Alive and Kicking

In recent weeks, I’ve been doing a number of live book launch events, some shorter, others longer.  I’ve attached the slide deck from one of these and have expanded on some of the points in the slides below

AC / DC and Strategy

1. AC / DC have surpassed their peers by ‘sticking to the knitting’ – developing a strong brand and reinforcing it through everything they do.  They have not ‘crossed genres’, wandering into hip hop or jazz fusion.  It’s rare for businesses and individuals to be able to keep doing the same thing and keep their customers in the current age.

2. When they have changed, they have built a strong bridge between the future and the past, which has allowed them to keep their audience and gain new followers.  This is a very transferable lesson for businesses and individuals.

Deep Purple, Creativity and Innovation

3. Innovation needs discipline and structure.  People think that creativity is enough for innovation to take place, but it takes discipline and structure to execute an idea.  We see this on stage when Deep Purple were jamming.

4. Innovative teams require strong leadership.  Deep Purple nearly imploded on many occasions due to creative tensions between the band members.

The Beatles and Creativity

5. Find ways to listen to ideas that seem ‘dissonant’ to currently accepted views.  The Beatles were masters of bringing outside influences into the world of pop music.

6. Delay evaluation of ideas for as long as reasonable, so that you can put distance between the novelty and a sober evaluation of the potential feasibility and impact of an idea.

7. Requisite diversity is essential if you are to have an innovative business.  Find ways to resolve tensions that build up by putting different people together, but resist attempts to sidestep conflict.  The creative leader utilises the tension between opposites whilst maintaining a focus on the goal.  The Beatles are an excellent example of this.

Lady Gaga and Innovation

8. Innovate within the familiar range of the customer’s expectation for maximum early impact.  Build on that for long-term sustainability.  Gaga has cleverly built her music on the firm foundations of Madonna and her peers.

9. Stand on the shoulders of giants if you want to innovate.  Be a genuine learning organisation if you want to stay in business for the long term.  What will be interesting is to see what Gaga does next, having established world domination.

10. Use innovative partnerships and joint ventures to enlarge your market share in ways that benefit all.  Choose your partners wisely and in ways that provide genuine win-win benefits.

For more detail on these points, mail me for your copy of The Music of Business.  Tomorrow, I give the final keynote at a large Pharmaceutical Conference – my title is “Innovation Lessons from the Past, Present and Future“.  If you want to perk up your next meeting, conference or keynote with a healthy blend of business thinking plus live demonstrations and the engagement that comes from live participation, give us a call on 07725 927585 or via e-mail peter@humdyn.co.uk

We finish with the title of this blog:

Heavy Metal Business – Four Symbols

Heavy metal explained by schoolkids

Four Symbols – Heavy metal explained by school kids

Heavy Metal.  You either love it or hate it.  Nonetheless it has an awesome power from the sheer volume and deathly riffs that lurk within the genre.  Perhaps one of the most doom laden riffs of all time comes from Black Sabbath via the title song of their album Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, particularly the riff towards the end of the song (3 minutes 17 seconds on), which competes with Uranium, weighing in at 238 units on the ‘heavy metal’ scale in the Periodic Table.

Heavy metal sounds different to pop music and a quick musical note explains why.  Heavy Metal tends to employ modal scales, in particular the Aeolian and Phrygian modes rather than the upbeat scales favoured in pop songs (Doh-Ray-Me-Far-So-La-Te-Doh, with third part harmonies such as those used in songs by The Beatles, Abba etc.).  Although heavy metal has its critics, it has been argued that heavy metal has the most in common with classical music, especially Bach, Wagner and Vivaldi through the influence of Ritchie Blackmore, Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen etc.

As if to illustrate the point, take a listen to Love Sculpture, featuring Dave Edmunds, doing Khachaturian’s ‘Sabre Dance’ in 1968, containing many of the modal scales I mentioned above:

Music theory aside, what can we learn about business from Heavy Metal bands?

From Deep Purple, we get the insight that innovation in business requires discipline as much as it does creativity.

From Led Zeppelin and Peter Grant, we get the insight that, if the industry norms are killing your business opportunity, change the industry norms.

From Black Sabbath, we get the insight that limitations can assist creativity.

From Spinal Tap, we learn that plans are nothing if execution is poor.

Much more on this in The Music of Business, which launches on 31 1 13.  We finish with some more Heavy Metal:

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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

Innovation cannibalism

The Venus Fly Trap differentiates itself by turning itself into a meat eating plant. What is your difference?

In this interview, I’m talking with Mark Lambert.  With a background in HSBC global markets, Mark is a Deep Purple fanatic and a jazz drummer to boot, having performed with Bernie Tormé at our Monsters of Rock event.  I must say he put out a mean challenge to Purple’s Ian Gillan and Bernie said he was a pleasure to work with.

