The School of Hard Rocks

There have been many high points in 2014.  In business terms, the partnership with Nadine Hack’s Global Network is a major landmark in our development as a global consultancy business.  I won a prize for my work from Sir Richard Branson and we’ve enjoyed consultancy projects in Estonia, Ireland, Romania and Germany in 2014.

I’ve had equivalent joy in my musical life at The Academy of Rock – interviews with George Clinton, Roberta Flack, Hawkwind, John Mayall and, recently, performances with Meatloaf’s female singing partner Patti Russo and Bernie Tormé, guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne and Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan at London’s prestigious Borderline venue.  It is to this experience that I turn in this blog to reflect on lessons from “The School of Hard Rocks”.  Here’s a video of our performance of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” to start us off:

There was no time to rehearse for this performance, save for a three minute soundcheck a few hours before we hit the stage. For me this mirrors the situation that many managers face when having to deliver a presentation or performance. What then can we learn from this in terms of transferable lessons from the Borderline to the boardroom?

Learning from The School of Hard Rocks

Over-prepare to be flexible – In my case there was no rehearsal and only about five minutes to find out how the band works as a team before the soundcheck – how it sends signals to each other, who is responsible for shortening / lengthening the song, how leadership passes from one member to another and how we end together etc. I had assumed this might be the case so I took the trouble to attend one of Bernie’s other gigs on the tour to study the musical performance. I’d also used Bernie at one of our corporate team building events so I had some idea of how he “passes the baton” from person to person during a jam, although he is not as demonstrative as Ritchie Blackmore or Prince, so careful attention is needed.

Learn to read others – Once on stage, I could not hear myself as Bernie has an old school approach to making sure “everything is up to 11”. A lot of the necessary adjustment has to be done through using your eyes and not your ears in such circumstances. The musical people amongst you will notice there are a couple of moments in the middle of “Fire” when I had misunderstood how many bars we would do in “E” and in “D”. Towards the end, politeness meant that Bernie and myself were unclear on who would take the lead and you can see some “guesswork” going on between me, Bernie and the band. Ah well, not so bad after the three minute soundcheck I guess! 🙂

Be nimble, be quick – Bernie only did one number as a soundcheck – it was pretty much the same when I performed at Brands Hatch with “Punk Idol” John Otway a few years’ back and Patti Russo the other week at Henley Business School. In comparison, I recently stood in for an amateur band at a corporate event and they used 30 minutes to run through numbers – this is not what a soundcheck is for – the clue is in the title.

Expect the unexpected – The one thing I failed to prepare for was the need to climb on stage. All seemed well at the soundcheck, but once the venue filled, I was unable to get to the side of the stage where the stairs were. Once I was called to the stage, I proceeded to climb what seemed like a mountain without success, eventually needing to be hauled up by the band in a scene that looked like something from “Spinal Tap”. Ah well it caused some amusement!

BT Peter Borderline

A proud moment – Mr Tormé and me at The Borderline after I clambered to the stage in a shambolic Spinal Tapesque manner!!

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with the wisdom of the street via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE.

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From Competitive Advantage to Collaborative Advantage

The last 100 years of business wisdom in the West has been dominated by the notion of Competitive Advantage, whereby a company or enterprise develops a product or a set of capabilities that confers some kind of unique advantage versus its competitors, ideally over an extended period of time. The concept was championed by Michael Porter via his tomes, “Competitive Advantage” and “The Competitive Advantage of Nations”. Essentially Porter’s theory is Charles Darwin for business people. Here’s an account of our recent evolution from the agrarian through the industrial to the information age.  It is not clear from this infographic whether intelligence has increased …

If Dinosaurs ruled the Earth ...

If Dinosaurs ruled the Earth …

It’s time we moved to the notion of Collaborative Advantage in a joined up world. Innovation is now so complex that it is rare for the capabilities and intelligence required to convert a new idea into a sustainable business, product or service to reside within one individual or discipline. Alongside this, the impact of our actions on the world has become correspondingly greater and we must therefore look to collaboration as a tool if we are to have a chance of making the world a better place.

But, it’s not easy. As with Darwin’s ideas about competition, the human condition tends to place emphasis on looking after number one as a priority, especially when under pressure. So voluntary activity is necessary but not sufficient to achieve the required changes. On the positive side, some companies are taking the lead in setting the conditions where collaboration is seen to be a better option than going it alone:

Unilever are at the forefront of innovation through collaboration, offering incentives for individuals to come up with ingenious ideas. So too are many small entrepreneurial start up businesses, assisted by crowdfunding. It really is possible to be small and global now. I wrote recently about the power of Collaboration for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Entrepreneur blog. Read the piece here at Collaboration and Crowdfunding.

