This article finds me in Athens, contemplating the talk I am to give at the 7th international HR Leadership Conference. My theme is to be that of reinvention which is extremely apt for the business world in Greece and more widely. Compared with all the ‘one hit wonders’ in music, David Bowie has reinvented himself several times and taken his audience with him. The parallel lesson in business is that of changing what you do, keeping your customers and gaining new customers. What can we learn about business from David Bowie? This is the second article in the series – to catch up with the story so far check out ‘The Laughing Gnome to Heroes’. Before we start, let’s look at another Bowie classic – China Girl:
Bowie Business Lesson # 5. Perpetual change
In 1983, he released ‘Let’s Dance.’ Bowie recruited Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers to produce the album, giving the record a sleek, funky foundation, and hired the unknown Stevie Ray Vaughan as lead guitarist. Let’s Dance became his most successful record.
Bowie Business Lesson # 6. When change is over, change again
Bowie’s next project was less successful. He formed a guitar rock band called Tin Machine. They released an album to poor reviews and supported it with a small tour, which was only moderately successful. Tin Machine released a second album, Tin Machine II, which was ignored. Time to change again …
Bowie Business Lesson # 7. Form innovative partnerships
Bowie teamed up with Brian Eno to produce ‘Outside’ and went on tour, co-headlining with ‘Nine Inch Nails,’ to lure a younger audience, but his strategy failed. In 1996, he recorded ‘Earthling,’ an album heavily influenced by techno and drum’n’bass. Earthling received positive reviews, yet it did not attract a new audience. Many techno purists criticised Bowie for exploiting their subculture. It seemed that his attempt to cross demographic and culture divides was not going to work on this occasion. Since then, Bowie has formed partnerships with a number of artists including Placebo and reinvented himself as a brand for a US online bank
The main learnings from this dramatic series of reinventions include:
1. Make radical changes even when your current strategy is successful.
2. Hire and work with the best people you can find, especially if they are better than you.
3. Read the environment and engage with new movements when they are more than fads.
4. Learn from failure and quickly move on.
What else do you consider that David Bowie can teach us about business? Share your thoughts here.
Finally, let’s catch another Bowie classic. Under Pressure:
If you enjoy this you will love my new book “The Music of Business” – Acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org