Mark’s controversial thesis is that innovation eats itself.  I asked him to explain more:

“The business writer Michael Porter tells us that organisations seek competitive advantage by offering consumers new products and services.  Merely cost-cutting and re-engineering are insufficient for a company to survive. Instead, constant innovation is required to stay ahead in the battle for consumers.”

Is there a limit to how far this idea applies?

“Although the number of potential consumers is large and growing, an optimistic view (putting aside famines, droughts, diseases and wars for a moment) is that there will eventually, one would hope, come a time when, to borrow the ideas of Maslow, all of their needs at all levels will be met.  Moreover, given the relative pace of technological change compared to the rate of human evolution, that time may be soon approaching.  Once consumers have all their perceived needs met, where is the pressure to innovate?

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that innovation is everywhere: mobile phones, e-mail and the Internet have all transformed business and social life in the last 30 years.  The world of today is very different from the world of only a few decades ago.  People in the developed world, especially young people, are switched-on, on-line and linked-in, with supercomputer-like processing power at their finger-tips, unprecedented access to information and extensive social networks.

Yet in one area, there is less change.

Popular music in the 1970’s was awash with a rich variety of styles. Alongside well-established genres that included ‘easy listening’ and jazz, new genres emerged such as jazz-funk, disco and several variations of rock that included ‘heavy’, ‘progressive’ and ‘punk’.  In Darwinian terms, some of these more-or-less random musical mutations can be, with hindsight, considered failures while others succeeded and spawned other new styles such as ‘new age’ and ‘electronica’.  The target consumer group was generally people under the age of about 30 and music was one of the major entertainment/leisure time activities available, the main competitor being television (which had the disadvantages of limited choice, lack of record/replay facilities and relatively poor sound quality).  A trip to the local record shop and a new LP purchase would typically be followed by an evening of contemplative listening, maybe a with couple of friends and a mug of instant coffee.

Would Deep Purple’s album Machine Head have now been reduced to a 3 track single in an age of grazing?

Now press the fast-forward button on your portable cassette player.  In 2012, the typical western teenager’s entertainment needs are met by a greater number of product offerings that are facilitated by more sophisticated technologies, especially the Internet.  Music now struggles to compete with high-quality (in the technological if not the creative sense) audio-visual content from the likes of YouTube.  Social networking sites are popular and smart phones have a vast range of appealing apps. Young consumers tend to have less spare time, lower boredom thresholds, and are more adept than their parents at multi-tasking – listening to background television while twittering friends and doing their homework.  They generally prefer to download individual tracks from a favourite artist rather than listening to a whole album and buy fewer CD’s than their parents.  Editor’s note – there is more on this point in the interviews with Richard Strange and Bernie Tormé.

Without the perceived need, Joseph Engelberger, the father of robotics, tells us, the reason to innovate diminishes.”

So what would we expect to hear under such conditions?

“Songs which are musically predictable with lyrics that don’t demand attention from the listener and that are performed by artists who all conform to a generic appearance.  The music industry becomes a cash-cow where commercial returns diminish and companies are unlikely to invest in new, riskier projects.  Eventually, it no longer becomes financially viable to release genuinely new music with old songs being repeatedly re-hashed by an ever-rotating roster of new faces that look and sound just like the previous generation.”

Does it matter?

“Maybe it doesn’t really matter.  Music is not the most important thing for a large proportion of the world’s population who have greater concerns (at Maslow’s lower levels).  But a world bereft of innovative music is, ultimately, a less creative and emotionally uplifting place for us all.”

I could not agree more.  Let’s take a piece of Mark’s favourite music to prove the point. Deep Purple in full flow jamming with their song Lazy from their album Machine Head, featuring the stunning keyboard work of John Lord:

Amanda Carter from Seattle sums up on disruptive innovation:

1) Rules are meant to be broken

2) Reality is consciously changeable

3) Expect the unexpected :-)

About Mark Lambert:

Mark Lambert is a Business Manager who has worked for several leading financial institutions in London and the Netherlands.  He has a couple of physics degrees and an MBA and his areas of specialism include:

Analysing and solving business and IT problems
Creating and managing global teams
Writing : reports, magazine articles
Playing and recording music

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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  For a copy of our book on disruptive innovation in HR, mail us with PUNK in the title:

HR will eat itself - Disruptive Innovation in HR

Punk Rock People Management – Disruptive Innovation in HR

Blood, sweat and tears – A climate for high performance

You gave a tremendous reaction to the post on Constraints and Creativity the other week.  This prompted me to gather some more material on the topic.  This time, we look at the impact of the built environment and creativity, via a conversation I had with Bernie Tormé, guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, GMT and Ian Gillan.  This is a short extract from the book “The Music of Business“.  The history of rock’n’roll is littered with examples of brilliance emerging from rather shabby recording environments.  Bernie gives us a bird’s eye tour:

Here comes the Sun

“When I visited Sun studios in Memphis I was astonished.  It’s just a shop basically, that produced some of the greatest sounding and culture changing records ever made.  The same is true of Chess in Chicago, Stax, Motown in Detroit, scruffy shopfloors.   Editor’s note:  Here is one of the products of those scruffy shopfloors:

I would also have said the same about Kingsway (earlier called the original De Lane Lea) where House of the Rising Sun was recorded, and virtually all of Hendrix’s early output up to Wind Cries Mary. All the Gillan stuff and lots more. It was a complete claustrophobic dump.

