Does cuisine have a place in the Creative Economy and what role does Creative Leadership play in its production?


This is based on a recent essay in which I tried to combine a fun autobiographical description of my creation of a new jam (jelly) recipe and the process behind it with a more traditionally rigorous academic examination of the issues of creative leadership within the field of gastronomy (Barr, 2011). As will become apparent to the reader, these conflations of an apparent informal approach to creativity with a formal delivery mechanism are illustrative of my findings. The ingredients and methodology used in the production of my jam are revealed in the narrative that runs through the text and related to issues of importance in ‘creative leadership’.

My main constraint was the requirement that the final product be small and robust enough that it could conceivably be posted to South America.

An allegory of Creative Leadership

Rhubarb Jam with Chilies and Lemon Grass

The aim of the jam I created was to deconstruct an understanding of ‘creative leadership’ and the reassemble these ‘concepts’ into something new and surprising. I hoped to emulate my subjects, great chefs like Ferran Adrià by introducing “humour and irony” into the piece (Svejenova et al, 2006)


The place of cuisine in the Creative Economy.

The first issue to address is whether cuisine can be classified as creative? Gastronomy is not included within the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sports’ (DCMS) mapping of the creative industries (UK DCMA 1998, 2001, 2004). The list of thirteen activities the DCMS approved emphasizes the breadth of the creative industries and has become the most popular benchmark used for identifying creative industries at national, regional, sub-regional and city levels within the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia (Foord, 2008). In fact, cuisine is not included in any of the six key models used globally to identify the constituents of the creative industries (Throsby, 2007). However, within France outstanding restaurants are considered part of its famed luxury goods industry (Balazs, 2001). In fact, the phenomenon of creativity being synonymous with cuisine can be dated back to ancient times (Chossat, 2008) (Robinson & Beesley, 2009). More recently, Maslow (as cited by Covin, 1974) when reflecting on a past acquaintance announced to his audience, “I learned from her and others like her to think that a first-rate soup is more creative than a first-rate painting, and that generally, cooking could be creative whereas poetry need not to be”.

It was during the 1970’s, with the arrival of the Nouvelle Cuisine movement, that gastronomy became a creative industry and its evolution is ingrained in the “rise of creativity in the cultural industries” (Chossat, 2008). Within this essay I shall be making a number of references to Spaniard Ferran Adrià, an “original, avant-garde, influential chef, followed and imitated by others” (Svejenova, 2006). Adrià is chef-owner of elBulli, consistently voted one of the best restaurants in the world, and the vanguard of “Nueva Nouvelle Cuisine” (Lubow, 2003).

John Howkins (2007:182) defines the two main meanings of creativity to be “giving a new character to something” and “creating something from nothing”. In cooking, raw ingredients are carefully selected, prepared, combined and transformed into something new of value to the consumer. Indeed, in some instances a chef may seemingly appear to create ‘something out of nothing’. Furthermore, a great chef can give meaning to their food, play on the memories of the consumer and/or provide a narrative to its consumption (Svejenova et al, 2006) (Bird & Pinkava, 2007) (Chossat, 2008). As such, we should conclude that cuisine is without doubt creative and that its absence from governmental definitions of creative industries might be considered a failing. This may, in part, be due to the ephemeral nature of gastronomic works. Almost uniquely, their consumption results in their extinction. Within the United States of America the creative industries are more pragmatically classified as the copyright or IP industries (Ross, 2009). An extensive study by Veronique Chossat (Chossat, 2008) concluded that it is impossible “to implement author’s rights to gastronomy and more specifically to find an object, say the precise ‘gastronomic work’, to protect”.

The creative role was considered the exclusive domain of the divine (the giver of plenty) in a system of belief that was decisive in Western culture until the humanism of the Renaissance in the 16th Century (Williams, 1976). As a result, the inherent dogma ingrained in the understanding of creativity continues to bedevil the classification of the arts and sciences as mutually exclusive cultures (Barr, 2010). We might teasingly surmise that there is a similar dogma attached to views on the ownership of creativity in the production of our daily bread.

Creative Leadership in Cuisine

Leadership expert, Bernard Bass (1990) suggests that there are two main forms of leadership. Firstly there are those leaders that achieve group objectives by entering into a transaction with their followers. They promise rewards such as pay increases, recognition and advancement in exchange for good performance or penalization and disciplinary action for poor performance. This kind of leadership is called “transactional leadership” which Bass believes often leads to mediocrity in output. A second approach, he considered superior, is ‘transformational leadership’. This is achieved when leaders expand and improve employee engagement by clearly communicating the group’s objectives and gaining acceptance by motivating them to look beyond their own personal self interests for the benefit of the whole group. The transformational leader can achieve this through a range of methods that are identified by Bass (1990).

