What kind of fool am I ?

On April 1st 1994, I started Human Dynamics, which eventually spawned The Academy of Rock a few years later, so today marks 20 years in business.  It’s quite rare to reach this length of time with many companies going out of business in the 1st 200 days, let alone 20 years.  It’s also been a bumpy ride through the recession and I’d like to take this moment to thank everyone that has supported me and my colleagues in all kinds of ways.

Twin Peaks - 20 years in business

Twin Peaks – 20 years in business

As it is April Fool’s day I thought I’d have a little fun with you.  There are five April Fool’s untruths amongst these 20 factoids about my business and personal life.  I will award a copy of my book “The Music of Business” to the 1st person that spots all five of the April Fool’s untruths:

  1. My mum claimed that I was a Virgin birth as my Dad was 67 and she 45 when I was born
  2. I once presented a copy of “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” to Prince
  3. My first piece of work in the business was a strategic review for Amnesty International
  4. Professor Charles Handy sent me a postcard to congratulate me on my first book
  5. I brought the world’s first AIDS therapy to market by scaling the product up in record time
  6. I lost a small fortune sponsoring a round the world Rock’n’Roll Tour in 2006
  7. I was a member of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD’s) Council Board
  8. Professor John Kotter said he was too busy playing golf to read “The Music of Business”
  9. I nearly died when I was 25 whilst working in India through taking an aspirin
  10. I nearly collaborated on a book with Jim Collins
  11. I escorted Wilko Johnson through French Customs dressed as a nurse
  12. Mark E Smith of The Fall performed alongside me a gig at Kent University in 1978
  13. Richard Branson took a copy of one of my books from an inaugural Virgin flight
  14. Bob Geldof said I was f…cking mad when I met him at a CIPD conference
  15. I’ve been asked to do a PhD at Imperial College London
  16. George Clinton, The Godfather of Funk, bought me a kebab after a Prince concert
  17. I went to the same school as Sir David Frost
  18. We performed at Brands Hatch for the CIPD with John Otway
  19. The Rt Hon Peter Jay once offered me tea and a conversation at his private club in London
  20. I gave Evan Davis of Dragon’s Den a lift to an event he was speaking at
The prize

The prize

To finish, the Beatles also have a view on April fools:

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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.

Meet the CIO – Chief Improvising Officer – Dr Russ Derickson

Chief Improvisation Officer Derickson

Chief Improvisation Officer Derickson

Introducing Dr Russell G. Derickson, Polymath, Inventor, Jazz Musician, Academic.  I met Russ a year or so back now and am privileged to conduct an interview with him.

Tell me about your background

 

My background, by design, is broad and deep. All my life I have railed against a single domain of pursuit, something that has met with great resistance over time from individuals and organizations that prevail in a specialist-driven world. But that world is changing. I am trained and experienced in science, engineering, social science, music, and the literary arts, and pursue what I call a Generalist-Specialist path. You may have heard of T-shaped and Pi-shaped (like the Greek symbol Π) individuals, who have deep enough breadth to be able to interact effectively with a range of subject matter experts, but also have one area, if not two areas, of subject matter expertise themselves. I aspire to be that sort of person and I keep working on it. The journey is a continuous one. The T bar represents that breath, while the stem represents depth. Similarly for the Pi-shaped individual.  An apt description is “jack of many trades, master of one (or more),” which is a contravening departure from the well-known phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” that disparages broad knowledge and skills. I do not choose to be a narrow specialist, but by no means do I feel that specialist roles are not critical in society.

Specific jobs I have had include serving as a senior researcher in two national labs in the field of renewable energy; professorships in a technical university in the discipline of atmospheric science and in a business school teaching sustainable products and services; senior and chief engineer in three engineering consulting firms in the fields of hydrology, building energy, and software design; business analyst and information services specialist in a telecom company; and professional drummer and percussionist in concert bands and orchestras, jazz combos, and rock groups. I have also had many years as an independent consultant in a wide range of pursuits.  Software I have developed has won national awards and currently serves 95% of the home energy rating market nationally. Other projects and publications of mine have enjoyed international attention, and I recently shared a best journal paper award in the discipline of wind engineering. With four excellent collaborators, I led the paper titled “Coyotes, Jazz, and Creative Teams,” which delved into the essence of creativity and innovation and was presented at the EMSCR 2010 in Vienna.

Improvisation – why is this such an important skill in business?

Improvisation is vital for creativity and innovation in business pursuits, but also for circumstances when known procedures break down or become ineffective in the face of quickly changing events or environments, or sudden novel assaults. But it is important to understand what improvisation is and how to develop facility in using it. Simply stated, improvisation is the act of deviating from a prescribed script or standard process at a given moment. But one does not just “make it up” on the spot. As jazz legend Charles Mingus famously said: “You can’t improvise on nothing, man, you gotta improvise on something.” Check this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TU_RxWXijz0

Indeed, the basis for improvisation and skill in executing it are achieved only after long stretches of immersion in a field, in which one acquires core knowledge and experience and lots of exposure to low probability events (which by nature happen infrequently). And there are basic frameworks and protocols to follow, at least to a point, beyond which “the rules” can be bent, or broken, with enough experience and acquired wisdom in hand. Furthermore, improvisation is mainly based on prior experience with its use and usually consists of reassembling items in various combinations from a known “bag of tricks.” For example, a close scrutiny of Robin Williams’ performances reveals that he often, if not primarily, puts together combinations of things he has done many times before. Seldom does anything totally new emerge, but there are notable exceptions and they are truly astounding. All of these principles apply equally to business.

While on the faculty of a technical university teaching atmospheric science, I was called on by a faculty colleague in the English department to substitute teach in his class while he was gone on a trip. The theme I brought to his class was about improvisation with the title “What to do when you are thrown a curve.” For example, you are about to present a business case to a group of investors, only to discover that a key person in the investor group is missing, or your time slot has been reduced from an hour to 45 minutes because of a sudden schedule conflict. You are testifying to a city council and a new question has just been brought to its attention by some advisory source and you are asked to address it. There are many more such examples. It turns out that a certain level of anticipating such “curves” can be done and prepared for through scenario planning techniques among other methods. But at times you just have to wing it based on years of experience, or in some cases, set your boundaries and request more time or a rescheduling in order to prepare.

You talk about teams and dyads – can you explain more?

In many enterprises in life, activities are done in a team context. But teams must be assembled and managed well to be effective. A group of individuals operating separately on a task can outperform a poor team, but a good team can outperform the individuals. To achieve effective teams it is critical to provide training in a team-based manner, not just separately train the individuals serving on a team. Furthermore, training is best done in a real-time setting, not “unnaturalistically” or theoretically with a set of academic-like sequences in a classroom. There seem to be three critical components to proper team training:

  1. Designing the team for learning through embodying the right mix of expertise and skills in the collective members for the goal at hand
  2. Establishing an effective challenge to be met by the members as a whole, but delineating the critical role of each individual
  3. Assuring psychological safety for each team member by creating an environment in which individuals will not feel dumb or incompetent with their current ideas or their introduction of new ones.

Let’s look at team size, structure, and communication. Small teams usually work best and there is an anthropological basis for this. Hunter gatherers worked in teams of 5 or 6 maximum. The possible number of communication channels expand greatly with team size. For example, a team of two has one two- way channel, also known as dyadic communication. With three members in a team, there are 3 such possible dyadic channels. With four team members, there are 6 channels, and with five members the number of possible two-way, or dyadic, channels increases to 10. The beat goes on with larger team size, such that an eight member team has 28 possible two-way channels. It gets quite complex with both the sheer number of dyadic possibilities and the attendant process losses for each dyad. Once assembled, a critical component to team operational success resides in effective intra-team communication. From classical quartets, jazz combos, and rock groups, we learn two primary categories of communication that apply to many other enterprises outside the realm of music: verbal and non-verbal. Both the verbal and non-verbal manifest in three ways: as instruction, cooperation, and collaboration. This yields a total of six communication modes. Thoughts on these various modes are the subject of a follow-on discussion.

But there is more to the story on team size and operation. Small teams may work best operationally, but may not possess all the knowledge or skill for a given task. Larger teams have the possibility of having more composite knowledge. However, the smaller, more operationally efficient team can establish a process to gather information from outside the team and bring it back into the task. That may mean a simple transporting of outside knowledge, or temporarily including an outside member for a period of time. This and related processes work best if team members have transdisciplinary skills and knowledge. Transdisciplinary means more than cross-disciplinary, in that one interacts not just at the boundary between disciplines in a team of mixed expertise, but has enough knowledge, like the T-shaped person, to make a deeper foray into several other disciplines. It is worth each team member gaining such a skill for best team operation.

Not often expressed is another facet of a team. Let me express three categories: low-variance, medium variance, and high-variance teams. This idea comes from my paper “Coyotes, Jazz, and Creative Teams.” Variance is the deviation, or change, from a standard mode of operation or process. An example of a low-variance team is a surgical team, an airline crew, or a manufacturing team. Such a team is not prospecting for novelty or surprise, but is rather operating with a tight set of procedures to ensure success and safety. A low-variance team also trains for emergency contingencies to minimize, if not preclude, the need for improvisation or research. Emergencies must be handled quickly in time and such emergencies as a fire do not “age” well as time moves on. On the other hand, a high-variance team such as a design or research team or jazz combo is prospecting for novelty and surprise and thus operates less rigidly with a fair amount of improvisation. A medium-variance team lies in between. An example would be an orchestra that plays the written score, but adds variance through creative interpretation. Needless to say, each type of team requires different training, management, and operation.

Now, I have mentioned dyads. And there are also triads. Both are vital concepts and realities, but let’s stick with dyads for now. Like a lot of words, dyad has a few meanings, once of which was used above: the two-way communication between two people. There is also another meaning: a special relationship of long standing between two individuals. There are personal and professional examples of this type of dyad and sometimes a given dyad entails both personal and professional aspects. The dyad we now discuss requires trust, close communication, and equal status to work best. A well-functioning dyad is one of the most powerful forms of teams that exist. Famous examples include Lennon and McCartney; Lerner and Loewe; Gilbert and Sullivan; Cheech and Chong; Holmes and Watson; Roosevelt and Taft; Watson and Crick; Jobs and Wozniak. The list goes on.  We’ll stop at Cheech and Chong:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWxgfTMLtc0

Note that while certainly complementary, the individuals of the dyad can have similar skills or quite different ones. That is worth noting. Another key point is that a dyad can lead to a powerful synergy unachievable by the two individuals separately. Or not. Dyads also tend to become unstable and acrimonious over time by virtue of the closeness and persistence of interaction required over long periods of time. Teams of three, the triad, can also produce their own pathologies, more so sometimes that can a dyad. Interestingly, teams of five often report the greatest satisfaction in their operation. But, long live the dyad.

I will briefly mention another type of team: the team of one. Please think on that idea for a while and stay tuned for an exposition in the near future.

Say something about the seminar series you are planning for the USA?

The dyad of Cook and Derickson has schemes to invade the USA with workshop seminars that aim to circumnavigate and then make a direct charge at the processes of innovation and creativity, borrowing from the ethnographies (fancy word for the study of the culture of an enterprise that entails human interaction) of Rock and Jazz. At the heart will be real-time, team-based learning exercises that engage with creativity and innovation, improvisation, and the “taming and harvesting” of randomness. A key aspect will be learning how to uncover knowledge we don’t even know we don’t know (unknown unknowns). Rather than presenting rigid, sequential rules, the seminars will elucidate and incorporate practical sets of guiding principles in the team-based exercises. Importantly, the seminars will entail heterogeneous groups of people from various disciplines rather than from a single discipline.

Pi- shaped - Dr Derickson and Master Cook

Pi- shaped – Dr Derickson and Master Cook

Have you got some takeaway bullet points for readers?

  • There are few, if any, silver bullets.
  • Improvisation is fun.
  • Teams can be fun.
  • You gotta work at it.
  • Start now.

NEXT WEEK OUR BLOG GOES OUT ON APRIL FOOL’S DAY 

BE PREPARED FOR SOME FUN

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About the Blog 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.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

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In The City – Rock unites the business world

Rock In The City Logo Purple Mid

Logo Design by Simon Heath – Social Media’s Quick Draw McGraw @simonheath1

Time for a mini update on the band that I’ve formed with Dr Andrew Sentance, former Monetary Policy Committee Member for The Bank of England.  Following the press announcements in the Evening Standard and City AM, we’ve attracted a motley crew of City based rockers and are set to organise a Rock meets Business event at a City location for charity.  The band is called RockInTheCity and the gig’s to be “In The City, By The City, For The City”.

