Women Rock

Check this article out from my friend Share Ross, best known as the bass player of female rock band Vixen. In the article she makes a comparison between dysfunctional teams and ones that know how to work, learn and play together.

 

Click to view Share's article

Click to view Share’s article

I like Share’s definition of a rockstar as someone who has aligned their passion and purpose, is authentic – the real deal etc.  This is far away from popular notions of rockstars as self-obsessed egotists and Share blows away some of the myths in this area.

Check Share’s work out at her website Share Ross.  And here’s her latest post “Brother can you spare a dime“. Here’s a clip of her work as a rock n roll star rather than a rock n roll coach:

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Book him for your next interactive motivational keynote or longer masterclass on subjects such as Leadership, Creativity, Innovation and Change.

Books x 4

Creativity – I love you

Creativity is seeing something different in the ordinary ...

Creativity is seeing something different in the ordinary …

Seven questions to prompt your own reflections on your creativity.

  1. What do you consider your creative strengths?
  2. How do these make you uniquely able to do what you do?
  3. Where are the applications for these strengths – in business, in life etc.?
  4. How might you develop your creative strengths?
  5. Are any aspects of your creativity liabilities in certain situations?
  6. What untapped parts of your life are currently unused in your work?
  7. How might you make better or different uses of these strengths?

Following a great post on Linkedin asking about people’s personal creativity strengths by Lynette Jensen in Australia, I was prompted to reflect on my own strengths in this area. Rather than filling in endless questionnaires and conducting 360 degree appraisals, I asked my wife, who probably is more accurate and truthful than the other approaches! She reminded me that I have had an unusually fortunate life in respect of creativity, having more or less mapped out my own career (she is rather jealous! 🙂 ).  She went on to help me notice some of the uncommon strengths that have accrued as a result of this:

  1. I have worked across 3 distinctly diverse disciplines – Science, Business and Music. This cross-curricular learning helps me make connections between things that apparently others don’t. This makes me variously wonderful, strange, deep, hard to follow and a host of other positives and negatives 🙂  If working with me is rewarding but hard work, then living with me must be much worse! Fortunately, my wife has the patience of a saint …
  2. I’ve worked in industry, academia and in the community – in Industry, working for a pharmaceutical company all around the world, in academia, teaching MBA’s in creativity and innovation, in business as a consultant, author and speaker on creativity and innovation in overlapping cycles of 18 years each, plus in the community as a rock musician over my entire life. She said that this gives me the ability to work with people of all levels and viewpoints, from professors, world leaders through to people on the ground floor of companies and those people who are in the gutter, looking at the stars. She reminded me that it is uncommon to be at ease and able to work with people from all walks of life.
  3. The academic and industry part of my life makes my creativity grounded within a business context.  She points out that this is a huge difference to the ‘usual suspects’ in the field and this was confirmed by a corporate client recently, who chose Human Dynamics for a piece of consultancy work preferentially against the market leader, because of our repertoire, depth or experience and grounding.
  4. I never consider I have stopped learning, which makes me innately curious, the stuff of creativity and innovation. I live to learn and learn to live. Mental playfulness is a muscle that I like to stretch and test, sometimes to destruction.  It is a quality that is crucially missing from many companies these days, which may explain how we get hired to help people leverage their creativity and innovation.

Macbook

Here’s the seven questions again to prompt your own reflections. Alternatively ask someone that knows you well:

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 23.07.19

For more explorations on what makes individuals especially creative and how to harness that power personally and corporately, check out the book “Best Practice Creativity“.  I’m presently writing a follow up volume and looking for stories and examples about what works in the field of personal creativity.  Please get in touch if you have a contribution.  Full credits given.

Best Practice Creativity - Available in English, Russian and American ...

Best Practice Creativity – Available in English, Russian and American … Acclaimed by Professor Charles Handy

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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

Ask and you may receive

Ask The Smiths

This is a simply inspirational story of someone who refused to be defined by others and who made a huge impact in the music industry by doing something fundamentally different to the norm.

Amanda Palmer illustrates the powerful impact of connecting through your vulnerabilities as much as your strengths and the power of asking.

VULNERABILITY

I’d imagine that most of us would not wish to get naked in front of hundreds of people of the opposite in order to gain commitment to a project or cause!   Amanda’s method does not have to be copied, but it can be creatively swiped.  The underlying principle is that when you reveal a vulnerability, it can produce a much greater connection than appearing to have no faults.  The process of self disclosure and self effacing humour is much misunderstood, but in the right hands, can be a powerful source of connectivity.

