Robert Hannigan - The Power of Neurodiversity in Innovation, Cybersecurity, GCHQ and Counter-Intelligence #342

In this episode of the Super Creativity Podcast, host James Taylor sits down with Robert Hannigan, former director of GCHQ, the UK’s largest technical and cyber security agency. Robert shares his journey from being the Prime Minister’s security advisor to establishing the UK National Cyber Security Centre and now serving as the international chairman of Blue Voyant. Tune in to learn about the lessons from counterintelligence that can be applied to problem-solving and creativity, the importance of neurodiversity in intelligence work, and the fascinating history of Bletchley Park.

Sound Bites:

  1. “I was trying to answer the question of how was it that Bletchley Park… created the world’s first digital programmable computer.” – Robert Hannigan

  2. “Tolerating that kind of eccentricity frankly is one of the interesting challenges for an organization, particularly a company, trying to engender creativity.” – Robert Hannigan

  3. “It’s really important that people can express any ethical concerns and discuss them and have them addressed.” – Robert Hannigan

  4. “The blend of these different types of thinking and ways of looking at the world is massively powerful in creativity.” – Robert Hannigan


Robert Hannigan is the former director of GCHQ, the UK’s largest technical and cybersecurity agency. He established the UK National Cyber Security Centre in 2016 and was responsible for the UK’s first cyber strategy in 2009. Robert is now the international chairman of Blue Voyant, a global cybersecurity services company, and a senior advisor to McKinsey & Co. He is also a senior fellow at the Belfast Center at Harvard, a fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology in London, and an honorary fellow at Oxford University. He was honored by Queen Elizabeth for his services to national security and is one of the only non-US citizens to have received the US Intelligence Distinguished Public Service Medal. His new book, “Counterintelligence,” explores what the secret world can teach us about problem-solving and creativity.


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  • 00:00 – Introduction to Robert Hannigan and GCHQ
  • 03:33 – Focus on Cybersecurity and Oxford University
  • 06:17 – Insights from “Counterintelligence”
  • 08:06 – The Lessons from Bletchley Park
  • 09:56 – Overcoming Challenges with Diverse Teams
  • 11:56 – The Role of Neurodiversity in Intelligence
  • 15:23 – Managing Diversity in Modern Organizations
  • 22:04 – The Importance of Open Communication
  • 24:52 – Balancing Optimism and Pessimism in Intelligence
  • 28:09 – Personal Sources of Creative Inspiration
  • 30:00 – Book Recommendations and Further Reading
  • 31:53 – How to Connect with Robert Hannigan

James Taylor (00:09)
What can the secret world of counterintelligence teach us about problem solving and creativity? That’s what my guest today and I will discuss. Robert Hannigan was director of GCHQ, the UK’s largest technical and cyber security agency. He established the UK National Cyber Security Centre in 2016 and was responsible for the UK’s first cyber strategy in 2009. He was previously

the Prime Minister’s security advisor at number 10 and worked closely with Tony Blair for a decade on the Northern Ireland peace process. Robert is now international chairman of Blue Voyant, a global cybersecurity services company, and was a senior advisor to McKinsey & Co. He is a senior fellow at the Belfast Center at Harvard. He is a fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology in London and an honorary fellow at Oxford University. He was honored by Queen Elizabeth for his services to national security.

and is one of the only non -US citizens to have received the US Intelligence Distinguished Public Service Medal. His new book, Counterintelligence, which is absolutely wonderful, is about what the secret world can teach us about problem solving and creativity. And he looks to answer a couple of questions. How do you hire smart people who can work together to prevent terrorist attacks and decode encrypted technology? How do you come up with creative, counterintuitive solutions to solve major global problems?

And how do you provide the right environment for these people to thrive and work at their best when under immense pleasure? And it’s my great pleasure to welcome Robert Hannigan on the Super Creativity Podcast today. Welcome Robert.

Robert Hannigan (01:41)
Hi James, well thanks very much, very good to be with you.

James Taylor (01:45)
So currently what has your focus? You’ve got the book is out now. What are you currently focused on?