Deep Purple at De Lane Lea Studios

And IBC in Portland Place where all of the early Who stuff was recorded.  All of those places sounded wonderful with a decent engineer.  And as for Regent Sound, where all those initial Stones hits were made, an absolutely horrific place.”

PC:  So what happened later on?

“I remember lots of grandiosely stunning studios from the 80′s.   The ones in the 70′s were far more workmanlike, like garages.  Funny what happened in the 80′s.  Part of a bubble I suppose, like all the other bubbles.  It was more about attracting “clients” with the bells and whistles rather than a decent sounding room and an engineer who knew how to use it.  Hence all those electronica records. I must admit to never liking places like The Townhouse etc.  I did a bit there and lots in the old Marquee studios, lots of glass,  marble, stone and polished steel.  Both looked great and sounded like complete shit. I am ranting…….”

Ranting aside, I think Bernie has spotted a very transferable point here, that having it all does not necessarily lead to great results.  Sometimes desperate conditions produce greatness.

Bernie  offers exclusive guitar lessons in his barn studio in the garden of England, plus opportunities to stop over at his holiday cottage and record your dream record.  Contact me for further details.  To get hold of a copy of The Music of Business, click on the links in this slide presentation for the various options:

Rockonomics – Andrew Sentance on business, innovation, the economy and Rock’n’Roll

Andrew Sentance at a recent ‘gig’. Rumour has it that he arrived just before Rolf Harris sang “Two Little Boys” and was cut off in his prime by Lenny Henry

Andrew Sentance is Senior Economic Adviser to Price Waterhouse Coopers and combines a demanding career with a love of classic rock music.  I was curious to find out how he has synthesised these apparent opposites.

Tell me something about your background as an economist?

I started studying economics in 1974 at school in the sixth form.  I went on to accumulate three degrees in economics from Cambridge University and the LSE, and then joined the CBI’s Economics Dept in 1986.  That was a key stepping stone for my career.  I went on to become the CBI Director of Economic Affairs and was appointed to an important group advising the Chancellor of the Exchequer – which was known as the “seven wise men” – in 1992.  I also developed a high media profile while I was at the CBI, something which has been a key feature of my career since then.  After the CBI, I spent four years at London Business School and then nearly nine years at British Airways, as their Chief Economist.

In 2006, I was appointed to the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee and I served on the Committee until 2011.  I guess that is the position for which I am best known, partly because I was very vocal in making the argument for higher interest rates in late 2010 and early 2011.  Even though the majority on the Committee did not support me, many other people agreed with me and supported my arguments.

I know you wrote a paper about Led Zeppelin and the economy – please explain in brief?

Mervyn King – the Governor of the Bank of England – is a big sports fan and puts a lot of sporting analogies in his speeches.  He once explained monetary policy by referring to Maradona’s second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup semi-final.

I am useless at sport but I really enjoy rock music.  So when I joined the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England, I felt there was an opportunity to make some connections between rock music and economics.

In the summer of 2010, I started to argue for higher interest rates and I was looking for a good title for the first speech in which I would explain my position.  The speech was in Reading, which has good rock music connections because of the Reading Festival.

I came up with the title – How long should “The song remain the same”.  The basis of my argument was that very low interest rates had been put in place to deal with a crisis in 2008/9, but the economy had started to recover and inflation had been much higher than expected.  So interest rate policy should not remain the same when the economy was changing. You can read the speech on the Bank of England website at How long should “The song remain the same”.

I went on to give another speech inspired by rock music in February 2011 – inspired by the Genesis album “Selling England by the pound”.  Editor’s note – For our blogs on Led Zeppelin – see Whole Lotta Love.  We cannot move on until we have listened to a classic piece by Genesis:

A lot of rock songs have been written about money – can you comment in the inherent wisdom (or lack of it) in these songs?

I think a lot of the “money” songs are quite superficial in terms of their lyrics.  Pink Floyd are one of my favourite bands, and “Money” is one of the stand-out tracks on their album “Dark Side of the Moon”.  The irregular time signature – 7/4 – which then resolves into a straight 4/4, along with the sax and guitar solos, make it an excellent piece of music.  But the lyrics are pretty banal – just a rant against various aspects of the supposed lifestyle of rich people.  Ironically, the members of Pink Floyd went on to embrace a number of aspects of that lifestyle!

Interviewer’s note:  I must agree.  As Prince noted “Money don’t buy you happiness, but it sho’ ‘nuff pays for the search”

There are some good songs, both lyrically and musically, which reflect on broader economic themes.  Two of my favourites are “The Pretender” by Jackson Browne and “American Tune” by Paul Simon. Both reflect on the state of economic unease in the US in the 1970s in different ways.  “American Tune” comments on the loss of political direction:

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower; We come on the ship that sailed the moon; We come in the age’s most uncertain hour; and sing an American tune

Jackson Browne’s lament is more personal and reflects on how we are all drawn into a very materialistic lifestyle through necessity and habit:

I’m going to be a happy idiot and struggle for the legal tender, where the ads take aim and lay their claim to the heart and soul of the spender

Can you comment on what we can (or should) do to encourage a climate where innovation is at the heart of the economy?

Innovation is a very broad concept, and it is not just confined to hard technology. Economic studies show that the introduction of tea, coffee and sugar into the British economy was one of the most valuable innovations – from a consumer perspective – in our economic history.  See A spoonful of sugar.

So if we want to encourage innovation – we should not just look to certain high-tech sectors of the economy, but to how new ideas, products and processes might affect the way we live. It is all about how creativity and creative processes feed through into economic activity.

In my view, the flowering of creativity in the 1960s and 1970s laid the foundation for the technological advances of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s in information and communications technology. The ICT revolution of the last couple of decades has been based on ideas of sharing information, music and visual impact. These were ideas which developed in the 60s and 70s and the “geeks” who have carried forward this revolution grew up in that era..

If I can identify a driver for creativity and innovation in the future, it is probably more closely linked to the challenges we face in managing our environmental problems and the scarcity of energy and natural resources. We have never before been in the situation we now face where nearly 7 billion people all aspire to higher standards of living, and a claim on the limited natural resources on the planet.

We are already seeing these stresses reflected in market prices, as global demand outstrips supply. We are in an era of high and volatile energy and commodity prices. Even in the depths of the euro crisis, the oil price is $100/barrel, compared with $10-20/barrel in the late period from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s. Looking further ahead, the current pattern of use of energy and natural resources risks creating a severe problem in terms of global climate change.

Technology and innovation can help solve these problems of resource scarcity and climate change but it will take time. In my view, the next big wave of innovation will be in these energy and resource-hungry industries – helping us to develop new energy sources and be more efficient in the way we use energy and other natural resources.

What do you do currently?

I work for PwC – PricewaterhouseCoopers, as their senior economic adviser.  After serving for nearly five years at the Bank of England, I was keen to return to the private sector.  PwC has a wide range of clients who are keen to understand the impact of economic trends on their business.  At present, one of my key themes is understanding the “new normal” –  the world that has been shaped by the financial crisis and the emergence of the large Asian economies, especially China and India.  My message is that we should expect disappointing growth and volatility in the major western economies to persist through the mid-2010s.  The era of steady growth and low inflation which prevailed before the financial crisis will not return quickly, if at all.

You play in a part-time rock band. How do you square that with your professional career?

If you have a high profile professional career, I think it is very helpful to have other interests to maintain a sense of perspective on life.  I’ve kept up musical interests throughout my career. Until the mid-2000s, I mainly played as an acoustic guitarist/singer or church organist.  But I now play the bass and sing in a rock band called Revelation, which performs at village fetes and fayres in the area where we live in south Essex.  We cover rock classics, mainly from the 1960s and 1970s.  I also get together occasionally with a group of university friends for jam sessions.

Most people enjoy music.  And many people in my generation appreciate the classic rock of the 1970s.  So music is often a good ice-breaker for conversations at business lunches, dinners and meetings.  I’ve found many rock music enthusiasts in my business contacts and at the highest levels in the Bank of England and at the Treasury.

Who are your rock heroes?

I love a wide range of music from the late 1960s and 1970s.  So I am a big fan of the very accomplished musicians who established themselves in that era.  Jimi Hendrix has to be the king when it comes to guitarists, though I am also a big fan of Dave Gilmour, Steve Howe, Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi.  On keyboards there is only one supremo – Rick Wakeman.  I like bass players who play a strong role in the band, rather than thudding along in the background – like Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce and Chris Squire.  When it comes to vocals, I like a more mellow sound – David Crosby, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne and the Finn brothers (Crowded House).  Editor’s note, let’s have a further indulgence in the form of Mr Blackmore:

If I had to single out one musician, however, it would be none of the above.  I would choose Stephen Stills. He has a very distinctive guitar and singing style, and wrote some really great songs – “For What it’s Worth”, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, “Love the One You’re With”, and “As I Come of Age” stand out.  His solo albums from the mid-70s are also greatly under-rated. Crosby and Nash were great, but Stills gave them an edge.

How has rock music inspired you, and made an impact on your career?

I can’t imagine a world without music, and most of the music I listen to is rock music or some variant of it.  Great rock music is the combination of individual virtuoso performances and the ability to work together as a band.  This is one of the key lessons I take away from the rock world for my career.  The combination of individual ability and team effort is at the heart of success not just in the world of music, but also in business and politics.  For the dominant and mercurial lead guitarist, read the overbearing CEO or Prime Minister who does not acknowledge and recognise the views of his/her colleagues.  All are ultimately doomed – notwithstanding their ability.

To succeed in rock music, you need to be good, but you also need to be surrounded by other good musicians and be able to work constructively and creatively with them for the good of the band.  When this works well, great music results.  That is the approach I find works well in the business context too.

Andrew Sentance has his own website: www.sentance.com and a personal blog:. He also contributes to the PwC economics blog: and is very active in sharing his views with the print and broadcast media.   He can be found on Twitter at @asentance

Related blogs – see my posts on meetings with Evan Davis of Dragon’s Den / BBC Radio 4 and Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Child in Time – Jon Lord 1941 – 2012

The album that started it all for me. I was too young to buy “In Rock” and had to get it later

Last week saw the death of Jon Lord, keyboard player with Deep Purple.  A sad loss, Jon Lord fused classical precision with improvisational abilities beyond comparison.  My life was never the same when I saved up to buy a copy of Fireball in 1972.  Let’s see Jon in action with the Mark II line up in Scandinavia:

My management consultant friend Udo Keller in Germany had this to say about Jon Lord:

There were many conflicts in the band especially between Ian Gillan and Ritchie Blackmore. In my opinion Jon was the constant part of Deep Purple. As one of the band founders he had the intention to keep the band together. So he acted like a real leader behind his Hammond and knew about his responsibility.

For me, two musical features stand out way above the crowd from Jon Lord’s work.  The first is his use of dissonance as a tool to give his performances an edge.  Dissonance for the non-musically inclined is when two notes seem to clash.  Lord was fond of using the famous ‘sixth interval’, which I wrote about in the Black Sabbath blog a while back.

The second is the unique sound he created by feeding the sound of his Hammond organ into a Marshall guitar amplifier.  Jon Lord takes up the story better than I could:

The combination of the sound and his playing style gave him a unique signature.  I learned to break away from musical conventions, to combine discipline with the raw edge of spontaneity and to test the limits of the equipment I used through his example.  He will be sadly missed.

Jon Lord 1941 – 2012 R.I.P.  Child in Time

The numbers go up to 11 – Jim Marshall R.I.P 1924 – 2012

Peter displays his six Marshall stacks and his burnt Fender Strat - a total of 18 Watts of untamed power ...

Last week saw the passing of Jim Marshall, the father of rock and metal amplification.   Without the Marshall amp, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and a host of other musicians would not have got the classic sound that became a trademark of their music.  Marshall’s great contribution to the world of music was twofold:

The Marshall stack produced a warm fuzzy sound, beloved by rock musicians, unlike its peers such as Fender, which were considered more suitable for jazz.

Marshall stacks were quite simply loud, giving Jim Marshall the nickname “The Father of Loud”.  The spoof metal band ‘Spinal Tap’ coined the phrase “The numbers go up to 11”  and more recently “20″ based on the amplifier’s reputation:

As a tribute to the man behind the technology, I’ve put together a short series of videos that give testament to Jim Marshall’s contribution to music over the last 50 years.  No doubt Bernie Tormé will be cranking his Marshall stack up at our “Leadership meets Rock showcase” event in June.

Monsters of Rock’n’Roll Business

Announcing our ‘Monsters of Rock Business‘ event.  A unique blend of a leadership keynote, business to business networking, a live music performance and an opportunity to meet Bernie Tormé and John Howitt, star performers.  The event was filmed by Bloomberg TV, BBC One News and BBC Radio 4′s flagship ‘You and Yours‘ programme.

The event is part of an offering that we can deliver to businesses in a variety of formats from 90 minutes to a 24 executive experience wrapped around specific business issues, identified in advance or as part of a corporate leadership development programme with one of our partners e.g. Imperial College London.

