In The City – Rock unites the business world

Rock In The City Logo Purple Mid

Logo Design by Simon Heath – Social Media’s Quick Draw McGraw @simonheath1

Time for a mini update on the band that I’ve formed with Dr Andrew Sentance, former Monetary Policy Committee Member for The Bank of England.  Following the press announcements in the Evening Standard and City AM, we’ve attracted a motley crew of City based rockers and are set to organise a Rock meets Business event at a City location for charity.  The band is called RockInTheCity and the gig’s to be “In The City, By The City, For The City”.

Rockin' The City from West to East Haydn, Andrew, Bilal, Pete, Peter and Barry

Rockin’ The City from West to East Haydn, Andrew, Bilal, Pete, Peter and Barry

The core band members are:

  • Haydn Jones – Telecoms, Operational effectiveness, Bass
  • Dr Andrew Sentance – Senior Economic Adviser, PwC, Guitar, Vocals, Keyboards
  • Bilal Mustafa – Mergers, acquisitions, keyboards, electronica
  • Pete Stephens – Government, drums
  • Barry Monk – Marketing consultant, lead guitar, vocals
  • and myself on lead guitar and vocals

We will be augmented by a range of superb music professionals and there will be an opportunity for people attending our concerts to join the band for a bit of ‘spontaneous combustion’ on the night itself.  Find out more at our band webpage Rockinthecity and follow us on Twitter. We held our first practice at Andrew Sentance’s house the other week.  It would be invidious to reveal our set list, but here’s a few of the songs we jammed out to get our groove on.

  • Money – Pink Floyd
  • Purple Rain – Prince
  • Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
  • All along the watchtower – Jimi Hendrix

I may also try to get the band to accommodate a live performance of the economics rock anthem “Fiscal Cliff”, now available for download on Bandcamp.  The evening will be accompanied by an introductory keynote on music, business and money plus food and plenty of networking opportunities. We are now looking for a venue in the city and some sponsors for the event which will be run on a charitable basis.  Please get in touch via e-mail peter@humdyn.co.uk if you wish to support this initiative in a small or larger way.  This can be in terms of assistance with marketing, underwriting food, drinks, helping with the event delivery, providing the venue, public address system, lighting, stage crew or anything else you can think of.  Here’s an impression of our first practice:

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Box Set 7

Here Comes the Sun – Solar Power, Creativity and Innovation

The Solar System at Blackfriars Bridge, London

The Solar System at Blackfriars Bridge, London

Alan South leads Solar Century, a company dedicated to bring novel and sustainable solar energy products to the world.  He has a background working for IDEO, perhaps the foremost design innovation company in the World.  I wanted to know how he has created a climate of innovation at Solar Century and his thoughts on creativity, design and the role of leadership in building an innovative enterprise.

What did you take away from IDEO in terms of creativity and innovation?

I joined in the early days of IDEO in 1995 some three years after its creation.  During the time I was there, it evolved into a global leading light in innovation, taking design thinking way beyond product to services, infrastructure, national problems.  It continues to grow and thrive in that space.  Perhaps the most important thing I took away was not so much about the idea generation process itself.  The rate limiting step for innovation in so many cases is about how ideas get traction so that they turn into something useful.

I also see that IDEO ‘converge with care’, preserving what is novel and cool about an idea.  Can you say more about that?

The core of many ideation processes is about how one idea can build upon another.  An awful lot of idea evaluation processes are quite reductive.  What IDEO did extraordinarily well was to make the ideation process additive.

There are some that say that creativity techniques are for dummies.  What is your view on the value of techniques for divergence and convergence versus more intuitive approaches?

If you are the lone inventor then fine – your own intuition may be sufficient.  On the whole if you are trying to make big differences, you are usually talking about groups of people.  The absolute first thing they need is a common language.  Number two if you want significant numbers of people to work together is that they need to agree on a set of common processes.  The agreement on that process is much more important than the particular process itself.

So, say something about how you see innovation

Innovation is about going wide, turning the corner, going narrow.  That’s all there is although  there are a number of different ways of going about this.  The Design Council in the UK talk about doing that process twice – what they call the ‘Double Diamond’ model.  IDEO always started by observing people using a bunch of human practice techniques to uncover latent user needs.  A good IDEO project would be one where solving latent user needs would make a big difference.  They had about 6 high level ideas that were part of their process.

