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.

Funk’n’Soul – An exclusive interview with George Clinton

The Godfather of Psychedelic Funk jamming it out at Kentish Town

The Godfather of Psychedelic Funk jamming it out at Kentish Town

I had the extraordinary pleasure of conducting a film interview with George Clinton at The Forum in London recently. Check out the film further down this article. In case you are not familiar with the legend that is George Clinton, here is a brief bio below: George Clinton was the principal architect of the genre of music that has come to be known as P-Funk, via his ensembles Parliament and Funkadelic. He is cited as one of a triad of most influential innovators in funk music alongside James Brown and Sly Stone. His music fused diverse genres such as Motown, The Beatles, Soul, Psychedelia, Classical and many more. Clinton has influenced several generations of musicians since such as The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Prince, Primal Scream, LL Cool J, Digital Underground and Primus. He is widely cited as a major influence on the development of hip hop music. He ranks 2nd on the list of most widely sampled artists. What then can innovators in other fields learn from the CFO (Chief Funk Officer)?

Clinton on synthesis

Clinton is a synthesiser of musical genres, bending, breaking and sometimes smashing musical conventions as to what fits in to a particular genre of music. He loved The Beatles Sargent Pepper and could not see why this could not be fitted into soul and funk music. He loved Jimi Hendrix’s wild guitar playing and could not see why this should not be included into his music and so on. Unlike so many musicians that sit inside a genre, Clinton has been a fearless boundary crosser. This quality is a hallmark of great innovators, as much innovation comes from combination and synthesis of things which others do not see as fitting together. To do this requires not just a tolerance of mistakes but a positive passion for them.

Prince exemplifies the attitude behind synthesis:

“One time, George sends me a tape and says: You pee on it and send it back to me, and I’ll pee on it and we’ll see what we got”

Find out more in the film:

Clinton on dyads

There is a long history of creativity coming from the basic unit of two, or a dyad. In the music world good examples of diverse dyads are Lennon / Mc Cartney, Goffin / King, Simon and Garfunkel etc. In other walks of life we see the same, with James Watson / Francis Crick, who uncovered the structure of DNA; and Socrates / Plato. Often the dyad is successful because individual personality styles are different enough to induce what author and thinker Peter Senge calls “creative tension”. Bootsy Collins provided the essential element of difference / creative tension in George Clinton’s case although his ensembles also contained “engines of difference” by design.

Creativity can become more problematical when we get into large groups due to the complexities of communication that exists in such groups … but not with Mr Clinton …

Clinton on creativity and structure

George also breaks conventional rules of the rock / soul ensemble, which rarely consists of more than seven members, with Clinton sometimes having up to 40 people on stage. Paradoxically, such levels of freedom require an equivalent amount of musical structure / discipline, with musical leadership passing round the band and everyone paying extremely good attention to everyone else in order to deliver a seamless performance. The parallel at work is that you can work effectively in large teams if everyone is ‘in the groove’ and if all have excellent communication skills. It’s what George nonchalantly calls “Tag Team”. If only it were so easy to organise this for everyone else!

Clinton on business

George recently started a project called Flashlight 2013, to highlight the need for musicians, artists and songwriters to own the copyright on their music. This springs from a long history of artists being ripped off by the music business. George Clinton has long thought that musicians need to be more astute in business and finance and the Flashlight project aims to shine the light on some of the things that need to be put right in this area. I must agree, having noticed that artists can be their own worst enemies in this respect. They either dismiss business skills as unimportant or are not able or willing to do the basics in business. They simultaneously whinge about being ripped off by unscrupulous music industry managers. These elements are related of course, although some of my artist friends don’t see the connections, preferring to take the “victim” position …  Check out the Flashlight Page.

Click on the fist to stop exploitation

Click on the fist to stop exploitation

I was delighted to present George with a copy of my book “The Music of Business“, which draws out relevant parallels in business and music. I also passed him a copy of my song for Prince, which is raising money for a Children’s Hospice at the moment. I hope he likes it’s funky tones and cheeky words! To read more on close encounters with George and the mothership, read One Night Alone … with George Clinton and Prince. The Academy Awards video is also well worth a look:

Clinton on the future

George has a book and a new album “First You Gotta Shake The Gate” out in October. Check the website for more details of these as they emerge. If you have never seen the Godfather of P-Funk, then check this performance out at Montreux:

Special thanks to Lois Action of Urban Unlimited for making all the arrangements. To Lee Philips and his team for making the film and Linda Vanterpool for valuable assistance on the night to ensure that our Director did not expire due to his chest condition ! :-)

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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 07725 927585

Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution

Going way back in time to the point when I first started doing talks about business and music, here is my deeply ironic translation of the lyrics from The Beatles’ song “Revolution”, reset in the context of the management of change.  It is a great tale of the difference between vision and action.  I’ve set out the original lyrics first and my translations in bold italics!  Admittedly the new lyrics do not scan and that perhaps accounts for why Lennon did not use them …  In case you don’t know the song you young people, here’s a video clip:

VERSE 1

Say you wanna revolution, well, you know

So, you are an advocate of Business Process Re-engineering and radical change

We all wanna change the world

Yeh, that’s what the workers want – creative leadership

You tell me that it’s evolution, well you know

But then you come on with benchmarking and TQM, man

We all wanna change the world

Yeh, we need to reform the bureaucratic paradigm, man

But when you talk about destruction

But when you say we have to drop our existing products

Don’t you know you can count me out 

I’m not sure I wanna be on the project team 

Talkin' 'bout a Revolution

Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution

VERSE 2

You say you’ve got a real solution, well you know

You’ve seen Ricardo Semler and have swiped his vision

 We’d all love to see the plan

Intuition’s fine but I’m not a bloody mind reader 

You ask me for a contribution, well you know

Then you ask me to ‘buy in’ to something I can’t even see

We’re all doin’ what we can

Well, I’m trying but can’t you give me some clear goals? 

But if you want money from people with minds that hate

So if you want the ‘late majority’ to come on board 

All I can tell you brother is you’ll have to wait

You’ll have to do better than a mission statement! 

Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy

 VERSE 3

You say you’ve changed the constitution, well you know

You’ve rewritten the KPI’s and the reward strategy

We all wanna change your head

We all wanna change our jobs

You tell me it’s the institution, well you know 

You tell me now that it’s the ‘culture’ and IT systems

You’d better free your mind instead 

You’d better start modelling some change yourself!

But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao 

If you keep bringing in iconic examples of success

You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow 

Chaos theory predicts that we’ll build in further resistance to the change programme

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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.

Scrapyard Improvisation Challenge

How do you take a bunch of business people who have already done a full days work, enthuse them and, in just two hours, get them to write and perform some original songs followed by engaging them in a live open mic jam session? Well, some of that is “our little secret” at The Academy of Rock. But this post let’s you take a peek inside our approach to team development with music, which was judged as outstanding by one of our clients just recently.

The other week, I took the superb band Masterclass to London for an evening of music composition and fun with a market analysis agency whose HR Director prefers to give their staff ‘memorable experiences’ rather than training to engage, retain and motivate them. Alongside a diet of giving them a chance to actually play with the band, we also provided a ‘Scrapyard Challenge’, whereby we provided participants with a range of naive instruments that I got from a car scrapyard. This helps people escape from notions of what a musical instrument is and who is qualified to play one ….

Some of the scrapyard items we used

From the scrapyard to the stage

In the event, the scrapyard was barely needed. Instead we found an enormously talented bunch of people at the company.  A superb female bass player, several female drummers and singers.  Oh yes, and a few guys that got into the groove! So, how did we do this in such a short time from a standing start is perhaps a good question. Here’s our operating principles for doing amazing things in a short time:

Principles for Spontaneous Combustion

Install positive hallucinations – I learned many years ago through teaching MBA’s for the Open University that the first lesson one needs to teach people is to install the idea that success is possible. Many of my OU students would arrive having failed at school and it was necessary to ‘overwrite’ those assumptions before we could get on with the work.

Lead people to the water, but don’t make them drink – A lot of people think I make people do this or force people to participate. In fact I’ve seen people try to emulate what we do and fail miserably. No-one is made to do anything they don’t want to at our events, which is one of the secrets. This sounds like a really simple idea but it works, suitably led and facilitated and with suitable safeguards installed at the outset.