Robert Hannigan (01:50)
Yeah, so the book is out and obviously I have a role in Oxford which takes a lot of time in term time and then my main focus is on cyber security obviously which is my day -to -day work and that’s changing very fast and every day we see new headlines which kind of emphasize how fast moving and how sophisticated the threat has got. So cyber security is where I spend most of my thinking time.

James Taylor (02:16)
Now in this book, I learned so many interesting things. I learned a lot about Bletchley Park that I didn’t know in the work that went on there and the history of GCHQ. But there was a quote that you have right towards, you mentioned something right at the beginning of the book, which I thought was interesting. The other day I was in Austin in Texas and I was speaking and this sounds very strange compared to what we’d probably be talking about, but…

I was speaking for a company that manufactures the ingredients for bread and pastries and chocolates. And while I was there, I met a gentleman who was the sourdough librarian for this company. His job is to keep the sourdoughs of all, he goes around the world collecting sourdoughs from these amazing places and he has a library of this. And in the book, earlier on, you see this, you talk about the work of…

of Bletchley Park and the GCHQ is less about mapping the DNA of Bletchley Park and more like identifying the ingredients of a digital sourdough starter, a messy blended fermentation that constantly changes, that is never entirely within the baker’s control, but nonetheless produces something entirely surprising. So my first question I had for you is, what are the good ingredients for someone that’s working in counterintelligence and has that changed over the years?

Robert Hannigan (03:35)
So I love the idea of a sourdough librarian, that sounds fantastic. And Austin, Texas is a great example actually of tech innovation at the moment, as I’m sure you saw when you were there. What I was trying to answer, and I didn’t want to write one of these prescriptive books that says do X, Y, and Z, and you will have creativity, because I just don’t think it works like that. I was trying to answer the question of how was it that Bletchley Park, which was this not particularly impressive.

country house in the English countryside where they gathered to break codes during the Second World War and to solve one big problem which was how do you decrypt and then use a massive amount of intercepted radio material that was coming into Bletchley and then get it out fast enough for commanders to use. So that was the problem they were trying to solve. But in solving it, they

created the world’s first digital programmable computer colossus. And so in that problem solving process, there was this immense creativity and everything we now have. So what we’re communicating on our laptops, our iPhones and so on, you trace their lineage back to Bletchley Park really. And so I wanted to explore, so how did that happen? And to come to your sourdough analogy,

Many people at the time described Bletchley as an asylum, as rudderless, as full of crazy people. It wasn’t, they thought, structured and hierarchical in the way it should have been. And so what were the ingredients? Well, the ingredients were, of course, the people. And it was this amazing mixture of people. Not just mathematicians, not just Alan Turing types, if he is a type, the famous people, but predominantly women. So 76 % of the staff of Bletchley were women.

Most were young, most were under 30. So you were quite old if you were over 30 and you were ancient if you were over 40 at Bletchley. But it wasn’t just mathematicians and academics, it was people from manufacturing, from banking, from department stores, from the telecoms world. And it was putting those people together both as disciplines and as individual ways of thinking. And we might come onto neurodiversity.

But that’s where the magic and the creativity came from. And I think that’s closer to a sourdough starter than it is to any kind of business book which tells you, do this, this, and this, and you’ll get creativity.

James Taylor (06:07)
The thing I found really interesting, and you talk about this towards more towards the end of the book, but it’s actually, it’s a bit of a thread that kind of goes through is what you mentioned, like neurodiversity. And we’ll kind of come back to that. But there were lots of, we’re talking about this building this kind of culture and there was lots of very interesting characters where the Bletchley Park and obviously now in GCHQ. One of the ones that made me laugh was early on you talked about Dilly Knox, I think was the name and Rym Forty at the old Admiralty.

he decided to do something a little bit unusual, something to help his creative process, which I actually, I do today as well. So can you share what that was?

Robert Hannigan (06:46)
Ha ha.