At a personal level, I was recently invited to give a guest keynote and collaborative musical experience at Henley Business School. Collaborating with people and organisations that you don’t own or control is a completely different animal compared with the traditional organisation model and it requires a completely different type of leadership. I am delighted to be associated with an institution that understands the difference and designs it into their Executive Education programmes.

We were blessed to have a guest appearance from Patti Russo, Meatloaf’s long term female singing partner. I’ve been working with Patti to develop the next stage of her career and she kindly agreed to come along as a special guest. Patti is a living, breathing example of someone who has collaborated with some of the biggest egos on Planet Earth. She performs with much of rock’s royalty including Cher, Queen and in the theatre with the LA version of “We Will Rock You”. A magical moment was when we launched into “Dead Ringer for Love” during the live performance part of the evening. The entire audience of leaders stood up to salute her! I was also privileged to do an acoustic “aftershow” with Patti in the bar at Henley, where we performed “You can’t always get what you want” and “I would do anything for love”, which included some great delegate collaboration.

I would do anything for love - with Patti Russo and Masterclass at Henley Business School

I would do anything for love – with Patti Russo and Masterclass at Henley Business School – Click the picture to book Patti for a unique experience

I’m also delighted to have been invited to join a global collaboration with Nadine Hack for a more sustainable business world. Nadine’s contribution to finding joined up solutions to complex world problems is unparalleled and she has started this network to continue and accelerate her work.

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Nadine Hack – Leader of a Global Network for a more sustainable world – click on the picture to find out more

Action Points

  • Competitive Advantage must be matched with Collaborative Advantage
  • Collaboration is easy to say but runs counter to many people’s DNA, so we must work hard at it
  • The internet can facilitate enterprise through collaboration via crowdfunding. See Sir Richard Branson’s articles on Collaboration Virgin.com for more on this
  • Leaders can learn to collaborate if they choose to. Please get in touch with Nadine Hack or myself to discuss collaborative leadership

To finish, here’s a song from Patti that literally sums up idea of being “under pressure”:

This Time, It’s Personnel

Today marks the release of a book of blogs edited by David D’Souza, which has been crowdsourced and which I contributed a chapter to, courtesy of Ian Davidson, who originally connected me to the enterprise. “Humane Resourced” was the first book in the series and this one “This Time, It’s Personnel” builds on the success of volume I. The book is initially available at a bargain price of £2.59 and all proceeds go to charities chosen by the authors, after Amazon have taken their wedge.

This Time It's Personnel - Click to buy the book on Amazon

This Time, It’s Personnel – Click to buy the book on Amazon

This Time, It’s Personnel contains 70 articles featuring many of the leading HR protagonists I have come to know on Twitter, such as Kim Patterson, Ian Pettigrew, Amanda Sterling, Kate Griffiths Lambeth, Ryan Cheyne, Kandy Woodfield, Anne Tynan, Nicola Barber, Simon Arrowsmith, Robert Ordever, Gemma Ruecroft, Malcolm Louth, Jo Dodds, Tim Scott, Perry Timms, Amanda Sterling, Sukh Pabial, Tash Peiterse, David D’Souza himself and Ian Davidson, to name a few.

For my part I’ve written an article for the book again. This time it is a sober analysis of HR Strategy and how that should be connected to the business and tied to behaviour at ground floor level. Last time I wrote of disruptive innovation in HR via the medium of Punk Rock, a notion which I explored with Peter Cheese, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) the other week. I am myself an FCIPD (Fellow, now Former member), having left the institute because I felt it had become too inward looking and that some HR functions lack focus on the businesses that HR serves. I must say I was impressed with Peter’s input at the event I attended on the subject of recognition the other week and am reconsidering the CIPD as a result.

So grab yourself a copy of the book and help a charity whilst it is just £2.59.

Speaking of Humane Resources, I’m meeting Patti Russo later today – Patti has performed with Meatloaf for 20 years, Cher, Queen, in the Las Vegas production of “We Will Rock You” and many others. I was deeply impressed at how she has handled her dealings with people over this time in the highly pressured and ego ridden environment that is Rock’n’Roll. She is a shining example of ethical HR practice in an industry that is not renowned for such things and I’m proud to be working with her. I know David D’Souza has also faced many challenges ensuring the production of the book, including the death of his mum, but he has quite literally made sure that “the show must go on”. This song by Patti is for him to thank him for his perseverance in adversity:

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He also offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with the wisdom of the street via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE.