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.