I interviewed Bernie Tormé the other week alongside the rest of the band and two clients, Steve and Andy, who came to Bernie’s studio for a private masterclass, to get the inside track on music, creativity and business.  Oh, yes, and joy of joy, we even had a jam session with the great man himself :-)

Bernie : In the course of my career, I have worked with a fair mix of class A rock stars.  The music business is a great teacher of life skills such as negotiating, marketing, teamwork, high performance and so on, both how to do them well and occasionally the dark side of the force.  We’ll be discussing these and other topics at the event.   At the same time, I’ll be playing some music, which is always a lot of fun.  I’m leaving the satanic art of business to you lot! :-)

On Improvisation and Innovation

Peter : Given that Rock’n’Roll has its own conventions and that there are only 12 intervals in an octave and so on, tell me about your approach to the guitar when you are trying to come up with something new?

Bernie:  For me, it is not an intellectual process.  I try to go blank and start afresh.  If then I spot something that I like, then I will refine it until I have something that hangs together for the piece I’m writing.

John : The Americans call this “If you think, you stink”.  It has to be fluid.  Some jazz players spend so much time intellectualising how to move from one chord to another that they never produce anything of great value.

Bernie: I have applied the same general approach to lyrics.  I’d play the songline over and over and just write phrases until they start to fit.  I’d thought that this was fairly unique but I’ve since found that its not.  It’s not exactly Bob Dylan ! :-) but then I think even he did that from time to time.

Peter: Sam, you teach music for a living.  How do you escape the tramlines of rock history when composing or teaching others to improvise?

Sam : For me, the quote of Albert Einstein is instructive.  He said something like:  The people who seem like the best geniuses hide their influences the best.  So, at my tender age, my music is a sandwiching of my influences, although you would need to know what those were if you were to dissect a piece into its constituent influences.  If you did not know this information, you may well find something novel in it.  Perhaps novelty arises out of the combination of influences into something new and sublime.

Editor’s note:  Sam will not be able to be at the event as he has a hobby of extreme sports and is jumping out of a plane while we play guitars.  He will be replaced by Vicky Nolan of the rock band “Genital Sparrow”.  Here’s a bit of Sam’s work so you can see what you will miss on this occasion:

On tools for creativity

Peter : Are you aware of any techniques or approaches that assist you in the creative process?

John : I find that listening with new ears is a  very important skill.  For example, I have been listening again to Glenn Miller of late, noticing things that I’d never noticed before.  I think that’s an underrated skill in business.

Steve and Andy : We work in a highly regulated industry (Railways) with a long history.  Nonetheless, we need to constantly look for new ideas in the search for improvement and innovation.   The idea of looking again at old practices in a new way is highly transferable to our environment.  One of our difficulties is the ability to get people to empty their collective minds, due to the long legacy of our industry.  So, getting our people to ‘escape’ from the ‘burden’.  People tend to look towards their seniors or previous solutions which is not always the best way to solve problems.

Hear my train a comin’ – Heavy industry meets heavy rock!

Bernie : I can relate to that. Some bands I’ve been in have had a strong hierarchy – basically “it’s my way or the highway”.  Big companies are far more complex, although it’s not as different as you would think.  The core of a band is surrounded by a plethora of people involved and they don’t always act in the bands best interests, so even a band is a what Peter would call a complex adaptive system.

John : Can you (Steve and Andy) comment on the impact of the work we did for the kick off of a major IT project?  Especially in regard to the value of music in that event.

Steve and Andy : Basically, in one day, we achieved as much as we would have done in 3-4 weeks of meetings in terms of developing a cohesive team that can work, learn and play together.

On whole brained musicianship

Peter : Where do you look in your personal search for inspiration re playing an instrument?

Bernie :  Using pure intuition to create and a more intellectual process to judge your work.  It sometimes helps to have a producer to fulfill this job as these two jobs require different sides of the brain – the right hand side for the more intuitive, playful style and the left hand side for judgement and evaluation.  I also love getting my hands on another instrument to shift gears in my thinking and playing.  I had a Sitar for a few years for example.  It only had 4 or so songs in it for me, but I would not have had those songs without it.

Peter: What examples would you point to re an innovative approach to rock music?

Bernie : For me, Jimi Hendrix epitomizes innovation in rock music still.  His willingness to explore sounds that were way beyond those being used by his contemporaries at the time still stands up to scrutiny.  He had a playground approach to using equipment and effects that was totally alien at the time.  If you listen carefully to Hendrix’s playing, you can hear hints of Steve Cropper, in the way in which he put in little fills and subtleties.  He also fused styles in ways that others would not dream of.

“Genital Sparrow” warm up for some hard rock with Bernie Torme

On the music machine

Peter : Can you tell me about the good, the bad and the ugly of working in a rock band that is printable?

Bernie :  NO, NO, NO Peter !  :-)  Suffice to say that some of the stories in ‘This is Spinal Tap’ are funny because they are not so far removed from real life.  I may offer some ‘Rock’n’Roll life lessons’ at the Monsters of Rock Business event coming up in June, but only if you are very nice to me indeed!  :-)

Peter : OK, so what can business people learn from music?

Bernie : One of the difficulties is that once you hit a success recipe, management are interested in you repeating that for years unless you are the exception.  For example it’s well known that Ozzy Osbourne is a great Beatles fan, but he has a great reputation for doing heavy metal and he knows that his fans expect that from him and he’s bloody good at it anyway!

John : On the other hand, some bands split up because they don’t evolve.  In your talks Peter, you discuss Madonna, Prince and Bowie as examples of that.  Is it too far a stretch to suggest that some businesses fail if they don’t evolve?

Peter : Absolutely, for some businesses, stagnation is not an option, but it’s a fine balance – Editor’s note – check out the posts on AC / DC and Learning Companies in this respect.

Bernie : I spotted an opportunity when I was in Ian Gillan’s band.  We had a top 10 album although the songs were written by someone else.  I found a niche in helping the band repeat and improve on that performance for the next two albums.

John : So, innovation is a brilliant thing, but it does not necessarily put food on the table.  A balance between existing and new ventures is needed in any enterprise.

Peter : What can business people learn from the music business?

Bernie : The music business is something of a basket case compared with the sorts of businesses you tend to work in Peter.  I understand that you have had a fairly lucky life, working in Research and Development for ‘decent’ companies and in academia, where work is play.  That’s pretty much a Rock’n’Roll lifestyle.  But my understanding of most businesses is that they are not about that.  In that respect management in the music business is no different to what happens in the ‘grind em down’ type of businesses that cause so many people to find work a chore.

Peter : I guess I do have the luxury of working for businesses that by and large have decent leaders and managers :-)  My early years were spent at Wellcome Foundation, who gained 4 Nobel Prizes for its work in Tropical medicine etc.  We worked hard all day because we could and we played hard all night as well.  By modern standards, the company was poorly managed, but excellently led and I draw important parallels between this and the world of rock bands.  Perhaps that time has gone, or maybe we are at the tipping point where capitalism must rightly be balanced by a proper sense of purpose if we are to solve important world problems.  I have found that you get the best out of people by treating them as humane beings rather than human resources.  The world’s greatest leaders in business understand that.  The rest, well, perhaps they match some of the worst excesses of the music business.

So come along to Monsters of Rock Business and get yourself a supercharge of Rock’n’Roll Wisdom.  Here’s three summary points:

1.If you want to innovate, learn to ‘clear the screen’ of industry limitations for enough time to see the future.

2. Accept that creativity is necessary for innovation but insufficient – perspiration is always more important than inspiration.  Learn to sweat as well as glow.

3. Know when to intellectualise and when to behave like an animal in business.

Let’s get the real deal out – here’s Bernie Torme in action, causing some Trouble with Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan – it really does not get much better than this – see you at RIFFS AND MYTHS OF LEADERSHIP for some lessons from the School of Hard Rock.

Hopes and Fears 2012

Firstly, may I thank all of you that have been reading the Rock’n’Roll Business Blog through 2011.  We have had a whopping 14 000 views since it started in earnest in June last year.

In terms of 2012, if we are to turn the UK plc round, its going to take every bit of adaptation, learning and innovation.  You may care to reflect on some of the more popular posts of 2011 - Lady Gaga and adaptive strategy, Deep Purple, improvisation and innovation, The Beatles on creativity, Prince on excellence, Britney Spears on becoming a learning society, Hendrix v Clapton on innovation and Personal mastery in business and music – lessons from Jeff Beck, Les Paul and Bill Nelson.

So, what does 2012 hold in store for us?   Well, here’s some views taken in the course of my travels recently, with the themes linked to pop and rock songs of course! :-)

There is power in a union?

2011 was marked by a resurgence of industrial relations unrest in the UK.  However, the recent public sector strikes was marked not by braziers, banners and protest songs, but by the best shopping day in 2011, as retail sales soared.  I saw people leaving local government picket lines to go to Costa Coffee at 10 am.  Is shopping for Ugg boots and flat screen TV’s the hallmark of the new rebellion?

Can we look forward to more industrial unrest?   From talking with people in local government, it seems that there is still plenty of scope for downsizing and it also appears that quite a few people are basically happy with their pension, so it appears that the current industrial unrest may not develop.  When I talk to my self-employed friends, there appears to be little sympathy with the strikes – as one remarked “Pension, what pension?”  One thing is for sure, in an age of unrest we can expect more performances by proto punk protest singer Billy Bragg:

What’s new pussycat?