ASKING 

I know so many people who want to achieve things but who do not ask people to help them.  Sure, it’s not guaranteed to work but one thing is equally certain.  If you don’t ask, you don’t get.  It’s a trait that I’ve used positively quite a few times through my life.  See the post on Harvey Goldsmith.  Whenever I’ve regretted things, it’s often when shyness has kicked in.  Shyness is nice, and it can stop you from doing the things you want to … wise words from Mr Morrissey:

A short post this week as I’m taking a break prior to my trip to New York next week – enjoy the summer if you have any wherever you are in the world 🙂

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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

The Heart and Soul of OD – An interview with Fuchsia Blue

Fuchsia Blue

The other week, I was privileged to interview Julie Drybrough of Fuchsia Blue.  I am absolutely made up with the work of Simon Heath who sketchnoted the film in his blog at SKETCHNOTE BLUE.  Simon may be contacted at sjheath@live.co.uk for his incredible work.

The dialogue was wide ranging and we learned the following things from this:

About Organisation Development

Boards are often unaware of the habitual patterns of communication.  Julie employs a range of Organisation Development practices to help boards make the most of their time together, such as process observation and feedback.  The Organisation Development Matrix that I have found to be of great use over time is shown below:

The OD Matrix

The OD Matrix

About Dialogue

Dialogue differs from discussion, in so far as it is a much deeper form of conversation that leads to much better results.  It turns out that we have both travelled similar roads around the work of Physicist David Böhm and Peter Senge.  If you want to have more productive conversations about important things, a study and practice of dialogue is essential.

About Emotional Intelligence

Julie differentiates the idea of being human at work from ‘human resources’.  If human beings are our greatest asset, we make a big mistake by treating them as human resources.  This requires leaders to possess and demonstrate emotional intelligence, having mastery of themselves and being aware of their own impact on others.  More on this aspect at Emotional Intelligence.

Julie may be found on Twitter at @fuchsia_blue  and works predominantly in the public sector on Organisational Development Strategies and Practices.  I’m looking forward to finding an opportunity to work collaboratively on dialogue using music in the future.  Let us know if you wish to advance this proposition.  Since Julie hails from Scotland, we must mark the occasion with some music from that Big Country:

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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

Must the show go on?

Just back from a weekend with the Godfather of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Dr Richard Bandler and the NLP master hypnotist Paul Mc Kenna.  At one point during the weekend, the song “The Show Must Go On” popped up in the back of my mind … funny how that happens … Undoubtedly this maxim pervades most entertainment circles.  Does it transfer to business I thought?  I felt a certain unease.  Let’s check Queen’s classic anthem before deciding:

I’d argue vigorously that the maxim is at least unhelpful and possibly dangerous in some circumstances.   One of my great business heroes Tom Peters, points out that one of the hardest things to do in business is press the STOP button.   In rock circles, my friend Bill Nelson has a maxim for reinvention that says “Do not be afraid of the off switch”.  Had Michael Jackson written the song “Wanna Be Stoppin’ Something” instead of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”, it would have probably not been a hit however 🙂

But the STOP button is vital in some circumstances.  Kodak would have probably avoided Chapter 11 bankruptcy if they had made the switch from analogue to digital film sooner.  Sony might have avoided a steady decline from being one of the most celebrated innovation companies if they had recognised the advent of downloading and done something different with their record company.

In our personal lives, what things are we doing that we really should not, just out of habit?  I can think of quite a few things that need to go in my ‘life laundry’.  And you?   A periodic pause for reflection before moving on is a healthy part of any smart person’s business and personal life.  Contact me for a free consultation if you need to do your personal or business life laundry.  “STOP in the name of life” may not have been a hit for Diana Ross but it may improve your bank balance!

Some questions to ponder:

  • What activities and habits are you pursuing that are past their sell-by date?
  • What ‘dark alleyways’ do others lead you down that do not contribute to your overall life purpose?
  • What relationships or tasks are you pursuing that are not based on a sense of equity / reciprocity?  How can you change them so that they produce better results for all concerned?

Just for fun, and having spent quite a bit of the weekend in light to moderate trance (my wife says there’s nothing new there …), here’s a humorous insight into the hypnotic world of Paul Mc Kenna:

Postscript:  This post has caused some controversy from people who rightly dislike the manipulative end of NLP.  From my direct experience I can say that Richard Bandler may swear a lot in his seminars but his ethics for using NLP are absolutely in the right place.  People cite politicians and bad sales people as examples as what is wrong with NLP.  If you put good tools in the hands of bad people, bad shit happens … Is that down to the tools or the people?  I leave you to decide.