It could be concluded that the traits of transformational leadership are conducive to providing the three components required for creativity as defined by Theresa Amabile (1998)

Source: Amabile (1998) (c)Harvard Business Review













Therefore, it is easy to draw the natural assumption that Creative Leaders draw heavily on the skills of transformational leadership

To date there have only been a very few studies examining the factors that influence group creativity and even less that test exactly how transformational leadership relates to the creativity of employees, particularly in work groups. (Amabile et al., 1996) (Wang & Zhu, 2010). Indeed, some research has cast doubt that transactional leadership is always an inferior method in driving employee creativity (Wang & Zhu, 2010). Furthermore, the method of creative management that involves ‘soft control’ (Bilton, 2007) through the removal of constraints and deadlines could be seen as more akin to passive ‘management by exception’ identified as a trait of transactional leadership (Bass 1990). As such, it could be concluded that creative leadership borrows from the disciplines of both transactional and transformational leadership.

From the research that does exist it has become apparent that leadership is one of the most important ‘contextual variables’ that comes in to play when promoting and maintaining the creativity of both individuals and groups within an organizational structure (Amabile et al., 1996)

In the case of haute cuisine it would appear that elements of transformational leadership play the dominant role in the approach of chefs as creative leaders.

“In order to be at the top you need to have the best team possible; what distinguishes us from the rest is that we are one big family, and we have the best team possible” (Adrià, in Oppenheim, 2003:31).

This charismatic statement is typical of Ferran Adrià, who whilst being the ‘public face’ of elBulli repeatedly acknowledges the enabling role of his working team. (Svejenova et al., 2010:421). For Adrià, the chef is “a passionate and disciplined actor, a learned man who advances the culinary knowledge, a marketer of his own reputation and a missionary of his own ideas and of the reputation of his local field. He is inclusive, rather than exclusive in building his identity, which allows him to extend his reputation and renown to that of his field of expertise as a whole.” (Svejenova et al, 2006)

Leading chefs have been found to exhibit charismatic leadership skills which maximizes commitment amongst staff to the restaurant’s objectives; They achieve this by instilling trust and confidence within their group by communicating strong common goals and a pervasive excitement towards achieving them (Balazs, 2002)

“Consider the working conditions within the kitchens of leading restaurants. Employees will only put up with the kind of long hours, hard work and high pressure that are common because they perceive that they are contributing to something special” (Balazs, 2002:253). This belief is a result of charismatic leadership.

A key differentiator of the transformational leader is the individualised consideration they give to individual employees, aiding their personal growth, presenting problems as challenges to be solved (Bass, 1990:21). Most chefs display ‘have a sense of “generativity” in that they gain pleasure from developing the next generation. They like to exhibit ‘constructive’ leadership, taking on an almost paternal role, acting as a mentor and transferring knowledge. Chefs help their staff identify their unique strengths and weaknesses and tie them to personal and career aspirations. (Balazs, 2002). This relates to top chefs exhibiting exemplary leadership and is not necessarily illustrative of the norm. Research in Australia identified that ‘up to 50% of cookery entrants leave the occupation before completion of their apprenticeship’. However, the same study also identified that there is clearly ‘a positive relationship between creativity and both organisational and occupational satisfaction’ (Robinson & Beesley, 2010).

My Chili Plant

“The time spent besides one of the best-known chefs becomes a kind of business-card’ that serves as a guaranty for their mastery of the finer points of high-quality cooking.” (Balazs, 2002:257).

In this respect, supporting their leader’s legend becomes mutually beneficial. Linking this back to Adrià’s comment we can understand how such public statements enhance not just the reputation of the proclaiming leader, but also their employees and as such further strengthen loyalty. An intrinsic reward for followers is the direct investment of knowledge that they receive from the leader. Transformational leaders enact their ‘creative idealized influence’ by exhibiting their own creative skills to their followers, setting forth the standards of creativity that they expect and communicating the requisite codes of conduct (Wang & Zhu, 2010). This can have what has been described as a Pygmalion leadership effect whereby the productivity of subordinates will rise to meet the expectations of their management (Stirling Livingston, 1988).

Within my jam I am adding fresh Lemon Grass; resembling little ancient scrolls it symbolises the heritage of past experience, organisational memory and knowledge that must be infused throughout the entire organization for success in creativity. Without knowing the rules and precedents, it is impossible to deviate from them (Bilton, 2007)

Contrary to the idealized vision of creative leadership, successful chefs have a strong leaning towards “micro-management” paying intense attention to the smallest details of their operation. “Nothing short of perfection is allowed to leave the kitchen” (Balazs, 2001:140).

Contemporary literature on management and leadership suggests the trait of “micro-management” is a failing that should be avoided. However, within gastronomy it appears to be a necessity. Chefs maintain a broad overview with a strong attention to detail, maintaining a vision of the bigger picture (Balazs, 2001). This particular paradox is not purely limited to gastronomy. For example, Steve Jobs CEO of Apple is notorious for his micromanagement (Burrows & Grover, 2006). Yet, he was also named CEO of the decade by Fortune magazine (Lashinky, 2009). Pixar is held up as an exemplar of ‘creative leadership’ in effect (Anderson et al., 2011) (Bilton, 2007). Yet, in behind the scenes footage of the production of Ratatouille, a film about a rat who want to become a gourmet chef, director Brad Bird is observed passing judgment on every single frame, every shot and always asking for just that little bit more (Bird, 2007)

Unfortunately, there is little literature that examines the relationships amongst creativity and intrinsic satisfaction and how they relate to organisational/occupational satisfaction in the occupation of cooking (Robinson & Beesley, 2009).

It has been suggested that granting people autonomy around process fosters creativity because giving people freedom in how they approach their work heightens their intrinsic motivation and sense of ownership (Amabile, 1998) (Florida, 2002) However, within the kitchen such freedom is not easily granted. The organizational model of a top restaurant has its origins in to distinct camps; the artisans of the pre-industrial era and the military. In fact, in French the kitchen employees are still called a ‘brigade’ (Balazs, 2002). Although there is a great deal of creativity involved in inventing a dish, absolute rigor is expected when it comes to its commercial preparation (Balazs 2001). Every single detail of a dish is pre-planned by the chef and then executed to a precise an unalterable set of rules that have been worked out through extensive experimentation (Balazs, 2002). In this way the best restaurants exhibit an apparent paradox by seemingly coupling highly creative ‘products’ with extremely rigid methods of production. However, the intrinsic motivators of exercising a craft whereby one can give pleasure and receive recognition has repeatedly been cited by chefs as more important than financial reward (Balazs, 2001).

Adrià experimented with linking the two processes during the mid-period of his career, every morning dedicating a few hours to creativity. This resulted in many new dishes but became, “too much, total madness”. (Svejenova et al, 2010). To address this Adrià spatially and temporally separated the operations (the restaurant) from creativity (the workshop) in an organizational change that is considered part of his creative genius (Svejenova, 2006). This echoes the assertion of John Howkins (2007:146) that creative people require two areas to work; a place to ‘think’ and a place to ‘do’. However, the apparent ring fencing of the two processes seem in total contradiction to recent ideas put forward on the effective positioning of creativity (Bilton, 2010) Although, it should also be noted that this disciplined approach to innovation is not unusual in the business world (Drucker, 1985). Within Pixar employees are given a very open non-judgmental environment to operate within during the early development and incubation phase where creativity is expected. Over this period, the role of senior management is only to ensure team dynamics are healthy and progress is being made on solving problems (Catmull. 2008).

I directly adopted this ideology in the creation of a jam (jelly). At the conception stage complete creative freedom was demonstrated in determining the ingredients to be used. I focused on experimenting to see what would work well together and was open to new ideas. In this creative phase each ingredient has the opportunity to influences the others including me, the chef thereby the role of leadership was constantly shifting (Puccio et al. 2011). I chose to personally select the ingredients, as I want them to display unpredictable and therefore influential characteristics and convey a sense of mythology. To represent creativity chilies have been chosen. These come from a plant that has sat on my desk since I began my MA Creative Economy, slowly maturing as my knowledge has developed. Chilies dramatically illustrate the required tensions that creativity requires and the fine balance that ‘creative leadership’ must find within their organization to achieve creative ‘solutions’ and achievable outcomes that are acceptable. Inherent to creativity is change, a concept that demands delicate handling and intelligent leadership. The seeds of the chilies are the seeds of change in this process.

Social cohesionWhen it comes to manufacture we must adhere absolutely to a process prescribed in antiquity. An essential requirement is ‘pectin’ a natural gelling agent that will represent team dynamics and cohesion in my piece. I obtain mine by heating chopped rhubarb; transforming it from rigid individual units into pliable mass. The pulp must then be left to its own’ devices, slowly straining through muslin, just as my great-grandmother would have done.

During this period of downtime (six hours) I am able to pause for reflection. I am reminded of time Adrià spent in 1992 resting up during a winter break in the workshop of his friend, a sculptor called Xavier Medina Campeny. This period of co-habitation introduced Adrià to the world of art and the ideas of another creative mind (Svejenova, 2010). The way in which Adrià then went on to “contextualise avant-garde cooking into the world of art” led to him being invited to participate in Documenta 12.

Continuing with the flow and blending ideas of sculpture, leadership and the avant-garde brings me to think of an earlier Documenta participant, German artist Joseph Beuys.

Beuys famously pronounced that, “Every human being is an artist!” (Beuys, 2004:3). A statement that gives me comfort at this time.

The work of Beuys was dedicated to exploring and understanding the creative process and finding ways to release the creative potential of people.

Beuys claimed that the most important piece of artwork that he ever produced was not a physical piece, but the concept of the “Social Sculpture” (Anderson et al., 2011). Beuys saw human interaction as a space that may be shaped and sculpted, on a metaphorical level. (Reckhenrich et al., 2009)

With a sculpture we must examine it from many angles, take on different perspectives before we can construct an opinion of it as a whole. Beuys describes this assembling of different perspectives as “Sculptural Thinking”. He asserted that the same principle could be applied to social contexts.

With a sculpture it is the physical object itself’ which provides the opportunity to gather different perspectives. In a social context, it is the members of a team that provide the different perspectives, working together to give shape to an idea. Social sculptures can be formed through relationships with other people or the belonging to a team and is built through perception and dialogue. With every interaction a new experience is added to the collective memory (Anderson et al., 2011).

The concept of ‘social sculpture’ are very similar to what has since referred to as ‘group creative identity’ (Wang & Zhu, 2010:28) which is described as “emerging when a group develops shared perceptions of their work environment and collective selves through socialising and interacting together”. Forming a group creative identity is expected to have a positive influence on the creative output of a team and is seen as an objective of transformational leadership (Wang & Zhu, 2010).

By contrast, Beuys saw the mathematical approach, which might be seen as transactional leaderships method of ‘effort = reward’ as seeing “humanity as something that can be centrally controlled… it produces bureaucratically categorized mediocrity by means of a mass psychology that negates human dignity.” (Beuys, 2004:89). Koestler (1964) drew similar parallels when he said, “Habits…reduce man to the status of conditioned automaton. The creative act, by connecting previously unrelated dimensions of experience, enables him to attain a higher level of mental evolution. It is an act of liberation – the defeat of habit by originality” (Koestler, A. 1964:96).

Expanding on the concept of the ‘social sculpture’, Beuys postulated that it needed to be incubated with ‘social warmth’. “It is really exactly the same as the actual substance of love… This substance does not simply exist, it ‘has to be generated’ and it can be brought into being. Properly understood and worked with, it gives rise to the… ‘social sculpture’” (Beuys, 2004: 89).

Though Beuys was clear that he was not referring to actual heat, I am struck that physically I have had to use heat to generate the pectin that will bind my ingredients into a jam that gels representing the importance of team dynamics.

Team dynamics It seems fitting that I am using rhubarb (picked from my mother’s garden in Hampshire). As a word, ‘rhubarb’ is the favoured utterance of actors wishing to simulate conversation without distracting from the main dialogue.

Beuys asserted that the quality of a ‘Social Sculpture’ would be most influenced by the creative tension involved in the process the process of shaping it. This tension arises from coupling an open attitude within a broad framework of restraints. (Anderson et al, 2004)

An ‘open attitude’ means that all members of the group are seen as equal, show respect for each other irrespective backgrounds and all share a common vision that diversity adds value. This same attitude is adopted in organisations that exhibit high levels of creative leadership (Catmull, 2008)

I am reminded that the main reason that I decided to develop a jam rather than a chutney was that I wanted the piece to exhibit a level of clarity and transparency, imploring us to examine it from different angles; to trust enough to taste and become united. These qualities I would recognise as essential to building an open working environment – ‘social warmth’.

I also witness a need for diversity. I had envisioned using only my own homegrown chilies, a yellow variety called Scotch Bonnet. However, seeing how my team of ingredients are coming together I feel that aesthetically there is creative need for some flashes of red. Fortunately, a good friend lives nearby who also grows his own chilies and drops off a couple of a red variety called Bird’s Eye. In doing so he became the third leaf in what Charles Handy would describe as a “shamrock model” (Handy, 1989) of my organization; Myself at the core –the committed professional essential to continuity, the main ingredients as the second group – the contracted specialists judged by their output and my friend a flexible and (very) temporary worker (Burnes, 1998).

In the case of elBulli, Adrià demonstrated creative leadership in the transformation of his business. Adrià created a core-periphery structure that is well suited to the creative industries (Bilton, 2007). This comes from “the coupling of coherence and novelty” (Svejenova et al., 2010). The coherence is achieved by maintaining a core team that instills shared values, provides stability and continuity through the accumulation of experience and knowledge. Novelty is absorbed from the periphery of collaborators and a diverse range of interns selected from around the world, changing annually and introducing fresh ideas and new approaches.

Rhubarb and Chilies Infusing with Lemon Grass Scrolls

Now the pectin is in place, it comes time to add all of the other ingredients. To achieve the transformation into a jam that would set the mixture had to be brought to 105 Celsius. This is not to say that, as leader I, become redundant in the leadership role. Constant vigilance is required; especially at the transformative stage when my ‘team’ of ingredients is integrating to create something new. I have to make sure that they are mixing well and play an ‘energising’ role. On the one hand making sure that they do not become ‘too heated’, boiling over and exceeding the constraints of the saucepan; and on the other that they have the suitable stimulation to achieve the main objectives.

The result, poured in to jars is a clear fresh jam/jelly that gels together to bring a diverse range of flavours that creates something new and suprising for the consumer.


Cuisine is a creative activity giving value in intrinsic to cultural, social and financial factors and therefore very much part of the creative economy. Likewise, it provides a clear example of a place where creative leadership can be observed as a positive contributory behavior.

It was apparent from analysis of the existing research that gender is an issue, certainly at the level of haute cuisine the positions of leadership are almost exclusively occupied by males. (Balazs, 2002) (Robinson & Beesley, 2010) (Svejenova, 2002). The reasons for this are unclear, but it is not thought to be due to negative social behaviors.

I would like to have been able to draw on more evidence of the way everyone within the kitchen exerts some form of influence and therefore leadership. However, the necessary literature is absent and what exists actually suggests that due to the almost military hierarchy of the commercial kitchen that this is not a factor. However, former apprentices often go on to open their own restaurants in a bid to exercise the own creative freedom. Once this happens it could be assumed that the balance of influence with their former leaders becomes more level.

As a creative industry gastronomy is only around 40 years old, so still evolving from a structure that dates back millennia. The study of creative leadership is also a relatively new field. There is comparatively little research evidence on impediments to creativity (Amabile, 1996). On this basis, it is currently difficult to contrast behaviours that promote creativity against those which inhibit it. This may go some way to explaining why ‘creative leadership’ seems to utilise skills from a broad range of leadership styles that taken as whole may seem to oppose each other.

It would be interesting to explore more fully whether the trait of ‘micro-management’ is further evidenced in examples of creative leadership within other industries and gain an understanding of why it occurs. I would propose the hypothesis that: having degenerated creative decision-making at the incubation and development stage, it is a way for the ‘publicly perceived’ leader of the organisation to rebrand their personality and reputation to the final output as a method of regaining control. This creates a paradoxical identity of the individual and the collective.

It could also be enlightening to explore other disciplines that demonstrate a reinforcement of creativity during the initial development phases followed by exacting rules and conformity when it comes to final production and execution. For example, I would postulate that this occurs in some theatre productions.

As an allegory for creative leadership, I believe ‘Rhubarb Jam with Chilies and Lemon Grass’ has worked well, aptly capturing what I see as the important elements of ‘Creative Leadership’ in both its ingredients and method of production; namely: passion, imagination, vision, trust, integration, transformation, creativity, constraints, heritage, novelty, knowledge, myth, energy, reflection, balance and paradoxes.

Rhubarb Jam with Chilies and Lemon Grass


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Diverse, raw talent

Team dynamics

Fresh cut Rhubarb

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