An audience with Marc Almond

It was an immense pleasure to attend an audience with Marc Almond hosted by Richard Strange, The Godfather of Punk, in the great company of Rowena Sian Morgan, Musical Geisha and cover girl from The Music of Business.  Marc Almond has been referred to as The Judy Garland of the Garbage Heap, The Acid House Aznavour and Marc Bolan and Juliette Greco’s love child.  Richard Strange helped launch Marc Almond’s career with Soft Cell, featuring him and his work at the wonderfully decadent Cabaret Futura in the 1980′s.  Since then Almond’s career has gone from Electro Pop through French Chansons to Russian Romantic Gypsy ballads and beyond …

Marc Almond with Richard Strange at the original Cabaret Futura

Marc Almond with Richard Strange at the original Cabaret Futura

Here’s some of the highlights of the evening with some transferable lessons for all:

Almond On Critics

The Yorkshire Evening Post reported on one of Soft Cell’s early pieces “This is one of the most nihilistic, depressing pieces I have ever heard”  Whereas most artists would have been destroyed by such feedback, Marc Almond was delighted.  It does not always pay to listen to critics … 

Almond On Developing a Unique Offering

At some point in the early development of Soft Cell, Marc decided that they wanted to be as outrageous as possible.  “This included smearing my naked body with cat food on stage” he said. Soft Cell’s songs were also unusual.  Almond mused

“Dave Ball mainly wrote about household products and the boredom of daily life”

Soft Cell’s name hinted at the core of their identity – both a bitter and sweet quality to the songs.  Soap powder crises and sofa dramas are unlikely topics to get record companies excited.  As a result, their first single “Mutant Moments” was financed by Dave Ball’s mum!   The lesson here is dare to be different!

Marc with Andy Warhol - the embodiment of 'different'

Marc with Andy Warhol – the embodiment of ‘different’

Here’s Almond singing “Tainted Love” to a video of some disk drives playing the piece electronically.  Marc spotted the video a while back and agreed to add a vocal line to the piece.  Quite different:

Almond On Diversity

Marc has continued to pursue an eclectic collection of influences, starting with “Torment and Torreros”, which brought in influences from South America, Turkey, through Jaques Brel to his infatuation with Russian Gypsy ballads:

“They like Russian songs in Russia, they just don’t want Russians singing them!”

Marc’s Russian obsession developed after The British Council adopted him to do a tour of Russia, Siberia and The Baltics.  It sounds such a strange idea that The British Council would do this and it gave me great hope for our “men in grey suits” that they would sponsor such a mission.  Indeed it’s entirely possible that Marc’s appearance in Siberia did more to reform the communist system than Ronnie Reagan and Margaret Thatcher combined!  Value requisite diversity.

The Stars We Are - Marc and Richard Strange at the House of St Barnabas

The Stars We Are – Marc and Richard Strange at the House of St Barnabas

Almond On The Soul Inside

Almond has always sought to get inside the heart of the singer when presenting other people’s material, such as his work with Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel, Gene Pitney et al. Dig deep to find your soul.

I asked Marc whether his beautiful singing voice had received any training at all and he said that the major contributions to his vocal development were stopping chainsmoking and spending six weeks in Canterbury getting off ‘prescription drugs’.  He did also take some lessons in breathing and projection from two voice coaches later on, but without looking after the basics, this would have been fruitless.

Here’s some pieces that give witness to Almond’s ability to reach inside the artists heart and transmit that to his audiences.  Firstly a piece from his album “Jacques”, dedicated to Jacques Brel, then the Charles Aznavour number “Yesterday When I Was Young”, one of his Russian ballads from “Heart On Snow”, a new piece of electronica entitled “Worship Me Now”, featuring a low budget video inspired by David Bowie and finally a tribute to Don Black via the theme from Thunderball:

Huge thanks to Richard Strange for putting together such an amazing evening and to Rowena for her kindness and good company as always.  Catch us at Cabaret Futura soon.

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Mad about the girl – Rowena Sian Morgan – Music Networking Host extraordinaire and my co-conspirator for the evening – she helped Marc prepare to receive his Ivor Novello Award

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.

Our bookshelf - On Amazon and available direct from the author by clicking on the picture

Our bookshelf – On Amazon and available direct from the author by clicking on the picture

Harry Potter and the dark side of work

I was delighted to be invited by my good friend Professor Adrian Furnham to the launch party of  his new book  High Potential along with Kate Griffiths Lambeth.  High Potential is Adrian’s 78th book, co-written with rising star Ian Macrae.  The book is a superb compendium of practical ideas about psychology at work, written in an engaging style without all the usual jargon that the so-called professionals like to use to befuddle and ensnare us.

Highly Charged, High Voltage, High Potential - With Adrian, Ian and Kate at Bloomsbury - The Home of HP:  Harry Potter and High Potential

Highly Charged, High Voltage, High Potential – With Adrian, Ian and Kate at Bloomsbury – The Home of HP: Harry Potter and High Potential

The conversation and company were great and Kate and I shared some thoughts about the dark side of life afterwards over some warm beer.

