Disruptive Innovation : 3 Lessons from Punk Rock

On Thursday May 16th we take to the high seas in the same way as the Sex Pistols did on their Jubilee boat trip in 1977:

Friggin' in the Riggin'  - The Sex Pistols on board in 1977

Friggin’ in the Riggin’ – The Sex Pistols on board in 1977

Our trip takes us back to a point in history when the steady state of music was disrupted by Punk Rock.  Punk grabbed Prog Rock and Glam by their crown jewels and reduced them to a quivering mass.  As a self confessed lover of Genesis, Pink Floyd, T.REX, Bowie etc. I also loved the energy that punk brought back into music and its ability to wake up the establishment.  Given that there is much talk of disruptive innovation in today’s management landscape, can we learn anything from the realm of punk rock?  This is a theme I’m taking up with 250 Senior Public Sector HR Leaders and CEO’s this Friday, so wish me luck.  I’m expecting to be about as popular as Johnny Rotten on the Bill Grundy Show! 🙂  Lest we forget – bad language warning!

Here are 3 transferable lessons for business innovation from punk rock:

  1. Punk was all about simplicity and brevity.  Businesses must aspire to the same qualities when dealing with their end users, even if their technologies and processes are complex.  In a busy world, simplicity and brevity are watchwords of success.
  2. Punk destroyed itself in the blink of an eye.  This is NOT a transferable lesson.  Successful businesses are sustainable rather than one hit wonders.
  3. People talk of the need for disruptive innovation, yet punk was too disruptive for some and this led to its destruction by the establishment.  The corollary of this is that, if a product or service is perceived as too ‘dissonant’ with existing products or services, it may not be adopted.

There ain’t half been some clever bastards – The Blockheads from Left to Right : Mick Gallagher, Peter Cook, Chaz Jankel, John Turnbull, Derek Hussey

I had the good fortune to interview “The Blockheads” of Ian Dury fame for a TV programme last week.  It was a rare pleasure to interview Mick Gallagher, who has worked with Ian Dury and The Clash, plus Sir Paul Mc Cartney, Robbie Williams, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart.  Clearly Mick managed to adapt from punk to the mainstream and this probably accounts for his durability as a musician.  The parallel lessons are clear for businesses:

  • Adapt or die
  • Be Nimble
  • Be Quick

We have some innovation events coming up soon.  The first of these, aptly titled “Innovation, Business and Punk Rock” is on a historic lightship on May 16th in Kent.  The event is sponsored by The University of Kent and in collaboration with The Chartered Management Institute, The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply and The Open University Business School.  Details below:

p.s. If you are attending the Public Sector leadership conference on April 19, you have been warned! 🙂

6 responses to “Disruptive Innovation : 3 Lessons from Punk Rock

  1. wow that boat lark looks such good fun.
    & spandau ballet meets punk. At last!

    i’m taken aback at how much of an actual STAR John Lydon looked in that top photo. It leaps off the screen at you.


  2. Hi Peter – fun as ever! Fist did you mean April 19th for the Public Sector Leadership conference? Second – I think also that this ended Bill Grundy’s career – so may be another lesson is be careful what you wish for!


  3. From Linkedin:

    Howard Richman • Music, whether it’s punk, rap, ska, hip-hop, or disco (which also died, and not a bit too soon) teach us more about the pulse of what is really going on in our world that is totally overlooked by the crowd on Wall Street and Main Street. They are leading indicators. The lesson is to not ignore them – they speak to voids in our society and life than need to be filled, which entrepreneurs know all too often is the mother of invention.


  4. Pingback: From Low Culture To High Art: The Punk Rock Uniform | The Narcissistic Anthropologist

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