Choice, Choice, Choice - We always bring much more equipment than is really needed. But this provides choice for people and allows them to engage at a level of their own choosing.

Work inside the client / customer’s wish list – During the ‘aftershow jam session’ we took requests from the floor and then worked the songs up with the people. This is only possible if you have an enormous repertoire and was the main reason I chose Masterclass for this event. Involvement and participation breeds engagement. In the event, we ended up playing a whole hour longer than our agreed time with the company, after which time they still wanted more.

Girls Are Loud - Musical Talent emerges

Girls Are Loud – Musical Talent emerges if you let it happen …

The Masterclass boys

The Masterclass boys

A master of improvisation - We can also bring celebrities to events if required

A master of improvisation – We can also bring celebrities to events if required

We’ve done similar things for a wide range of companies and organisations. To arrange your next staff engagement or conference event with a big difference, please get in touch. Watch out for an exclusive interview with a master of improvisation and creativity – Mr George Clinton, pictured above – coming soon.

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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 07725 927585

Hard Rock Heaven

Wednesday 29th October is a red letter day in my calendar as I have the great honour of playing a song at London’s Borderline with Bernie Tormé, former guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, Atomic Rooster, Dee Snider and Ian Gillan. I’d be delighted to see some of you along at the gig and tickets are still available via Hard Rock at The Borderline.

Bernie funded the project through a crowdfunding approach and the project also donates money to a Teenage Cancer Trust. It just now needs to reach Bernie’s own personal target of 666% – the number of the beast! There are still just 6 days, 6 hours and 6 minutes to support the project. Bernie is offering a host of exclusive items in return for your support:

  • Guitar masterclasses in person or via SKYPE
  • An acoustic gig in your own house
  • VIP meet and greet at any one of his UK tour dates
  • Signed copies of the new album plus boxed set of catch up albums
  • The Fender Stratocaster that Ozzy Osbourne gave him

… and a number of other stunning offers.  Please check out the project via Monster of Rock – Bernie Tormé.

666 - the number of the beast ... still available to buy

666 – the number of the beast … still available to buy

 

Performing with someone of this magnitude throws up a number of issues regarding how you learn to work with a team when there is no opportunity for practice. This presents a huge potential risk for Bernie as it is his reputation on the line. But he need not worry ….  here is my list of transferable tips for high performance, be it hard rock heaven or hard work hell:

Tips for Spontaneous Combustion

Do the hard graft – Learn your piece inside out, forwards, backwards and then forget that you learned it – I’ve been allowed to suggest the tune we’ll play – Probably Manic Depression by Jimi Hendrix or something similar.  I chose this as I know Bernie loves Hendrix and it is sufficiently fluid to allow us to stretch out a little on the song. Check it out:

Understand the rules of engagement – In this case that means understanding how musical leadership passes around the band if we are to jam a little and keep things together.  I’ll have just a little time to study this at the sound check or maybe at Bernie’s garden party, to find out if it is the drummer who signals the end or Bernie himself and other matters of a practical nature.

Bernie - Peter Fire

Hire Bernie to come to your company and give a talk / play some music – we promise not to spontaneously combust anything unless you have asked in advance for it ….

Read the signs and signals – I’ve seen Bernie play before and worked with him at Corporate Functions, so we already have some understanding of our body language when communicating with the rest of the  band, re turn taking, stops, starts, finishes and so on. It’s very important to be emotionally intelligent when working with people in this way, not just living inside your own head but reading people around you. Music is such a good training ground for this – much better than management courses etc. as there is no rehearsal on stage.

Push the stop button – If you lose your way, just stop playing or turn the volume off. There are 3 other people playing who actually know what they are doing and the safety strap is to let them do just that if needed.

So, I’d love to see you at the gig on October 29th.  I have one spare ticket available in exchange for some assistance with getting to the gig from Kent and possibly a bit of filming on the night – contact me for details.

Tickets selling out fast - click the picture to buy yours now

Tickets selling out fast – click the picture to buy yours now whilst you can

To finish, here’s an example of jamming we did with cult punk rocker and two hit wonder John Otway at a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) event at Brands Hatch – in this case, the band learned all his songs and then John joined us on the day itself.  We played half of one song and half or another and then John decided that we knew what we were doing …

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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.

Hospice appeal 2014

Today marks the release of my tribute to Prince for Demelza House Hospice.  Please download the track from Bandcamp, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon etc. Set in a Funk groove “What U C Is What U Get” tells a fictional story of a strange relationship between Prince and someone from another galaxy … Warning – the song contains an explicit lyric – I have produced a ‘bleeped’ version for more sensitive ears!  It has been well received by the Prince fanbase with a full feature in The bizzniz. I’m pretty sure some will love it and others will hate it due to the various nods and winks towards the master himself. We shall see.

.. it's all right, it's for a worthy cause ...

.. it’s all right, it’s for a worthy cause … Click to donate

 

Below are the various links to purchase. The Bandcamp option is especially interesting, as it includes our exclusive “BUY IT DEARER” option – No Amazon or iTunes fees and we’re donating a full £2.49 per copy to the Hospice, so if you are feeling generous, click on the picture to buy now.

BUY IT DEARER ON BANDCAMP and give more to the Hospice - no Amazon or iTunes fees

CLICK logo to BUY IT DEARER on BANDCAMP and give more to the Hospice – no Amazon or iTunes fees !!

Click to buy on Amazon

Click logo to buy on Amazon

Click icon to buy on Google Play Music

Click icon to buy on Google Play Music

Click on the icon to buy on iTunes

As I mentioned, I also produced a ‘bleeped version’ of the song for those who prefer not to hear the expletive in the chorus!!  So, you can BUY IT CLEAN OR DIRTY ! :-)  Can I count on your support?  Please share this blog and the links to the various places to buy.  It’s for a very good cause and we may just have a hit on our hands.  Do something remarkable for a great cause which gets no support from Government.

Censored version - Click to buy

Censored version – Click logo to buy bleeped version on Bandcamp

Artwork by Simon Heath - Twitter @SimonHeath1

Artwork by Simon Heath – Twitter @SimonHeath1

To help you decide which versions to buy, here’s the lyrics from the song and an audio sample of the track from our first Radio play on the the Thirst 4 Funk show:

And a radio interview with Salford City Radio:

UPDATE – One person donated £25 to the Hospice via the Bandcamp option – thank you so much.  As I write this update, the song has hit #3000 on Amazon – will it reach #1?  Yes, with your help via purchases, shares, reviews and so on.  Everything helps!!

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 00.39.36

Amazon chart score – Buy it now

Practice Makes Perfect

La Bohème

La Boheme

I attended a performance of La Bohème at London’s Albert Hall earlier this year.  Aside from the usual operatic story of romance, sex, drugs, rock’n’roll disease and death, I was struck by the preparation as the orchestra painstakingly practised their art before the performance began, although they had doubtless invested more than 10 000 hours of practice before this concert in mastering their instruments. Here’s a very short snippet of the warm up and what appears to be a cacophony:

Transferable Lessons:

  1. Professionals practice, amateurs try to wing it.  Even on pieces that they are familiar with, professionals warm themselves up. This is exactly the same when giving a keynote address or presentation in my experience.  Preparation is everything!
  2. Before a concert performance, individuals practice their own pieces in the main. This requires them to effectively shutdown their hearing and concentrate on their own performance. Once the performance starts, they need to hear their own performance and the rest of the orchestra. Listening to your own performance solo and to your performance in the context of those around you are distinctly different skill sets in my experience and are the hallmark of masters of their craft.
  3. The performers must also be untroubled by the audience talking etc.  So this is a selective type of hearing and deafness, what I call “listening through” rather than “listening to“.

These are the abilities of an emotionally intelligent person.  Someone who is a master of their own skill and who has the ability to tune in (or out) of what is going on around them.  Here’s our interpretation of a model that sums up the work of Daniel Goleman et al. on the topic.  Great leaders and great musicians share the skill of emotional intelligence.  What I call being a master of both inner and outer space.  For more on this take a peek at the book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll“.

We’ll be practising these skills at a corporate improvisation session in London this week with “Masterclass“.  get in touch if you would like to witness one of these in action.

Screen Shot 2014-07-05 at 17.51.52

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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