On Twitter and Relationships

Twitter is a massive “Johari Window”, where people crash into each others lives, loves, hopes and fears in just 140 characters.  But, out of this chaotic and complex series of exchanges come a few genuine friendships and connections.  Amongst the people I am glad to know, like and trust that I would not know without Twitter are Trevor Lee, Kate GL, Mervyn Dinnen, David D’Souza, Andrew Sentance, Meg Peppin, Doug Shaw to name but a few, so Twitter works.   However, misunderstandings are the norm on Twitter and I always make a point of meeting people who interest me using more traditional means, such as a cup of tea and a proper dialogue. So 140 characters only take me to the point of “Knowing me, Knowing you, aha” and one needs more than this to create a proper relationship.  More a case of “Text and Drugs and Rock and Roll” … :-)

140 characters is insufficient to move us out of mutual oblivion on Twitter, but it can help us make a start ...

The Johari Window: 140 characters is insufficient to move us out of mutual oblivion on Twitter, but it can help us make a start …

On High Potential

One of the fascinating conversations we held with Adrian and Ian Macrae was on the impact of loss on high potential.  Adrian, Ian and myself share the loss of a parent at an early age and it certainly affected our drive and determination.  But the issue is complex and Ian gave personal witness to his own example, where he and his brother reacted quite differently to the loss.  This neatly explains why some people lose something precious early on in life and “stay in a ditch” whereas others decide to “get out of the ditch”.  Entrepreneurs such as Michelle Mone, inventor of the Ultimo Bra, points to early hardship as a spur to her success, but the relationship is complex and it does not necessarily work the other way, i.e. treat your kids badly to make them into leaders, as one of my MBA students once suggested !! :-)

michelle-mone-in-own-lingerie-77130890-874510

From the Gutter in Glasgow to the G Cup and G String – Michelle Mone’s entrepreneurial journey started with extreme hardship

On The X-Factor

Adrian eloquently explained the problem that can arise when confidence exceeds talent, using the X-Factor as a superb illustration.  High Potential explores the ‘dark side of personality’ and Adrian used Steve Jobs as an example of someone with a number of unappealing traits but who was saved by his unique vision and his ability to almost always make great decisions.  The substitution of confidence for talent is also a potentially dangerous cocktail …  Just witness this demonstration of mutually assisted narcissism on the X-Factor: Adrian ironically pointed out that Bloomsbury had made a great choice in commissioning the book, having also spotted the talent that is J.K. Rowling.  In this context, I was reminded of this simply great piece of popular psychology about the difference between talents and choices from Harry Potter:

Thanks for a superb evening of intelligent conversation, insight and inspiration.

High Potential - Click the picture to get your copy

High Potential – Click the picture to get your copy

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About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.

Crowdfunding your business – Lessons from Rawk’n’Roll

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 16.52.23

I was delighted to see this approach to Crowdfunding working for my friend Bernie Tormé last week.  In under one day, the project to commission a double album had exceeded it’s funding target and is now providing badly needed income for The Teenage Cancer Trust. The idea behind crowdfunding is simple:

  • Find enough people in the world who love something you want to do
  • Ask them to support you by pledging money up front via a web platform
  • Deliver on your promises

It’s another thing altogether to get people to do the pledging and this requires an enticing set of offers, which Bernie has put together.  I personally love the offer to sell his prized guitar given to him by Ozzy Osbourne, although I don’t think he really wants to part with it at £66 600!!

The number of the beast - £66 600

The number of the beast – £66 600

Crowdfunding is increasingly being used by entrepreneurs to overcome the initial funding hurdles to starting an enterprise.  It also allows independent music artists to cut out the middle man of the music industry, which many musicians detest.  This project will succeed and Bernie was kind enough to suggest that he’d used a little bit of my marketing advice in designing the project.  Now it is past the breakeven stage, the fundraising continues but with the greater goal of providing funding to support The Teenage Cancer Trust. It’s what leading author Daniel Pink discusses when he talks about combining Profit and Purpose in “A Whole New Mind”.

Bernie is simultaneously supporting a social goal as well as a business one

Bernie is simultaneously supporting a social goal as well as a business one

I have agreed a unique special offer with Bernie for executives wishing to put a bit of soul back into their lives.  We’re offering a trip to Bernie’s studio, some insights into the life of a working rock star, a live jam with the man himself and optional guitar lessons.  The offer is strictly limited to groups of a maximum of 8 people.  Contact me for full details via e-mail peter@humdyn.co.uk   Bernie also has a series of guitar masterclasses on offer either face to face or via Skype.

Check out the man to hear just what’s on offer and make a bid in this unique project.  We were lucky enough to do a couple of business events with him a while back.  You can’t beat Rawk’n’Roll ….

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.

What kind of fool am I ?

On April 1st 1994, I started Human Dynamics, which eventually spawned The Academy of Rock a few years later, so today marks 20 years in business.  It’s quite rare to reach this length of time with many companies going out of business in the 1st 200 days, let alone 20 years.  It’s also been a bumpy ride through the recession and I’d like to take this moment to thank everyone that has supported me and my colleagues in all kinds of ways.