Yeah, and Billy Knox was an amazing character, but he did a lot of his thinking in the bath. So he had a bathtub put into the old Admiralty building in Whitehall. And then when he moved nearly 20 years later to Bletchley Park, he had a bathtub put into the cottage there and he was sitting in it for hours and hours at a time. So much so actually in Bletchley that one of his colleagues thought he had drowned and broke the door down. So…

It wasn’t just an affectation. He didn’t just occasionally go and have a bath. He would find it a good place to think. And we now know from neurological research quite a lot about the effects of warm water, water in general, on the brain. So he wasn’t wrong. He described it as, bathing helps me with the perception of analogies. So not exactly sure what that means, but we think it…

closest to a kind of lateral thinking, making connections in the brain that wouldn’t otherwise surface. And he was a very passionate, slightly irascible character. And so the calming environment of a bath probably helped as well, helped him focus his thinking. But it’s a nice example of something which no corporation would naturally think of doing. So.

tolerating that kind of eccentricity frankly is one of the interesting challenges for an organization, particularly a company, trying to engender creativity. You’ve got to be allowed, you’ve got to allow people to work in the way that they want to up to a point. And his is a kind of extreme example. He’s also a great example.

James Taylor (08:31)
I wonder if you got inspiration from that from, I was recently in a place called Ortesia, near Syracuse in Italy. And about two and a half thousand years ago, there was a king hero, his name, and he was trying to figure out a problem. And he did like what I guess many

business senior people do today as they bring in a management consultant. And the management consultant was Archimedes and we heard the story of like the bath and jumping at the bath, Eureka. So I wonder if he was, had a bit of an Archimedes thing kind of going on there as well.

Robert Hannigan (09:05)
Yeah, maybe, and he was a classicist himself, so he would have known the work of Archimedes well. And of course, that was a brilliant scientific breakthrough in itself, giving him the idea of the volume, measuring volume. But yeah, a good example of a non -mathematician, everything’s computing and is about mathematics, but in his case, he was a papirologist. So he spent much of his career trying to piece together these little fragments of

papyrus that have been found in the sands of Egypt around mid to late 19th century. And he tried to put these together to restore the poetry that was written on them. And I think the interesting thing about that is the puzzling theme that runs through the book. All these people loved puzzles. And for him, the puzzle actually wasn’t about, it wasn’t like a jigsaw, it wasn’t just finding little bits of papyrus and making them put together, though that helped. The real puzzle was that

The people writing the poems on these bits of papyrus weren’t the original authors. So they were copying them out two, three centuries later. And so the challenge for him was to work out the mistakes they’d made. So these were scribes who were often bored, didn’t really understand what they were copying, didn’t really care very much, made mistakes, human error. And there are big lessons in code breaking. So a lot of the progress that was made in Bletchley Park in breaking German codes was about understanding the people at the other end.

and the mistakes they were making, the human errors. Same is true now in cyber security. It’s trying to understand the human errors in cyber security, defense and offense. So he’s a good example around it.

James Taylor (10:41)
When you think of when people think of Bletchley Park, they often think of the movie kind of highlighting Alan Turing and I always kind of push against it and I sense that you kind of pushed against a little bit in the book, although it was amazing telling that story and it brought to attention the work of Bletchley Park to a wider group of people. But my bugbear, I guess, with that was always that it kind of does the whole lone creative genius.

thing. And in the book, you talk about really, that’s, that’s kind of not how it worked. So I mean, maybe you can give us some ideas in terms of what at that point, when they’re breaking these codes, what was around, for example, Alan Turing, who was he, who was he working with? How was the collaboration side working there?

Robert Hannigan (11:29)
So you’re absolutely right, James. I mean, the Imitation Game was great for the profile of Bletchley Park and actually big increase in visitor numbers in the years that followed. So I’m not knocking it, but it was very Hollywood. It was all about good and bad, goodies and baddies in Bletchley. And it was also all about this, as you say, this lone, solitary genius. Now, no question Turing was a genius by any measure, but he wasn’t a loner in his work. He very much worked as part of a team.

And in Breaking Enigma, he relied very heavily on the fantastic work of Polish mathematicians before the war, of French mathematicians, and he acknowledged all that. And then those around him in Bletchley were absolutely critical to him. So he wasn’t this sort of lone person who just crapped it. And the other thing I think that doesn’t quite come across in the film is Joan Clarke, who’s sometimes fiance for, wasn’t for very long, but…

who was a really talented codebreaker in her own right and mathematician. And after the war, she went on to work at GCHQ until the 1970s. And in fact, just as she was working on counter -UVOTE, counter -submarine work in Bletchley with Turing, she ended up working against Argentine submarines in the Falklands War in 1982. So she had a remarkable career in her own right. And she wasn’t just the fiance of Alan Turing. So the film gets lots of things wrong.

But overall, as you say, it was great for the profile.

James Taylor (12:58)
There was another type of, you mentioned the relationship with him and his fiancee wife at one point as well, was in the US, you have the National Security Agency, which I guess is the equivalent of our GCHQ in the UK. And you talk about Elizabeth and William Friedman there. I believe that William Friedman was the founder of America’s NSA. But you talked about how, I use this term creative pairs. They can operate it, they had very different.

ways of looking at problems and challenges, but they can lent something to each other. Can you talk about that relationship? I thought that was that was interesting when I’d like to maybe kind of learn a little bit, go and maybe read a little bit more about that couple.

Robert Hannigan (13:38)
Yeah, so there’s some wonderful books on them, actually. And there’s a wonderful parallel story going on in the US alongside what’s happening in the First World War in the UK and then Bletchley Park. And at the same time, these big characters emerge. So William and Elizabeth Friedman, as in a way, the founders of US code breaking, US cryptology. And they met in this weird

scientific research establishment in Chicago and outside Chicago just before the First World War and it was run by an incredible man who’s worth reading about but called George Fabian who had this obsession, had lots of obsessions, but one of his obsessions was that Shakespeare plays weren’t really written by Shakespeare. They were written by Francis Bacon and so he hired all these people to try to prove this and in trying to prove it, so William and Elizabeth.

met, spent the rest of their life together and they conclusively established that actually Francis Bacon hadn’t written these and it wasn’t in secret code, much to George Fabian’s disappointment. But they’re an amazing couple because I think you’re right, they complement each other. Elizabeth had her own career in the 30s against smuggling during the prohibition era and it’s only actually in this century that her contribution has been recognised by the

US government and by Congress in particular, she tended to get overshadowed by William. But actually, William himself would have been the first to say she was an amazing codebreaker in her own right. So these partnerships are important. And there’s an interesting story about the two of them in the First World War, trying to break up a particular machine that had been given them to test the British machine, actually. And William asks Elizabeth to close her eyes.

and say the first thing, clear her mind, say the first thing that comes into her head when he says a particular word. And she gets it right, of course. And they put that down to gender, actually. They said maybe there’s a different way of looking at this. Williams was very structured, hers was more creative and fluid. Yeah, it may or may not be right, but it’s certainly true, as you say, James, that partnerships sparking off each other, teamwork is absolutely essential to creativity.

it isn’t on the whole a solitary pursuit.

James Taylor (16:08)
And then towards maybe the last quarter of the book, you move into talking about kind of just picking up on that, about gender, but also talking about diversity of thought and also wider, like neurodiversity as well. There was one stat in it that really blew my mind that we find here one in four people that work at GCHQ are neurodivergent, which I thought was fascinating. And then as you’re kind of getting into this,

You were just talking about people obviously with autism. My father is a musician and he has synesthesia. So he sees musical notes as certain colors and you talk about that and the benefit of that for code breakers as well. You mentioned briefly, I think in Israel they have a, I think it’s called Unit 9900, which is made up of people with specific, the forms of neurodivergence. So tell us, as you were kind of researching and kind of learned,

learning about it. Was this just something you were kind of picking up on because you were just around different people at the time you were kind of noticing this pattern? Or was there something else that kind of led you down this path to want to investigate this area more?

Robert Hannigan (17:18)
I’m fascinated by this area and although if you look at Bletchley Park there were lots of people who were clearly neurodivergent. It wasn’t called that in those days, tended to be seen as eccentricity or just oddness. But when I got to GCHQ and I’d spent 15 years in and around it before I became director, I would just met more and more staff who had really interesting views of the world and perceptions of the world.

and I started to talk to them and then to research more about what neurodiversity was and just how diverse it is actually, as you say, the synesthesia is a fascinating example of how the brain works and shows how little we understand about it. But I give one example in the book where I was chatting to someone who was overlooking the car park and the building of GCHQ’s headquarters is a donut -shaped building. It’s very similar to what Apple have now done in Cupertino.

And round it is this massive car park. And looking out at this every day, he would say, he felt compelled to organize that and explain the distribution of cars. Whereas to the rest of us, we would probably just accept, well, people park and they get out and they go into work. He felt this compulsion to systematize that. And of course he was right. It wasn’t random. So this is about putting order into the world and finding patterns.

And he was absolutely right because not only was there a computer program booking system for the car park, which was complex, but all the trends of economics, of car sales, of where people lived, of their school runs, all those things influenced the organization of those cars around the building. And while the rest of us might just not even think about it, he felt a compulsion to explain it every day. And I think…

That is interesting in itself, but it’s also a massive advantage in a creative team to have people who think like that, who are systematizing brains, if you like, and all the other neurodivergent traits that are explored in the book, all of which blended with other people in a team can be massively powerful. And one of GCSQ’s of the secret world’s great strength has been able to value that and say, these people are not a problem.

they’re a huge advantage. They may need extra support, they may need understanding, they may need the right conditions in which to work, but actually they’re a fantastic asset. And you give the Israeli example, I mean, I think, I’m not sure I’d go as far as saying we need to employ certain types of neurodivergence in certain jobs, but for sure the blend of these different types of thinking and ways of looking at the world is massively powerful in creativity.

James Taylor (20:06)
What advice would you give if someone’s listening to this just now? Maybe they’re, I said they’re not in the world, most of us not in the world of the counter intelligence and code breaking and things like that. But we do have to manage people, often in large organizations, you’re managing a big mix. You have, you know, you make your diverse people within the organization. You also have generational differences. I know a lot of leaders I speak to, they said they really, they struggle with figuring out, you know,

everything from Baby Boomers to Gen Z to Gen X to millennials, like working with them. What can management more broadly learn from the way that organisations like GCHQ manage that diversity of employees?

Robert Hannigan (20:50)
That’s a great question, James, and it’s the one I get asked most often by board level people and managers. And I think three, just three quick examples. I mean, one is around recruitment. The way most companies recruit staff militates against those kinds of people because they’re very often very open questions designed to explore competence, competencies. That is the worst possible.

kind of interview for many people with neurodivergent conditions who need something much more structured. So thinking about and getting advice on how you recruit is really important. Once you’ve recruited people who are neurodivergent, you need to support them. So that might be very practical things like computer programs that help them, but it may also just be really good line management. You have to invest a lot of time.

And you have to accept that there’s going to be some disruption. And one of the interesting things about Bletchley is that the first leader of Bletchley, Alastair Denniston, spent a lot of his time protecting his staff from criticism from outside, particularly from senior military and Whitehall, who would say, you know, these people are scruffy, they’re too young, they’re arrogant, they’re telling me what to do, they don’t respect authority, you need to do something about it.

and he would push back and say, no, you’ve got to accept that if you want the amazing things they’re doing, you’ve got to accept some of the difficulties that come along the way in this unusual group of people, as he put it. That takes courage in a leadership management context. So yeah, there are definitely some lessons on how to do it, practical and cultural.

James Taylor (22:32)
One of the ones that I read, which I’d never seen before, where you talked about, you called it tea parties, where bletchily, because of the work of the shift system, they work in these shifts all the time, someone would come in and they would sit and they would write down, challenge an idea, something up on a, it could be an equation up on a board, a white board. And the next team that were coming in, can almost kind of look at that idea and pick it apart or figure it out, or that would maybe spark them as well.

Do you, without going into any confidence, what is the modern, is there a modern equivalent of that to ensure that you’re using this hive mind, this collective consciousness well?