It’s a kind of magic – Creativity at the speed of sound

Creativity in business can be a slow, incremental process, as Wallas identified in 1926:

  1. First insight – problem/opportunity finding and redefinition
  2. Preparation – the groundwork is often done here
  3. Incubation – in many cases, this is where unconscious processes play their most important part
  4. Illumination – often described as the ‘aha’ experience
  5. Verification – where the idea is validated and accepted by others

In other cases, creativity can pour out of people, at the speed of sound and almost to order.  Such was the occasion about 6 years ago, when I wrote a song and recorded a demo of the song all in less than an hour.  The piece was inspired by my 8 year old son James, who seemed to demonstrate an ability to wrap my wife and I around his fingers at a level of competence well beyond his years and quite different to my older boy.  One day, the idea of a song called “Cowboy James” came to me – words and music flowed and the whole thing was finished in minutes.   I previously wrote about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and the state of flow and this is a good example of flow in action.  I recently re-recorded the piece.  Please take a listen to this product of naïve and rapid creativity:

The business lessons? 

  1. Sometimes the first thing we do is the best thing.  Resist the temptation to refine and overanalyse if your creativity feels right the first time.
  2. Steve Jobs was known to trust his intuition as much as a spreadsheet.  Balance head and heart if you want to convert creativity to innovation
  3. Read Bill Nelson’s principles for continuous creativity to gain an insight into how to create the flow state – More on this in my books.
  4. As part of my MBA teaching and innovation consultancy over the years I have practiced with a suite of about 120 creativity techniques which improve the speed and effectiveness of brainstorming.   Technique is only part of the equation to get an innovative climate, yet it can help produce creativity ‘on demand’ and certainly more reliably than a poorly run brainstorming session.   Contact me via e-mail at peter@humdyn.co.uk to find out more.
  5. Bill Nelson has just released a beautiful box set album covering 40 years of continuous creativity and flow.  It is a testament to an intuitive approach to creativity, matched by discipline.  Check it out at The Practice of Everyday Life:

The Practice of Everyday Life – Picture by Martin Bostock http://www.martinbostock.co.uk

A Rock’n’Roll Christmas – Part 1

Rockin' all over the world

This year I have been blessed to meet some fantastic people around the blogging universe.  They have kindly offered to send me a Christmas message, so here for your delight are some Rock’n’Roll life and business coaching tips taken from a magical mystery tour round the world:

We start out journey close to my home in London: Meet Doug Shaw, author of Stop Doing Dumb Things to Customers, who indulges me with a bit of punk rock.  “Joe Strummer taught me to be ‘anti-ignorance’ and for sharing ‘Without People You’re Nothing’

Doug also offered us the example of Neil Ellwood Peart from the supergroup Rush – for his ability to recover from personal tragedy and his endless thirst for improvement.  A class act.  Lest we forget:

We must rush on … to platform 9 and ¾ at Kings Cross to join The Flying Scotsman.  We are met in Edinburgh by Colin Millar, aka The Ranting Scotsman.  Colin cranks it up with a leadership lesson from classic rock:  Queen’s ‘One Vision, One Mission’.

Colin rants “The title and lyrics say it all and I think it’s a great message for business people – ‘One Vision’ is first and foremost about the ‘vision’ and extrapolating what that vision is and the unity vision creates, bringing people and cause together.  I also like the concept of ‘consensus in eden’ that runs through the song”.

From a big country we then take a passage to India, to hear from Sonia Jaspal, who focuses on the power of music to create and maintain emotions.  She says “I think without music, the world would lose the most beautiful power of expressive emotions. It touches the depth of our soul. I am still a person that when I listen to some of the softer numbers I have tears in my eyes. Yeah, I need a box of tissues while watching some movies.   Also, without music, one would lose most of the inspirations in life. When one listens to beautiful music it somewhere resonates deep within. It has the capacity to change emotions and thinking.

Sonia’s favorite song is from an Hindi movie titled Safar (Journey). The song is ‘Zindagi Ka Safar’ (Life’s journey) sung in Kishore Kumar.  It is portrayed via an actor suffering cancer.   He is singing the song:

Moving on to Canada, home of Bryan Adams, Celine Dion and Francois Guay, who leads the Attack Defend Disrupt blog.  His choice of music that offers us a lesson in life or business is ‘More than a Feeling’ by Boston:

Francois takes up the story “This song contains my favourite guitar riff ever.“ Editor’s note – I can sign up to that!  “Although most people see it as a man disappointed in a having lost someone he loved, the song to me is all about reaching your goal, i.e. When you achieve one of your key goals that is “more than a feeling” it’s sublime and must be reproduced again and again.”  Seems like a lot of people agree that music inspires us to focus on and reach our goals.

Back to Blightly to meet Alison Chisnell, HR Director of Informa and author of The HR Juggler.  Alison’s song with a message is Billy Joel’s ‘All About Soul’.  She takes up the story:  “The context is that as an idealistic 18 year old, I had just begun a six month stint working in a children’s home in Zimbabwe as part of my gap year and in the early days I felt isolated, homesick and terrified that I had made the wrong decision. This song resonated as a reminder to commit fully to the adventure I was experiencing, to bring my values and passion to the task at hand, to ‘man-up’ and become more resilient and to accept that standing up and being counted was and is a good thing. Bland is rarely, if ever, good….so don’t be afraid to be you and get stuck in! Just because it isn’t easy doesn’t mean that it won’t be hugely rewarding.”

Staying on the theme of soul, we finish with Sharon Howard, who offers us lessons in life and business from Bill Withers about the importance of delegation, support and asking for help. We all need the help of others in order to succeed and they need us too, we all need somebody to lean on 🙂 A truly inspirational piece:

Coming up, we have more stories from bloggers and cool people all round the world.

Hope you have a Rock’n’Roll Christmas! – if you have not yet treated yourself to a free copy of my new micro book ‘Punk Rock People Management’, get an electronic copy by mailing me at peter@humdyn.co.uk.  I look forward to hearing your comments on this blog, suggesting other songs that have meaning for you.

Have a great Punk Rock Christmas - Click on the picture for the free book - Picture by Lindsay Wakelin Photography http://lindsaywakelinphotography.com/

Knowing me, Knowing you aha – In praise of Slough

Whilst my life as a keynote speaker, mixing music with business concepts, is considered to be more exciting than the usual speaker fare by some of my colleagues, I often forget to mention that I spend about 50% of my time doing quite ordinary business consultancy without rock music.  Such was the occasion a few weeks ago, when Slough Community Leisure called upon my services to help them rethink their 5-year strategy in the wake of changes in their market, customer and stakeholder base.

If you run a leisure centre, never mind all the HR boll …cks about “People are our greatest asset”.  It really IS all about your people – there’s nothing else to separate you from the rest.  Customer service separates the sheep from the goats in terms of whether you get customers, keep them, or get them to become fans of your product / service and become active referrers.  This requires an emotionally literate workforce.  We only have to look at the comic emotional bankruptcy of Alan Partridge to see the polar opposite of the way Slough Community Leisure operates:

So, what do I like about Slough Community Leisure.   Well, the clue is in the title of this post, otherwise known as Emotional Intelligence.  Thick books have been written about EI by Daniel Goleman and many others, but it comes down to the issue of internal and external mastery, or as Abba put it ‘Knowing me, Knowing you’:

Emotional Intelligence unplugged

In Slough Community Leisure’s case, they think carefully about the customer experience – this includes offering services specifically targeted to particular groups e.g. late night go karting.  It is also modelled down to the last detail in everything they do both face to face and online.  It’s the same critical competence that first direct use to rise above other players in the banking industry.

To finish, let’s see another take on Abba’s genius – The Abba section starts at around 5 minutes 37 although the rest of the video is yet another masterclass in emotional (un) intelligence:

Please share your thoughts on innovation customer excellence here.  A recent interview on the topic with Tom Peters can be found at Innovation Excellence.

Happy talk – Motivation unplugged

"Cos' I'm worth it" - A marketing executive from L'Oreal rocks out at the Marketing Directors Forum in Athens

I was reading the blog of Video Arts the other day on the issue of happiness at work.  It reminded me of the words of honorary punk rockers Rogers, Hammerstein and Captain Sensible, “Happy talk”.  Yes, it’s nice to be happy at work, but that’s only half the story.  We looked at the blues and motivation previously.  The Smiths’ classic “Heaven knows I’m miserable now” is the mantra for people stuck in jobs that don’t fit their skills, attitudes, inner or outer desires.  Let’s check out the dark side of the motivational equation:

What then are the reasons to be cheerful at work?  Certainly NOT because the 360 degree appraisal system has been put online in full colour,  because the team has won a set of fake plastic palm trees inscribed with the company mission statement, or when the HR department places a ‘People are our greatest asset’ plaque in every toilet cubicle.

It may be slightly quaint or even old fashioned to say this, but whatever happened to good old job design, as described by Hackman and Oldham?  They pointed out that people work well when they have well designed jobs.  These include some good old fashioned but not out of date factors:

  • Skill variety – using an appropriate variety of skills.
  • Task identity – being able to see the whole task.
  • Task significance – the extent to which people identify with the task and its importance to something wider.
  • Autonomy – giving some discretion over the way in which work is done.
  • Feedback – gaining an idea of how well people convert effort into performance.

In practical terms, many of the tried and tested methods of improving job design at work still have value.  For example:   vary work where possible to encourage skill variety;  assign work as a whole unit to enhance task significance;  delegate tasks to their lowest possible level to create autonomy and responsibility;   connect people to the impact of their work through feedback.  Some of the world’s best workplaces such as Prêt à Manger use these principles intuitively as they are common sense, although they are not commonly applied.  Others have made significant improvements by just following them as a conscious protocol, such as I have observed in work at The Royal College of Physicians.

My latest book Punk Rock People Management offers us three chords on motivation:

  • Design work according to Hackman and Oldham’s principles.
  • Eliminate pointless tasks from the daily grind that add no customer / stakeholder value.
  • Remember that reasons to be cheerful include: being listened to; doing things that count; understanding why they matter; being part of something; not having to do pointless tasks;  getting meaningful feedback on what you do and so on.

‘Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff’ is available for purchase of as a FREE download via the Punk Rock People Management webpage.  If you like this extract from the book, you will also LOVE my other book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’, acclaimed by Tom Peters, the daddy of them all.  Contact us to book your next conference keynote based on our heady mixture of business leadership and music.  Just back from Greece, and shortly appearing in Romania, South Africa and Slough – hardly a Rock’n’Roll schedule I admit! 🙂  Read a review by clicking on the picture:

Good companions

I leave not with Happy Talk by Captain Sensible, but with his rather more thoughtful anti-war / eco warrior song “Glad it’s all over” – The Captain ‘extinguished me’ with a fire hydrant at the Marquee during a Doctors of Madness gig, for which I am eternally grateful.

Dave Wakely of ASK Europe on Music, Business, Life, The Universe etc.

I interviewed Dave Wakely who works for ASK Europe – a premier HR and coaching consultancy on music, business, life etc.  Dave had kindly given the thumbs up to my books ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’ and the new one – Punk Rock People Management – available for FREE by clicking on the cover below:

Punk Rock People Management - Click the pic for your FREE copy

Firstly Dave, tell me something of what you do for a living?

I manage and edit the ASK blog, providing food for thought for people in a range of HR, L&D and management/leadership roles. My role at ASK is mostly about language and organisational culture: finding and using a public voice for the company that reflects its values and style, but also exploring themes, topics and ideas and posing questions where conventional wisdom seems heavier on the first of those words than the second. (My role here also includes a whole range of other ways in which we put words in front of the wider world. As an occasional sailor, a non-musical metaphor springs to mind: I may not be steering the vessel, but I’m adjusting the cut of the jib and how closely to the wind we sail.)

The remainder of the week I work in web development, scoping and defining website projects, evolving email campaigns, advising on or helping to create content – much of which involves subtly reminding organisations that whoever operates the mouse calls the shots: the web isn’t just broadcasting. Those who don’t work in a similar role would probably be surprised how much of that role consists of asking people about different aspects of their business, including its culture, values and ethics – but I’d counter by saying that you can’t build an effective web presence for a company if you don’t understand that company in the first place. That’s the difference between ‘being present’ and ‘presenting an advert’.

Along the way, I’ve been a poetry librarian, a learning resources database manager, an information officer in many a setting, an author and editor of open learning materials, a senior university administrator, an events organiser: a very 21st century ‘portfolio worker’ CV, although ‘patchwork’ is perhaps closer to the mark than ‘portfolio’. My life is an abstract quilting concept in motion!

What do you gain from music as a metaphor for thinking about business and organisational life

Apart from solo performers (which I shall therefore just duck entirely as an issue!), music is something that requires multiple inputs and some kind of organising principle. (I see even something as general as ‘everyone improvise simultaneously’ as a principle, although I’m aware that I’m the kind of person that starts from a ‘how shall we behave’ point of view – something MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) recently reminded me.

Sometimes music starts with a closely scripted score where everyone’s part is prescribed for them to play, sometimes there’s a general theme and the arrangement at any given point is a matter of interpersonal interaction and negotiation: either way, there are many contributions and at some level an approach to deploying them. If it weren’t for the word ‘music’ at the start of that description, that could easily be a description of work.

Having played in a wide range of musical combinations (including jazz quartets, big bands, orchestras – and working as a session musician), there’s another important element that is about making music rather than about music in the abstract: the relationships between the players. Each group, band or orchestra needs the right mixture of people, just as it needs the right combination of talents; likewise, each musician has situations that either do or don’t inspire, satisfy and so on. (This is the ‘engagement’ issue: if the music, relationships or people don’t inspire, you probably won’t play your best.)  Editors note – too true!

Sticking to popular music, most bands have a culture, a defining spirit, which has arisen from the combination of individuals and their shared values. Although most organisations are perhaps more like backing bands: an entrepreneur (read songwriter/singer/front-person) who develops a repertoire and a style, and builds their outfit around them. How much of their total potential contribution their band members get the opportunity to make might make a good metaphorical question to ask of organisational managers? (In other words, are you giving your staff the opportunity to show what they can really do or add, or are you just directing them? Being a supplier feels rather different to being a colleague, even if – in the context of the relationship – your role is pretty much just to supply. I’d brave a rash conjecture that most people want to give more at work rather than less, as being able to give more makes them feel they have a voice and a contribution to offer.)

How do you use these ideas in your professional life? Any favourite examples?

An interesting question – especially having recently completed a series of psychometric questionnaires, which confirmed or underlined my impression of myself as someone who’s more interested in the potential of collaboration than competition. Amusingly, when I interviewed you in 2009, I referred to Brian Eno’s published diaries and the band James. Another idea I remember from the same book is James’ realisation that “an arrangement is when some of the band stop playing some of the time”.  Editor’s note – only the tiniest prompt needed to play some of Eno’s music:

To me, in any given working situation, there’s probably one approach that will be more appropriate than others: to me, that’s not so different to the idea of identifying which instruments, arranging in which way, would make the most effective soundtrack to the moment. It’s a matter of understanding the particular contribution that different individuals can make and deploying your combined human resources to maximum effect. It also goes back to the point about ‘making music’ rather than music in the abstract: the masterful conductor knows how to work not just with music but with the musicians. If you want a great example of how someone helped (you could even say ‘lead’) a group of people to realise and actualise their potential, I think George Martin’s work with The Beatles is a classic case. ‘Produced’ is a very broad adjective, that doesn’t convey the other roles – adviser, arranger, and motivator are just some. He could have simply adopted a managerial line, but he chose to adopt more of a coach’s role. Some of the methods may have stretched a few envelopes, but not as far as they were stretched by the money that subsequently rolled in: there can’t have been too much arguing about the bottom line. If he had been more interested in efficiency and control, Sir George could, of course, just have typed up some sheet music and ordered them to play it …

Kant said that music is the language of the emotions.  How does music affect our emotional lives and what implications does that have for people in business and organisational life?

I had to pause and read around on Kant before replying, but found a reference to him classifying instrumental music as “more pleasure than culture” – without words, it can appeal to our senses but not to reason. My understanding is that he was awed by its ability to convey or evoke emotion, but had no role as a conduit for ideas. (Kant lived, of course, many years before Late Junction on Radio 3 or the John Peel Show, so perhaps we can forgive him?)

Within minutes of arriving home in the evening, two things will happen: I will put on the kettle, and I will put on music. There are a few thousand CDs in the house, but I’ll spend a few minutes while my tea brews to select something that gives voice to a feeling that has been suppressed throughout the day, or that has been invoked by the day, or to a feeling the day has generated that needs something to counter-act it. My partner has little interest in music, but gets an instant emotional update as he crosses the threshold from whatever is coming out of the speakers in the kitchen. I think of it as akin to hydration: you have water when you’re thirsty, you play fado when you’re rueful or wistful, and you play kora music when you’re optimistic and thoughtful (or you aren’t but you’d like to be). It’s a restoration of emotional balance, or a purging of an imbalance of one emotion.

My musical choices are overwhelmingly instrumental, which might either offend Kant or lead him to dismiss me as tasteless or shallow. That’s fine: he could still stay for a cup of tea, but we’d have to agree to differ. I have nothing against vocal music per se, but I’m too interested in language to accept perfunctory twaddle: I demand a decent lyric.

As individuals, identifying something that we can use to help us to maintain our personal emotional poise has obvious value; this is harder to think through in an organisational context – one person’s ideal background music is another’s fingernails down the blackboard moment. (I’ve promised not to play that John Surman CD in the office again: the finance team are still recovering.) I cringe a little at the idea of the utility of music, but I can’t deny that I do it.

In terms of implications for organisational life, anything that can encourage us to recognise our impact on others – and help us to deal with their impact on us – has merit in itself. (A couple of organisations I’ve worked with have had no problem with people who rarely have to answer phones working with headphones, choosing their own soundtrack. Others would sternly ban this as inappropriate, but if it helps personal productivity and improves people’s mood I’m not sure I can see the harm.)

More broadly, the example of the impact and importance of something as hard-to-define and non-verbal as ‘atmosphere’ is probably a neglected aspect of working life: it was interesting to note that The Work Foundation highlighted a sense of team atmosphere as a common attribute of those leaders most admired by those who work for them.

Music is one of those things that remind us that human beings cannot be boiled down to process manuals, spreadsheets, job definitions and bottom lines: there are ineffable aspects to us that we should not ignore. Even at the broadest level, if the existence of music can remind us that our moods and emotional tone affect others, then that’s a valuable lesson. And very few valuable lessons come with the bonus of a beautiful tune.

What can we learn from the music business about business in general?  More importantly, what should we NOT learn from the music business about business in general?

A hard question, having kept my distance from the music business for many years, although I can’t help but feel that mainstream business could probably draw more and better lessons from the art form than from the industry that has evolved around it. I think we can safely learn that management and creativity are distinct skills, and that the music business requires a balance of both. I’d like to think we can learn that authentic branding trounces manufactured branding every day of the week, but I very much doubt that we can. And the more shameless examples of amateurism or lack of skill – and ethics – in the music business are something we’d do well to avoid importing into other sectors.

It’s very difficult to generalise about a business that embraces everything from The Saturdays to Radiohead, Leonard Cohen to Justin Bieber, indie-labels to global corporations and many other dichotomies. But I’m not too sure it generally provides a healthy model in its treatment of its ‘talent’: “build ‘em up, milk ‘em, drop ‘em” and an urgent sense of churn aren’t characteristics that bode well. Each golden goose is expected to lay all its eggs as quickly as possible and then surrender to the stockpot, to be replaced by the next goose: any development on the goose’s part seems to be coincidental, accidental or self-motivated – at least in the mainstream.

Beware laying all your eggs in one session ...

The cricketer Ed Smith has said some very interesting things about striking a balance between the passionate amateur and the schooled, consistent but less inspiring professional, and about the dangers of putting academies on some kind of pedestal. I’m more concerned by the business people within the music industry than the performers, too many of whom seem to be treated shoddily. As an industry, it’s parasitic: the business depends on the performers, without whom there’s no product.

The story of the music business in response to the rise of the net and the iPod is also a powerful lesson in the importance of keeping an eye on the longer-term and being as interested in that as in maintaining an urgent sense of churn in the present. (I was going to say something about the potency of adolescent dreams of glory, but even if it’s harsh it’s fair to say that those are just as prevalent in many other sectors.) It’ll be interesting to see how musicians use the net and structure their careers in future – I think there’s an unexplored parallel there with knowledge workers and their relationship with employing organisations.

It is thought that attention spans have shortened in a world bombarded by media of all sorts.  Perhaps that plays itself out in a nation of people that prefer to consume ‘The X-Factor’ over progressive rock that requires longer and more detailed attention.  What do you think to this?  What might be the implications for people working in the field of human development?

I think you have a good point, and I think we see its effects in many ways – the familiar death by PowerPoint syndrome, the number of times any writer/editor is encouraged to use bullet lists (‘people won’t read this stuff …’), the tickertape nature of rolling news. Lots of pans with lots of flashes in them, and a comparative lack of metaphorical hearty slow-cooked stews. I do see a contemporary world more fascinated by – and expectant of – the ‘instant’ than 20 years ago: I suspect a lot of this is down to technology and the abundance (of ‘information’, to flatter some of it) that it’s enabled us to generate. Waiting more than a few minutes for something now feels not just like an eternity, but an affront. (One of the many points made in Michael Bywater’s excellent and very funny Big Babies, and a point explored more fully in Michael Foley’s The Age of Absurdity.)

