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 …


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:


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.

Business Lessons from Music

Top of the Pops

Top of the Pops

I’m off to give a conference in Estonia today where I’ll be giving a run down of 10 top tips about business from the parallel universe of music.  To mark the occasion, here’s the first in a series of posts containing bite size tips about business from music.  I’ve reframed the song titles in a creative way, sometimes outrageously so, to suggest some enduring business tips taken from the world of music rather than the longer winded approach of the business school.  Take a look:

This is part of a book I’m releasing soon.  Drop me a line at peter@humdyn.co.uk for details.




About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.

The “F” Word – Leadership Lessons from Failure

This Saturday September 06 I am presenting at The Institute for Contemporary Music Performance on the subject of failure. It’s a word that managers fear, yet any successful leader or entrepreneur will usually have failed a few times if they are talking honestly about success. The lecture offers practical lessons about entrepreneurship, strategy, creativity, project planning, team leadership and execution of your strategy for people trying to do new things, via the medium of a case study. Before you ask, NOOO, it’s not your usual dull business case study!!  Read on and check out the full conference at ICMP

Failure and Success - The truth

Failure and Success – The truth

Some years ago, I sponsored an audacious plan to circumnavigate the world on a rock’n’roll tour, performing at the greatest venues on the planet and taking your audience with you. I invested nearly £50 000 of my life savings in order to help my friend John Otway to advance the enterprise forward. Alas, my involvement came too late and despite achieving a temporary turnaround in fortunes, it was not enough to recover the situation and I most the money and about 6 months effort in an attempt to help John realise his dream. I dubbed the project, “The Real Spinal Tap Tour”.  Take a look at the promo video for the tour to get a flavour of the ambition:

Like most business enterprises, the John Otway World Tour was a GREAT idea, poorly EXECUTED.  It is never enough to have a great idea in business. Meticulous execution skills are needed to bring the idea into existence and I will explore the successes, near misses and downright catastrophes that led to the eventual meltdown of the project.  To whet your appetite, here are a few stunning facts about the tour:

A comedy of errors...

A comedy of errors…

Our presentation is available in your company with parallel lessons for businesses. We are also available to help you avoid similar flights of fancy or to turn difficult corners in your own projects. For the moment, here is the magical moment that started John Otway’s career, when he fell off an amplifier on The Old Grey Whistle Test, injuring vital parts. This is a stunt which Otway has developed in his career ever since, including our performance at Pfizer:


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.

Directing HR

Sex, HR and Rock'n'Roll, a heady cocktail

Sex, HR and Rock’n’Roll, a heady cocktail

I was invited to give the afternoon keynote at the HR Directors Forum, held at Mayer Brown Solicitors in the City the other week.  Here’s a few highlights from the event:

Myths and Riffs of High Performance

The morning kicked off with a big bang from Professor Adrian Furnham, who elegantly blew away some myths surrounding the development of High Performance organisations and people.  Here’s just a few of the key insights:

Adrian released some interesting research on Coaching.  Whilst in general research demonstrates that the vast majority of Coaching is fairly ineffective, he highlighted some conditions under which it works.  Like most things, it all comes down to solid preparation:

  • Ensuring the client is ready to receive the coaching – 40% contribution
  • Getting the relationship right between client and coach – 30% contribution
  • Client expectation that coaching will lead to improvement – 15% contribution
  • The coaches’ repertoire of models / strategies and tools to help the client – 15% contribution

This provided me with great levels of satisfaction and a certain level of smugness!! :-) since I always spend a lot of time making sure my clients are fully prepared to benefit from coaching.  We then have an initial session to find out if the ‘chemistry’ will work and I work from a wide palette of approaches to coaching and not just the limited ‘question based approach’ that bedevils the ‘friendly co-pilot’ style of coaching, otherwise known as the ‘dumb leading the blind’.  There is of course a place for purely “Socratic” question based coaching but it is just one approach from a much wider repertoire.

Adrian also dealt a critical blow to the beloved “Nine Box Performance Management model” based on UCL’s detailed research into the model.  Read his new book “High Potential” with Ian MacRae for more insights if you want to do this stuff properly. Adrian also wrote an article on music and leadership for Psychology Today – read it here.

Nine Lives no more ...

Nine Lives no more … read High Potential by clicking on the picture

It also featured superb sessions from Liz Codd, who gave great insights into the realities of assessing leadership potential in an international Asset Management Firm and from John Renz at Novae Group, who also gave a practical example of how to do Coaching well in a business context, giving pragmatic triangulation to Professor Furnham’s ideas

Never Mind the Neuro-Boll … ks …

The most difficult session was an input on neuroscience and HR.  Admittedly, it was far too short to give any real opportunity to dig into the topic so I have some sympathy for the speaker.  My main difficulty with the session is that there was very little that did anything more than to reinforce some well known truths from over 100 years of social research on the topic by Herzberg, Victor Vroom et al. We already know that money doesn’t satisfy and that recognition is more important than reward.  We also know that the alignment of goals with personal motivations matters for high performance.  The speaker admitted that the addition of the word “neuro” to just about everything is simply an example of “old wine in new bottles”.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a scientist by original profession and neuroscience is an important scientific development, but I agreed with her that we must be careful to avoid strapping it on to just about everything.

Be skeptical when being sold neuro - bollocks

Be skeptical when being sold neuro – bollocks

I fought the Law, and the Law won …

Plus a superb session from a Lawyer – YES, a superb session from a Lawyer.  I have suffered the slings and arrows of numerous talks by lawyers when I was Branch Chair and Council Board Member for CIPD, but this was exceptional.  Clear, simple advice and insights from Chris Fisher at Mayer Brown into how companies can protect their intellectual property when people leave plus a range of other topics.

Sex, HR and Rock’n’Roll

The odd ball of the day was the panel session on “Sexism and the City”.  I am a vigorous advocate of diversity in every shape and form, having worked in a meritocracy at the Wellcome Foundation, a company who won four Nobel Prizes for it’s groundbreaking work in medicines for life threatening conditions.  In such a company, the work is much more important than politically correct quotas of black / white, straight / gay, able-bodied / disabled, male / female as a driving force for the selection and development of people.   As a result we had a genuine global village at the company and I found myself wondering whether the square mile was somehow still stuck in the 14th Century?  The session included a rant from a self-confessed “alpha female” who asked for a revolution to introduce female quotas in the City.  There is nothing less persuasive than a single issue protester with a ‘sandwich board’ so it was difficult to hear the sensible arguments that lay beneath it. However there were three other panel members who put forward wider arguments, beyond the outdated idea of bringing back quotas for women in senior positions which has failed over several generations.  After all, do we really think that just transplanting women without the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes into positions is likely to make them shine?  The thinking needs to go much further than this, more along the lines of Professor Charles Handy and Tom Peters’ thought leadership in this area.  Overall, the panel session was provocative and set me thinking about the issues, so it did succeed in its aim of livening up the session before lunch after a long morning.

Adaptation, Improvisation and Organisation

I was asked to deliver the after lunch keynote … where I was rather strangely introduced as “I met some bloke who mixes rock music and business the other week” to a series of slightly confused people who were expecting a thought leader and former CIPD Council Board member rather than a busker.  Oh well, that happens from time to time! :-)  The session went very well despite losing nearly 1/3 of the time available and with this strange beginning.  Here’s my slide deck on the substantial issues of adaptation, improvisation and organisation in HR.  Contact me to discuss the issues I raised or for a personal walkthrough of the talk, where we looked at personal creativity and is relationship to adaptive or learning companies.

We finish with the main title of my talk:


About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.