Robert Hannigan (23:13)
Yeah, it’s an absolutely key part of the culture of lecture that’s been carried through GCHQ to the current moment actually. And there are two sides to it really. One is having those opportunities for people to discuss and feed in informally their thoughts about how to do things better. And the second key thing is to stop that being hierarchical. So there was always a principle in GCHQ that any member of staff, so getting on for 10 ,000 at some periods, could approach the director.

directly through email. Now that could be a burden at times, but actually it’s really important. And it goes back to the power of young people as well. But actually, most people, as I said, were under 30. And you have to accept that some of them will have absolutely brilliant groundbreaking ideas and be able to do things that all their senior distinguished colleagues haven’t thought of or haven’t been able to do. And to allow that to happen, you’ve got to have some…

parties as they were called at Bletchley, we would call them something different in modern GCSE but get different disciplines together to discuss problems. But you’ve also got to allow the most junior, youngest people to have their ideas and have their say because that’s often where the magic comes from and there’ve been some good examples post -Bletchley of exactly that happening with people straight out of university coming up with amazing, amazing cryptological solutions.

James Taylor (24:38)
Now you also said something in the book which I thought was interesting in light of what’s going on in many organizations today where, you know, the general thing is, you know, don’t talk about politics, don’t talk about religion, you know, there’s certain things in many organizations that they don’t talk about. But I thought it was quite interesting that in terms of like politics, talking about these ideas does seem to be quite open within the organization. I don’t know where that just came from.

a Bletchley thing or if that’s more recent, because I know that many organizations, they tend to stay, you know, let’s keep all that very separate, but you seem to embrace it in some ways.

Robert Hannigan (25:18)
Yeah, I think so. I mean, I wouldn’t go overboard on party politics, I think. So it’s important that these are apolitical organizations and it’s written into the law actually that those running these agencies must be apolitical and implement within the law, implement the wishes of the government of the day. But I think what’s different about the secret world is you are not allowed to take anything home.

So you can’t take your work home. You can’t discuss your work at home with your family and friends. And so there’s a kind of world inside which you’re working where you have to have an outlet for some things. And if you’re thinking of the ethics of intelligence gathering and intrusion into privacy that goes with intelligence agencies, it’s really important that people can express any ethical concerns and discuss them and have them addressed. You don’t want to have that kind of bubbling away.

It’s also important to make sure that we maintain the highest ethical standards and a huge amount of effort goes into adherence to the law, into legal advice, but also into ethical considerations. So giving staff an outlet to discuss that is really important. One of the parallels in the book is with the John Lewis partnership. So we’ll meet a lot of people in the UK and not so much outside, but it’s a mutual, a very successful

department store and grocers. And they had pioneered this in the early part of the last century for their staff and they have a gazette which still exists I think where people would express their views on all sorts of things. And one of the key people at Bletchley came from there and indeed there was a big interchange between the two organizations over the years. But one of them inherited a lot of these management processes and brought them into Bletchley, which is

probably part of why they were so successful, but who would have thought it would come from a department store.

James Taylor (27:15)
Yeah. And the other thing I think most of the time that I know you and I, we speak at different conferences, different public events, or for companies. And in my role, I’m usually the, I guess, the tech optimist. You talk about utopians. I’m usually painting a more utopian picture of, I kind of talk about the dangers, but probably 80 % of what I’m sharing is these are amazing things that are going to happen. You know, in

in GCH QAnon and those services is almost like that is flipped. And your job is to look at the dangers, the risks in these things, how these things will affect it. So is this an organization of pessimists or is it just clear eyed folks that are there?

Robert Hannigan (27:50)

That’s a really interesting question because obviously they’re mostly tech people themselves or interested and inspired by technology. So it’s an organisation of optimists who are enthused and excited about the technology as you are yourself, James. I guess that what makes a difference is that their job is to focus on the bad things that could happen. So what are bad people with bad intentions going to do with this technology in the future? Because technology itself is kind of ethically neutral on the whole.

It’s all about what people do with it and how will it be abused is a question which the big tech companies are never going to put front and center, partly because they’re utopians, they’re optimists, partly because it doesn’t make commercial sense. You don’t spend a lot of money developing a product, push it out and say, by the way, we’re worried that this might be, might have to do it. So take social media, for example. They’ve spent 30 years saying, this is great building communities, connecting people, all that fantastic stuff.

