Bemoaning the blues

Peter Cook - Speaker and Writer on Business and Music:

Inspired by David D’Souza’s latest post on the HR Tribunal hearing for Bruno Mars, here is another blues inspired piece of satire …

Originally posted on Peter Cook's Musings - The Music of Business:

Following on from my piece on the business blues I just had to post this fantastic piece of blues satire that was sent to me from Clarksdale MA

Blues Singer’s Woman Permitted To Tell Her Side

MS–Ida Mae Dobbs, longtime woman of Willie “Skipbone” Jackson, called a press conference Tuesday to respond to charges levied against her by the legendary Delta blues singer. Ida Mae Dobbs, woman of blues singer Willie “Skipbone” Jackson

“Despite what Mr. Jackson would have you believe, I am not an evil-hearted woman who will not let him be,” Dobbs told reporters. “I repeat: I am not an evil-hearted woman who will not let him be. To the contrary, my lovin’ is so sweet, it tastes just like the apple off the tree.”

Dobbs, accused of causing Jackson pain and breaking his heart by calling out another man’s name, categorically denied treating him in a low-down manner.

“He says he sends for his baby…

View original 601 more words

Reasons to be cheerful … about entrepreneurship

2015 looks like it may well be the year where the “two E’s” collide in a positive manner – where Entrepreneurship meets Economics, so that novel ideas and their owners meet with the capital and other resources to ensure that their enterprise becomes more than a “one hit wonder”. Whilst entrepreneurs are compelled to bring new ideas into existence regardless of the economy, it obviously helps if ideas are launched at a time when people and businesses are in the mood and with the means to buy them.such as Anita Roddick, who started The Body Shop next to a funeral parlour in Brighton in 1976, estimated to be one of the best years in the UK in terms of well being.

Anita Roddick planted her seeds for The Body Shop on fertile ground in 1976

Anita Roddick planted her seeds for The Body Shop on fertile ground in 1976

What then makes me suggest that 2015 is going to be a good year for entrepreneurs?

Economics, Economics, Economics

I was speaking with my friend Dr Andrew Sentance on his economic forecast for 2015 recently. A former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee Andrew is currently Senior Economic Adviser for PwC and a member of my band Rock In The City, dedicated to humanising the square mile through rock music. He outlined several reasons to be cheerful:

  1. Economic growth is forecast to be 2.5% in 2015. Andrew suggests that only the US will do better among the G7 economies in the coming year.
  2. Investment is forecast to grow by over 6% in 2015.
  3. Inflation is low and set to fall further. Consumers may gain some much-needed economic relief in terms of prices.
  4. Unemployment is expected to fall to 5.5% by the end of 2015.
  5. Wages growth is picking up – expected to be 2.4% next year. When combined with low inflation, people can expect the first improvements in living standards since the financial crash.
  6. Real household disposable income is forecast to rise by 2.3% in 2015, providing the consumer with some purchasing power for the first time in several years.
The wonderful Stiff Records - an entrepreneurial startup that started in 1976 but ran out of cash eventually ...

The wonderful Stiff Records – an entrepreneurial startup that started in 1976 but ran out of cash eventually …

The one thing we can be sure of is that the future is that it is subject to change. Nonetheless, these predictions do line up to offer hope that we will be gently lifted out of recession for the first time in around 7 years. What then does the improved economic climate offer for the entrepreneur?

Reasons to be cheerful … for Entrepreneurs … 1, 2, 3

  1. If your enterprise is operating in what I call one of the “Brain Based Industries” you are likely to find a fertile climate for growth in 2015. These include biotechnology, nanotechnology, 3D printing and computing development, which shows no sign of having reached a plateau in our imagination of what’s possible.
  2. The service sector and creative industries are also predicted to show significant growth. If you are an entrepreneur with a creative idea or service, which makes people’s lives better in some way, now is a good time to be thinking of starting your business. My long experience of working with creative people reminds me to also say that you must couch your service in terms of simple to understand consumer focused benefits and not. Some creative minds are prone to think that people will beat a path to your door to seek out what you offer, however difficult you make it for them. That is the exception and not the rule.
  3. Finally some traditional industries are also set for growth with good forecasts for the construction industry and consumer goods. We need also to look at ways to innovate in these industries to make sure that our contributions in this area employ sustainable technologies and materials. This is an area where entrepreneurs can play their part.

We must learn to unlearn

It’s been a long haul through the deepest recession for many years and I’m personally hopeful that we will learn from the lessons of economics to create a more sustainable world economy. That’s not simply learning new things, but also unlearning out-dated habits that create boom and bust economies in favour of a more sustainable world. In this context, we finish with a song that Andrew Sentance loves for it’s rather cheeky Ian Dury inspired lyrics about economics and entrepreneurship. I wrote the song as a call to action for a more sustainable world, plus it was a lot of fun to do …

and, of course, one of the inspirations for Andrew’s predictions:

Riding the waves of change

I am a massive fan of Professor Charles Handy’s work, having met him a few times over the years. His work on portfolio careers and change in “The Empty Raincoat” resonated strongly with me when I started my business 20 years ago, in terms of the need to recognise that every business has it’s “Sigmoid Curve”. The important move in personal or business life is to recognise when you are at a point of inflexion and start a new Sigmoid Curve, as shown in this diagram:

We are in an age where a job for life hardly exists any more. Reflecting on my career it turns out that I reinvent myself in 18 year cycles: 18 years in science, leading teams to develop life-saving pharmaceuticals; 18 years teaching MBA’s in academia and; 18+ years starting up and running a business. Around 2008 I foresaw a need to adapt once again, as the recession began. As the end of 2014 approaches, I’m reflecting on some of the results of the decisions I made to make some fundamental changes back in 2008 that are leading me into my “4th age”.

Ain’t no mountain high enough …

To be effective as a consultancy business these days, you need to be a global player due to client requirements around the world. Although we’ve delivered projects across the world using our own networks in the USA and Europe, our partnership with Nadine Hack’s Global Network is a major landmark in our development as a global player and I’m humbled to have been chosen to be in such superb company.

Another important achievement in terms of scope and scale was winning a prize for our work on Leadership from Sir Richard Branson. These events have changed my perceptions as to what we might be capable of achieving in 2015.

Nadine Hack is a world leader in trustworthy behaviour and leadership

Comparing notes on Virgin albums – Meeting Sir Richard Branson

Frustrations and False Starts

Fame doesn’t pay the bills and the year has continued to be “lumpy” business wise, having spent considerable time on client projects which have then not proceeded due to internal or external changes which caused priorities to change.

I’ve also been taken for a ride on a couple of occasions, by people from public sector institutions and quangos, some of whom have asked me to speak at conferences for free in exchange for promises of in-kind benefits which never materialise. I reserve my free time for genuine charities and not such enterprises. A repeated series of “diversions” can kill smaller businesses and I’ve often wanted to invent an “authenticity tester” to separate the sheep from the goats in this respect. However I have not yet invented this gadget :-) Apparently I’m not alone in this desire!!

Has anyone invented this gadget yet?

The lesson here is to find better ways of doing the due diligence on larger projects, although sometimes the client themselves does not know that their own business is also experiencing a point of inflexion when making plans to engage external assistance. As a smaller niche business, sometimes there is little to be done other to dust yourself down and move on, rather like Jake and Elwood in “The Blues Brothers”:

Seeds of growth

That said, many times things work out fine and we’ve also had a series of very enjoyable consultancy and speaking projects in Estonia, Ireland, Romania and Germany in 2014 and promises of others in the USA and elsewhere in 2015. I’ve had equivalent joy in my musical life at The Academy of Rock – interviews with George Clinton, Roberta Flack, John Mayall, AC / DC’s drummer and, recently, joint performances with Patti Russo – Meatloaf’s long term singing partner at Henley Business School, a corporate gig for HP’s annual awards ceremony and an awesome gig in London with Bernie Tormé, guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne and Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan.

With Patti Russo at Henley Business School, Bernie Tormé at London’s Borderline, at the HP awards in Brighton, interviewing George Clinton (Prince’s spiritual Godfather) and discussing HR leadership and the Virgin Way in Romania. Below our interview with Roberta Flack

If your business is to become a true Learning Company, this involves both what Peter Senge calls “learning” and more importantly “unlearning”. So, in pursuing my new pathway as a global consultancy and keynote speaker and performer alongside my role as a business author and facilitator, what have I had to learn and let go of in order to gain momentum for change?

Learning and unlearning to adapt

To do new things, this means letting go of the “familiar”. I’ve had to turn down a few projects this year, which, although they would pay a wage, would have filled my diary, making it impossible to pursue these new directions. Leadership is as much about saying no as it is saying yes to requests.

When pursuing larger projects, there is more risk of companies defaulting on their requests. One needs to be resilient, both emotionally and financially to “play with the big boys”. I have my mum to thank for the business principle of “never a borrower or a lender be”, having never had a loan in 20 years of business and have survived the longest and deepest recession in recent times, so I feel well prepared to deal with such things. Nonetheless it is galling to spend months of your time in preparation for projects which get cancelled due to wider strategic changes. I must get better at dusting myself down from such occurrences and, hopefully, minimising them in the first place.

In pursuing a global strategy, I need to develop exceptional collaborative bonds with people who I have not necessarily spent a lot of time working face to face with. This investment in relationships ultimately leads to a return in terms of more significant and rewarding projects. Trust matters much more when you are working at a distance with people and this must be allocated a good amount of time.

Hopes and Fears for 2015

1. I’m looking to develop the relationship as a writer and partner with Virgin.com.

2. I’m also hoping to launch a new groundbreaking book on innovation and creativity that blends world class research with the pragmatism of “what works” in the field.

3. I will continue to develop the Human Dynamics and Academy of Rock brands and networks so that they compete well with the usual suspects.

4. I’m hoping to receive less fake requests for assistance, but one never knows … To be an adaptive organisation, one needs to have a plan and also be nimble and responsive …

To adapt, sometimes one needs to switch the points towards an unknown destination …

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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. Connect with us on our Linkedin Company Page and join our group The Music of Business where we discuss parallel lessons from Business and Music.

Season’s Greetings

Festive greetings. As in previous years, we prefer to give money to charity instead of giving Christmas cards. This year we are giving our main donation to Demelza House Hospice – a charity that helps terminally ill children live out their remaining days in comfort and dignity.  We are combining our donation with the proceeds from the sale of our song written in honour of Prince earlier in the year. There’s still time to buy the song and donate to the cause if you wish: Bandcamp – 18 and over version, Bandcamp – Bleeped version

Demelza Hospice - a worthy cause that rocks

Demelza Hospice – a worthy cause that rocks

We have also made a donation to the Wikimedia Foundation – knowledge is such a valuable asset in our quest to make the world a better place.

In the meantime, here is a piece of music I composed and recorded for Christmas in my basement. The piece is themed around Cats and Snow – enjoy !!  All the very best for 2015 :-)

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.

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 10.31.20

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.

John Peel – 75 years of innovation

John Peel's record collection - Click on the picture to find out more

John Peel’s record collection – Click on the picture to find out more

John Peel would have been 75 years old this year. I was reflecting on his impact on me both musically and on my approach to life and here are five things about Mr Peel that stand out for me – what are yours? Write me a letter or make a comment here, or even send me a piece of new music to listen to ….

1. Stay Young and Keep in Touch – So many people only like music at a certain time of their lives – the 60’s, 70’s, 90’s etc. and they are prone to saying things like “All music is rubbish now” when they should simply say “I only listened to music between the ages of 14 and 23 and I’m a creature of habit so I’m on repeat from now on”. One of John’s teachers said of him:

“It’s possible that John can form some kind of nightmarish career out of his enthusiasm for unlistenable records and his delight in writing long and facetious essays…”

2. Refuse to be ruled by metrics – Peel refused to be influenced by ratings or playlists. Instead it was the “John Peel brand” that made the ratings. You never knew what you might hear on one of John’s shows and that in itself produced the listeners which he needed to satisfy BBC bosses.

3. Support innovators – John would break new acts that would otherwise not receive radio play. Amongst these he was responsible for bringing my friend Bill Nelson and Be-Bop Deluxe to the attention of music lovers. Some years later, Bill captured Peel’s Liverpudian tones in the introduction to his “Modern Music Suite” . Listen to the full piece, which features John Peel and Tony Hancock in the opening section of the suite:

Amongst a long list of artists and bands that owe their success wholly or in part to John Peel are: Pulp, The White Stripes, Mike Oldfield, Nirvana, The Strokes, Bauhaus, The Doctors of Madness, P.J. Harvey, The Smiths, Bernie Tormé, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, The Cocteau Twins, Bill Nelson, Marc Bolan and T.REX, The Slits, The Cure, The Undertones and Billy Bragg.

The manner of John getting to know Bragg was rather unconventional. Bragg heard John say he was hungry on air and rushed in with a Mushroom Biryani and a copy of “Life’s a Riot with Spy vs Spy”. Peel went on to play a track from the album but at the wrong speed (Bragg’s albums were recorded loud and short to play at 45 RPM).

Mushroom Biryani - The Choice of Influencers

Mushroom Biryani – The influencing choice of champions

4. An anti-establishment member of the establishment – John Peel’s biography states that Peel was anti-establishment because he knew how the establishment worked – he’d been part of it and he didn’t like it. He attended public school in Shropshire, but was shy and quiet and he was frequently bullied for not fitting in. Instead of playing rugby, John rebelled with a choice selection of rare vinyl. It’s a feeling that resonates at my core. I went to a grammar school, hated rugby and suffered a degree of bullying for not fitting in, preferring to listen to music and obsessing about science – something of a geek by today’s standards :-) A great life lesson for innovators is to know the system you are trying to influence. John Peel knew what he had to do to keep the BBC just on the right side.

5. A Witty Life Long Learner

Towards the end of his life Peel had embraced hip hop, drum and bass and a number of other musical genres, never getting stuck in a musical paradigm. Eventually the BBC succumbed to ratings and Radio 1 decided to cut an hour of his show in favour of a Drum and Bass programme. Peel responded with his usual wit – read the full letter here and his parting shot to Matthew Bannister:

“Think of my programmes as your research department. Noisy, smelly but occasionally coming up with the formulae which you can subsequently market”

Peel’s attitude to most things was filled with a totally original wry sense of humour and irony – none more than with his views on his eventual death:

“I’ve always imagined I’d die by driving into the back of a truck while trying to read the name on a cassette, and people would say, ‘he would have wanted to go that way.’ Well, I want them to know that I wouldn’t”

Finally, an acrostic poem written in 2004 by my friend Dave Brooks and some video content of a few of the artists that John Peel broke including archive footage from Sir Richard Branson discussing John’s contribution to Virgin.

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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.