During 2011 I met Evan Davis of BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme and Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills.  During our conversations we touched on the vexed question of what we should do to rebuild Britain.  There are no easy answers here and a debate has since been raging on Linkedin over this issue.  There seems to be broad agreement that the UK plc desperately needs more innovation, especially the type that can be exported and that which builds out of our strengths in ways that are hard to copy or appropriate.  At the same time the service sector needs to shrink, whether this is through a smaller public service component to the economy or in service industries that merely consume wealth at a local level – for example tanning rooms and burger bars.  The change is going to be hard to swallow for some.  Doing more of the same will not do, we need to do things differently.  Musically, it’s more a case of ‘What’s new pussycat’ rather than ‘Do the standing still’.

We’ve got a meeting with the Department of Business Innovation and Skills to explore some of the ramifications of the UK’s innovation needs coming up.   More on innovation coming up in future posts.

What are your hopes and fears for 2012?  Post a comment on this blog.

The Flow – Personal Mastery in business and all that jazz

Mastery, unconscious competence, effortless genius.  These are all ways to describe what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called the state of ‘flow’.  What can we learn about ‘flow’ from music that we can transfer to the world of business and personal development?

Let’s begin, not by talking about the state of flow but by experiencing it through looking at masters of their craft operating at a state of effortless genius.  Let’s start with jazz master Joe Pass:

What then is flow?  Are there any ways to learn how to be in this state and what can we learn from professional musicians?   Here’s a great quote to open up the debate from Richard Thompson:

“Focus for performance is extremely important. I start quite early in the day of a performance, just very slowly focusing in on performing later that day with the whole idea that you are going to be as present as possible. You can play music for yourself, and that’s one thing, but to communicate with an audience is really something very special. When it happens, it’s a beautiful thing, an extraordinary thing, a wonderful feeling for the performer – this idea that you play something and people get it.

The way that you’re able to get stuff across to an audience is by getting inside the music as much as possible, reaching that really still place in the center of the music where you are totally present, almost unconscious, and totally engaged in the musical process and the storytelling process. When you get to that point, you’ve really achieved just about everything you can achieve as a musician.”

John Howitt is a professional session musician, who has performed with Celine Dion, Anastasia and Shirley Bassey.  He also works with us in our business and music masterclasses.  As a session musician, John must be at peak performance with every engagement.  I asked him to reveal some of his tips for staying in the flow:

Flow master – John Howitt with Peter – Picture by Jason Dodd – master photographer http://www.jasondoddphotography.com

Peter :  Can you tell us something about your career and the role of practice as a spur to personal mastery?

John : “Mastery comes out of preparation.  In business circles, people talk of the need for 10 000 hours disciplined practice to master an art or discipline.   Contrary to what amateur musicians might think, to do what I do, it’s all about practice and preparation.  I have probably exceeded the 10 000 hours in my career as a session musician and still spend 5 hours a day playing an instrument if I am not actually engaged in a piece of client work”

Peter :  Many so-called ‘creatives’ say that they feel they would lose their creativity / mojo if they overprepared. What do you say to that?

John : “Practice gives you ease AND versatility.  Playing routine pieces of music almost goes on auto pilot allowing you to concentrate on what is needed to add that extra piece of sparkle.  I feel this is just as applicable to business and personal excellence as it is to performing music”

Peter : As well as your stage and session work, I know you also record soundtrack music for films.  In your experience, how do you move from a performance role to one that is perhaps more introverted?

John :  In one way, there is no difference.  When performing, you still need to keep your focus both internally on the mastery of what you are doing, whilst keeping your antennae open to hear those around you.  It’s what the business gurus called ‘emotional intelligence’ – living inside your own head AND paying attention to your co-performers.  Good musicians and leader do both.  Bad musicians and leaders just listen to themselves.

That said, when I’m recording soundtracks, I can focus completely in on the point of detail that I’m working with, PLUS keep in mind the overall piece.  The big picture AND the small detail are essential if you are to achieve what Peter Senge calls personal mastery.  As a musician or leader, I find it essential to be both gregarious AND solitary.

Peter : On innovation excellence, can you share one important insight for us?

John : I’ll offer two.   In music, the innovation challenge lies in breaking away from habits. Practice can force you into habit but it need not.  It’s what companies like Toyota, Nokia and First Direct have achieved, rather than just repeating themselves.  Furthermore, it’s like Miles Davis says “There are no mistakes”

Please share your thoughts on what gets you in the high performance zone.  A recent interview with Tom Peters on the related topic of personal excellence can be found at Innovation Excellence.  I found flow is vital when writing perhaps the shortest business book known to man or woman – Punk Rock People Management – get a FREE copy via the link.

If you enjoy this blog, you may also enjoy related blogs at Prince, Deep Purple, Hendrix and Bill Nelson.  To finish, let’s see some more masters of music immersed in the art of effortless genius.  None other than Jeff Beck giving a tribute to Les Paul, plus the original, plus a tribute to Les Paul by Bill Nelson:

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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  Check our latest book reviews out: