All the small things

Arriving at BBC Radio 4 for ‘You and Yours’

Tuesday is a red-letter day for me.  After many months of planning, we deliver the “Monsters of Rock’n’Roll Business” event featuring Bernie Tormé, for a large group of business managers at the Dartford Hilton Hotel.  The event is being recorded for broadcast by BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme, Bloomberg TV, The Independent, BBC TV, The Brazillian Financial Times and many more.  People keep asking me how I managed to achieve such levels of publicity. Others seem to think I have a major PR agency working for me.  This is not true, and the back story of this may be summarised as a lot of hard work … and a little bit of luck.  It all comes down to ‘the small things’.  Let’s hear Blink 182’s take on all the small things:

Our story has important lessons for all those who have to deal with the media as part of their business.

I had sent a press release out to various places for the event.  The story got picked up by The Independent newspaper last Thursday.  The journalist rewrote the press release to read as follows:

Cook will be joined by Bernie Tormé, former lead guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, and Ian Gillan, the Deep Purple singer.

It’s perfectly accurate, but do you see what has happened here?

  • I will indeed be joined by Bernie Tormé.  Fact.
  • Tormé was indeed guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne.  Fact.
  • Tormé was also guitarist for Ian Gillan.  Fact.
  • Ian Gillan was the singer of the legendary hard rock group Deep Purple.  Fact.
  • Ian Gillan will not be, and was never due to be, at the event.

The BBC’s editorial team picked up on the story but missed the all-important comma.  By Friday morning, BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme ran a story that more or less suggested I was responsible for reforming Black Sabbath and Deep Purple – An awe inspiring thought but sadly untrue!  By Saturday evening, The Sunday Express and New Musical Express had copied the mistake and amplified our event into a ‘tour’ through the strategic addition of the letter ‘s’ to the word seminar ! :-( Despite copious efforts to correct the story online, the mistake was repeated on BBC 6 Music’s Radcliffe and Maconie show on Monday.  At the time of writing, the story has reached USA Today, The Times of India, Planet Rock Radio and Gibson Guitars.

USA Today copied the mistake and suggested that Ozzy and Gillan were joining a business consultancy – ha ha

This is graphic evidence of what has been said recently in the Leveson Enquiry that:

“Checking your facts = I read it in another paper”

You might say that all publicity is good publicity?  In this case, I had to spend considerable time and energy correcting online media and apologising to Ian Gillan’s management.  Rock’n’Roll HR can be cruel and I’m pleased to say that I still have all my body parts after this process!  I also had to spend quite a bit of time dealing with old rockers and rock chicks, who wrote e-mails to confer God-like status on me, for forging a reunion between Ian Gillan and Bernie Tormé.   Having  pulled this trick off, some of them even expect me to resurrect Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse!

The Belfast Telegraph picked up the story and decided to replace Bernie’s picture with Elton John !  I have not yet decided to get a piano in for the event …

Well-known Irish Pub Singer Elton John turns up in the Belfast Telegraph

What then are the lessons for people who deal with PR and external affairs?

  1. If possible, get national media journalists to send a proof of anything they release.  Of course they don’t like doing this, but it helps to avoid this kind of PR disaster.
  2. Act fast to correct errors.  I stopped the Sunday Express print run by contacting the paper at midnight on Saturday, but the ‘runaway online media train’ had already ‘left the station’ re online copies of the article.
  3. Commas cost me a few apologies to some class A rock stars, but the consequences could be more serious for your business.  In the warped words of Blink 182, All the small things count.
Postscript:  The event was filmed by Bloomberg TV, BBC One News.  BBC Radio 4 also made a programme for their You and Yours Programme.  Woohoo !

 

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.

Deep Purple in Rock: Improvisation and discipline in Business

Deep Purple In Rock

The hard rock band Deep Purple are responsible for millions of young boys camping out in music shops trying to play the riff to ‘Smoke on the Water‘.  At the age of 14 I used to sit at the top of the stairs at home in the darkness trying to figure out the riff with my Hofner Futurama guitar and 10 Watt Zenta amp, until my mum would shout me to come down to get my fish finger sandwiches.  Aside from these problems, Deep Purple offer us a great example of improvisation and discipline in action in the context of a rock outfit.  The Mark II incarnation of the band is generally considered to be perhaps the definitive lineup, but also the most volatile.  Much of the conflict within Deep Purple arose from Ritchie Blackmore, their phenomenal virtuoso guitarist and moody maverick.  Check out Deep Purple Mark II’s work when jamming here:

In this extract from ‘Mandrake Root’ we see the art of improvisation within a disciplined structure as Blackmore sends musical instructions (using his arms as a baton ! ) to the keyboard player Jon Lord, to repeat and develop certain lines (This is particularly obvious around 48 seconds onwards).  He also sends orders to the rhythm section of Ian Paice and Roger Glover with respect to starts and stops within the music (around 1 minute 50 seconds).  Blackmore’s signs are perhaps more aggressive than those used by Prince to change direction at short notice within the band :-)  What then are the parallel lessons for business from Deep Purple?   Here’s three to get the discussion started – Please add your own views by commenting on the blog.