And yet, it would be insufficient to write down those 6 ideas to an inexperienced person?

Yes.  The real art is in interpreting those high level ideas to fit a particular problem at hand.  Each problem is sufficiently different combined with the fact that the world is moving and changing – so the idea of writing a guide book becomes problematical.

Solar roof on a house in Languedoc, France

Solar roof on a house in Languedoc, France

How does Solar Century innovate?

Solar Century is a solar photo-voltaic power company.  We are in the business of doing large solar projects and manufacturing solar building products.  We set out our stall as being a company that providing solar to be integrated into buildings.  We noticed that there was a lot of redundant space on buildings such as roofs, facades and so on which could be turned towards energy production, allowing power to be generated and used locally.  We raised some money and hired some people including me.  We had to turn an abstract idea into a business.  In 2003, solar building products did not exist – at that time solar was something you would see on satellites and not in builder’s yards. We struggled with compatibility issues – the idea existed, the market and the customer was not well understood.  The distribution channels were not really understood.  But it felt like an idea with real promise.  We were not alone in this – there were other pockets of this thinking around the world.  The job of the innovation team was to bring this very abstract idea to life.

The first thing we had to do was to get under the skin of two industries – The Photo-Voltaic industry and the construction industry.  We characterised the PV industry as lab coats and the construction industry as hard hats.  Our job was to innovate solutions that would join the lab coats to the hard hats, which was a bit like mixing oil and water.

We had to avoid innovating perfect solutions in a vacuum that would confound any part of the value chain.  For example, a solution that the PV industry would not be able to manufacture would or an elegant solution that the construction industry would not know what to do with.  So we set up some processes to get under the skin of the industries and this is an ongoing process that continues to this day.  We also needed to make some judgment calls on how far we thought we could innovate beyond the status quo in a way that would start to build adoption.  We kicked off by exploring a pretty wide range of ways of getting moving and to go through a relatively short (one year) cycle to come up with ideas of the kind of product we would take to market.  We pulled the industry by the nose and then relaxed back a bit when it started to hurt.

Although parts of the construction industry are quite conservative, one thing that delighted me was to find that roofers were very open to our ideas on reinvention.  We ran a campaign called ‘Don’t miss out on the roofing revolution’ and it was extremely well received.  Each year we have gradually started launching more and more offers.  The journey moved from a roof tile, then another roof tile through more sophisticated complete building systems for commercial roofs towards massive aerodynamic systems for factory roofs, based on the ideas on technology adoption in the book ‘Crossing the chasm’.  Editor’s note :  Reminds me of the classic adoption curve:

The classic adoption curve

Essentially we became very good at mass customization as the company began to export, for example in the big building roofing product that we have designed here but carefully fit to a customer need.  We ship a bespoke kit of parts.

Turning inward, does Solar Century have a set book of techniques for creating and innovating?

We do not have a book of techniques for the divergent and convergence.  We do have a process and we do use divergent and convergent techniques but these are tacit knowledge amongst the staff group, as we are only 120 people.  In essence, it’s rather like being in a rock band.  Nobody knows the notes, but everyone can play the tune.

What do you find the most valuable techniques for diverging and converging?

I find that the toughest bit in innovation is turning the corner between diverging and converging.  I struggle with it, teams do.  It takes real guts to stop diverging and say we have spent enough money and time.  It requires getting the whole team to stop the process and get consensus that it’s OK to turn the corner.  Otherwise one of the diseases of innovation is that you hover around at a certain level of abstraction or keep going wider and people lose interest.

Diverging is the easy bit.  I still am a big user of brainstorming, done properly.  The IDEO method of creativity is built on the principle that you get greater creativity when you put some boundaries and rules in place.  Rule Number one is stay focused on the topic.  The corollary of that is that if you don’t know what the topic is it’s hard to stay focused.  A good creativity facilitator can take a bunch of very conservative people and get some real results out of them.

For me the two big challenges are converging and execution.

It is clear to me that Solar Century have acted as what Rosabeth Moss Kanter would call ‘boundary crossers’ in joining two disparate industries together (PV and Building)?  What else do you consider to have been critical in getting the industries to join up?

A green housing estate in Northumberland

We are structured wholly as a virtual manufacturer, which means we have to be good at co-ordinating the whole value chain.  The only part of our operation that we retain is the innovation function.  The upside of being a virtual manufacturer is that we can be much more flexible.  It has allowed us to experiment without buying factories.  We have for example used a contract manufacturer in the UK to develop and test new products, then exported the manufacturing to China and start on the next product in the UK.  The flipside is that you cannot have it all ways.  You have to become quite expert in production planning as you cannot have loose commitments in terms of volumes and then be expected to turn the dial up.

Tell me something about leadership for innovation

If it’s not about turning ideas into results, then it’s not innovation.  There are plenty of non-monetary forms of results, such as effecting cultural change, but in many cases money is a good proxy for the results sought from an innovation intervention.

Hence I tend to use the equation: innovation = turning ideas into money. I know such an equation has its shortcomings, but it does have the benefit of simplicity.

My point of view is that attention needs to be given both to the management of ideas and to the creation of valuable results. I find there is a bias towards ideas and less towards execution.

Covering both successfully requires innovation leadership needs to cover a broad space within an organisation

On the one hand, an innovation leader has to be senior, well connected and influential. There will be uncertainty and chaos to be embraced. The leader will need to facilitate and give permissions and have the ability to deftly handle the stakeholders. To own the innovation vision and to have the credibility to make on occasion some big judgment calls. To have the time and freedom to do some broad thinking and be widely networked to pull in external influences.

On the other there’s a pervading need to pay attention to the details. Great innovation leaders so many times have a deep passion for the content. Innovation teams expect to be led from a position of content expertise, not from a position of hierarchical power. There will be times to make big demands of the innovation team and leadership needs to from a position of respect.

Big demands, and not business as usual within most firms. To deliver on this mix of seniority and depth means that T-shaped people even more critical than ever.

Can you develop T-Shaped people?

You cannot develop all people into T-Shaped people.  There are two things you can watch out for.  To be a good T-Shaped person you need to have the breadth in order to connect into and respect a multidisciplinary working life but you also need the vertical of the T.  One of the things you can do is to make sure that your vertical remains deep.  The flip side about T-Shaped people is that there are a bunch of people who are often brilliant and invaluable who are going to be nothing other than I-Shaped.  There can be a tendency in some organisations to reject them or undervalue them.  What’s important is to recognise them and value them.

Successful innovation – where ideas go all the way to results – is hard and requires innovation leadership that stands tall. When times are tough, like now, innovation is ever more important – but to succeed, innovation leadership has to stand even taller.

Final thoughts

Innovation is about getting results – if there’s no result, it’ ain’t innovation.

There’s an inbalance in reporting or teaching innovation towards idea generation and creativity rather than executing them.  A lot of frustration about innovation in companies arises from teams who throw their all into idea generation and then don’t see any results.  Whereas, it’s an execution problem.

In good times innovation tends to be judged as turning ideas into money. In tough times innovation needs to be accountable as turning ideas into money.

Five success factors for creating and managing ideas

  1. Maintain a true passion for the content
  2. Use qualitative customer research methods to complement qualitative methods
  3. Prototyping is the engine for innovation, fail early fail often
  4. Brainstorming: great innovation companies are fluent in brainstorming
  5. Recognise the importance of storytelling to communicate innovation vision.

Five success factors for turning those ideas into results

  1. Demand greater accountability for innovation outputs – not inputs
  2. Push the connection to the bottom line
  3. Increase innovation efficiency and get more done
  4. Expand innovation diversity to cover services, processes and supply chain
  5. Be firm about the vision, flexible about the present

Alan South can be contacted via Solar Century.

We finish with Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”.

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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

Rage against the Washing Machine

Computers are wonderful things and I personally could not live without my Mac.  However, the old phrase GIGO (Garbage in Garbage out) still applies.  It’s amazing what people seem to believe if it is on a flat screen.  Here’s an example of what happens when people disengage their own intelligence in favour of a database:

I was phoned a few months ago by a company wanting to ‘conduct research’ on my washing machine. They refused to get off the line despite several polite attempts to persuade them to do so, so I told them I had a “Toyota” washing machine….

