Improvising into 2016

Improvisation and adaptiveness

My background as a scientist instilled curiosity and the understanding that most of life is a series of experiments. It has been very good for my life as a musician and even better now as a business owner in an age of disruptive change. In a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) business environment, life in a business requires perpetual change and experimentation to find new focal points. This is a subtle but important difference than a “random walk” which can leads to fad surfing and a lack of consolidation of your value. Improvisation and adaptation have been invaluable skillsets, through one of the deepest recessions for many decades. In the last year or so, some of the results are beginning to show from what I did when there was not much to do in terms of paid activity during those times.

Joining Dots

People tell me that much of my longevity as a business comes down to joining the dots between people, passions and purposes. After winning a prize from Sir Richard Branson for my work on leadership last year, this has flourished, through some deliberation and a bit of luck, into writing for Virgin, gaining an interview with Richard for my new book with Bloomsbury and, more recently running events, which blend business excellence with music in Branson’s Virgin Money Lounges, giving me the good fortune to work alongside Class A rock stars and discover their insights into business, life and the universe. I have also forged a partnership with the awesome Ted Coiné (awesome is not a word that I am drawn to as a sober Brit), but Ted does deserve this tag with his exclusive network Open for Business, which brings together 50 thought leaders around the globe as co-collaborators.

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Restarting the engines

This year has finally been one when a number of businesses have started again to use the services of external people after many years of simply treading water whilst people halted projects or suspended the use of outside people to contain costs. We’ve been fortunate to deliver a range of projects from business reviews, facilitated strategy summits to leadership and innovation conferences for companies as diverse as FujiFilm, MSD, University College London, Bentley and Roche in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Denmark, Germany and Poland. I was also surprised to receive requests for consultancy projects from The Welsh Assembly, Renault-Nissan and Alstom Transport during the year.

Private joys

I believe that we work best when we do what we love. In my case that means occasionally doing things that my colleagues tell me are dream jobs. Amongst the private joys I’ve had in 2015, I’d mention these:

1. Taking BBC Business correspondent Robert Peston to a P-Funk concert with George Clinton and subsequently writing him a song for his departure from the BBC in support of Cancer Research UK. Check “Pestonomics” out here:

2. Interviewing John Mayall, the Godfather of the Blues, Prince’s sax player, Marcus Anderson and Prince’s first lady, Sheila E, about flow, improvisation, music and a range of other topics. I was delighted to find that Sheila had previously seen my book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” – just an incredible result from delivering a copy of the book to Prince some 8 years ago and proof positive of the value of networking. Check Sheila’s interview out here:

3. Performing on stage at London’s Borderline with Bernie Tormé, Ozzy Osbourne and Ian Gillan’s guitarist. Bernie was extremely kind in crediting me for having contributed to the reinvention of his career alongside Arthur Brown and Ginger Wildheart, a great honour and a privilege for someone who takes no prisoners. Here’s the 3 minute rehearsal of his song “Party’s Over”:

4. A great joy was recording four songs as a tribute to my good friend Bill Nelson, who has inspired the likes of Kate Bush, David Bowie, Brian Eno, Brian May at al. Bill has been a constant source of inspiration and wisdom for over 40 years of my life and remains to this day a permanent flame when the lights go out from time to time. Check out the Be-Bop Deluxe song “Crying to the Sky”, which was itself an homage to Jimi Hendrix. Also one of my earliest musical influences from Bill’s band Be-Bop Deluxe “Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape”, written about Bill’s home area. Recording these songs was not an idle musical adventure. Through my advert for musicians, the project introduced me to Robert Craven, Virgin author and business speaker, also a Bill Nelson nut. I had already known of Robert through his work at The Director’s Centre but we had not met. To misquote Be-Bop Deluxe, the meeting was “Made In Heaven” and Robert and I are planning some collaborations for 2016.

5. I was fortunate to have played a small part in helping Patti Russo reinvent her career in the PME (Post Meatloaf Era). I enjoyed her performances with Spike Edney and the SAS band immensely but the high point was seeing her perform solo at The Opera House at Buxton where she gave a spine tingling performance of her song “One Door Opens”.

