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Professor Barbara Simpson

Human Resource Management

Personal statement

I joined Strathclyde Business School in 2004, a move that saw me relocating to Scotland from the University of Auckland Business School in my native New Zealand. My research activities at that stage were focussed primarily on the processes of technological learning in small manufacturing businesses, but I also maintained an interest in scientific and hi-tech innovation and the management of professionals, especially scientists.

My move to Scotland was just one of many major turning points in my career, which originally started out in geothermal hydrology, and then proceeded through international consultancy and the management of large multi-national science projects, before finally turning to my current academic focus. Along the way, I also started up two small companies, one in London and the other in Auckland, and I was appointed as a non-executive Director on the boards of two New Zealand science companies. This prior experience continues to inform my interests in organisational practice, whether this be in business, science or the arts. It has also been helpful in my empirical work, giving me the vocabulary to engage effectively across disciplines.



Has expertise in:

    • Processes of creativity, innovation and change in organisations
    • Leadership-as-Practice and the performativity of leadership
    • Methods of inquiry for process research
    • Pragmatist philosophies in process research

Prizes and awards

Fellow of the RSA
Best Paper Award

more prizes and awards


Pragmatism : a philosophy of practice
Simpson Barbara
SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Business and Management Research MethodsSAGE Handbook of Qualitative Business and Management Research Methods, (2018)
Using linkography to compare creative methods for group ideation
Hatcher G., Ion W., MacLachlan R., Marlow M., Simpson B., Wilson N., Wodehouse A.
Design Studies, (2018)
Evolving improvised ideation from humour constructs : a new method for collaborative divergence
Hatcher Gillian, Ion William, MacLachlan Ross, Sheridan Marion, Simpson Barbara, Wodehouse Andrew
Creativity and Innovation Management Vol 27, pp. 91-101, (2018)
Travelling concepts : performative movements in learning/playing
Simpson Barbara, Tracey Rory, Weston Alia
Management Learning, (2018)
Applied humour in creative product design
Hatcher Gillian, Ion William, MacLachlan Ross, Wodehouse Andrew, Simpson Barbara, Marlow Marion
Creativity and HumourCreativity and Humour, (2017)
The performativity of leadership talk
Simpson Barbara, Buchan Linda, Sillince John
Leadership, (2017)

more publications


My teaching experience encompasses undergraduate, postgraduate, and post-experience levels of student learning, as well as executive education and coaching. I also have extensive experience teaching across disciplines, especially between science/engineering, the performing arts, and business. The common goal of all of my teaching practice is to encourage students to see their world in new and challenging ways.  My aim is always to develop independent and reflexive critical thinkers who, above all else, have learned how to learn for themselves. I see the two-way exchange between teacher and student as a fertile ground for the development of creative and innovative ideas.  While I endeavour to incorporate my research activities into my teaching at all times, I also recognise the importance of grounding my teaching in the practical realities of my own experience as a manager, an entrepreneur, and a company director. I have been the recipient of a Universitas 21 Teaching Fellowship and an Outstanding Teaching Excellence Award.

In 2016/17 I am teaching and coordinating the following classes:

  • Strategy & Leadership (BA in Management)
  • Research Philosophy (MRes)
  • Leadership for change and innovation (MBM, PMI, and MBA)

Research interests

I belong to a vibrant group of academic and postgraduate researchers in the Department of Strategy & Organisation who share a fascination with new perspectives on Leadership - find out more about us at My own particular research interests revolve around the social practices that shape creativity, innovation, and change in organisations, where these practices are continuously emerging from, and reproduced in, complex intersubjective engagements. I conceive Leadership then, not as a quality or attribute of talented individuals, but rather as a dynamic movement that is generated in the processes of organising. My work is deeply informed by the Pragmatist Philosophers, especially George Herbert Mead, who brings a richly processual perspective to bear upon the social dynamics of organisational practices. My recent publications have pursued these themes in philosophical, theoretical and empirical formats, and my current projects continue these developments.

I very much enjoy supervising postgraduate researchers and welcome inquiries from potential students who have interests that resonate with my ongoing research agenda. I am currently supervising a variety of doctoral-level projects that explore leadership work, the notion of e-leadership, and the dynamics of creativity. I am particularly interested in attracting students who wish to take a fresh look at Leadership as an emergent organisational practice.

Professional activities

Organization Studies (Journal)
Peer reviewer
Organization Studies (Journal)
Editorial board member
Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management (Journal)
Editorial board member
6th International Symposium on Process Organization Studies
Organization Studies (Journal)
Editorial board member
Scandinavian Journal of Management (Journal)
Guest editor

more professional activities


Review of Clinical Leadership in Pharmacy (CLIP) Programme, Pharmacy Management, Scotland 2016-17
Simpson, Barbara (Principal Investigator) Buchan, Linda (Post Grad Student)
Evaluation the the Leadership Development programme provided by Pharmacy Management in Scotland, 2016-17
Period 01-Mar-2017 - 01-May-2017
Developing the Mauritius Leadership Brand - Assessment of Leadership Development needs in the Mauritius public service
Simpson, Barbara (Principal Investigator)
A preliminary exploration of leadership practice and development opportunities in the Mauritian public service
Period 01-Nov-2017 - 01-Mar-2018
The Leadership Studio - Learning together about public leadership
Simpson, Barbara (Principal Investigator) Buchan, Linda (Post Grad Student)
A collaborative project involving the University of Strathclyde and the Glasgow School of Art funded by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute
Period 01-Mar-2017 - 01-Mar-2018
Leadership in practice
McInnes, Peter (Principal Investigator) Simpson, Barbara (Co-investigator) McConn-Palfreyman, William (Post Grad Student)
The field of leadership studies is arguably undergoing a revolution. Researchers are increasingly moving away from investigating the traits that leaders have, the capabilities and competencies they possess, and the processes through which particular individuals came to be ‘great leaders’. Instead researchers are drawing on a number of theoretical advances to explore where in social situations leadership emerges in order to understand the situationally-responsive leader-ful behaviours that occur in diverse cultural settings. This application seeks cluster funding for two research projects that help will position the School at the leading-edge of three complementary debates on leadership. The first concerns a re-thinking of leadership as a movement that emerges from, and is performed through, relationships. Viewed in this way, leading becomes an emergent quality of what passes between people, as they negotiate who they are and how they should act on an ongoing basis. The second strand of research takes up this question of how the role of ‘the leader’ is changing. Responding to a rising interest in embodiment, leadership studies have moved to examine the changing norms affecting the performance of roles in contemporary, increasingly trans-national, organizations. There is, for instance, renewed interest in exploring the way women are called upon to perform leadership, and an active concern with examining the implications of the body’s absence from relations predominantly undertaken online. The third theoretical development reflects the wider practice turn in organization studies. As elsewhere, notably in strategy, the move to consider leadership-as-practice has been embraced by a number of leading international scholars keen to explore what a focus on the everyday practices of organizational participants might tell us about where and when leadership emerges.
Period 25-Sep-2015 - 28-Sep-2018
Scottish ESRC Doctoral Training Centre DTG 2011 | Tracey, Rory
Simpson, Barbara (Principal Investigator) Simpson, Barbara (Principal Investigator) Tracey, Rory (Research Co-investigator)
Period 01-Oct-2013 - 01-Oct-2016
New Engineering Design Processes through Constructs of Humour
Ion, William (Principal Investigator) MacLachlan, Ross (Co-investigator) Marlow, Marion (Co-investigator) Simpson, Barbara (Co-investigator) Wodehouse, Andrew (Co-investigator)
"This project aims to reinvigorate early phase concept design by developing new creative engineering design processes through constructs of humour.

Humour is a human faculty and a capacity for its generation and appreciation is detectable in most people. Humour therefore plays an inherent, often positive and unconsciously strategic, role in organisational culture, team dynamics, management and creativity. In humour and organisational studies there is significant support for the deliberate leveraging of positive humour cognitive mechanisms to further enhance creative and social processes.

Creative processes are critical to innovation through engineering design, particularly during early conceptual process phases. When engineering designers and teams engage in idea generation and other creative tasks, a lack of openness to others, engagement with the problem and willingness to take risks can inhibit the quality and volume of concepts produced. 'Brainstorming' is a group problem solving technique that can be applied to nearly any open-ended task. It has become a shorthand for any solution focused group discussion and in many cases does not take place in the open-minded, inventive, fluid atmosphere that is necessary for it to be effective. While other techniques such as morphological charts, TRIZ and the gallery method exist, they are similarly impaired by a lack of participant engagement.

A dominant theory of humour is that it is a process involving the set-up and resolution of 'incongruities'; the recipient feels emotions of surprise and satisfaction resulting in laughter. For engineering design, incongruous humour is a powerful analogy for creative design process explaining how novel, unexpected but appropriate solutions are recognised. One study suggests that a group of experienced comedians were more effective in product design idea generation than trained designers. However, the precise reasons for this are not fully understood, corresponding results have not been sought within real situated design processes, technical or otherwise, and there has been no formal attempt to package humour based processes for effective use in design practice.

Using prominent arguments in the literature in relation to incongruity, relief and superiority in humour, we have conducted a preliminary study that established the feasibility of incorporating stimuli to enhance concept design sessions Based on this, we have identified three exploratory themes based on aspects of humour with potential for further integration with creative design methods:
1. Humour to facilitate collaboration. Laughter can help free us from the shackles of day-to-day analytic thinking. This theme will explore the use of humorous material and comedy to generate group cohesion and structure sessions to achieve a positive, non-critical attitude towards the task in hand.
2. Humour to encourage immersion. Creative thinking benefits from a level of absorption or 'flow' discussed by and others to achieve depths of empathy and insight. This theme will explore the use of improvisational routines ('Yes, and...') and comedic exercises to increase the level of engagement by the group.
3. Humour to diversify the solution space. Incongruity, or the juxtaposition of dissimilar ideas, is fundamental to many jocular structures. This theme will explore the use of the properties of incongruity to encourage the group to strive for unusual ideas through the use of humorous narratives and unexpected perspectives.

This project will allow further integration of aspects of humour to enhance engagement, structure and novelty in idea generation; to assess effectiveness through a series of workshops; and to present enhanced guidelines as a basis for new methods and tools to enhance innovative working practices. This would represent a significant step forward in the academic fields of creativity, innovation and design methods."
Period 12-Oct-2015 - 11-Apr-2017

more projects


Human Resource Management
Stenhouse Wing

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