Rockin' The City from West to East Haydn, Andrew, Bilal, Pete, Peter and Barry

Rockin’ The City from West to East Haydn, Andrew, Bilal, Pete, Peter and Barry

The core band members are:

  • Haydn Jones – Telecoms, Operational effectiveness, Bass
  • Dr Andrew Sentance – Senior Economic Adviser, PwC, Guitar, Vocals, Keyboards
  • Bilal Mustafa – Mergers, acquisitions, keyboards, electronica
  • Pete Stephens – Government, drums
  • Barry Monk – Marketing consultant, lead guitar, vocals
  • and myself on lead guitar and vocals

We will be augmented by a range of superb music professionals and there will be an opportunity for people attending our concerts to join the band for a bit of ‘spontaneous combustion’ on the night itself.  Find out more at our band webpage Rockinthecity and follow us on Twitter. We held our first practice at Andrew Sentance’s house the other week.  It would be invidious to reveal our set list, but here’s a few of the songs we jammed out to get our groove on.

  • Money – Pink Floyd
  • Purple Rain – Prince
  • Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
  • All along the watchtower – Jimi Hendrix

I may also try to get the band to accommodate a live performance of the economics rock anthem “Fiscal Cliff”, now available for download on Bandcamp.  The evening will be accompanied by an introductory keynote on music, business and money plus food and plenty of networking opportunities. We are now looking for a venue in the city and some sponsors for the event which will be run on a charitable basis.  Please get in touch via e-mail peter@humdyn.co.uk if you wish to support this initiative in a small or larger way.  This can be in terms of assistance with marketing, underwriting food, drinks, helping with the event delivery, providing the venue, public address system, lighting, stage crew or anything else you can think of.  Here’s an impression of our first practice:

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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.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Box Set 7

Hangin’ on the telephone … at O2

This is a tale of appalling customer service, bad data management, a company culture that refuses to deal with complaints and employee disempowerment / disengagement at the mobile phone company O2.  It’s a long story which is still developing as I update this post.  In business terms, it teaches us some great lessons about how to get these things right, as many good companies do.  Yet I remain astonished at the catalogue of problems that this relatively small issue has thrown up within O2′s culture, structure, systems and HR strategy / practice.  Read on …

March 02

I still require some kind of therapy after a wasted weekend of mind-numbing conversation on the phone with my son Tom’s mobile phone providers O2, part of the Telefonica group.  Tom took a contract with O2 just over a year ago on a special half price offer of around £16 a month provided to him as a former “Pay as you go” customer.  Some months later he noticed that O2 had been charging him nearly £30 per month and he went to the shop to resolve this, but got fobbed off by the staff.  As compared with me, Tom is rather relaxed and after having a lot of his valuable time wasted, decided that O2′s dishonesty should be rewarded by him switching phone contracts at the end of the 12 months, which he did.  He cancelled the direct debit and thought all was well … until O2 presented him with a bill for £61 for overdue bills after he left them.  On inspection I uncovered that O2 owed him £137.77 due to persistent overbilling on their part.  I decided that it might be simple to have a friendly word with O2 about this …  I was wrong …

Tom, before O2 got him

Tom, before O2 got him

So, what’s the big deal?

You might at first be wondering why any of this matters?  Well, O2 recently put a debt collection agency onto the case.  I had explained the situation to them and they agreed that it was not correct and they dropped the matter.  I thought that this was the end of the matter.  Not at all.  I then received a letter from Messrs Buchanan, Clark and White, a firm of solicitors chasing the £61 debt (times must be hard – goodness knows what O2 are paying them to recover £61!! – perhaps it’s their UK tax bill?).  So, the big deal here relates to my son getting a bad credit score rating for O2′s overbilling which caused Tom to leave them. Such things are notoriously hard to remove in the age of computers, even if it can be proved that the data is incorrect.

I asked O2 if they could call me to sort this out (Tom is a student and refuses to call them using an 0845 number, which would cost him a massive amount, given the time needed to get through).  To my astonishment, O2 pointed out that they were unable to arrange callbacks.  I thought to myself:

Er, did I just get hear that correctly?  

A phone company unable to make a phone call?  

Yes, you did Peter!

