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.

TMOB Udemy ONLINE

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

Prince + 3rd Eye Girl – 1+1+1 = 7

Screen Shot 2014-02-14 at 20.32.29

In 2007, I read somewhere that Prince said he would never return to UK after his 21 nights at the O2 Arena and Indigo2.  This converted me from a great admirer to an almost manic obsessive in my attempts to take in some last views of this amazing talent.  Needless to say this was a bit like the “last tour” by The Who and he has returned to the UK since.  It’s a well tried marketing trick and I fell for it, in the words of The Who’s song “Won’t get fooled again”, I did.  But I never thought I would get to see a Prince concert in such as small venue as the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, last Sunday 9th February, having met the amazing George Clinton the night before.  I’ve just returned from another 7 hour queuing marathon at Camden’s Koko, an amazing show, featuring Lianne De Havas and Prince continues to play into the night as I revise this post.

I should Koko ...

I should Koko …

For those who are not so aware of the continuous twists and turns of Prince’s career, he has stripped down his big funky band with horns and keyboards and now has a tight all female four-piece rock band called 3rdeyegirl.  Prince has always been unusual in the music business, in so far that he runs a meritocracy and truly values diversity within his band lineups.  You can read my previous posts on Prince on this blog.

Prince-3rdEyeGirl

I had some trepidation as I love Prince’s extended jazz funk jams but I need not have worried. This band is hot, hot, hot. Check this 3rdeyegirl version of “I like it there” from the actual night itself – Move over Jimi Hendrix, Prince is in town:

PR, Marketing and Social Media Lessons from Prince

The build up to the first few gigs has some important marketing and PR lessons for all.  Prince had gone on the record in saying that his shows would cost no more that $10 when he first arrived in the UK in February.  On the day of the Shepherd’s Bush gig an announcement was made that the price would be £70.  This produced an unusual social media phenomenon, as two guys from South East London made cardboard placards to remind Prince of his promise and wandered up and down the queue gathering interest. The #10PoundPrince hashtag quickly got picked up on Twitter and, four hours later, Prince had bowed to audience pressure to honour the £10 price.  Later on, a press release said that it had always been the intention to lower the price to £10, yet I have a ticket which boldly states £70.  Proof positive that people in the internet age will find ways to hold the mirror up to remind you of your promises – in this case a cardboard mirror, accelerated by Twitter ! :-)  Here’s the two social media revolutionaries in action:

Prince and The Revolutionaries

Prince and The Revolutionaries

That said, £10 is clearly unsustainable for the smaller to medium sized venues that Prince wants to play and the number of people required to staff such events.  Since Shepherd’s Bush, Prince has not played at all this week until Friday and now three shows tonight at Koko.  I suspect one of the problems behind the scenes has been either to find venues that would accept low ticket prices or to ‘manage the fans’ expectations’ of a realistic price for an evening of this scale. Prince’s manager Kiran Sharma carefully tested the mood of the fanbase on Thursday with this tweet and reset their expectation in a single move:

Online PR and customer expectation management in action

Online PR and customer expectation management in action

The Old Bull and Shepherd’s Bush

Anyway, what was it like?  Well, at Shepherd’s Bush, we started with some completely reworked, refried and refunked versions of some classics and a great selection of new material from the forthcoming album.  In particular I really enjoyed the slowed down R&B grooves of “Let’s go crazy”, “She’s Always in my hair” and “I could never take the place of ur man” alongside the new material. I’ve often said that Prince is “Jimi Hendrix with better lighting and tuning”, but of course, like Hendrix, he is also an absorber and synthesiser of genres, from James Brown and Little Richard to Wes Montgomery and Kate Bush.  He also shares a similar Myers Briggs type with Mr Hendrix, reckoned to be somewhere in the region INFP, although there are many arguments around this. His spiritual Godfather and almost polar MBTI opposite was  up the the balcony, Mr George Clinton, who I’d met at a private function the night before.  I think this must have given Prince an extra endorphin injection.  Check out “She’s always in my hair” slowed down and souled up:

We got a piano segue of a whole string of Prince hits (well, he has got too many of them really :-), from “Diamonds and Pearls”, “How come u don’t call me any more”, “Adore” etc. and “The Beautiful Ones“, which my wife and I chose as our first wedding dance, sending shivers down my spine.  We also got an electronica work out using some of Prince’s iconic samples from songs such as “Sign O’ The Times” and an extended jam with a Prince bass solo on “Forever in my life”. The whole set list from Shepherd’s Bush is below.