Two months later I had a call from another company offering me insurance, who proudly started the call with:

“We’re calling you today to offer you exclusive insurance cover for your Toyota USB2000 washing machine ….”

Sometime later: Me : “You do know that Toyota don’t make washing machines?”

Them : “Have you sold it?”

Me : “I have a Prius. As I said, Toyota make cars”

Toyota make great cars … but no washing machines

Them : “We know that sir.  The washing machine you have is spelt differently. Have you sold it?”

Me (broken record) : “Toyota make cars, not washing machines”.

Them (still keen to insure my washing machine): “We bought the data from another company.  Do you have a washing machine” ….

A hybrid washing machine?

A hybrid washing machine?

I had a similar experience when I bought an advert from Yell.com (now Hibu.com) recently.  The promise was articulated thus:  “We cannot get you business, but we can make the phone ring”.  This seemed like an entirely reasonable premise.  A couple of weeks later, the phone did ring:

“I’d like to buy some turf”

Me : “Aah, sorry, this is a business consultancy – you have the wrong number”

The following week, I got a call for Calor Gas.  I was suspicious so asked where he got the number from – it was the Yellow Pages!

The following week, I got a call for plate glass. Yell insist on giving you a different phone number so they can track calls.  Clearly this one had been round the block many times.

No problem, you would think – just call them and it would get sorted out.  Well, no.  Yell started off by trying to rewrite history, suggesting that it had not happened the way I described.  They then tried to shift blame by telling me that Yellow Pages did not belong to them any more.  It was only when I pointed out that their phone number was the root cause of the Yellow Pages calls and asked to speak to their CEO that they finally capitulated, after which time most people have given up.

What would have been better?  Well, simply offering to investigate and fix the problem without fuss would have been a much better turnaround.  Unfortunately they trusted the computer more than they did me to start with, wasting time and damaging their reputation, making me want to “Yell about it”.

Incidentally, saying you want to “Hibu about it” just does not work as well :-) …  Perhaps that’s why they renamed the company recently?

Life’s a Gas, Heart of Grass, The Green Green Glass of Home

On the upside, I have discovered a great business opportunity for a one stop shop that sells Grass, Glass and Gas … Hurry, hurry …  Happy Christmas!

3G business for sale on Yell.com

Coming soon, my recent dealings with HR outsourcing company RSM Tenon and boutique solicitors Twenty Twenty Law make for an interesting story of disappointment and dishonour in dealing with others, Bah Humbug!  To finish here is Pink Floyd’s prophetic tale of corporate cyber control where common sense is replaced by algorithms and bulls…t.  Welcome to the Machine:

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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

Comfortably numb

Hello, hello, is there anybody out there?

We live in an age where we have all the tools to help us respond to customers as individuals.  Why then in an age of mass customisation do companies and organisations still manage to do things that make you wonder ‘is there anyone at home?’  This week’s prizes for poor customer service go to Asda and Student Finance England.

The price of going to Asda

A friend of mine called me recently.  He went to an out of town Asda to buy some food.  They did not have any onions, so he drove up the road to Tescos to get some.

What, no onions with my guitar?

He returned to Asda a couple of hours later.  A few days afterwards he received a parking ticket from APCOA parking for exceeding the two hour limit.  They had logged him entering the first time and leaving on the second visit.  He has so far had to submit receipts from Tesco for the onions but had no reply from Asda regarding the waste of his time for doing this.  The store is an out of town development with no other shops or reasons to park within range.  Are they not satisfied that he buys his food there?  Why no reply?  Why do a lack of in-store onions lead to tears?

SFE = Student Failure England

I hear that Government departments have been through extensive ‘lean’ training to make them more effective and efficient.  Well, it does not look like it’s working.  I have recently applied for my son’s student loan and have all but given up, having written to them dozens of times only to get standard responses which did not deal with the issues.  Worst still, I get 2 or 3 copies of the responses sent by post every time.  On one occasion recently I got four letters telling me that his loan was approved and then one on the same day telling me that they needed more information (which I had already previously sent months back).  They tell me that there’s nothing they can do about repeat letters and conflicting information, as it is the computer’s fault.  Student Finance England have a facebook page so that they can answer individual queries (you cannot contact them by e-mail).  I mentioned the waste of everybody’s time to them and they told me the thread was closed!

Rant over.  The point is that we really ought to be able to do better than this if we are to rebuild the UK plc?  Great service makes the difference between repeat purchases and a one off trial as companies such as Toyota and First Direct understand. Excellence is not a luxury good in today’s marketplace.   In Asda’s case, they need customers to come back time after time, so this really should matter to them.  Student Finance England is a Government monopoly, so I guess it matters less, but don’t we owe it to our kids to get this stuff right?

  • Who gets your vote for superb customer service and personal service in an age of mass consumption?
  • Whose service should go in room 101?

Post your comments here.

A bit more Floyd to finish us off.  I don’t think The Gnome has a message for us, but it is a strange little piece anyway:

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.

Another Brick in the Wall Thinking

Wall and peace

Introducing Tony Wall, who facilitates innovative learning strategies at the University of Chester in the UK.  I will leave him to take up the story, inspired by Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”:

“Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!” is one of those lyrics that many of us recognise instantly. That’s not surprising as “Another Brick in the Wall” reached No 1 around the globe. For some, it was simply a unique and catchy melody, but for others, it was a lot more. For these, it was a powerful protest against rigid schooling, which created ‘another brick’ in a ‘wall of limited thinking and acting’ – a wall stopping the learner thinking differently or learning differently. For Pink Floyd, it was a wall of “thought control”, a message calling for our education systems to facilitate more innovative thinking. Listening and watching the song and its performances in 2012, it’s striking to realise how current Pink Floyd’s message is in today’s schools and universities…

Think about typical university education for a moment. What are the bricks in the ‘wall of limiting innovation’? The university says which courses are offered. It says what specifically will be learnt. It says where it will be learnt. It says how it will be learnt. It says how this learning will be assessed. It says when the student can start and stop learning. It might even say what date and specific time they have to learn. All in all, these are just more ‘bricks’ in the wall of standard thinking and acting (as Pink Floyd would probably not say). These ‘bricks’ exist within the model (or paradigm) of mass university education. If we took this paradigm, and turned it upside down, the wall would fall to pieces, but opens up new avenues for facilitating innovative thinking and acting. We might call the opposite model, a personalised university education, whereby the individual learner makes choices, and choices way beyond that already conceived by flexible universities around the globe.

What would such a radically innovative system be like? Within the UK, we can look to the University of Chester’s Centre for Work Related Studies (CWRS) who has been operating this system for over a decade. Here, the learner negotiates a qualification that meets their specific needs and aspirations, and negotiates their qualification’s title (say Masters in Business Innovation and Creativity or Masters in Leading Innovation). The learner chooses when to learn. They choose what specifically they need/want to learn. They choose how they will learn it. And they choose how they are assessed. In this model, this means learning normally (rather than abnormally) happens outside of the classroom, in the workplace, or in life. All in all, this enables innovative and diverse ways for the learner to make changes to their life, and engage in an educational approach, which is authentic and meaningful to them personally. They have to think for themselves, though supported and guided, and not constrained by the ‘walls’ of subjects, disciplines or Teacher preferences (or dark sarcasm!). It is a model that has led to CWRS being one of Europe’s largest centres of its kind, with commendations from the UK university quality body and showcases by the UK university funding body.

Shouting “Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!” in this new paradigm doesn’t apply, as the “Teacher” is replaced by tutors facilitating personalised learning with individuals. Turning existing paradigms upside down is one way of creating innovative solutions to challenges or seizing opportunities. So, that leaves us with two questions:

  • What ‘bricks’ are you taking down to release innovative thinking?
  • What model can you turn on its head for something radically new and valuable?

Innovation in teaching and learning is about getting the relationship right between teachers and learners.  This is exactly what they are doing at the University of Chester.  And, just for fun, these principles apply just as much in primary education as they do in tertiary.  See the piece from BBC News where we ran a ‘School of Rock’ which helped 10 year old kids surpass their teacher’s expectations of them in their exams.

Tony Wall facilitates innovative learning at CWRS and accredits commercial training with university credits. You can connect with Tony at LinkedIn

For more like this read the book “The Music of Business”, acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith:

3M : Meatloaf, Macroeconomics and (Iron) Maiden – Rock’n’Roll Business hits the FT and The BBC

This week, I’ve prepared a round up of press articles on business, management, economics and music.   Starting with Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden, who has just opened an enterprise business in Wales, to service aircraft and provide jobs for 800 people in tough times.  The Financial Times covered the story:

Can I play with madness? Iron Maiden enter the fray to help fix the economy

Dickinson sounds a Mc Kinsey consultant who attended a ‘mass customisation masterclass’ and a ‘lean 5S programme’ when he says of the new aviation centre “We will tailor our services completely to the needs of our customers and we won’t employ more people than we need”.  To be fair, he makes his point much more clearly than a management consultant who swallowed an MBA for breakfast! :-)  That said, I don’t see Dickinson’s business acumen embedded in the lyrics of Iron Maiden’s songs, such as “The number of the beast” or “Two minutes to midnight”, even after I played them backwards …  Why did I not learn more about entrepreneurship, business continuity and economic development when I attended Iron Maiden’s comeback tour at Twickenham with my testosterone-filled 13 year old son?  We must be told …

Moving on to Andrew Sentance, Senior Economics Adviser to Price Waterhouse Coopers.  I will be featuring a full interview with Andrew shortly, but could not resist a trailer in the form of this witty piece on Meatloaf and the economy from The Evening Standard.  Andrew stands head and shoulders above the consultancy profession with his approach, which is thoughtful but also incisive.  A rare breed.

“3M” : Meatloaf, Macro-economics and Management

Without realising it, Andrew had followed an earlier piece I wrote for The Financial Times, and another I wrote which got picked up by BBC Radio 4′s flagship “Today” programme.  Here’s the article and the Radio clip:

I’m delighted to say that the FT letter prompted a US University Academic to get in touch with me.  It turned out that he had spent three years sharing a college room with Jim Steinman.  I have performed a couple of times with Meatloaf’s female singing partner – she sang on “I’d do anything for love (but I won’t do that)”.

For more posts on the economy, see Vince Cable, Can rappers fix the economy? and Evan Davis, who I bumped into the other week whilst jogging round London.  Perhaps Evan is entering the Olympics?

To finish, let’s hear that classic Iron Maiden song again to see if there is any subliminal advice about the 3A’s of regeneration:  Aerospace, Aeroflot or Aerosmith contained within, 666, the number of the beast:

Postscript – The FT published a letter I sent in re this on Tuesday 8 May:

Can I play with madness (and the economy) ?

For more like this, read the book “The Music of Business”, acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith:

 

We will brand you – Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, Unilever and Prince on branding

What can we learn from the crazy world of Rock’n’Roll about branding? One way to think about a brand is a kind of ‘shorthand’ designed to stop consumers from thinking about anything else other than your brand / product. Get branding right and you have customers for life. Get it wrong and you may never take off in business.

Take a look at this ‘basement video’ I made with my colleague Phil Hawthorn to understand the power of brands. We look at Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Nike, Madonna, Pepsi and Prince in this short video.

Unilever is a particularly interesting example of a brand which has managed to preserve the diversity of its many different operating companies, which, in their own words:

“We meet everyday needs for nutrition, hygiene and personal care with brands that help people feel good, look good and get more out of life”

This is exemplified down to the last detail in the logo for Unilever, which sells products from Dove, to Lipton Tea, to Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and the logo carries meanings which include freshness, love, beauty, science, farming, freedom and so on – a pretty tall order for any corporation to live up to, but a mighty ambition nonetheless.

The ultimate test of a brand is the extent to which it enables your company to have longevity as Unilever have demonstrated over 120 years. To see what I mean through the power of music, take a look at the 45 year old brand that is Pink Floyd:

And finally, purely for fun, the word branding began simply as a way to tell one person’s cattle from another by means of a hot iron stamp. In a moment of musical madness, my Country and Western Glam Rock band (The Cowpokers) took this lesson literally, in a satirical pastiche of the classic Queen song ‘We Will Brand You’. The audience is initially deluded into thinking that the drum track will be exactly as the original, but later on find out that it is not and the audience develop a form of ‘arrhythmic distress’ ….

We are speaking / performing about brands and customer service at the Customer Service Training Awards on Friday 08 July at Heathrow. Check out our starter menu of corporate event offerings for your next conference at R U EXPERIENCED