Enigmatic Leadership

Does your enigma as a leader increase if a sense of mystery surrounds your life?  I was thinking about this whilst listening to the BBC broadcast on Prince’s ‘Vault’ of unreleased material today, estimated to be more than 70% of his recorded output.

In case you are not familiar, Prince is thought to write a song every day and is already considered to be capable of releasing albums for many years after his death, achieving some kind of mythical ‘life after death’ status for some of his fans.  It’s a quite different approach to that of Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, where people have struggled to find anything like a catalogue of quality unreleased material.

Undoubtedly, his enigma is a great allure for his fanbase, some of whom would probably do anything to see him. This level of adulation has its downside. My own frustration with the purple genius’ enigma reached its peak when I bought a ticket to one of his aftershows in London some years back, only to find the he had gone directly to Dubrovnik after the main show and had no intention of performing, leaving me cold and tired, walking around London till the early hours.  Yes, the billing for these shows did say “Expect the unexpected”, but at that point I felt he had stretched the deal way beyond the promise!  I recall he did something similar in Ireland some years back as well and at numerous other locations.  Yet, he also occasionally gives ‘random acts of kindness’, such as when I queued for 7 hours to see him in London last year, expecting to pay £70 for the pleasure and then being asked for £10 when I reached the door.

Do the concepts of being mysterious and precocious stretch to modern day leadership in business? I’m sure many of you would expect me to say yes, given my ‘minor obsession’ with music and business parallels, but this is one area where I have to say no.  Here’s three things you should not ‘copy and paste’ from Prince’s example as a leader and two that you might:

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Finally, here’s the song from my ‘vault’ that I wrote for Prince, in support of the charity Autism Rocks. Download your copy now via Bandcamp and tell your friends.  Also a picture of Prince’s spiritual Godfather Mr George Clinton of Parliament after his tour of The Houses of Parliament last week when I caught up with him. I’m off to see George if anyone wants to join me in London on April 15th at Kokos with Dr Andrew Sentance and a special guest.


What U C Is What U Get – a tribute to Prince, in support of Autism research – artwork by Mary Frances Geiser

First you gotta shake the gate ... of Parliament - with George Clinton at The Houses of Parliament

First you gotta shake the gates … of Parliament – with George Clinton at The Houses of Parliament               Photo by Clive Allen

Prince - I would fry for you

                                        Prince – I would fry 4 U – Breakfast can wait!


Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics – better Business and Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with parallel lessons from the world of music via The Academy of Rock.

Author of eight books on Business Leadership – Check his latest one:

Punk Rock People Management

Click on the picture to find out more

   Click on the picture to find out more


Crowdfunding your business – Lessons from Rawk’n’Roll

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I was delighted to see this approach to Crowdfunding working for my friend Bernie Tormé last week.  In under one day, the project to commission a double album had exceeded it’s funding target and is now providing badly needed income for The Teenage Cancer Trust. The idea behind crowdfunding is simple:

  • Find enough people in the world who love something you want to do
  • Ask them to support you by pledging money up front via a web platform
  • Deliver on your promises

It’s another thing altogether to get people to do the pledging and this requires an enticing set of offers, which Bernie has put together.  I personally love the offer to sell his prized guitar given to him by Ozzy Osbourne, although I don’t think he really wants to part with it at £66 600!!

The number of the beast - £66 600

The number of the beast – £66 600

Crowdfunding is increasingly being used by entrepreneurs to overcome the initial funding hurdles to starting an enterprise.  It also allows independent music artists to cut out the middle man of the music industry, which many musicians detest.  This project will succeed and Bernie was kind enough to suggest that he’d used a little bit of my marketing advice in designing the project.  Now it is past the breakeven stage, the fundraising continues but with the greater goal of providing funding to support The Teenage Cancer Trust. It’s what leading author Daniel Pink discusses when he talks about combining Profit and Purpose in “A Whole New Mind”.

Bernie is simultaneously supporting a social goal as well as a business one

Bernie is simultaneously supporting a social goal as well as a business one

I have agreed a unique special offer with Bernie for executives wishing to put a bit of soul back into their lives.  We’re offering a trip to Bernie’s studio, some insights into the life of a working rock star, a live jam with the man himself and optional guitar lessons.  The offer is strictly limited to groups of a maximum of 8 people.  Contact me for full details via e-mail peter@humdyn.co.uk   Bernie also has a series of guitar masterclasses on offer either face to face or via Skype.

Check out the man to hear just what’s on offer and make a bid in this unique project.  We were lucky enough to do a couple of business events with him a while back.  You can’t beat Rawk’n’Roll ….


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.

Glam it up – 3 Business Lessons from Glam Rock

I was kindly invited to go and see a double bill of Glam Rock recently by a client who was grateful for my work – Oddly enough I’d never seen The Sweet and Slade ever before (OK, I know the purists will say that the bands now have a different line up, but it would be difficult to reform The Sweet as 50% have left this mortal coil! )

Sweet FA

But, as always, the real question for me is, are there any business lessons from Glam Rock?  Of course there are:

Branding Lessons from Glam Rock

Style overwhelms substance – Dave Hill of Slade may well not have gotten a job playing guitar in Yes or Be-Bop Deluxe, but undoubtedly Slade win hands down in the ‘branding / image / memory department’, for good or bad.  Unfortunately this lesson does NOT transfer well from the music world to the world of business, where many things are based on ‘needs’ not ‘wants’.  Covering substance up with style does not lead to sustainable competitive advantage in many areas of business unless the ‘substance’ is in fact the ‘style’, such as hairdressing or fashion.

Performance Lessons from Glam Rock

So, where did Glam Rock acts place their emphasis?  In the performance of course.  Slade come on stage as if it’s already over and move on from that point.  Is business a performance?  Well, to some extent it is.  The academic Henry Mintzberg drew parallels between business, theatre and performance and clearly it’s important to make an impact, especially in today’s crowded market.



HR Lessons from Glam Rock

Glam Rock above all else developed the idea of having separate personalities within the band, to relate to the different fans (customer) needs.  In Slade, Noddy appealed to the guys, Dave Hill the girls and so on.  The Spice Girls took this to the ultimate end point by naming the members to suggest the market segment they were to appeal to – Posh Spice, Sporty Spice etc. Finally, we must go to the main Glam attractions for some soul food:


About the Blogger:  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


Check this lighthearted piece out : 10 lead guitarist cliches.  I can definitely say that I have never fallen into any of these traps as a lead guitarist.  There is quite literally no spandex in my wardrobe!  I can also say that I’m not Jimmy Page or any of the other rather famous guitarists and that may offer an explanation for certain stylistic deficiencies …. 🙂

No spandex in my wardrobe ...

No spandex in my wardrobe …

That said, what can we learn about business and music from these cliches, by their ‘creative reversal’?

On “Image”

Pop music may be mostly about the triumph of style over substance.  I was interviewed by Management Today recently, who asked me what we could learn from the pop band ‘One Direction’ and my answer pointed out just how important image is to a modern pop group – in fact the music is almost secondary.  However, this idea is generally not transferable to business, unless we are talking about industries that sell style as their product, such as fashion, hairdressing etc.  Get the substance of your offering right.  Once you have a unique product or service that delivers outstanding benefits, then you can focus on style.

On “Drugs”

When we deal with “drugs” in a business context, I’m not advocating that you take speed to run your business faster. Nor any need to smoke Opium to help rewrite your Mission statement in rhyming couplets, however worthy this might be, compared with the usual fare! 🙂  In my experience, people on drugs think they’re really interesting, but to the outside world, they’re just people on drugs.   So, we’re talking adrenaline and endorphins rather than smack, crack and pop here.  In the business world, “drugs” = rewards and recognition and, on the negative side, punishments and exclusion.  We know that recognition strategies are far more effective than rewards, if rewards are at an adequate level etc.  So make sure you pick the right “drugs” to encourage the performances you want …  For INXS, their use of drugs was prophetic …

On “Performance” Have you ever been to a really great gig? The best performers in the world come on stage as if it’s already the encore and take it on up from there. Whether it’s out and out rock acts like AC / DC, Deep Purple, Guns ’n’ Roses, Janis Joplin, The Darkness or The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, all round performers such as Madonna, Prince and Kylie or something more sublime, such as Kate Bush, BB King, Peter Gabriel, Nina Simone, Sinatra, Streisand or Motörhead. The point is that top acts know how to hit peak performance, time after time, starting with the end in mind and so on … There’s also no rehearsal on stage. If something goes wrong, you gotta roll with it, unlike business, where you can call another meeting or delay the project deadlines. This means

  • A great deal of practice beforehand
  • The ability to improvise and profit from accidents along the way
  • Or a bit of both

These are all relevant parallel lessons for businesses that seek to be excellent.  The idea of practice is well understood by musicians and great leaders.  For some other parallels, check out this article from Entrepreneur Country.  Click the link to go the full magazine article.

Entrepreneur Country - From Little Richard to Richard Branson

Entrepreneur Country – From Little Richard to Richard Branson

We’re off to Dublin shortly to expound some other parallel lessons from music for business people.  If you are thinking of booking an extraordinary event in 2014, do get in touch via Extraordinary Events.  To explore parallels between business and music in greater depth, check out our books “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and “The Music of Business”.

Some of our books

Some of our books – Click to buy for that unusual Christmas gift


About the Blogger:  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.  Check out our online Business and Music programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Stop in the name of Branding

Wanna be stoppin’ something?

I interviewed Michael Schein recently, a New York based content marketing and branding specialist on his thinking on branding, content marketing and Rock’n’Roll here.  Turns out that Michael is also a big fan of classic British rock music, having been an honorary ‘mod’.  We must begin with a nod towards one of his favourite bands, The Who, who used a great deal of branding and marketing stunts to get their message across:

Wanna be stoppin’ something ?

Whenever I’m asked the question “what do I do?”, I like to say that I help people stop branding their companies. Then I stand back and watch their eyes bug out of their heads. The reason I got into the business I’m in is that I was tired of seeing marketing departments invest hundreds of thousands of dollars and a year’s worth of time into rebranding campaigns only to end up with a nicer logo, a prettier website, and no difference in sales results whatsoever. These days, the thing that determines a company’s profitability is how well they drive potential customers to raise their hands and say they want to have a conversation. Everyone is online. They’ve seen it all. They can get all the answers they need about your product or any of your competitors’ products with the click of a button. A new slogan or color scheme isn’t going to make much of a difference. So what I do is create bold, honest content that draws a line in the sand. The people who don’t like it are going to turn away, but they usually aren’t going to be buyers anyway. The people it resonates with end up being customers for life.

The good, bad and ugly of content marketing

Let’s start with the bad and the ugly. It’s a lot of work, plain and simple. If a company chooses to do it themselves, it means creating a lot of content and publishing a lot. Even if you’re hiring outside help, it’s a lot of work. Because when you’re using content to market your business, what you put out there has to be honest. It has to really be about who you are and what you represent as a business. Today’s customers have seen it all before, they know the difference immediately. So a lot of time has to be spent to make sure the marketer knows you better than they know themselves. As for the good, content marketing is quite simply the opportunity of a lifetime for anyone in business. In the past, if you wanted to compete you needed a huge advertising budget, print magazine campaigns, TV commercials, billboards. It was insanely expensive, and you couldn’t even tell what part of it was working. With content marketing, it’s all about the ideas. If you can write or have access to a good writer, and have some knowledge of how the Web works, you can use creativity to beat even the biggest Fortune 500 companies. And on top of that, you can measure everything – what’s working, what isn’t, how so, and why not. 

What can marketers learn from music and musicians?

I’m a gigantic music fan and played in a lot of bands when I was younger. I’ve always said that rock ‘n’ roll is a lot more than music – it’s theater, marketing, sales, and philosophy wrapped up in one package with a backbeat. That’s what makes it so awesome. There are so many lessons that marketers can learn from rock music. But since I’m talking to a British blog, let me give an example from one of my all time favorites, The Who. When The Who first started, they were a diehard R&B band that had a small but very dedicated group of fans. Then at one point they decided to make a change. They ditched the R&B purity, latched onto the Mod trend, jacked up their amps, and draped themselves in all kinds of crazy outfits with Union Jacks, RAF targets, and medals. And of course, they started smashing their guitars and wrecking their equipment. Was it a gimmick? Maybe. Their diehard fans certainly thought so. Seventy-five percent of them bailed. But the audience they got in return ended up being twenty times bigger. A hundred times bigger. Hell, they became one of the biggest bands in the history of bands. So I guess the lesson is that you shouldn’t be afraid of turning off the wrong people. Stand out. Draw a line in the sand. Take controversial positions. Provoke. Some people will dislike you for it. People will abandon you, and that’s an awesome thing. Because the fans and customers you end up getting in return will live and die for you.

What’s the most interesting marketing job you’ve ever done?

I know this is going to sound like I’m evading the question, but what ends up being interesting about my work very rarely has to do with the nature of the actual product or service that’s being sold. It usually has more to do with the process of digging into why our client went into business in the first place, what problem they’re trying to solve, how they’re trying to make the world a better place, and figuring out how to get that out there. I never stop until we get to that point, regardless of how much it annoys the person I’m working with. So I guess all the jobs end up being interesting, which is exactly why I love going to work every day.

Is there anything marketers should NOT learn from the crazy world of Rock’n’Roll?

Don’t throw your TV out of your hotel room window at a trade show. Especially a flat screen.

Mr Schein, Pinball Wizard and Content Marketing King

Get in touch with Michael by email at mschein@scheincommunications.com or by phone at +1-855-855-6607 ext. 801.  On the web at Schein Communications.

Finally, as living proof that Mods and Rockers were quite literally disruptive, here’s some footage of them fighting in 1964 in Margate.  I actually remember being there on the day as we were out on a trip to the seaside, although I think I still managed to produce some castles made of sand before they arrived … 🙂


About the Blogger:  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

We will brand you – Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, Unilever and Prince on branding

What can we learn from the crazy world of Rock’n’Roll about branding? One way to think about a brand is a kind of ‘shorthand’ designed to stop consumers from thinking about anything else other than your brand / product. Get branding right and you have customers for life. Get it wrong and you may never take off in business.

Take a look at this ‘basement video’ I made with my colleague Phil Hawthorn to understand the power of brands. We look at Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Nike, Madonna, Pepsi and Prince in this short video.

Unilever is a particularly interesting example of a brand which has managed to preserve the diversity of its many different operating companies, which, in their own words:

“We meet everyday needs for nutrition, hygiene and personal care with brands that help people feel good, look good and get more out of life”

This is exemplified down to the last detail in the logo for Unilever, which sells products from Dove, to Lipton Tea, to Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and the logo carries meanings which include freshness, love, beauty, science, farming, freedom and so on – a pretty tall order for any corporation to live up to, but a mighty ambition nonetheless.

The ultimate test of a brand is the extent to which it enables your company to have longevity as Unilever have demonstrated over 120 years. To see what I mean through the power of music, take a look at the 45 year old brand that is Pink Floyd:

And finally, purely for fun, the word branding began simply as a way to tell one person’s cattle from another by means of a hot iron stamp. In a moment of musical madness, my Country and Western Glam Rock band (The Cowpokers) took this lesson literally, in a satirical pastiche of the classic Queen song ‘We Will Brand You’. The audience is initially deluded into thinking that the drum track will be exactly as the original, but later on find out that it is not and the audience develop a form of ‘arrhythmic distress’ ….

We are speaking / performing about brands and customer service at the Customer Service Training Awards on Friday 08 July at Heathrow. Check out our starter menu of corporate event offerings for your next conference at R U EXPERIENCED