39 songs on a one nite stand

39 songs on a one nite stand

3 performances on a 1 nite stand – I should Koko!

We got a slightly reduced set tonight as Prince boldly decided to perform 3 shows at 7 pm, 10 pm and 1 am!!  It looked like there were some technical issues at the start of the first show as staff ran on and off stage meticulously checking things, with gaffa tape in sight.  This meant that the first show had to be reduced in length a little.  Prince handled this very well, when people refused to go, saying “Share and share alike” – This man has emotional intelligence oozing out of every pore of his body.

The set list at Koko in Camden - 1st performance

The set list at Koko in Camden – 1st performance

In terms of lessons for anyone else in professional life, what Prince does is to blend absolute control freakery with the ability to change direction at a moment’s notice.  The band rehearse a repertoire of 300 songs giving them the flexibility to adapt and jam.  I wrote about this in the books “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and “The Music of Business”.  I was delighted to be able to pass a copy of “The Music of Business” for Prince with his article in it – see this extract and e-mail me for a free copy of the full article at peter@humdyn.co.uk

The 3S model - Symbols, Signs and Sex

The 3S model – Symbols, Signs and Sex

Well, what more can one say?  I first wrote this blog, having missed the Prince event in Kings Cross , yet another completely different manifestation of this multi-talented, enigmatic and sometimes frustrating artist – an acoustic evening plus Q&A session and an all-eclectic aftershow. Today I went in search of Prince for further teachings in the art of improvisation and high performance and was rewarded with ticket No 331 and another great performance which makes you feel good to be alive.  Prince and I are both 55 and, as he said tonight:

Music is Medicine

I have certainly been healed and trained in a masterclass on flexibility, creativity, authenticity, an ecology of the mind and body and much more. Prince is rumoured to be playing Ronnie Scotts Monday 17 Feb and then Manchester at the end of the week.

This is how Prince sneaks into the venue - in a box - but the symbol is a dead giveaway ...

This is how Prince sneaks into the venue – in a box – but the symbol is a dead giveaway …

Can you imagine being this close to a performer who has been compared to Mozart?

Can you imagine being this close to a performer who has been compared to Mozart?

For now, let’s end with some more 3rdeyegirl – You must see this band while they are in UK.

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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. E-mail me for a free copy of the Prince chapter – Just send PRINCE to peter@humdyn.co.uk or contact direct via +44 (0) 7725 927585. Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Never mind the usual fare on business – This is the real deal

One Nite Alone … with George Clinton and Prince

I was privileged and astonished to be invited to a private event for 35 people with George Clinton, the inventor of P-Funk, Funkadelic, Parliament, whose influence has transcended generations, musical genres, class, creed and credentials.  With influences spreading from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers to Joss Stone.  Thank you so much to Lois Acton at Urban Unlimited for the invite.

I’d caught the train up to Shoreditch House in Bethnal Green on Saturday – the first time I’d ever been to Bethnal Green, although I quoted it in my spoof hard rock song on economics Fiscal Cliff, so there was a piece of serendipity!  I was expecting a huge venue with a massive audience.  Imagine my surprise when I was standing in the foyer with 4 others and Mr C comes in and casually remarks “Prince – what a great T Shirt” whilst shaking my hand.

George Clinton - Godfather of Funk, Soul, Psychedelia

George Clinton – Godfather of Funk, Soul, Psychedelia

At the start of the session, the interviewer asked if Mr Clinton was from another planet and he reassured us that he was certain that he was not sure …  as I have said on many occasions, truly creative people are better at ambiguity tolerance than most mortal souls!

Quite a few people wanted to know what the ‘recipe for fusion’ was and it became clear that George was simply an intuitive learner who ‘felt things and followed the direction’.  Perhaps that is the lesson from mastery of an art – being able to follow where the path leads.  He said on more than one occasion that he watched what Sly Stone was doing, where Jimi Hendrix and James Brown was going musically and so on and just felt that a fusion of these genres was possible, which became the P-Funk genre, a totally unique brand of music.  Coming ‘late to the party’ was clearly an advantage in terms of surveying emergent forms of music and being able to comprehend it all through being a songwriter for major labels.  Let’s hear Mr Clinton to get in the groove:

I asked George about the value of happy accidents in fusing musical genres and he replied with a detailed story about a day in the studio when he had laid down a drum pattern but somehow the studio engineer had reversed the loop on a tape machine in the same way as Prince subsequently used backward drum tracks.  George was trying to talk with the engineer but for some reason could not be heard, so he just started singing some ‘nonsense’ words about a ‘man and a dog’, expecting the engineer to eventually reverse the tape loop and for a key to come up to.  He did not do so and he kept on singing.  Eventually he realised that he had just created “Atomic Dog”.  We have discussed the value of serendipity on The Music of Business Linkedin group – please join to learn more.  Here’s the track:

Someone else asked him what album he wished he had recorded and he said “Sargent Pepper” – a real surprise, but perhaps not when you consider the production values that Mr Clinton has applied to his songs.  Asked about these he related a story about engineers being unwilling to say they had produced his records, due to George pushing recording levels way beyond the point at which normal recording conventions allowed, sometimes just using the repeat of a sample rather than the original recording as the main groove.  The only rule being to break rules and follow your intuition when you find something cool to jam on

I saw George again at a Prince gig tonight as I write this on the train.  Needless to say the concert was better than sex.  I will write more on this soon.  Suffice to say, I have not slept that much tonight after a two and a half hour set and 40 songs at Shepherd’s Bush Empire.  Let’s hear what Prince has to say about the teacher:

Mr Clinton with Lois

Mr Clinton with Lois

George Clinton… May the funk remain with u until the dawn …  He has a new album out soon at George Clinton.

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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.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Box Set 7

Jamming in New York City

Here’s a link to a Radio interview we did with Dr Jackie Modeste and Dr Wesley J Watkins on Trading Fours on the theme of improvisation and innovation.  Just click the picture to listen in.

Click to listen to the radio show

Click to listen to the radio show

Here’s what Dr Modeste had to say about the interview highlights via Twitter:

  • Musicians understand the value of continuous practice to master their art.  In business we are often satisfied with one day’s CPD (Continuous Professional Development) per year.
  • Disruptive innovation can come from the marketplace in a wired world, with customers setting challenges for businesses that get stuck in a rut.
  • Failure to spot disruptive innovation can be life limiting for businesses.  Witness the examples of Sony and Kodak in the interview.
  • Musicians are often great storytellers.  In business we need to get better at getting everyone to put themselves into the company’s story, rather than trying to impose our own fairy tale on staff.

Thanks to Jackie and Wes for an engaging dialogue, which was unplanned and therefore more surprising and enjoyable for that.

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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.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

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Desperately Seeking Bankers Who ROCK

Here’s a piece of recent press attention in The Evening Standard on a project I’m working on with Dr Andrew Sentance, former Monetary Policy Committee member at the Bank of England:

In the City - With Andrew Sentance

In the City – With Andrew Sentance

So, we’re looking out for City business people (Bankers, Tinkers, Tailors and so on -:) who play an instrument and would like to participate in an open mic music jam sessione.  We are also looking for a venue in the City to do this amazing event and anyone who might want to help with lighting, PA and so on.  How will this work I hear you asking?

  • We’ll supply a backline of equipment and some great musicians to support the evening
  • I will be bringing my bass playing friend John Howitt, who is a session musician who has played with Anastasia, Celine Dion and Shirley Bassey and a great drummer.  I’m sure Andrew will also bring some muso friends
  • We will work up a set list of songs that people might like to play in advance but the evening will also be open to more spontaneous contributions.  If individuals want to replace one or more of the backline members that’s fine or they can just add themselves as a soloist
  • We’re looking to do this easily in Spring to give time for a little bit of mental preparation and incubation

Any questions?  Get in touch.  For those about to rock the Bank of England, we salute you!!

In the spirit of the event, here’s one of the contenders for the performance:

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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.  Check out our online Business and Music programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

The bookshelf

Improvisation and Innovation

Just back from Northampton having delivered a keynote on the topic of improvisation and innovation.  I’m pleased to say that there was a great deal of interest in the topic and the question many people ask me is “How do you plan to improvise?”  Indeed one can plan to improvise – in the words of Paul Simon:

“Improvisation is too important to be left to chance”

Before we get started, have a listen to a piece of music I wrote and recorded, which was conceived and created pretty much entirely through improvisation.  Initially working alone and then involving my friend and musical collaborator John Howitt, a session musician who has worked with Celine Dion, Shirley Bassey, Anastasia et al.

Somewhat strangely, improvisation relies on discipline if something is to emerge from the process.  I’ve summarised some of the principles that I apply when creating from scratch and their parallels in business:

Parallels between improvisation and innovation in music and business

Parallels between improvisation and innovation in music and business

Improvisation is not confined to music.  It operates in all other artforms, including photography.  We finish with the work of Allisdhair McNuall, improvising photographic artist at Incubation Arts and Ambient Vistas.  Allisdhair uses ambient scenery as his inspiration with natural adjustments of his camera to “make the familiar strange”.  There is no PhotoShop here.  Allisdhair says in true improvisational form “I stumbled across the technique quite by accident and it continues to develop (no pun intended) with each shot I take”.  Allisdhair also provides some subtle backdrops to the table above.

Ambient Vistas

Ambient Vistas

Distant Realms

Distant Realms

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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.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Coincidences, Complexities and Creativity

I have just been hired to deliver a conference keynote and an innovation summit in Dublin. The booking came about whilst having some drinks with an Irish chap in Amsterdam who knows the taxi driver that took me from Knock Airport to Westport in Ireland back in March. Had I been like Van Morrison, who never talks to taxi drivers, none of this would have happened. That’s the power of networking and coincidences.

The series of coincidences I’ve just mentioned is statistically unlikely.  Importantly if any single one of them had not occurred then the result would not have happened.  Does that come down to dumb luck?  I think not.  Let’s take a quick look at what the gurus say on the subject:

Luck, Sweat and Tears

Luck, Sweat and Tears

So, I’m suggesting that planning to be lucky is more effective than pure luck.  How then was there some kind of plan in my lucky story?  Well, it all started about 6 years ago, when I did a creativity programme for Pfizer down in Cork. The programme was very successful in so far that it produced a new synthetic route for a drug substance, which paid for the investment many many times over.  More importantly, the programme was adopted by the company and one of its staff has become an acknowledged expert in the topic, having taken the approach to the US and beyond.  What has this got to do with the taxi driver?  Well the head of the unit referred my work to a colleague in Allergan in Westport who asked me to join a conference call to discuss the need.  I offered to travel to Westport to undertake a proper diagnosis, which led to the taxi ride with Simon Moran.  Simon and I hit it off instantly and got talking about all manner of business opportunities.  I subsequently gained another project from a further referral to another pharmaceutical company, which prompted yet another company to hire me for the project in Amsterdam and the rest you know.  Networking works when the ‘dots’ join up.  In this case, this particular sequence took over six years to come to fruition.  When people tell me that networking does not work, it occurs to me that (a) you have to do enough of it for connectivity to occur and (b) people are impatient and do not act consistently over time.

To have more happy coincidences from complex business affairs:

  • See all interactions as potential networking opportunities, even those that seem outside your business interests
  • Have enough interactions to ensure that coincidences occur.  Networking is partly a numbers game
  • Ensure that each interaction is of sufficient quality for people to remember it.  Successful networking relies on both quality as well as quantity

To finish, here’s a song from Elvis Costello about accidents:

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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.  Check out our online Business and Music programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

The bookshelf

Nigel Kennedy

Champagne Supernova - with Nigel Kennedy

Champagne Supernova – with Nigel Kennedy

I went to see Nigel Kennedy the other week at a concert celebrating the work of composers that filled his early years, from Bach to Fats Domino.  Featuring a simple four piece of virtuoso musicians from Poland I had the great pleasure of meeting Nigel after the show where I presented him with a copy of “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and was offered  drinks with him.  He was astonished that I’d noticed a cheeky and subtle reference to the blues harmonica within the 90 minute performance (probably just a couple of seconds of playing – two notes slurred together and made to sound exactly like a blues harp player within one of his classical pieces) As a result, he immediately recognised that I was a musician from my observation.

So, what did I learn from Nigel Kennedy?

Nigel the man

Authentic to the core : Kennedy faced threats at the age of 16 from his classical tutors when he was offered the chance to play with Stéphane Grappelli at New York’s Carnegie Hall.  He refused to heed the threats and crossed the line between the classics and jazz. He has also played material by Jimi Hendrix and The Doors giving the establishment a run for their money.  A thoroughly warm and authentic individual that refuses to be classified by others.  The mark of a true leader – what Rosabeth Moss-Kanter termed a ‘boundary crosser’.

Nigel and the band

Kennedy works with a trio of musicians who he met in jazz jam sessions in his home town of Krakow.  Just watching the band work through his set was a exemplar of what I call “planned spontaneity”.

Simplicity : The drummer used one snare drum for much of the performance, using every part of the instrument and his hands to gain an enormous range of sounds from one drum.  The work of a true master.

Interplay : Although it was obvious that the show had been extensively rehearsed, the true joy of the performance was when Nigel signalled the guitar player to extend his solos, when there were ‘interruptions’ of the performance by Nigel interrupting the drummer and bass player.  Difficult to describe in print so you must catch him and the band on tour.

Timing : The band have exquisite timing, and this allows them to perform various musical acrobatics.  The result of a combination of individual genius and the 10 000 hours effect.  Just take a look at this for an example:

Teamwork : Given the size of the egos, the miracle of this ensemble is that all manage to leave their egos in the dressing room, playing off one another in a true example of what can happen of how healthy competition leads to peak performance.

Nigel_Kennedy_and_the_SSO_Nigel_plays_Jimi_Hendrix_event

Never mind the boll…ks – Nigel Kennedy – a true boundary crosser

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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.  Check out our online Business and Music programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Demelza Children’s Hospice Appeal – an update

I’m delighted to say that we raised nearly £1000 in combined donations from the Charity Night in support of Demelza House Children’s Hospice.  There’s still an opportunity to donate via the Demelza Website.  Superb work on the part of Steve Lamey of Angel Trains who initiated the event and with grateful thanks to the band Masterclass, who worked with me tirelessly to ensure everyone was engaged.  We had a stage invasion from a load of kids, some air guitar competitions and a ceremonial destruction of a guitar in the style of Jimi Hendrix.  Here’s some of the photos:

If the kids are united ....

If the kids are united ….

Girls Aloud : About to sacrifice a guitar

Girls Aloud : About to sacrifice a guitar

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Bad hair day

The X Factor

The X Factor

Please just give to the charity to make a difference for children who need it – Just click on the picture to go to the Demelza Hospice Charity Website

So, a big thanks to all that contributed, helped to arrange the evening and who donated to the charity. I have some plans to collaborate with Masterclass again in the corporate world at some conferences coming up early in 2014. Watch this space.

We’re donating all profits from our song Fiscal Cliff to Demelza.  Watch the video then download the track from iTunes, Google Play, Amazon etc.

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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