Bill Nelson – Master of Personal Reinvention

Today, I’m looking at what makes a master of personal reinvention. Not through the usual business suspects, but through the example of the music legend Bill Nelson. I’ve been inspired to write this as I have just managed to get a ticket to see Bill at the filming of his ITV Legends concert in London on Saturday March 26th. Check out the concert details if you want to be a part of this once in a lifetime experience to meet a true master of personal reinvention.

You might be wondering, just who is Bill Nelson? And what can a rock star teach us about personal reinvention? How is that relevant for us in our lives and work? Some background…

Bill Nelson led 1970’s Art School band Be-Bop Deluxe and Red Noise. In spite of his huge success, he disliked the ‘rock’n’roll circus’ and left considerable wealth and fame to pursue his own artistic and musical direction. However, his influence on modern music is immense and pervasive. Nelson is admired by Paul McCartney, Brian May, Kate Bush, Brian Eno, David Sylvian, Prince, Bowie, The Foo Fighters, The Darkness, My Chemical Romance et al.

Reinvention is hard enough for most of us. It’s even harder if you have a Rolls Royce, five sports cars and a mansion calling you to just do ‘more of the same’. This is the situation Bill Nelson faced with EMI music in the late 1970’s. Most of us are being asked to do some personal reinvention at the moment. You may be trying to learn new things to get a new job? Maybe you run a small business, struggling for contracts in a changing business landscape? Or you might be instigating corporate reinvention to keep your company in tune with ever changing customer moods, wants and needs? All these things require you to be excellent at personal reinvention and mastery of change. Check this video out which compares Bill Nelson’s approach to the artist Prince:

So, what are Bill Nelson’s secrets for personal reinvention? He wrote these down when contemplating a new album release and wishing to break away from simply repeating himself. Bill kindly allowed me to interpret them in my book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’. Let’s explore a couple of his principles:

Bill Nelson says “Do not be afraid of the ‘off’ switch”. In my experience of composing and recording music, this means not continuously adding more layers to a piece of music and losing the simplicity and resonance of the piece. It also means stopping when what you are doing isn’t working. Many businesses would be better off if they were to adopt this principle, i.e. stopping things that are no longer wanted or needed rather than just carrying on regardless. We are all creatures of habit to some extent. There is often irresistible temptation and pressure to continue in the face of compelling evidence of a need to do something different. Kodak experienced this with the death of conventional film processing. Had they chosen to notice the trend some years back, they might have been in a better position to respond to market change.

Bill Nelson adds “Refuse to sing when no words appear”. An excellent lesson for most of us to learn. Why do most songs have to have lyrics? Why do most websites have to have text? Why do most businesses have departments they don’t need? and so on. Masters of personal reinvention don’t slavishly copy success recipes. They adapt and improve upon them to precisely meet their needs and those of the people they serve. If you want to serve yourself well and your customers, by all means use success recipes as basic ‘templates for life’. But also question their relevance and precise fit for your particular circumstances. In the words of the master himself “Stay young, and keep in touch”. This means that you should approach new opportunities with a fresh mind. Always check to see if your success recipes are still up to date with the world around you. If you’ve been in business for any length of time, there can be a tendency to think that you are invincible. Hubris in business is a killer, as Marks and Spencer, Sony and many others nearly found out.

The coaching lessons from this are:

If what you are doing isn’t working, stop, think and do something different

Question the things that are the essence of your success from time to time

I’ll be writing more about Bill Nelson’s principles for reinvention in future blogs. If you want to read more about personal and corporate reinvention, come along to our next free event on March 22. If you fancy meeting Bill Nelson in person at a champagne reception after the ITV Legends show in London, check out the ITV Legends concert.

Footnote – The Legends concert DVD is now out on AMAZON.

The Legends DVD cover featuring Bill’s Campbell Nelsonic Guitar

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3 responses to “Bill Nelson – Master of Personal Reinvention

  1. Pingback: The Edinburgh Festival and Leonard Cohen | Peter Cook – The Rock'n'Roll Business Guru's Blog

  2. Pingback: Guitar Gods: Hendrix vs. Clapton : Innovators vs. adaptors | Peter Cook – The Rock'n'Roll Business Guru's Blog

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