying attention to the culture of an organisation that in turn allows teams to flourish and exceed expectations.

Many of the illustrations of the enabling culture that empowers innovation concern doing less rather than more, particularly by managers. In policing terms, we might describe this as internally moving away from ‘over-policing’. Micro-managing can adversely affect peer collaboration and agility, resulting in organised failure which may not even be called out, given there is a tendency in policing to be ‘doomed to succeed’ in order to avoid the vulnerability of learning. Coyle focuses on the importance of trust, co-operation and purpose in top performing teams, and less on structures, trappings and processes. These are points also identified by Lau  and Cobb (2010), who emphasise the interface of trust-based relationships and the impact on team performance. 

Does rank work? Yes, to an extent, as Seddon acknowledges. But so does thinking, and in this sense of an enabling culture, collective thinking. Two heads are better than one. Professor Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini make a persuasive case in their 2020 book Humancracy that the most expensive resource in an organisation – its people – are often the most underused because they are treated as second rate robots rather than an army of walking ideas. Cain (2021) adds to the point that organisations really do need to do more to understand, and utilise,  the latent creative power in their workforce.

Thinking in a group, not groupthink

Professors Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie (2015), of Harvard and Chicago universities respectively, collaborated to present evidence over the value of group thinking, but the dangers of groupthink. There is a big difference. Matthew Syed (2019) corroborates the same point; that if you can enable diverse thinking in your organisational culture you can release huge latent innovation.

Groupthink is about a bunch of people in once place or situation who follow the herd rather than their heads. The danger here is that two heads may end more dangerous than one because you can get mistakes amplified rather than called out. Whatever the reasons behind the social chemistry of group dominance, when you shift a group from being a circular diverse collective into a hierarchical triangle of followed thinking you can end up with completely missing the benefit of a group in the first place.   

Sunstein and Hastie (2015) point out that the messiness of diverse collective thinking is its strength, not its weakness. We’re back to a similar point from before that Seddon (2005) made over ‘control’. The apparent orderliness of neat and tidy control, that irons out the little voice at the back of the room that is trying to ask the question that really does need asking may mean winning a battle only to lose the war.

Apfelbaum, Phillips and Richeson (2014) explains how homogeneity in a team, rather than giving the appearance of harmony, can cause dysfunction. It depends on what you think teams are for. If your definition is to passively execute the binary order of a leader then I guess that homogeneity approach works for you. But if you consider teams as thinking units operating in complex environments, then having several arms but one head makes little sense. It’s about concepts of power – as Naim (2013) and more recently Timms and Heimans (2018) have considered as changing; becoming more democratised and fluid.

The message to leaders in all that is being in charge does not automatically equate to being effective. Instead, consider more of an enabling and creative approach to outcomes and get less distracted in the rigid process and trappings of traditional, hierarchical ‘leadership’.

A group of people in one place are a team, right? In a team that has never really become a team but has remained a delivery function (order receivership, like in a warehouse) we can end up with what people have called echo chambers, where a self-serving reinforcing, amplifying and uncritical bias can lead to additional stage of Bruce Tuckman’s (1965) team model: forming, storming, norming, performing and then dorming (Webber, 2017).

The whole point of having a team is to allow its members to contribute. If you have one head, one thinker, and simply a series of human ‘limbs’ to enact directives, the chances are an opposing team that pitches its whole resource will, in the long game, outwit you. That includes the diversity, as Jackson et al (2014) point out, in supporting the various styles involved in creativity and, pragmatically, as Govindarajan and Trimble (2010) point out  factoring in the teamwork logistics of actually executing ideas, as well. 

Of course, as Seddon (2005) notes, there is a time and place for adaptive leadership styles and sometimes direction is needed. But in policing there is too much direction in my view, and even then, there is a pretence that much supervisory direction is anything more than ritualistic.

The vast majority of policing is done by front-line personnel, on their own, and often in complex and trying circumstances. The model of policing for me is about professional situational judgement making, just as medical General Practitioners. Within that model, autonomous professionals operate pretty much as Hamel and Zanini (2020) outline, working towards common goals but with unleashed creativity and adaptability to help make things that need to happen, happen.

The power of the moan

To explore just why things get in the way of doing the job as it might be envisaged I’ve started a new survey with Police Professional (2021) to better understand from professional practitioners about the things that constrain and restrict optimum performance. I’ve taken this approach because in my experience the so-called staff surveying function interprets certain types of information form the workforce as ‘moaning’. I am more open to the notion that a moan may be an innovation opportunity in disguise. I think it’s a shame when creative insights are offered, then rejected, and then there is silence as people just give up making suggestions anymore.

I also find it frustrating the extent to which policing tends to functionalise and systemise everything, including in the instance, creativity. What that looks like in practice is that there is a form to fill in and a process of filtering and managing suggestions. The possibility of it being normal to be constantly discussing ways to improve and remove obstacles, in a positive environment, seems completely alien within policing. Such thoughts have to be controlled and filtered, and too often by yesterday’s thought leader, or sometimes the compliance guru, who embraces the status quo and rejects possibilities.

There is a time and place

There is the argument that you just can’t play about with policing because it is too serious and risky: it’s not a game. There is much sense in that stance. This takes me back to Kawalek (2020) and ambidexterity – that imperative of the operational world is true for many applications, not just policing. However, just considering policing as an operational activity, and its protecting people from harm, we encounter anomalies when we seek to inject complete order and systemised control to achieve operational perfection.

There have been, regrettably, many instances of disasters and less then good outcomes even when a processes framework in a command and control setting has existed. Sometimes those very processes can help sometimes they can constrain. Given the complexities of the social world, and humans, things constantly change and having a laboratory science informed procedure outside the laboratory pitches the presumption of yesterday with the realities of tomorrow, meaning that taking an evidenced rationale and procedure with you to the knife fight only to find guns means you’re left with thinking on your feet.

What evidence base could policing draw upon in COVID-19? The last time there was a similar global pandemic was over a hundred years ago, and even then, things were very different. The notion of previous evidence needs complementing with the more Bayesian, iterative, dynamic learning of the current, and indeed, the strategic ambitious vision of creating new ways that are not limited to doing more of the same.

Again, in the operational context, there needs to be a creative aspect to policing, because policing isn’t operating in a vacuum – it is a yin to the yang of crime, and criminals are constantly on the move. They are highly entrepreneurial and are always exploring new ways, leaving policing in too many cases, surprised by the latest antics.

Whilst there may be some weaponry wars with criminals, where policing needs to maintain an armoury able to counter and overwhelm the criminal counterpart, there is also more of an intellectual arms race. In that arms race, policing has the stronger and more organised historical library, piled high with data. But the criminals are the ones holding the initiative, who set the pace and tone, whilst the police, like social archaeologists, follow them around trying to keep up so they can populate the history library.

In that operational world, which is too risky and pressurised, there is no room to break beyond responding to the daring move of the criminal. There may be the acknowledgement that there needs to be a time and place. But, so far, where is the time or place for policing to get creative?

The creative arms race

The weapon in that arms race is effectively creativity – the acts of innovation and enterprise – to think an idea and try it. So, no matter how orderly policing seeks to make the chess game, the criminal (of course) sets out to break ‘rules’ all the time and so redefines the relationship in a daily dynamic change cycle. In the daily business of protecting people from harm policing is already outgunned in creativity and so that risk amelioration using process is not fully working, nor can it, because policing is too rigid to the fluidity of crime.

Rankin (2008) documents how, during the Second World War, British military intelligence was both receptive and proactive, meaning it monitored the enemy but it also thought about the future and took the initiative as often as possible. In a similar pattern to the Great War, Britain was losing this war too at one point we might argue, against a powerful adversary with often greater fire power. Britain did not eventually prevail because of superior British weaponry – its biggest strength was its guile. Guile is another word for cunning creativity.

That same ‘weapon’ is the one utilised all the time by serious organised criminals; yet it remains a tactic regarded with scorn by the organised and procedural world of policing. The military rule book cost a lot of lives in the Great War, including deploying cavalry against tanks.

By the Second World War warfare tactics had evolved as had the weaponry, but the guile of military intelligence drew more upon psychology than mechanical engineering in order to take the initiative more than once at crucial times. Operation Mincemeat, in 1943, that enabled the invasion of Sicily, utilised a lot of fire power but was only facilitated by military intelligence guile, informed by outlandish ideas.

Operation Mincemeat was not an act of desperation but an act of brilliance. The situation was indeed getting quite desperate and bullet for bullet the Allied forces were struggling, but with the initiative suddenly seized to their advantage the venture created a turning point in the whole war. The weapon behind the Operation was the human brain, not the computer, and certainly not the rule book. The message here for policing is that you are allowed to think, and indeed you must do (more) in order to out think your criminal enemy, just as Omand (2020) advocates.

Innovation and enterprise in policing

Nothing raised has been done to critique policing for the sake of it. Whilst there is a critique evident, this is simply as a call to arms, as policing is being constrained by tradition in a time of constant change.

We need to help take policing into more exploratory research and thinking to complement its experimental data focus because one thing is for sure – success in policing is, and will forever be, about what happens next, not what happened before. It’s that constant of change that policing needs to engage more with and not just in a more agile way (to react quicker) but to start to influence the future. This signals a need to move from the passive to the assertive.

Creativity in policing should not be regarded as a dubious eccentricity, but should instead become a new norm. Policing should hold the initiative. It should be criminals lying awake at night wondering what the police are up to now. Not the other way around.

The good news is that no new kit is required: all this takes is thinking and talking, in an environment that embraces ideas and is ambitious enough to go for gold and move off the silver (second place) podium for a change. Just think: what if.


Dr John Coxhead is Visiting Professor in Policing Innovation and Learning at Loughborough University, UK.



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