Twin Peaks - 20 years in business

Twin Peaks – 20 years in business

As it is April Fool’s day I thought I’d have a little fun with you.  There are five April Fool’s untruths amongst these 20 factoids about my business and personal life.  I will award a copy of my book “The Music of Business” to the 1st person that spots all five of the April Fool’s untruths:

  1. My mum claimed that I was a Virgin birth as my Dad was 67 and she 45 when I was born
  2. I once presented a copy of “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” to Prince
  3. My first piece of work in the business was a strategic review for Amnesty International
  4. Professor Charles Handy sent me a postcard to congratulate me on my first book
  5. I brought the world’s first AIDS therapy to market by scaling the product up in record time
  6. I lost a small fortune sponsoring a round the world Rock’n’Roll Tour in 2006
  7. I was a member of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD’s) Council Board
  8. Professor John Kotter said he was too busy playing golf to read “The Music of Business”
  9. I nearly died when I was 25 whilst working in India through taking an aspirin
  10. I nearly collaborated on a book with Jim Collins
  11. I escorted Wilko Johnson through French Customs dressed as a nurse
  12. Mark E Smith of The Fall performed alongside me a gig at Kent University in 1978
  13. Richard Branson took a copy of one of my books from an inaugural Virgin flight
  14. Bob Geldof said I was f…cking mad when I met him at a CIPD conference
  15. I’ve been asked to do a PhD at Imperial College London
  16. George Clinton, The Godfather of Funk, bought me a kebab after a Prince concert
  17. I went to the same school as Sir David Frost
  18. We performed at Brands Hatch for the CIPD with John Otway
  19. The Rt Hon Peter Jay once offered me tea and a conversation at his private club in London
  20. I gave Evan Davis of Dragon’s Den a lift to an event he was speaking at
The prize

The prize

To finish, the Beatles also have a view on April fools:

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.

Meet the CIO – Chief Improvising Officer – Dr Russ Derickson

Chief Improvisation Officer Derickson

Chief Improvisation Officer Derickson

Introducing Dr Russell G. Derickson, Polymath, Inventor, Jazz Musician, Academic.  I met Russ a year or so back now and am privileged to conduct an interview with him.

Tell me about your background

 

My background, by design, is broad and deep. All my life I have railed against a single domain of pursuit, something that has met with great resistance over time from individuals and organizations that prevail in a specialist-driven world. But that world is changing. I am trained and experienced in science, engineering, social science, music, and the literary arts, and pursue what I call a Generalist-Specialist path. You may have heard of T-shaped and Pi-shaped (like the Greek symbol Π) individuals, who have deep enough breadth to be able to interact effectively with a range of subject matter experts, but also have one area, if not two areas, of subject matter expertise themselves. I aspire to be that sort of person and I keep working on it. The journey is a continuous one. The T bar represents that breath, while the stem represents depth. Similarly for the Pi-shaped individual.  An apt description is “jack of many trades, master of one (or more),” which is a contravening departure from the well-known phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” that disparages broad knowledge and skills. I do not choose to be a narrow specialist, but by no means do I feel that specialist roles are not critical in society.

Specific jobs I have had include serving as a senior researcher in two national labs in the field of renewable energy; professorships in a technical university in the discipline of atmospheric science and in a business school teaching sustainable products and services; senior and chief engineer in three engineering consulting firms in the fields of hydrology, building energy, and software design; business analyst and information services specialist in a telecom company; and professional drummer and percussionist in concert bands and orchestras, jazz combos, and rock groups. I have also had many years as an independent consultant in a wide range of pursuits.  Software I have developed has won national awards and currently serves 95% of the home energy rating market nationally. Other projects and publications of mine have enjoyed international attention, and I recently shared a best journal paper award in the discipline of wind engineering. With four excellent collaborators, I led the paper titled “Coyotes, Jazz, and Creative Teams,” which delved into the essence of creativity and innovation and was presented at the EMSCR 2010 in Vienna.

Improvisation – why is this such an important skill in business?

Improvisation is vital for creativity and innovation in business pursuits, but also for circumstances when known procedures break down or become ineffective in the face of quickly changing events or environments, or sudden novel assaults. But it is important to understand what improvisation is and how to develop facility in using it. Simply stated, improvisation is the act of deviating from a prescribed script or standard process at a given moment. But one does not just “make it up” on the spot. As jazz legend Charles Mingus famously said: “You can’t improvise on nothing, man, you gotta improvise on something.” Check this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TU_RxWXijz0

Indeed, the basis for improvisation and skill in executing it are achieved only after long stretches of immersion in a field, in which one acquires core knowledge and experience and lots of exposure to low probability events (which by nature happen infrequently). And there are basic frameworks and protocols to follow, at least to a point, beyond which “the rules” can be bent, or broken, with enough experience and acquired wisdom in hand. Furthermore, improvisation is mainly based on prior experience with its use and usually consists of reassembling items in various combinations from a known “bag of tricks.” For example, a close scrutiny of Robin Williams’ performances reveals that he often, if not primarily, puts together combinations of things he has done many times before. Seldom does anything totally new emerge, but there are notable exceptions and they are truly astounding. All of these principles apply equally to business.

While on the faculty of a technical university teaching atmospheric science, I was called on by a faculty colleague in the English department to substitute teach in his class while he was gone on a trip. The theme I brought to his class was about improvisation with the title “What to do when you are thrown a curve.” For example, you are about to present a business case to a group of investors, only to discover that a key person in the investor group is missing, or your time slot has been reduced from an hour to 45 minutes because of a sudden schedule conflict. You are testifying to a city council and a new question has just been brought to its attention by some advisory source and you are asked to address it. There are many more such examples. It turns out that a certain level of anticipating such “curves” can be done and prepared for through scenario planning techniques among other methods. But at times you just have to wing it based on years of experience, or in some cases, set your boundaries and request more time or a rescheduling in order to prepare.

You talk about teams and dyads – can you explain more?

In many enterprises in life, activities are done in a team context. But teams must be assembled and managed well to be effective. A group of individuals operating separately on a task can outperform a poor team, but a good team can outperform the individuals. To achieve effective teams it is critical to provide training in a team-based manner, not just separately train the individuals serving on a team. Furthermore, training is best done in a real-time setting, not “unnaturalistically” or theoretically with a set of academic-like sequences in a classroom. There seem to be three critical components to proper team training:

  1. Designing the team for learning through embodying the right mix of expertise and skills in the collective members for the goal at hand
  2. Establishing an effective challenge to be met by the members as a whole, but delineating the critical role of each individual
  3. Assuring psychological safety for each team member by creating an environment in which individuals will not feel dumb or incompetent with their current ideas or their introduction of new ones.

Let’s look at team size, structure, and communication. Small teams usually work best and there is an anthropological basis for this. Hunter gatherers worked in teams of 5 or 6 maximum. The possible number of communication channels expand greatly with team size. For example, a team of two has one two- way channel, also known as dyadic communication. With three members in a team, there are 3 such possible dyadic channels. With four team members, there are 6 channels, and with five members the number of possible two-way, or dyadic, channels increases to 10. The beat goes on with larger team size, such that an eight member team has 28 possible two-way channels. It gets quite complex with both the sheer number of dyadic possibilities and the attendant process losses for each dyad. Once assembled, a critical component to team operational success resides in effective intra-team communication. From classical quartets, jazz combos, and rock groups, we learn two primary categories of communication that apply to many other enterprises outside the realm of music: verbal and non-verbal. Both the verbal and non-verbal manifest in three ways: as instruction, cooperation, and collaboration. This yields a total of six communication modes. Thoughts on these various modes are the subject of a follow-on discussion.

But there is more to the story on team size and operation. Small teams may work best operationally, but may not possess all the knowledge or skill for a given task. Larger teams have the possibility of having more composite knowledge. However, the smaller, more operationally efficient team can establish a process to gather information from outside the team and bring it back into the task. That may mean a simple transporting of outside knowledge, or temporarily including an outside member for a period of time. This and related processes work best if team members have transdisciplinary skills and knowledge. Transdisciplinary means more than cross-disciplinary, in that one interacts not just at the boundary between disciplines in a team of mixed expertise, but has enough knowledge, like the T-shaped person, to make a deeper foray into several other disciplines. It is worth each team member gaining such a skill for best team operation.

Not often expressed is another facet of a team. Let me express three categories: low-variance, medium variance, and high-variance teams. This idea comes from my paper “Coyotes, Jazz, and Creative Teams.” Variance is the deviation, or change, from a standard mode of operation or process. An example of a low-variance team is a surgical team, an airline crew, or a manufacturing team. Such a team is not prospecting for novelty or surprise, but is rather operating with a tight set of procedures to ensure success and safety. A low-variance team also trains for emergency contingencies to minimize, if not preclude, the need for improvisation or research. Emergencies must be handled quickly in time and such emergencies as a fire do not “age” well as time moves on. On the other hand, a high-variance team such as a design or research team or jazz combo is prospecting for novelty and surprise and thus operates less rigidly with a fair amount of improvisation. A medium-variance team lies in between. An example would be an orchestra that plays the written score, but adds variance through creative interpretation. Needless to say, each type of team requires different training, management, and operation.

Now, I have mentioned dyads. And there are also triads. Both are vital concepts and realities, but let’s stick with dyads for now. Like a lot of words, dyad has a few meanings, once of which was used above: the two-way communication between two people. There is also another meaning: a special relationship of long standing between two individuals. There are personal and professional examples of this type of dyad and sometimes a given dyad entails both personal and professional aspects. The dyad we now discuss requires trust, close communication, and equal status to work best. A well-functioning dyad is one of the most powerful forms of teams that exist. Famous examples include Lennon and McCartney; Lerner and Loewe; Gilbert and Sullivan; Cheech and Chong; Holmes and Watson; Roosevelt and Taft; Watson and Crick; Jobs and Wozniak. The list goes on.  We’ll stop at Cheech and Chong:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWxgfTMLtc0

Note that while certainly complementary, the individuals of the dyad can have similar skills or quite different ones. That is worth noting. Another key point is that a dyad can lead to a powerful synergy unachievable by the two individuals separately. Or not. Dyads also tend to become unstable and acrimonious over time by virtue of the closeness and persistence of interaction required over long periods of time. Teams of three, the triad, can also produce their own pathologies, more so sometimes that can a dyad. Interestingly, teams of five often report the greatest satisfaction in their operation. But, long live the dyad.

I will briefly mention another type of team: the team of one. Please think on that idea for a while and stay tuned for an exposition in the near future.

Say something about the seminar series you are planning for the USA?

The dyad of Cook and Derickson has schemes to invade the USA with workshop seminars that aim to circumnavigate and then make a direct charge at the processes of innovation and creativity, borrowing from the ethnographies (fancy word for the study of the culture of an enterprise that entails human interaction) of Rock and Jazz. At the heart will be real-time, team-based learning exercises that engage with creativity and innovation, improvisation, and the “taming and harvesting” of randomness. A key aspect will be learning how to uncover knowledge we don’t even know we don’t know (unknown unknowns). Rather than presenting rigid, sequential rules, the seminars will elucidate and incorporate practical sets of guiding principles in the team-based exercises. Importantly, the seminars will entail heterogeneous groups of people from various disciplines rather than from a single discipline.

Pi- shaped - Dr Derickson and Master Cook

Pi- shaped – Dr Derickson and Master Cook

Have you got some takeaway bullet points for readers?

  • There are few, if any, silver bullets.
  • Improvisation is fun.
  • Teams can be fun.
  • You gotta work at it.
  • Start now.

NEXT WEEK OUR BLOG GOES OUT ON APRIL FOOL’S DAY 

BE PREPARED FOR SOME FUN

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About the Blog Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

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Two Tribes – Branding for different markets

One of the challenges of managing a brand with two distinctly different manifestations is the need for each of them to have the same strength and a distinctively different targeting. People that don’t know so much about our twin brands tend to think first of what I call our ‘high visibility’ brand - The Academy of Rock, which offers events that blend business ideas with music. As a result our business consultancy offering at Human Dynamics can get submerged under the hullabaloo of the more notorious aspects of what we offer. Importantly different customers or ‘tribes’ are interested in the two diffferent aspects of our work.  To serve them well, our brands need to clearly target the differing needs and wants of the ‘two tribes’, hence the title of this blog.

Contrasting brand images

Contrasting brand images

Conventional wisdom says that you cannot make videos about a serious business consultancy business, but I like to break rules, so we just made a video on Human Dynamics with i54 New Media.  Take a look:

Jeff Bezos at Amazon says that your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.  The next best thing to that is what they say willingly on Linkedin, so this was a great opportunity to bring some of this together.  Making films with 154 new media is really simple and quick.  Within 15 minutes, we had shot the video and the finished product was made in double quick time.  More importantly, the film has been pivotal in securing a creativity and innovation keynote at a conference in Malaysia.

Four branding lessons

  1. A brand is a shorthand intended to stop people thinking when they are making decisions under pressure. Just think of the advertising slogan “Beanz Meanz Heinz”.  In a busy and complicated world, it’s vital that you can convey your brand to others in minutes, preferably seconds.  Andy Warhol said “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”.  In the internet age, that may have come down to 15 seconds.
  2. Brands convey the emotional more than the rational aspects of what your company does. They must rest on some firm foundations to be successful however.  In other words there should be no gap between brand perception and brand experience if you are to succeed.
  3. A brand must tell a story, which reaches people’s hearts, minds and souls if it is to be successful. We will be exploring the business of storytelling shortly on this blog.
  4. Get your followers to become brand representatives.  Their view of what you do is more important than your own and their marketing advocacy is free and more credible than that which you do yourself.  Amongst my various experiences with musicians, I sponsored a Spinal Tap inspired world tour for Punk Idol John Otway. Although the tour was a glorious failure, one of John’s great strengths is that his fanbase offer him an absolutely free marketing service and are passionate brand advocates.

An excellent 5th point arrived on Linkedin this morning, from Brian Shannon on the need to have a point of focus when managing multiple brands:

“When I was the VP of strategy for GlowWear. They had about 10 brand names they were trying to manage and the strategy was clear. Everybody buys clothes but the branding must match the demographic. Demographic = Brands”

Here’s a short video on branding:

Check out John Purkiss’ book on personal branding “Brand You” for some fascinating insights into personal branding.  Click on the picture to find out more:

Brand You

We finish with the title of this blog:

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

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In The City – Rock unites the business world

Rock In The City Logo Purple Mid

Logo Design by Simon Heath – Social Media’s Quick Draw McGraw @simonheath1

Time for a mini update on the band that I’ve formed with Dr Andrew Sentance, former Monetary Policy Committee Member for The Bank of England.  Following the press announcements in the Evening Standard and City AM, we’ve attracted a motley crew of City based rockers and are set to organise a Rock meets Business event at a City location for charity.  The band is called RockInTheCity and the gig’s to be “In The City, By The City, For The City”.

Rockin' The City from West to East Haydn, Andrew, Bilal, Pete, Peter and Barry

Rockin’ The City from West to East Haydn, Andrew, Bilal, Pete, Peter and Barry

The core band members are:

  • Haydn Jones – Telecoms, Operational effectiveness, Bass
  • Dr Andrew Sentance – Senior Economic Adviser, PwC, Guitar, Vocals, Keyboards
  • Bilal Mustafa – Mergers, acquisitions, keyboards, electronica
  • Pete Stephens – Government, drums
  • Barry Monk – Marketing consultant, lead guitar, vocals
  • and myself on lead guitar and vocals

We will be augmented by a range of superb music professionals and there will be an opportunity for people attending our concerts to join the band for a bit of ‘spontaneous combustion’ on the night itself.  Find out more at our band webpage Rockinthecity and follow us on Twitter. We held our first practice at Andrew Sentance’s house the other week.  It would be invidious to reveal our set list, but here’s a few of the songs we jammed out to get our groove on.

  • Money – Pink Floyd
  • Purple Rain – Prince
  • Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
  • All along the watchtower – Jimi Hendrix

I may also try to get the band to accommodate a live performance of the economics rock anthem “Fiscal Cliff”, now available for download on Bandcamp.  The evening will be accompanied by an introductory keynote on music, business and money plus food and plenty of networking opportunities. We are now looking for a venue in the city and some sponsors for the event which will be run on a charitable basis.  Please get in touch via e-mail peter@humdyn.co.uk if you wish to support this initiative in a small or larger way.  This can be in terms of assistance with marketing, underwriting food, drinks, helping with the event delivery, providing the venue, public address system, lighting, stage crew or anything else you can think of.  Here’s an impression of our first practice:

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Box Set 7

Hangin’ on the telephone … at O2

This is a tale of appalling customer service, bad data management, a company culture that refuses to deal with complaints and employee disempowerment / disengagement at the mobile phone company O2.  It’s a long story which is still developing as I update this post.  In business terms, it teaches us some great lessons about how to get these things right, as many good companies do.  Yet I remain astonished at the catalogue of problems that this relatively small issue has thrown up within O2′s culture, structure, systems and HR strategy / practice.  Read on …

March 02

I still require some kind of therapy after a wasted weekend of mind-numbing conversation on the phone with my son Tom’s mobile phone providers O2, part of the Telefonica group.  Tom took a contract with O2 just over a year ago on a special half price offer of around £16 a month provided to him as a former “Pay as you go” customer.  Some months later he noticed that O2 had been charging him nearly £30 per month and he went to the shop to resolve this, but got fobbed off by the staff.  As compared with me, Tom is rather relaxed and after having a lot of his valuable time wasted, decided that O2′s dishonesty should be rewarded by him switching phone contracts at the end of the 12 months, which he did.  He cancelled the direct debit and thought all was well … until O2 presented him with a bill for £61 for overdue bills after he left them.  On inspection I uncovered that O2 owed him £137.77 due to persistent overbilling on their part.  I decided that it might be simple to have a friendly word with O2 about this …  I was wrong …

Tom, before O2 got him

Tom, before O2 got him

So, what’s the big deal?

You might at first be wondering why any of this matters?  Well, O2 recently put a debt collection agency onto the case.  I had explained the situation to them and they agreed that it was not correct and they dropped the matter.  I thought that this was the end of the matter.  Not at all.  I then received a letter from Messrs Buchanan, Clark and White, a firm of solicitors chasing the £61 debt (times must be hard – goodness knows what O2 are paying them to recover £61!! – perhaps it’s their UK tax bill?).  So, the big deal here relates to my son getting a bad credit score rating for O2′s overbilling which caused Tom to leave them. Such things are notoriously hard to remove in the age of computers, even if it can be proved that the data is incorrect.

I asked O2 if they could call me to sort this out (Tom is a student and refuses to call them using an 0845 number, which would cost him a massive amount, given the time needed to get through).  To my astonishment, O2 pointed out that they were unable to arrange callbacks.  I thought to myself:

Er, did I just get hear that correctly?  

A phone company unable to make a phone call?  

Yes, you did Peter!

No one receiving - O2's customer contact policy

No one receiving – O2′s customer contact policy

If O2 won’t call me, I’ll call them …

Eventually, I decided that a trip to see my son would be in order and a visit to the O2 shop, so I set off on a 60 mile jaunt to the O2 shop in Canterbury on Saturday.  I explained the problem to the manager.  The shop could not help as his account is not active and therefore their computer “said no”, but they did let me call O2 on their customer phone. After 20 minutes, someone eventually answered, listened carefully for 15 minutes and then agreed to escalate the call. However, there was no one to escalate the call to, so I asked for a call back.  Another 20 minutes later, this had been arranged with a password for me to use on my son’s behalf.  The call was to come within 5 – 1o minutes but no call arrived.  Thus my entire afternoon was wasted for no outcome whatsoever.  I retired injured, having spent the whole afternoon on the telephone when I had gone to see my son for something far more important.  Ho hum, shit happens, and it seems to happen a lot when you phone O2 …

Lazy Sunday … not 

Sunday is a new day so I thought I’d start over.  Firstly online.  In a moment of blind optimism, I thought that maybe I could ask O2 to start where we left off with a call back.  Oh no, we’re right back to the beginning again!  They refused to use the password we had set up on Saturday and also refused to honour the call they never made the previous day.  Interestingly O2 are very keen to get me off Twitter to discuss the matter in private, so that they can continue the process of gradual erosion, sucking the energy, life and soul out of even the most passionate customer, like some kind of telephonic dementors:

O2's customer service centre?

O2′s customer service centre?

Undeterred by about 50 repetitive mind-numbing e-mails from O2′s web team, I set off with renewed energy to the local O2 shop as it seems that the only way I can deal with this is by phone.  An exceptional shop assistant greets me, tries to access the account online, but once again is blocked by O2 as the account is not active.  This time we have a 90 minute phone call to O2, via three of their customer representatives including two senior managers.  The first cannot help but is polite and refers me on again. The second listens carefully but also cannot help and refers to the third (Keeley) who decides to go on the attack. Here’s some of the arguments that Keeley makes:

  • My son should have persisted with queuing for hours to sort the contract out.  He is therefore a wimp for not putting up with O2′s appalling service and it’s his fault that he did not get his money back and now his fault that the solicitors are on his case.
  • I ask for a copy of the original contract  as he never received one and Keeley disputes his honesty that he bought an offer.  Keeley refuses to send a copy as this information is ‘confidential’.  She says that ‘the computer says’ that my son has not tried to contact O2 and this means that his contract is valid.  I point out that he did visit the shop several times to no avail.  She says that the computer has no record of shop visits and implies that it did not therefore happen.  When people mistake explicit data from tacit knowledge and information, we are into very dangerous territory.  If it is not on the computer, it does not exist was the line taken by O2.  I am reminded of Little Britain:
  • Keeley likes to point out that it was my son (and not O2) who broke the contract by just leaving O2 at the end of the contract. She thinks this is stupid and that therefore he must pay the price for his stupidity. When I point out that O2 broke the contract in the first place by repeatedly overcharging, she fails to answer the point, simply using the ‘broken record’ technique in an attempt to break my will.  I point out that Tom would probably never have left O2 if the contract had been made correctly in the first place, thus if blame is to be apportioned, then O2 are the root cause of his departure and therefore the breach of contract.  She chooses to ignore this.  I hope she sleeps well.  This seems to be in contrast with the views of Ronan Dunne, CEO of O2:
Ronan Dunne's view of customer service - Fine words, but I think I'd rather hear the views of Ronan Keating on this ...

Ronan Dunne’s view of customer service – Fine words, but I think I’d rather hear the views of Ronan Keating on this …

  • She cannot help anyway as the matter is in the hands of solicitors to claim the £61 back. Keeley claims to be a ‘senior manager’.  But just what is she managing?  How has this got anything to do with management?  It appears that the computer could do her job as she tells me that her computer holds all the information she needs to make a resolution.

I still need to resolve the matter or my son gets a bad credit rating for £61, when it is O2 that owe him money. On principle it seems wrong now to just pay up, which is what they expect people to do.  Here’s the account as it currently stands:

  • My son allegedly owes O2 £61 for not actively cancelling his contract
  • O2 owe my son £137.77 for overbilling which caused him to leave O2 thus invalidating his contract with them
  • O2 owe my son an order of correction to Experian et al to ensure that he does not become criminalised at the age of 19 for O2′s mistake in overbilling him
  • O2 owe me £50 for petrol
  • O2 owe me more that three day’s wasted time
  • O2 owe Tom and myself something for the mind numbing experience and a wasted weekend
  • O2 may be sued for inappropriate use of credit rating agencies to criminalise my son at the age of 19 for mistakes that THEY made on THEIR computer, following the recent case of this in respect of Richard Durkin

Lest you might be thinking that all call centres are bad, that’s simply not true as there is a huge differential between these places.  I’ve had excellent service from First DirectEE and The Carphone Warehouse of late.

So, what’s next?  Well, I think we have moved no further forward than when this started and each time I contact O2, they put bureaucratic and petty quasi legal obstacles in the way of resolution.  So it appears that my next steps must be to raise this formally with various people so that they do not get trapped in a similar way.  I must thank Anne Tynan for her excellent article on Why brands must have big ears, which provides a catalogue of advice and examples in this area.

POSTSCRIPT 14.15 Monday 03 March

I have just had a call from O2′s Office of the Chief Executive – The issue appeared to be on the road to resolution but see below.  Thanks to all that have shared the blog on social media – I somehow wish that we could have reached this point without the worst two days of my life this year and the consequent losses of business and money.

POSTSCRIPT 09.51 Wednesday 12 March

My optimism was in vain.  I have had considerable amounts of my time wasted by O2′s Executive Customer Relations team over this.  Central to their argument is that they claim that we must have evidence that the contract was £16 per month, but O2 have admitted that they cannot find a copy of the contract themselves!!  I find this astonishing, given that I can recover invoice 0001 from 1994 from my own business, but they appear to be unable to produce a copy of an order from just over a year ago.  They also claim that they are unable and unwilling to stop the contagion of data sharing that has occurred to credit rating agencies in spite of the fact that it was their own computer systems that generated this error.  As a result I have lodged a formal complaint to Ofcom and the Ombudsman – see below:

A case of mis-selling?

A case of mis-selling?

To add insult to injury, my wife decided to cancel her contract with O2 and spent nearly 90 minutes on “Live Chat” sessions trying to get them to send an e-mail confirming that she had cancelled the contract, since O2 insist that “if it is not on a computer, it did not happen”.  On every occasion, she was promised a confirmation e-mail.  On every occasion it has not arrived … However, since I mentioned this to the Exec Customer Relations, the matter has been resolved. So the simple problem has been cleared up after about two hours wasted time.  We now look to the more serious matter for some progress.  In the words of Timbaland “It’s too late to apologise”.

To cheer me up, time for some Blondie which explains the title of this blog and some other telephone songs from ELO and Sylvia’s Mother, as performed by the bizarre Country and Western 3-piece Glam Rock duo The Cowpokers – the piece starts 2 minutes in:

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

TMOB Udemy ONLINE

With the Beatles

Poetry in motion

Poetry in motion

A little break from business this week with a superb poem produced by my friend Dr Reg Butterfield in Vienna using titles and lyrics from songs by The Beatles.  Reg has just written a free book about change and natural systems.  Contact him for a copy.

Dear Prudence

Do you want to know a secret

Ask me why

There’s a place

I should have known better

I don’t want to spoil the party

I’ve just seen a face

Tell me what you see

You won’t see me

What goes on

Here there and everywhere

I want to tell you

With a little help from my friends

All together now

We can work it out

Across the universe

Crying, waiting, hoping

Lonesome tears in my eyes

Ooh! My eyes

Ooh! My soul

How do you do it

You know what to do

All things must pass

I should have known better

I’m a loser

Contact Reg for your copy of “Change – A Personal view” by clicking the picture

Click to get a free copy of the book

Click to get a free copy of the book

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Box Set 7

Maybe I’m A Maze(d)

Maybe I'm A Maze(d)

Maybe I’m A Maze(d)

We’ve just completed the work surrounding the design and delivery of a Sales Conference for a major company in Ireland.  We had a wonderful time designing and delivering the conference and hope to return later in the year for another piece of work.

Our theme at the conference was navigating constraints to sales in a highly constrained business environment.  We have written on the subject of constraints and creativity before. I’ve had been hired to work through an ambitious sales plan for 2014 – 2015 and, after some initial diagnostic work, we came up with the idea of mazes, puzzles and games as a design principle for the event, since the client’s sales environment is itself complex, full of quicker or slower routes to sales and there are some ‘dead ends’, which are like a maze:

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 11.37.41

Navigating the sales maze

Design Thinking

In the event, we devised a number of ‘kinaesthetic puzzles’ to get people engaged and prepared for the business challenges.  The main experiences consisted of the design and testing of some puzzles / games / mazes made by participants, intended to teach other teams about particular constraints in a very powerful way and offer a forum for collective creative thinking and learning. I’m pleased to say that our unique brand of ‘serious fun’ was well received:

The feedback from all of our team has been fantastic with many quotes of ‘the best conference ever’ ringing down the phone lines for  the days following

Intelligent fun - using serious games to unlock complex business issues

Intelligent fun – using serious games to unlock complex business issues – This particular design was based on Snakes and Ladders

We also provided a toolkit of creativity strategies to supplement the team’s natural capabilities in this area.  One such skill is the concept of ‘combination’ as a spur to creating products and services that offer sustainable and hard to copy advantages.  This was introduced via a live seminar on the subject using rock music.  Here’s a short extract from the “Riffs and Myths of Creativity” seminar:

Business lessons

  • As Einstein said “You can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it”. Serious problems can sometimes be made worse by applying serious thinking to them.
  • By changing the frame of reference, sometimes you change the ease in which a problem can be tackled. This can be done in a variety of ways.
  • Good design thinking takes the client’s issue / problem / opportunity and then designs an intervention which models the topic, allowing space for new thinking, rather than ‘starting with the intervention and fitting the client’s topic to it. It’s a best-fit rather than a template approach to dealing with complex topics.
  • Even the most reserved people can be encouraged to play if it is serious play rather than just playfulness for it’s own sake. That said, this often works best if assisted by skilled and experienced facilitators.

Finally, here’s the song which inspired the title of this blog and a piece from the Irish legendary blues master Rory Gallagher for no particular reason other than it’s great:

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Box Set 7