No one receiving - O2's customer contact policy

No one receiving – O2′s customer contact policy

If O2 won’t call me, I’ll call them …

Eventually, I decided that a trip to see my son would be in order and a visit to the O2 shop, so I set off on a 60 mile jaunt to the O2 shop in Canterbury on Saturday.  I explained the problem to the manager.  The shop could not help as his account is not active and therefore their computer “said no”, but they did let me call O2 on their customer phone. After 20 minutes, someone eventually answered, listened carefully for 15 minutes and then agreed to escalate the call. However, there was no one to escalate the call to, so I asked for a call back.  Another 20 minutes later, this had been arranged with a password for me to use on my son’s behalf.  The call was to come within 5 – 1o minutes but no call arrived.  Thus my entire afternoon was wasted for no outcome whatsoever.  I retired injured, having spent the whole afternoon on the telephone when I had gone to see my son for something far more important.  Ho hum, shit happens, and it seems to happen a lot when you phone O2 …

Lazy Sunday … not 

Sunday is a new day so I thought I’d start over.  Firstly online.  In a moment of blind optimism, I thought that maybe I could ask O2 to start where we left off with a call back.  Oh no, we’re right back to the beginning again!  They refused to use the password we had set up on Saturday and also refused to honour the call they never made the previous day.  Interestingly O2 are very keen to get me off Twitter to discuss the matter in private, so that they can continue the process of gradual erosion, sucking the energy, life and soul out of even the most passionate customer, like some kind of telephonic dementors:

O2's customer service centre?

O2′s customer service centre?

Undeterred by about 50 repetitive mind-numbing e-mails from O2′s web team, I set off with renewed energy to the local O2 shop as it seems that the only way I can deal with this is by phone.  An exceptional shop assistant greets me, tries to access the account online, but once again is blocked by O2 as the account is not active.  This time we have a 90 minute phone call to O2, via three of their customer representatives including two senior managers.  The first cannot help but is polite and refers me on again. The second listens carefully but also cannot help and refers to the third (Keeley) who decides to go on the attack. Here’s some of the arguments that Keeley makes:

  • My son should have persisted with queuing for hours to sort the contract out.  He is therefore a wimp for not putting up with O2′s appalling service and it’s his fault that he did not get his money back and now his fault that the solicitors are on his case.
  • I ask for a copy of the original contract  as he never received one and Keeley disputes his honesty that he bought an offer.  Keeley refuses to send a copy as this information is ‘confidential’.  She says that ‘the computer says’ that my son has not tried to contact O2 and this means that his contract is valid.  I point out that he did visit the shop several times to no avail.  She says that the computer has no record of shop visits and implies that it did not therefore happen.  When people mistake explicit data from tacit knowledge and information, we are into very dangerous territory.  If it is not on the computer, it does not exist was the line taken by O2.  I am reminded of Little Britain:
  • Keeley likes to point out that it was my son (and not O2) who broke the contract by just leaving O2 at the end of the contract. She thinks this is stupid and that therefore he must pay the price for his stupidity. When I point out that O2 broke the contract in the first place by repeatedly overcharging, she fails to answer the point, simply using the ‘broken record’ technique in an attempt to break my will.  I point out that Tom would probably never have left O2 if the contract had been made correctly in the first place, thus if blame is to be apportioned, then O2 are the root cause of his departure and therefore the breach of contract.  She chooses to ignore this.  I hope she sleeps well.  This seems to be in contrast with the views of Ronan Dunne, CEO of O2:
Ronan Dunne's view of customer service - Fine words, but I think I'd rather hear the views of Ronan Keating on this ...

Ronan Dunne’s view of customer service – Fine words, but I think I’d rather hear the views of Ronan Keating on this …

  • She cannot help anyway as the matter is in the hands of solicitors to claim the £61 back. Keeley claims to be a ‘senior manager’.  But just what is she managing?  How has this got anything to do with management?  It appears that the computer could do her job as she tells me that her computer holds all the information she needs to make a resolution.

I still need to resolve the matter or my son gets a bad credit rating for £61, when it is O2 that owe him money. On principle it seems wrong now to just pay up, which is what they expect people to do.  Here’s the account as it currently stands:

  • My son allegedly owes O2 £61 for not actively cancelling his contract
  • O2 owe my son £137.77 for overbilling which caused him to leave O2 thus invalidating his contract with them
  • O2 owe my son an order of correction to Experian et al to ensure that he does not become criminalised at the age of 19 for O2′s mistake in overbilling him
  • O2 owe me £50 for petrol
  • O2 owe me more that three day’s wasted time
  • O2 owe Tom and myself something for the mind numbing experience and a wasted weekend
  • O2 may be sued for inappropriate use of credit rating agencies to criminalise my son at the age of 19 for mistakes that THEY made on THEIR computer, following the recent case of this in respect of Richard Durkin

Lest you might be thinking that all call centres are bad, that’s simply not true as there is a huge differential between these places.  I’ve had excellent service from First DirectEE and The Carphone Warehouse of late.

So, what’s next?  Well, I think we have moved no further forward than when this started and each time I contact O2, they put bureaucratic and petty quasi legal obstacles in the way of resolution.  So it appears that my next steps must be to raise this formally with various people so that they do not get trapped in a similar way.  I must thank Anne Tynan for her excellent article on Why brands must have big ears, which provides a catalogue of advice and examples in this area.

POSTSCRIPT 14.15 Monday 03 March

I have just had a call from O2′s Office of the Chief Executive – The issue appeared to be on the road to resolution but see below.  Thanks to all that have shared the blog on social media – I somehow wish that we could have reached this point without the worst two days of my life this year and the consequent losses of business and money.

POSTSCRIPT 09.51 Wednesday 12 March

My optimism was in vain.  I have had considerable amounts of my time wasted by O2′s Executive Customer Relations team over this.  Central to their argument is that they claim that we must have evidence that the contract was £16 per month, but O2 have admitted that they cannot find a copy of the contract themselves!!  I find this astonishing, given that I can recover invoice 0001 from 1994 from my own business, but they appear to be unable to produce a copy of an order from just over a year ago.  They also claim that they are unable and unwilling to stop the contagion of data sharing that has occurred to credit rating agencies in spite of the fact that it was their own computer systems that generated this error.  As a result I have lodged a formal complaint to Ofcom and the Ombudsman – see below:

A case of mis-selling?

A case of mis-selling?

To add insult to injury, my wife decided to cancel her contract with O2 and spent nearly 90 minutes on “Live Chat” sessions trying to get them to send an e-mail confirming that she had cancelled the contract, since O2 insist that “if it is not on a computer, it did not happen”.  On every occasion, she was promised a confirmation e-mail.  On every occasion it has not arrived … However, since I mentioned this to the Exec Customer Relations, the matter has been resolved. So the simple problem has been cleared up after about two hours wasted time.  We now look to the more serious matter for some progress.  In the words of Timbaland “It’s too late to apologise”.

To cheer me up, time for some Blondie which explains the title of this blog and some other telephone songs from ELO and Sylvia’s Mother, as performed by the bizarre Country and Western 3-piece Glam Rock duo The Cowpokers – the piece starts 2 minutes in:

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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.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

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Jamming in New York City

Here’s a link to a Radio interview we did with Dr Jackie Modeste and Dr Wesley J Watkins on Trading Fours on the theme of improvisation and innovation.  Just click the picture to listen in.

Click to listen to the radio show

Click to listen to the radio show

Here’s what Dr Modeste had to say about the interview highlights via Twitter:

  • Musicians understand the value of continuous practice to master their art.  In business we are often satisfied with one day’s CPD (Continuous Professional Development) per year.
  • Disruptive innovation can come from the marketplace in a wired world, with customers setting challenges for businesses that get stuck in a rut.
  • Failure to spot disruptive innovation can be life limiting for businesses.  Witness the examples of Sony and Kodak in the interview.
  • Musicians are often great storytellers.  In business we need to get better at getting everyone to put themselves into the company’s story, rather than trying to impose our own fairy tale on staff.

Thanks to Jackie and Wes for an engaging dialogue, which was unplanned and therefore more surprising and enjoyable for that.

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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 Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

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Improvisation and Innovation

Just back from Northampton having delivered a keynote on the topic of improvisation and innovation.  I’m pleased to say that there was a great deal of interest in the topic and the question many people ask me is “How do you plan to improvise?”  Indeed one can plan to improvise – in the words of Paul Simon:

“Improvisation is too important to be left to chance”

Before we get started, have a listen to a piece of music I wrote and recorded, which was conceived and created pretty much entirely through improvisation.  Initially working alone and then involving my friend and musical collaborator John Howitt, a session musician who has worked with Celine Dion, Shirley Bassey, Anastasia et al.

Somewhat strangely, improvisation relies on discipline if something is to emerge from the process.  I’ve summarised some of the principles that I apply when creating from scratch and their parallels in business:

Parallels between improvisation and innovation in music and business

Parallels between improvisation and innovation in music and business

Improvisation is not confined to music.  It operates in all other artforms, including photography.  We finish with the work of Allisdhair McNuall, improvising photographic artist at Incubation Arts and Ambient Vistas.  Allisdhair uses ambient scenery as his inspiration with natural adjustments of his camera to “make the familiar strange”.  There is no PhotoShop here.  Allisdhair says in true improvisational form “I stumbled across the technique quite by accident and it continues to develop (no pun intended) with each shot I take”.  Allisdhair also provides some subtle backdrops to the table above.

Ambient Vistas

Ambient Vistas

Distant Realms

Distant Realms

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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 Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Coincidences, Complexities and Creativity

I have just been hired to deliver a conference keynote and an innovation summit in Dublin. The booking came about whilst having some drinks with an Irish chap in Amsterdam who knows the taxi driver that took me from Knock Airport to Westport in Ireland back in March. Had I been like Van Morrison, who never talks to taxi drivers, none of this would have happened. That’s the power of networking and coincidences.

The series of coincidences I’ve just mentioned is statistically unlikely.  Importantly if any single one of them had not occurred then the result would not have happened.  Does that come down to dumb luck?  I think not.  Let’s take a quick look at what the gurus say on the subject:

Luck, Sweat and Tears

Luck, Sweat and Tears

So, I’m suggesting that planning to be lucky is more effective than pure luck.  How then was there some kind of plan in my lucky story?  Well, it all started about 6 years ago, when I did a creativity programme for Pfizer down in Cork. The programme was very successful in so far that it produced a new synthetic route for a drug substance, which paid for the investment many many times over.  More importantly, the programme was adopted by the company and one of its staff has become an acknowledged expert in the topic, having taken the approach to the US and beyond.  What has this got to do with the taxi driver?  Well the head of the unit referred my work to a colleague in Allergan in Westport who asked me to join a conference call to discuss the need.  I offered to travel to Westport to undertake a proper diagnosis, which led to the taxi ride with Simon Moran.  Simon and I hit it off instantly and got talking about all manner of business opportunities.  I subsequently gained another project from a further referral to another pharmaceutical company, which prompted yet another company to hire me for the project in Amsterdam and the rest you know.  Networking works when the ‘dots’ join up.  In this case, this particular sequence took over six years to come to fruition.  When people tell me that networking does not work, it occurs to me that (a) you have to do enough of it for connectivity to occur and (b) people are impatient and do not act consistently over time.

To have more happy coincidences from complex business affairs:

  • See all interactions as potential networking opportunities, even those that seem outside your business interests
  • Have enough interactions to ensure that coincidences occur.  Networking is partly a numbers game
  • Ensure that each interaction is of sufficient quality for people to remember it.  Successful networking relies on both quality as well as quantity

To finish, here’s a song from Elvis Costello about accidents:

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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.

The bookshelf

Towards 2014

It’s been another rocky year in 2013 as I reflect on plans for my 20th year in business with Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock.  Thank you all for your contributions to this blog and in many other ways – they have all helped keep a sense of perspective and balance in times of great turbulence.  A major theme of 2013 and in the last few years of recession generally for me has been reinvention and renewal.

Reinvention and Renewal

After several years of incredibly difficult trading conditions, this year brought some respite in terms of projects of a more significant nature.  This has followed considerable reinvention and renewal of what we offer and via the expansion of our global network to meet the needs of larger companies and the increasing desire of those companies to have an offer which can be scaled and taken anywhere in the world.  The highlights of this were:

  • A major piece of innovation consultancy for a large pharmaceutical company in New York, which we won against stiff competition from the brand leader in the field
  • A masterclass event on creativity and innovation at Nokia, which was regarded as one of the best events they have ever had, again, against the backdrop of competition from the big brand
  • A project to help align the practices of the EMEA operations of another pharma company.  This has spawned further requests for keynotes and summit workshops in Ireland into 2014
  • Repeat bookings at conferences for the pharmaceutical industry and in Nottingham’s technology hub
  • A training programme on applied creativity for Lloyds of London, won against the odds for a small but highly networked organisation
  • An overall increase in the number of requests for speaking engagements and conference designs
  • An invitation to commence a PhD at Imperial College London

Words and Music

I released my 7th book “The Music of Business”, having gained an endorsement for the book from Harvey Goldsmith CBE, the man behind Live Aid via a strange set of circumstances.  I was also delighted to be invited to contribute to David D’Souza’s book “Humane Resourced”.   I’m now trying to fit in the writing of a major tome on innovation and creativity for release in 2014.

Presenting Doug Morris, CEO of Sony Music, with The Music of Business

Presenting Doug Morris, CEO of Sony Music, with The Music of Business – Click for your copy

At the level of pure pleasure, I compered and performed at a Charity Event, which raised a tidy sum of money for Demelza House Children’s Hospice, an absolutely vital charity ignored and overlooked by Governments.  I was also invited to jam with a former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee at Dr Andrew Sentence’s garden party.  Andrew has just released his first book on the economy entitled Rediscovering Growth : After The Crisis.  He has also asked us back to his 2014 garden party to perform with the band so I will have to get practising as his son Tim is a virtuoso jazz player!

Andrew Sentance at a recent event. The other guy did not show up to the Garden Party ...

Andrew Sentance at a recent event. The other guy did not show up to the Garden Party … Click on the picture for Andrew’s new book

I also wrote and recorded a rock song to unleash some of my angst about how we have all contributed in smaller or larger ways to the ‘buy now, pay later society’ ever since hire purchase appeared as an idea in 1920′s America.  The result was a pithy and deeply ironic song about economics, banking and shopping called “Fiscal Cliff” which nearly reached the charts.  We had an absolute hoot recording it. Here’s the video, which we made from start to finish in two hours – So, it’s not exactly a Hollywood production but not a bad job nonetheless.  Feel free to download a copy on iTunes, Amazon or Google Play for Christmas – All proceeds are going to Demelza Children’s Hospice.

Reasons to be cheerful

One of the most important part of running a business is the people you get to work with and come into contact with. Can I extend my thanks to the following people, who I’ve had the pleasure of working or collaborating with in 2013 as part of the Human Dynamics and Academy of Rock offering.  To Steve Gorton, Marjolein Jupijn, Val and Errol Whitter, Simon Heath, Dave Brooks, Bernie Tormé, Ben Weinlick, Andrew Sentance, Professor Peter Childs, Rowena Sian MorganDavid D’Souza, Trevor Lee, Professor Adrian Furnham, Richard Strange, Phil Hawthorn, Doug Shaw, Nadine Hack, Dr Reg Butterfield and many others.  I look forward to many more collaborations in 2014 and beyond.  Also thanks to my   clients Roche, Johnson and Johnson, Nokia, Fuji Film, Imperial College London, Lloyds, Angel Trains, The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply, The Association of Clinical Data Management – I quite literally could not have done it without you!

2014 Resolutions

In 2014  it is the 20th anniversary of my companies Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock.  For me this means:

Professional Goals

Continuing to challenge the stereotype that the ‘bigger branded consultancies’ are safer bets for procurement departments to choose.  For me, this means trading from a platform of intelligent content and thoughtful customer focus rather than handing out branded pens and fluffy toys to clients.

Developing the global network – for too many years, people have seen the company as a one-man business when we have a worldwide network of thought leaders and associates and we also work in partnership with others.  One sign of progress in this area happened in 2013 when Nadine Hack asked us to collaborate in a piece of global consulting.  This was a true honour – Nadine is recognised as one of the worlds’ most trusted leaders on ethical behaviour in organisations. She has worked with Nelson Mandela, Barak Obama and many of the world’s greatest corporations to change their collective mindsets about ethical and sustainable business strategy and practice.

To complete the research and writing of my 8th and 9th books on Business Innovation and Creativity.  This will require the usual ‘get up early, stay up late strategy’ …  We’ll have to see if and how a PhD fits in …

Personal Goals:

To find more time for looking after myself.  Yes, this includes cycling when it’s cold and wet!  Damn – I’ve told everyone now, so I’ll have to do it  :-)  Making time for my son, who is suffering under the weight of constant tests and exams in an education system which now resembles the arrival of The Ministry of Magic in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” at my local school.  And finding time to support my wife as she cares for her mum.

Wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year !

Peter

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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.

The bookshelf

Seasons Greetings

I don’t do Christmas cards any more, but instead give the money to Charity.  This year it’s Demelza Children’s Hospice who we did a concert for earlier in the year which raised £1000.  I’ve just made a festive piece of ambient music inspired by cats !!  A trifle cheesy, but it’s all for a good cause.  Check it out here:

We’re making a proper film for the music in the coming weeks as a more general fundraiser for Demelza.  So, seasons greetings and all the best for 2014!  Here’s a word from our sponsors:

Miaow

Miaow

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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.

The bookshelf

The bookshelf

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.

Slayed

Slayed

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:

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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