Public disappointments

The VUCA environment of the last few years have seen more window shoppers than usual and turbulence has just more or less cancelled much of my work for 2016, due to a merger at Pfizer-Allergan, an internal reorganisation and a persistent timewaster, who shall go un-named at the moment, since I am presently trying to mediate over the matter. No matter how old I get, I have not yet invented a foolproof way to spot fools in advance of them fooling me into giving my time for free. Hey ho, I guess that the alternative is to develop greater resilience!

My biggest mistake in 2015 was when I was approached by a chap called Mike Waterton, who rolled up in a Bentley seeking advice on how to transform his career from the boss of a recruitment agency into a noted author and speaker. I saw no reason to doubt his credentials (My wife tells me I trust everyone!) A while later, he told me he was unable to pay for the services I had provided as his business had gone into liquidation. Later on, he was accused in a local newspaper of pimping out his 25 year old girlfriend at a hotel in Kent! I generally consider myself to be a good judge of character, but I guess you never can tell … ! The FBI (Foolish Businessman Indicator) would have come in handy! It’s the first bad debt I have had in 21 years of business and I cannot understand how I did not spot the alarm bells earlier. It turns out that Mike is the victim of the seductive argument that you can have everything you want in life, as suggested in the book “The Secret” and beautifully parodied in “Family Guy” when Brian the dog decides to turn himself into a personal development guru and writes a book called “Wish It, Want It, Do It“:

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Click on the picture to see an excerpt of this brilliant piece of satire on The Law of Attraction

As a result of becoming indoctrinated by “The Secret” Mike bought the Bentley without realising that he would bankrupt his business in the process. His wife then left him after he acquired a young girl that appeared to come with the car. Lots of other people lost their jobs and earnings as a result of his self-obsessed strategy, informed by one of his mantras – “Think only of Yourself”, which is morally bankrupt and which bankrupted him and others who his life connected with. It’s not what I advised him to do and I’m disappointed that (a) he was economical with the truth about his situation and (b) that I was not able to persuade him to take a different course of action. I’d cautioned him about his strategy, suggesting that he built on his strengths rather than attempting to build a business on someone else’s brand, where he had no authority platform to operate from. Unfortunately, my advice turned out to be correct, but he also took advice from his girlfriend, who encouraged him to reach for the stars. A clear case of what my Mancunian wife calls “Fur Coat, No Knickers”.

Clearly I had little to offer in terms of professional coaching when matched against sex ... one of life's professional disappointments

Clearly I had little to offer in terms of professional coaching when matched against sex … one of life’s professional disappointments

Hopes and fears

“I made it through the wilderness, yeah I made it through” – Madonna

Having come through the recession over 8 years, I come out of it having refined what I do, branded it, become much better networked and with a range of artefacts to show for my efforts, the most precious one of which is a major new book called “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise” for Bloomsbury which I’m very excited about.

Of course, I am 8 years older into the bargain and this occasionally worries me as young things can see such people as irrelevant in a workplace that values apps over application and wisdom. To survive in business in an adaptive environment requires improvisation, curiosity and the willingness to learn new skills without becoming distracted by every shiny new thing that passes you by. As an improvising musician scientist and business owner I feel up for the challenge …

Wishing you a happy and prosperous 2016.

Peter

 

Do It Yourself – Disrupting the Music Industry

Come join us at The Virgin Lounge in Eagle Place, London on Friday December 04 at 3 pm where I will be talking with Mark Christopher Lee, leader of cult indie band “the pocket gods”. Mark was discovered by the late John Peel who liked his song written about his local curry house – “Ballad Of The Peshwari Naan” and was called a “wilful maverick” by Tom Robinson. Mark has just released an album called 100 x 30. Mark explains the concept:

“I wanted to do something to help musicians gain fairer royalties from the music industry/streaming giants with an album of 100 songs all 30 seconds long – For example Spotfiy pays out a tiny royalty of 0.007p per track over 30 seconds. This gave me the idea of recording an album of 100 songs that were 30 seconds long each. Why write songs that are any longer? All the songs were recorded on laptops in garages from just a few takes in a lo-fi style – the album is all about ideas and creativity as opposed to perfectionism and over production – technology allows people to record great quality music at low cost at home which is very punk and empowering”.

In my business life, I’ve written about the theory of constraints on a number of occasions and this project is a classic exercise in using constraints as a spur to creativity. See Constraints and Creativity for more information.

100 x 30 - Click to view the website

100 x 30 – Click to view the website

Mark has written and recorded 72 albums since 1998. As well as an indie legend, having previously played bass in Jesus and The Mary Chain, he also runs his own indie label which is now home to 20 or so aspiring new artists, many of whom are favourites on BBC 6 music as well as home to more established acts such as the legendary songwriter Larry Weiss, who wrote million sellers Rhinestone Cowboy, Bend Me Shape Me and Hi Ho Silver Lining. 

100 x 30 features Mungo Jerry, Owen Paul (My favourite waste of time), Tom Greene of The Orb et moi – I contributed a 1984 inspired track under the name “The Pigs of Freedom” called “Anaesthesia Politica”, which sports 3 verses, 3 chords, a 3 second guitar solo and comes in at 33 seconds long – just 3 seconds over Spotify’s budget to qualify as a song :-) I am looking forward to my 0.007 pence royalties from them!!

City AM picked up the story recently, comparing us with Taylor Swift – I’m not sure the comparisons are valid, but take a look for yourself:

The first time we have been linked to Taylor Swift - Click to access City AM article

The first time we have been linked to Taylor Swift – Click to access City AM article

Please contact the London Eagle Place Lounge on 0207 439 8802 to register your place. It’s absolutely FREE!!  All event details here.

Here’s “Anaesthesia Politica” – I described it as a 1984 inspired Psychedelic Political Punk Poem!  An entirely new genre of music I think :-)

and the slightly longer “Pestonomics“, released last week in support of Cancer Research UK:

Click to buy the track for Cancer Research UK

Click to buy the track for Cancer Research UK

… and two  of the album tracks:

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About the Writer:  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

Punks, Virgins and Pop Art

I’m proud to present a unique event on Friday November 27th 3 pm at The Virgin Lounge in Eagle Place, London with Richard Strange, founder of proto-punk band The Doctors of Madness, who inspired The Sex Pistols, The Damned, Spandau Ballet, Richard Branson, The Jam, Joy Division et al.

Urban Blitz performing with The Doctors of Madness at Richard's celebration of William Burroughs at The Royal Festival Hall

Urban Blitz performing with The Doctors of Madness at Richard’s celebration of William Burroughs at The Royal Festival Hall

Richard will talk about leading the pop art / punk rock revolt and the wider notions of disruption in music and business. He will share some hilarious and insightful stories, including his time as a Virgin Records artist, how not to deal with Bryan Ferry and various other delights  Strange will also talk about a mammoth undertaking last year, where he put on an entire theatre production at the Royal Festival Hall to celebrate the life of William Burroughs, author of “Naked Lunch” and a primary figure in the Beat Generation who influenced David Bowie, The Beatles, R.E.M, Steely Dan and U2 to name but a few.

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Ginsberg and Burroughs in the Theatre Production by Richard Strange

Take a look at the trailer video for the show:

Join us in the Lounge with Richard for an interview supplemented with great video footage, Q and A, meet and greet and possible mini acoustic performance.

Please contact the London Eagle Place Lounge on 0207 439 8802 to register your place.

Never Mind The Credit Card

Never Mind The Credit Card …

Party’s Over .. but I’m still Eight Miles High

I had the great pleasure of playing with a Rock Legend just recently, at London’s Borderline with Bernie Tormé and the band. Even more frightening to be in front of a crowd of fans who can be quite precious about their heroes, not always wanting any interference with their expectations from outsiders.  It seems I more than “got away” with the whole thing, having impressed blogger Darren Johnson with my ability to play with Class A rock stars:

Click on the picture to read Darren's Review

Click on the picture to read Darren’s Review

It seems that the world thinks that not only am I a good business consultant / author but also a rather fine guitar player who can hold their own with world class musicians. Getting an accolade like this is perhaps more important than scoring 11/10 on a happy sheet from an event or masterclass – of course, both things matter, but I think this review has set the week off rather well !! At the point of writing this I confess I am feeling rather smug – back to earth soon I hope ! Here’s some video of the rather drunken jam session:

Bernie Tormé’s tour continues through the month in Oxford, Newcastle, Liverpool and Brighton. Check the band out.

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We also did a superb event in The Virgin Lounge where Bernie did an interview, conducted a Q&A and gave a mini guitar masterclass.

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The Mile High Club at the Virgin Lounge – Picture by Christina Jansen http://www.cjansenphotography.com

The Band et moi and Peter Lawrence - Picture by Christina Jansen www.cjansenphotography.com

The Band et moi and Peter Lawrence – Picture by Christina Jansen http://www.cjansenphotography.com

A full interview with Bernie appears in my current book “The Music of Business” where we discuss the impact of climate on high performance, Jimi Hendrix, the gentle art of improvisation from a starting point of nothing and various other matters.

Click on the picture to check the book out

Click on the picture to check the book out on Amazon

Our next events in the Virgin Lounge are on Friday 27th November with the Godfather of Punk, Mr Richard Strange and Friday December 4th with Mark Christopher Lee, who has created an album of 100 x 30 second songs as a disruptive force in the music industry.

Agilty and Perception

In our occasional series of posts on the practical aspects of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), here’s a short post on one of NLP’s values, summed up by the phrase:

The meaning of communication is the response you get

This simple phrase is one of the hardest but most useful principles to get on board. Instead of thinking it’s someone else’s fault if they don’t ‘get you’, this NLP principle places the onus on you to vary your communication style to be more influential. the buck rests with you, and if at first you don’t succeed, try something different. Many times we misunderstand each other, as if we are speaking foreign languages:

I say Tomato, you say Tom Ate O, let’s call the whole thing off

In practice, you can use this idea in the following ways:

Try explaining yourself from the other person’s point of view

Explain yourself in the language they would prefer rather than your own preferences. Live inside their world, not yours

Ask them to explain what they don’t understand or accept, then move on from there

We live inside our own skins for much of thIn some cases, no matter hard we try, some people are “on the Central Line” and others “on the Circle” metaphorically speaking … of course there are points at which these tube lines meet … :-) Check the 1948 tube map out to think about how you can meet people in a conversation where they are rather than where you are:

Skilled negotiators and influencers understand and use these skills naturally but they can also be learned and refined. Check out our offerings in this area at Human Dynamics or give us a call to set up some NLP master coaching.

Of course some people are just really “hard to read” as illustrated by this cat cartoon from my friend’s cousin, the great Steve Bell – such people make great poker players amongst other life and business skills. More on this in another article to demystify and cut the crap (but not the cats) out of NLP.

We finish with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on the vexed question of communication excellence:

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Human Dynamics offers better business and organisation development, training and coaching. Our sister company The Academy of Rock specialises in cross-disciplinary learning on business and music, delivered through conference keynotes and longer masterclasses.

Do order your copy of the NEW edition of “The Music of Business” – Parallel lessons on Business and Music. Acclaimed by Professor Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE.

Charity begins at The Bank of England …

I have just written, arranged and recorded some songs on “economics futures” for our 2015 Charity campaign with Dr Andrew Sentance, former MPC member at The Bank of England, Haydn Jones, Managing Director at Fujitsu, alongside a band of musicians featuring Rick Benbow, a session musician and member of Brit Floyd, who recently scored Status Quo’s “Aquostic” album. The triple A side EP “Rockonomics” was engineered by Ozzy Osbourne and Ian Gillan’s former guitarist Bernie Tormé.

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street is ravished

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street is ravished

The songs tell tales of eMen’eM (Macro-economic Mayhem (Yes, I know there are not so many hits written about such things!!):

New Normal” predicts a flatter economic forecast and was a term coined by Andrew Sentance in his first book. The song is set in a Neil Young / R.E.M inspired rebel rant.

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street” (formerly “Forward Guidance” after Governor of The Bank of England, Mark Carney’s catchphrase) is a Blackmore’s Night and Led Zeppelinesque inspired 16th century folk rock anthem that calls bankers, brokers and bosses to rethink the fundamentals on which capitalism rests.

Plus the bonus track “Fiscal Cliff” which I wrote for a BBC programme. Almost as soon as I’d finished it, the BBC were instructed by the Government to stop talking the economy down, so I lost my money and it never made the programme.  That’s the media for you! :-(

We are selling the songs with the option to donate a significant amount to a basket of charities. We are also available for live performances supported by keynote talks in the Square Mile or indeed anywhere around the world. Click the picture to donate by buying the songs plus a bonus track now:

Our Charities

By far the best option for purchase is Bandcamp, as the vast majority of the money reaches the chosen charities with Bandcamp only taking a modest commission. Buy the triple A side EP at TRIPLE A SIDE. Or individual tracks via SINGLES.  The songs will be available on iTunes / Amazon etc. shortly if you just want the tracks without a charitable donation. Meet the band:

Dr Andrew Sentance – Acoustic Guitar, Backing Vocals, Economics
Zee Fincham – Lead Vocals
Rick Benbow – Keyboards
Pete Stephens – Drums, percussion
Haydn Jones – Bass guitar, vocals
Peter Cook – Lead guitars, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, musical direction

Rock in the City

Rock in the City L-R : Moi, Haydn Jones, Pete Stephens, Zee Fincham, Rick Benbow and Dr Andrew Sentance

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street - inspired by Stairway to Heaven - Robert Plant looks amused - Photography by my friend Christina Jansen

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street – inspired by Stairway to Heaven – Robert Plant looks bemused – Photograph by my good friend, the lovely Christina Jansen http://www.cjansenphotography.com

Here’s the video for the bonus track: “Fiscal Cliff” – a hard rock song for hard times – the forerunner to the Rock In The City sessions:

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For fresh thinking on Business grab copies of our books on Amazon, including new editions of “The Music of Business” and a 2nd edition of “Punk Rock People Management” – disruptive strategy and common sense ideas about leading your people.

Pre-order our new book for Bloomsbury at Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise.  Groundbreaking thought leadership on leading and managing Brain Based Enterprises where thinking and doing are aligned in perfect harmony.

Parallel Lines

I was delighted to speak with Paul Kwiecinski, Co-Owner of “Face The Music” recently. It seems we have been developing our respective businesses along parallel lines, on opposite sides of The Atlantic Ocean in what could be described as a piece of simultaneous invention.

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Face The Music shows surprising parallels with our own work at The Academy of Rock and we have been running our respective businesses for similar lengths of time. Great minds literally have thought alike in what is known as simultaneous innovation. Paul explains the concept:

Face The Music is a collaboration between great musicians and experienced organizational consultants who bring a uniquely powerful mix to clients’ programs and events. And while we are definitely entertaining, we are not mere entertainment. Rather our music events are a powerful catalyst for teamwork and organizational change — using a variety of musical genres as our toolkit — to help organizations become higher performing, more innovative, and just plain cooler places to work.

Perhaps an easy way to understand Face The Music’s work is to see it through  the eyes of a customer, in this case CNN News:

Paul has an impressive client list who have chosen to work with him because they seek greater engagement, authentic relations between coworkers, real organisational improvements and so on. As he points out, it’s not just entertaining. It’s about engaging people’s heads, hearts and souls in their work as most serious enterprises understand.

At face value, it may seem odd to be writing about a potential competititor. It is not. This blend of music and experienced organisation consultants is an extremely hard act to pull off as I know through some 15 + years of development of the approach. We’re hoping that more people will get to learn of our work and choose this over a beige approach to business and organisation development. Both Paul and I travel the world and hope to collaborate at some stage. Come join us and Face The Music.

Check our post on Seasick Steve as well. Speaking of NYC, here’s another product of New York, from the album Parallel Lines:

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For more on Music and Business grab your copy of The Music of Business.

Click on the picture to check the book out