But they haven’t said, well, all the bad things that can be done with it from election interference through to the impact on teenagers. Those are things which have kind of been forced on them. And so I think getting the balance right, I mean, overall, I am an optimist too. And I think, primarily, I would say, technological advances are fantastic and they’re bringing human progress forward at an incredible rate, or as you know, better than anyone.

But to do that completely without looking at the downsides is a real risk. And so it’s quite useful to have some agencies whose job is to look at how things might be abused in the future.

James Taylor (29:47)
Now bringing it back to your own work, as I was reading it, I was thinking, you’re just touching on AI, you’re just touching on quantum computing. And I thought, is this where the next book’s perhaps gonna go for you? But where do you go to get creative inspiration? You mentioned in the book about the donut, GCHQ, has a garden in the middle, which I love the idea of that. We often get inspiration when we’re out in nature, or where that color green is around us.

but also you have these open plan offices which I know for some people can cause real stress, especially if you’re more quiet person. So you have what they call caves and marketplaces. But for you, where do you go to get inspired? Where do you go to think about these big ideas and ways of solving them and actually in your writing as well?

Robert Hannigan (30:33)
So I do go outside, I do like to be out in nature. I do find that inspiring. I also find talking to people, wandering around, just seeing what they’re doing inspiring, which is a very, literally, DTHQ thing to do, actually, just to kind of wander around and chat to people. I’m not sure that you can prescribe that, different people find different things good for their creativity, from baths, as you said earlier, to sitting in a garden.

if you’re lucky enough to have a garden that’s accessible, not everybody does. I mean, your point about mathematicians and what they need is something that’s kind of occupied a lot of my time, both at GCSQ and also now I’m in a university in Oxford and we think a lot about the architecture, how that helps or hinders academics to think. And there have been some wonderful examples of institutions for mathematicians which try to blend that.

time alone that they need, almost a kind of monastic cell to go and think. But the interchange of ideas, the sort of marketplaces you say, where they can be sociable and exchange ideas. If you get that wrong, you can significantly damage the potential for creativity by just limiting the environment in which it can happen. So it’s really important. I think the built environment, the natural environment are really important to creativity.

James Taylor (31:58)
Yeah. It’s like the genius loci, the places themselves have their own creed and they can inspire their own genius as well. Just a couple of quick, back to the classic, so quick fires, we just start to finish up now. Is there a book you’ve personally been reading just now that has just kind of got you thinking differently? And if anyone is interested in maybe creativity, innovation, technology, future trends, where the world may be going, is there one book you would recommend people check out just now?

Robert Hannigan (32:01)

Absolutely, it’s back and back to the classics.

If I’m absolutely honest, I tend not to read books about those kinds of technology developments. I prefer to talk to people, but I ought to read the tech press. There’s a lot going on in the tech press, which I find very inspiring. And I tend to read fiction. So I’m reading Long Island at the moment, which I think is great. But…

Yeah, I try not to read too many of the… There are some very good ones out there, but I try not to read too many of the kind of predictions of the future books. Partly because I think a lot is being written about AI that is not particularly helpful. There’s a lot of hype around AI. But of course, AI was actually a big part of AI.

James Taylor (33:10)

Yeah, it’s one of my things as I watch more like TV shows, they have a very dark view of where we’re going as a civilization in the future. And I hope that we have more interesting storytellers. There are some amazing things that we had, where we had Sir David Ormond on, we form a colleague of yours, we were talking about the three body problem and there is really interesting fiction going on just now.

Wonderful book, so Counterintelligence, What the Secret World Can Teach Us About Problem Solving and Creativity. Robert Hannigan, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you. If you want to learn more about you and your work, I know you’re heavily involved in different universities, I think you’re in the Bletchley Trust as well. Where can people go to learn more about you?

Robert Hannigan (34:02)
I’ve got a website, roberthanigan .com, or there are more details in the book. The proceeds of the book go to Bletchley. It’s been a real pleasure, James, and thank you very much. I think podcasts are a great way of exploring these things. It’s probably more dynamic than books, actually, so it’s great to be here.

James Taylor (34:20)
Well Robert Hagen, thank you so much for being a guest on the Super Creativity Podcast.

Robert Hannigan (34:23)
Thanks, James.