1. Innovation in business requires discipline as much as it does creativity:  Creativity to come up with novel strategies; Discipline to execute them, so that ideas turn into profitable innovations.  Companies such as Google, 3M and Innocent may seem to be all about creativity at first glance, but a deeper inspection reveals discipline and structure, even if that structure does not emanate from ‘management’ in all cases.  Giving people 20% of their time to work on speculative projects is the business equivalent of a free form jam within Space Truckin’, Lazy, Mistreated and many other pieces of Deep Purple’s repertoire.

2. It requires extremely strong leadership and a compelling shared vision to hold diverse people together.  To encourage a company that continuously learns / adapts and improvises into the future requires leadership that is precise on the destination, yet loose on the journey.  We’ve seen this point before in my blog posts on Led Zeppelin and Prince.

3. Conflict will occur where there is diversity / divergence.  It must be handled properly if progress is to be made.  Ultimately Blackmore’s maverick behaviour proved too much for the band, especially the singer Ian Gillan, and despite several reunions, the band proved impossible to hold together.  There have been many arguments to suggest that what Deep Purple Mark II needed was a manager who could hold the various personalities together and perhaps some time off from touring.

What else do you consider we can learn from Deep Purple about business, innovation, conflict and so on?  Share your thoughts by making a comment to this blog.

Editor’s postscript:  My thoughts go out to Jon Lord who is currently fighting cancer.  Although I am a guitar player, it was Jon Lord’s innovative organ playing that led to my fanaticism with Deep Purple.  Hoping things progress well.

To finish, here’s another piece by Deep Purple’s Mark II line up, the famous California Jam performance where Ritchie Blackmore destroys several guitars and sets fire to his amplifiers.  I can’t immediately think of a transferable corporate lesson from this sequence but it sure is fun.  Takes me back to my teenage years with the Zenta amp on all the way up and me smashing the guitar into the speaker trying to coax some feedback out of the amp!

For more Heavy Metal Business articles – check SPINAL TAP on project management and LED ZEPPELIN on strategy.  Check out our conferences and events – where we extract business lessons from the Deep Purple classic ‘Smoke on the Water’ amongst many other things.  Come along to one of our ‘Monsters of Rock Business’ events, featuring Bernie Torme, who played guitar for Ian Gillan.   Take a look at one of these as featured on Bloomberg TV.

Our new book “The Music of Business” is available to order at AMAZON.CO.UK, AMAZON.COM, and KINDLE.  To sample the book have a look at a sneak preview or visit the book WEBSITE.

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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

Monsters of Rock – Bernie Tormé

Last night I had the great pleasure of spending an evening in the pub with Bernie Tormé, lead guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister and Ian Gillan of Deep Purple. We have a superb event coming up with Bernie soon – Take a look at Monsters of Rock Business and some of Bernie’s work:

As well as his high profile work with these monsters of rock, Bernie is a talented songwriter and recording artist.  As well as a good chat about Prince, Bill Nelson, Gary Moore and other musicians, we spent some time exploring music – business parallels:

1. How the creative process works in music and how that translates into businesses looking to innovate as a source of long term advantage – from songwriting to inventive business thinking.  We explored this issue at a global science conference with the Pfizer a while back.

2. How working with rock stars with massive egos has a parallel lesson for people attempting to lead creative / precocious people in intelligent / artistic businesses.  This was a key discussion item at London Business School’s strategy summit recently.

3. Improvisation and creativity in music and business – Bernie’s life has been about adding amazing guitar work to polish other star’s performances.  He works largely intuitively to do this.  How can you tap into a natural intuitive flow?  How do organisations such as Google, Imperial College and 3M encourage ‘intuition to order’?

4. Presentation, performance and impact – You have only one chance to make a great first impression on stage with Ozzy!   See picture below.

Master of the universe

5. Dealing with conflict and trouble at work – Rock’n’Roll is an excellent arena for learning such skills.  Some of Bernie’s stories here are x-rated and outside the scope of a public view!

6. Parallel lessons from the music business for business leaders – contracts, money, changes of plans and so on.  I have had personal experience of ‘Rock’n’Roll accounting’ having sponsored a world tour with cult punk rocker John Otway and lost my shirt on the enterprise.

These days Bernie divides his time between his recording studios and work with his band GMT.  He is also available for business events and conferences where representatives of your business get to interview him on a range of topics.  Bernie also provides cameo performances of his work if an ‘aftershow’ element is required at a conference or event.

On stage Bernie is a mighty force to be reckoned with.  Yet, in the pub, he is a thoughtful raconteur with fantastic insights and stories about the crazy world of rock’n’roll.  Contact me here or via MUSICAL EXPERIENCES if you would like to book him for an Academy of Rock experience!

Finally, here’s Bernie playing a solo with his band GMT: