Business Lessons from Music

Top of the Pops

Top of the Pops

I’m off to give a conference in Estonia today where I’ll be giving a run down of 10 top tips about business from the parallel universe of music.  To mark the occasion, here’s the first in a series of posts containing bite size tips about business from music.  I’ve reframed the song titles in a creative way, sometimes outrageously so, to suggest some enduring business tips taken from the world of music rather than the longer winded approach of the business school.  Take a look:

This is part of a book I’m releasing soon.  Drop me a line at peter@humdyn.co.uk for details.

TOTP

TOTP

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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.

The “F” Word – Leadership Lessons from Failure

This Saturday September 06 I am presenting at The Institute for Contemporary Music Performance on the subject of failure. It’s a word that managers fear, yet any successful leader or entrepreneur will usually have failed a few times if they are talking honestly about success. The lecture offers practical lessons about entrepreneurship, strategy, creativity, project planning, team leadership and execution of your strategy for people trying to do new things, via the medium of a case study. Before you ask, NOOO, it’s not your usual dull business case study!!  Read on and check out the full conference at ICMP

Failure and Success - The truth

Failure and Success – The truth

Some years ago, I sponsored an audacious plan to circumnavigate the world on a rock’n’roll tour, performing at the greatest venues on the planet and taking your audience with you. I invested nearly £50 000 of my life savings in order to help my friend John Otway to advance the enterprise forward. Alas, my involvement came too late and despite achieving a temporary turnaround in fortunes, it was not enough to recover the situation and I most the money and about 6 months effort in an attempt to help John realise his dream. I dubbed the project, “The Real Spinal Tap Tour”.  Take a look at the promo video for the tour to get a flavour of the ambition:

Like most business enterprises, the John Otway World Tour was a GREAT idea, poorly EXECUTED.  It is never enough to have a great idea in business. Meticulous execution skills are needed to bring the idea into existence and I will explore the successes, near misses and downright catastrophes that led to the eventual meltdown of the project.  To whet your appetite, here are a few stunning facts about the tour:

A comedy of errors...

A comedy of errors…

Our presentation is available in your company with parallel lessons for businesses. We are also available to help you avoid similar flights of fancy or to turn difficult corners in your own projects. For the moment, here is the magical moment that started John Otway’s career, when he fell off an amplifier on The Old Grey Whistle Test, injuring vital parts. This is a stunt which Otway has developed in his career ever since, including our performance at Pfizer:

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with the wisdom of the street via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE.

Directing HR

Sex, HR and Rock'n'Roll, a heady cocktail

Sex, HR and Rock’n’Roll, a heady cocktail

I was invited to give the afternoon keynote at the HR Directors Forum, held at Mayer Brown Solicitors in the City the other week.  Here’s a few highlights from the event:

Myths and Riffs of High Performance

The morning kicked off with a big bang from Professor Adrian Furnham, who elegantly blew away some myths surrounding the development of High Performance organisations and people.  Here’s just a few of the key insights:

Adrian released some interesting research on Coaching.  Whilst in general research demonstrates that the vast majority of Coaching is fairly ineffective, he highlighted some conditions under which it works.  Like most things, it all comes down to solid preparation:

  • Ensuring the client is ready to receive the coaching – 40% contribution
  • Getting the relationship right between client and coach – 30% contribution
  • Client expectation that coaching will lead to improvement – 15% contribution
  • The coaches’ repertoire of models / strategies and tools to help the client – 15% contribution

This provided me with great levels of satisfaction and a certain level of smugness!! :-) since I always spend a lot of time making sure my clients are fully prepared to benefit from coaching.  We then have an initial session to find out if the ‘chemistry’ will work and I work from a wide palette of approaches to coaching and not just the limited ‘question based approach’ that bedevils the ‘friendly co-pilot’ style of coaching, otherwise known as the ‘dumb leading the blind’.  There is of course a place for purely “Socratic” question based coaching but it is just one approach from a much wider repertoire.

Adrian also dealt a critical blow to the beloved “Nine Box Performance Management model” based on UCL’s detailed research into the model.  Read his new book “High Potential” with Ian MacRae for more insights if you want to do this stuff properly. Adrian also wrote an article on music and leadership for Psychology Today – read it here.

Nine Lives no more ...

Nine Lives no more … read High Potential by clicking on the picture

It also featured superb sessions from Liz Codd, who gave great insights into the realities of assessing leadership potential in an international Asset Management Firm and from John Renz at Novae Group, who also gave a practical example of how to do Coaching well in a business context, giving pragmatic triangulation to Professor Furnham’s ideas

Never Mind the Neuro-Boll … ks …

The most difficult session was an input on neuroscience and HR.  Admittedly, it was far too short to give any real opportunity to dig into the topic so I have some sympathy for the speaker.  My main difficulty with the session is that there was very little that did anything more than to reinforce some well known truths from over 100 years of social research on the topic by Herzberg, Victor Vroom et al. We already know that money doesn’t satisfy and that recognition is more important than reward.  We also know that the alignment of goals with personal motivations matters for high performance.  The speaker admitted that the addition of the word “neuro” to just about everything is simply an example of “old wine in new bottles”.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a scientist by original profession and neuroscience is an important scientific development, but I agreed with her that we must be careful to avoid strapping it on to just about everything.

Be skeptical when being sold neuro - bollocks

Be skeptical when being sold neuro – bollocks

I fought the Law, and the Law won …

Plus a superb session from a Lawyer – YES, a superb session from a Lawyer.  I have suffered the slings and arrows of numerous talks by lawyers when I was Branch Chair and Council Board Member for CIPD, but this was exceptional.  Clear, simple advice and insights from Chris Fisher at Mayer Brown into how companies can protect their intellectual property when people leave plus a range of other topics.

Sex, HR and Rock’n’Roll

The odd ball of the day was the panel session on “Sexism and the City”.  I am a vigorous advocate of diversity in every shape and form, having worked in a meritocracy at the Wellcome Foundation, a company who won four Nobel Prizes for it’s groundbreaking work in medicines for life threatening conditions.  In such a company, the work is much more important than politically correct quotas of black / white, straight / gay, able-bodied / disabled, male / female as a driving force for the selection and development of people.   As a result we had a genuine global village at the company and I found myself wondering whether the square mile was somehow still stuck in the 14th Century?  The session included a rant from a self-confessed “alpha female” who asked for a revolution to introduce female quotas in the City.  There is nothing less persuasive than a single issue protester with a ‘sandwich board’ so it was difficult to hear the sensible arguments that lay beneath it. However there were three other panel members who put forward wider arguments, beyond the outdated idea of bringing back quotas for women in senior positions which has failed over several generations.  After all, do we really think that just transplanting women without the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes into positions is likely to make them shine?  The thinking needs to go much further than this, more along the lines of Professor Charles Handy and Tom Peters’ thought leadership in this area.  Overall, the panel session was provocative and set me thinking about the issues, so it did succeed in its aim of livening up the session before lunch after a long morning.

Adaptation, Improvisation and Organisation

I was asked to deliver the after lunch keynote … where I was rather strangely introduced as “I met some bloke who mixes rock music and business the other week” to a series of slightly confused people who were expecting a thought leader and former CIPD Council Board member rather than a busker.  Oh well, that happens from time to time! :-)  The session went very well despite losing nearly 1/3 of the time available and with this strange beginning.  Here’s my slide deck on the substantial issues of adaptation, improvisation and organisation in HR.  Contact me to discuss the issues I raised or for a personal walkthrough of the talk, where we looked at personal creativity and is relationship to adaptive or learning companies.

We finish with the main title of my talk:

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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.

 

The Music of Chemistry

Newlands Octaves - a few 'dodgy notes' included

Newlands Octaves

Three fascinations have filled my life : Science, Business and Music. Creativity is the art and discipline of noticing connections between things and this prompted me to write a blog about the connections between music and chemistry.

It was Döbereiner that first noticed the idea of patterns of the elements and, in 1828, he proposed the notion that the elements could be classified into triads, based on their properties. It took 30 more years for French geologist de Chancourtois’ to develop the idea.  de Chancourtois’ organised the elements by their atomic weights and published his work in 1863. It’s most interesting to note that his ideas were largely ignored by scientific community as he used geological terms to describe his insight.

Lesson for Innovators:  Work in the language of your target audience!

In 1865, John Newland came up with his theory of octaves for the elements, organising the elements into groups of 8 and using music as a means of explaining his theories to the Chemical Society in 1866, who refused to publish his work, suggesting that it was frivolous

Lesson for Innovators:  Persist with your metaphors!

There were some flaws in Newland’s theory as some elements did not quite ‘fit’ the law of octaves. It took a few more years before Mendeleev produced the essential breakthrough of what we now consider the basis of the modern periodic table. So confident was Mendeleev of his theory that he left spaces in the table for elements that had yet to be invented.

Mendeleev's periodic table from 1871

Mendeleev’s periodic table from 1871

Lesson for Innovators:  Ensure your theories explain gaps in current knowledge!

These stories illustrates the powerful forces that can operate to prevent a new idea or concept from coming into being.  It points to the need for inventors and innovators to understand and navigate such barriers if breakthrough ideas are to come into being. They are also great examples of pattern spotting as a creative act, as per our article about using mazes and puzzles to solve complex business problems. You will find a few more references to popular science in the business book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll”:

Business mixed with music and a wink towards my science background

Business mixed with music and a wink towards my science background

Finally, a song that uses chemistry as the basis of its lyric. It’s the song “Bunsen Burner” by “Punk Idol and Two Hit Wonder” John Otway. I sponsored John’s round the world tour a few years back, losing my shirt on the enterprise. The tour was a massive failure in a comedy of errors on a par with “This is Spinal Tap” – It was a brilliant example of a superb idea which did not turn into innovation due to poor execution of the idea. I had been seduced into supporting John’s tour after helping him reach the Top 10 in the charts with Bunsen Burner – a song that John originally wrote to help his daughter pass her Chemistry O Levels.

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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.

Killing me softly – An interview with Roberta Flack

Killing me softly with her words - Miss Roberta Flack

Killing me softly with her words – Miss Roberta Flack – Photo by Adam Coxon, The Lowdown Magazine

It was an unexpected delight to be invited to interview Roberta Flack recently, still performing at 75 years of age with a beautiful singing voice, wit charm and experience well beyond X-Factor and American Idol wannabes.  Let’s begin with a brief reminder of that beautiful singing, writing, playing and performing talent:

 

Here’s some insights from our dialogue which went on well past the TV interview:

Roberta on Teaching and Learning

Flack started her career teaching music at schools and privately in Washington D.C.  Reflecting on this she said she had some wonderful opportunities compared with the other students.  Teachers would leave the room and say “Carry on Roberta”.  Asked about what qualities they thought she possessed to get this request, Roberta said in a typically self-effacing manner that she had a fairly big mouth!  This ignores all her other qualities: an articulate style; a passion for her subject (in her case all forms of music) and an ability to reach other people’s heads, hearts and souls.  These are all transferable qualities for great leaders in any field. Asked what she had learned through her life she learned to appreciate everything that came her way, even those songs that she knew she could not or would not sing.  At one point she accompanied aspiring opera singers on piano in Georgetown and she got to meet and meet John F Kennedy, who attended the club.  In the course of working there, Flack had to learn to play songs that she had never played.  Reflecting on this she said:

“As a musician, when you get an opportunity to learn something that you don’t know, and to really learn and play it and execute it well, is such a thrill”

There is a direct parallel here for leaders in any field.  As Tom Peters says, execution is everything.  That relies on deep learning, the so-called 10 000 hours effect as quoted by Malcolm Gladwell. Musicians are used to the idea of deep practice as are great leaders.  Check out the full interview here:

 

Transferable Lesson : To become a great learner, learn to teach and teach people to learn

Roberta on Creativity and Reinterpretation

Flack took on the awesome task of reinterpreting a selection of songs by The Beatles in 2012 – Let It Be Roberta, having lived nearby to and also become good friends with John Lennon many years before. Reinterpreting a canon of work of such magnificence presents the artist with an enormous challenge as to how faithful you remain to the original or whether to do something quite different with the songs, which are almost untouchable. Flack wisely chose to do something different with the material to stunning effect. Reflecting on this, Roberta said that, it helped to be a classically trained musician. She was taught by Hazel Harrison, a music teacher from Howard University who excelled in Bach and music of the Baroque period. Roberta said:

“If you can hold on to your love for playing the piano and play Bach this way, rather than playing it like Chopin or Mozart, you will have accomplished something”

So, Flack learned to sight read all the pieces that the opera singers wanted her to play and make the music come to life rather than just to read the notes on the paper.  She was also stretched all the time by people who asked her to modify the pieces at will.  This level of adaptive behaviour provided her will the skill to get inside the heart of the musician and interpret the piece for the singers she had before her.  Undoubtedly this learning was formative in terms of her ability to reinterpret The Beatles material whilst staying true to the heart of the music.

Transferable Lesson : Act from your heart to find your soul

Roberta on new Business models

We held a fascinating after interview chat about Prince and his recent decision to work again with Warner Brothers after 20 years of producing his music independently. Roberta acknowledged the difficulty of gaining funding for your work in the modern age. Off camera we had a long chat about money and artistry. In her own case she set up The Real Artist Symposium, a gathering creative artists who own their own work and have worked with her to help give them a platform for their work.  This is just one of a number of new funding models that have emerged. We recently commented on Bernie Torme’s Crowdfunding Experiment as another exemplar of innovation.  These models are also apparent in other fields, such as publishing, where downloading has democratised the creative process but also made it much harder for artists to earn a living from their art. Business people would do well to learn that if what you are doing isn’t working, do something different.

Transferable Lesson : If your business model is broken, find a new one rather than banging your head against the same wall

And finally, a beautiful rendition of “Killing Me Softly”:

 

The first time ever I met Roberta Flack

The first time ever I met Roberta Flack

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About the Writer:  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.

Sitting on the Docklands of the Bay

Last week, I hosted a very special event for a diverse select group of guests with my friend and colleague Matthew Green aboard his ship the MV Dana, moored at West India Quay, in the heart of London’s Docklands.  Our evening turned into a brainstorm of ideas for the boat potentially – a unique location / venue (just minutes away from the heart of London’s financial hub) – the obvious options being Executive Education, Meetings, Corporate Events, Media Interviews, Broadcasting etc. to individuals, groups and companies. Commenting on the event my friend Dr Andrew Sentance, former Monetary Policy Member at The Bank of England quipped:

“The evening was proof positive of the well known formula A x B = C

where A = Ageing rockers; B = Bottles of wine; and C = Creative ideas!”

Apologies to our attendees from HSBC and Credit Suisse who certainly don’t fall into the aging rockers bracket!!  Of course I like to believe that the creative ideas came out of our expert joint facilitation of the event and not just the wine!! :-)

Peter Credit Suisse

In the Navy – on the MV Dana, opposite Credit Suisse

The more provocative and inventive “C” answers were to use Dana as:

  1. The city’s equivalent of College Green, the media’s favoured location for interviews with the iconic backdrop of Canary wharf… given that there is no default location in Docklands for this currently
  2. To start a Pirate Radio / TV Station on the boat to broadcast to the financial community in the Canary Wharf area – calling it DLR – “Docklands Life Radio” or…???
  3. Exclusive Leadership events and Creativity and Innovation summits using our joint skills combined with the location
  4. To offer the venue as a unique environment for special meetings that require an offsite location with all the convenience of being connected to the corporate centre whilst being utterly private, secure and discrete (ideal for M&A negotiations, C level assessments / discussions)
  5. To develop an exclusive business networking club on the ship
  6. Use for photoshoots and other red letter days using the massive deck which could be used as a screen, a projection hub, perhaps even a giant whiteboard!
  7. An informal hub for writers, poets, toastmasters and painters to practice their arts & hone their skills, individually, or as group mentored sessions

Just imagine, sitting on the dock of the bay, just yards away from the office, but millions of miles away in terms of thought space …  One of the attendees wrote a delightful poem about the evening – check The Poet L’Oreal out at Launch Party.

Or, for something more lively:

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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.

Excellence in Thought Leadership, Coaching, Mentoring and Events in an exclusive location

Excellence in Thought Leadership, Coaching, Mentoring and Events in an exclusive location

 

HR Directors Rock in the City

I’m delighted to have been asked to provide the ‘after lunch’ slot at the HR In The City event on May 22 in London, organised by Leadenhall Consulting. Featuring a cast of star speakers and facilitators, led by Professor Adrian Furnham of UCL and author of 78 books on psychology at work:

The bill for the HR Director's forum

The bill for the HR Director’s forum

I have a special offer available as a speaker at the event.  Two free tickets for senior HR people working in the City.  Drop me a line at peter@humdyn.co.uk to claim one of these free places.  I’m also able to offer a discount to readers of this blog on the early bird booking fee for individuals and groups of people wishing to attend.

I’ll be delivering a thought provoking session about becoming a true learning company from the parallel universes of HR and Rock Music. Come along and find out more about what we can learn from Madonna, Prince, Nokia, First Direct, Radiohead and many more about adaptability and improvisation.

The HR Hall of Fame - From Bowie, The Beatles, Madge to Skoda, Nokia et al

The HR Hall of Fame – From Bowie, The Beatles, Madge to Skoda, Nokia et al

Finally some HR related pieces from Madonna on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Prince on Ethics and Systemic Thinking and an interview with Tim Smit, CEO of the Eden Project on Leadership:

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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.