As someone primarily concerned with communication, I can understand the pressures that have produced a culture that’s more heavily slanted to the soundbite, the headline, the nugget, although it’s hard not to be concerned that all this haste might be coming at the price of not just more in-depth understanding, but more especially of nuance and of perspective. We seem more interested in the idea of having news 24 hours a day than in the content of that continuous news (often the same handful of 3 minute clips circulating on a playlist that shifts slowly as the day goes by). While I wonder if I’m turning into a Grumpy Old Man, the questioning approach of such tech-literate commentators as Sherry Turkle and Jaron Lanier makes me feel less alone. And I haven’t forgotten a very ahead-of-the- curve book by Marshall McLuhan’s son Eric, Electric Language, that was first published back in 1998 – and mentioned in an earlier blog – that now feels like a topic in need of a significant update.

(The two things that have struck me most about ‘The X-Factor’ have been the umbrage taken at that cover version of ‘Hallelujah’ – and seeing a performance as fine as Jeff Buckley’s version in the singles chart was an uplifting communal response – but also the lack of longevity of most of the winners. The programme has always struck me as a firework display: buckets of wow, whizz and bang, but precious little left the following morning beyond a lingering bad smell. There’s an immense urgency and drama about something that really doesn’t matter that much, except to the contestants and the programme owners, which seems emblematic of rather too much of our times. )

From the work we do at ASK, in terms of implications for human development, we’re conscious that it’s the transfer of learning that ultimately delivers value and improved performance – both for the individual and the organisation – but that this (and the techniques used to enhance it) takes time. Organisational impatience for instant results means that outcomes are measured at the earliest opportunity (Kirkpatrick’s Level 1 – the proverbial ‘happy sheet’), and therefore don’t measure appropriately. What organisations want is the long-term impact of the learning event, but what they measure is the degree of satisfaction with the event itself. Misleading data feeds back into the process, and allowing time for transfer – or factoring in its importance – take a backseat. I’m not sure how we can counter this tendency – which impacts on more than our approach to learning and training: perhaps the answer is a new series of motivational posters. (“There is no F in magic bullet” springs to mind.) Suggesting an organisational equivalent to the Slow Food movement sounds both fatuous and pretentious – and implies there’s a merit in taking your time for its own sake – but I think most of us would benefit from more frequent reminders that there are multiple timescales in life and that something we might give more attention to is the signal to noise ratio in the ‘messages’ we receive.

Finally, tell me about your personal music tastes.  What do you gain from music, both personally and professionally?

My own musical tastes are free-ranging, as colleagues would probably agree. (I often get Amazon to deliver CDs to the ASK Office to save all those cards through the door, and most weeks 3 or 4 albums will arrive. They tend to fall into the jazz or world music categories more than pop and rock, and I have some particular loves (30s/40s jazz songs, fado, Nuevo flamenco, modern tango, gypsy jazz, ambient electronics, a good torch song) and total blindspots (reggae, ‘African desert blues’, klezmer and Celtic folk – the last of which makes me cringe on impact). This week’s stack includes Lokkhi Terra (who describe themselves as ‘Banglafrolatinjazz’), Argentine composer Guillermo Klein, Portuguese guitar maestro Carlos Paredes, Swiss guitarist Nicolas Meier who’s heavily influenced by Turkish folk music, and a Lebanese oud trio, Le Trio Joubran. I’m as obsessive about the guitar as about music, so everything has a plucked stringed instrument of some kind involved, but the styles range very broadly – musically and geographically. Two of these are performers I saw at this year’s WOMAD Festival, where I remember a conversation with an old friend – a singer – about what drew us to different musicians. For her, possibly as one who loves to dance, it’s often a rhythmic pulse, while for me it’s almost always a captivating melody or an interesting way with harmony. (I dance like an Englishman – badly and rarely – so a beat is not enough.) She wants to be moved, while I want to be captivated and entranced.

If I could put fully into words what I get personally from music, I’d have linguistic powers of such astonishing prowess I might be tempted to abandon music – but its music’s ability to go beyond words and to evoke emotions, situations or places that is so compelling. It’s almost like our sense of smell – the way fresh bread can bring back the corner baker’s shop from your childhood, or a particular flower’s scent can recall a grandmother. There are pieces of music that made such an impact the first time I heard them, I could describe exactly where I was when I first heard them – even the stranger stood in front of me in the crowd and the temperature of the room. If we could do that so powerfully with words, music might become redundant!

Professionally, I think I’ve gained at two levels. Given the chance, there will be background music where and while I work, and the soundtrack can really influence the mood: I can enhance – or undermine – my own performance depending on my choices on the day. Less superficially, I think music has taught me about team-work and collaboration, about knowing that there are times to play to the gallery and times to provide thoughtful unobtrusive accompaniment. And that not playing, or providing an unconventional counterpoint, or combining instruments in different are all available options. And, of course, that even the most exquisite harp and flute duet is a waste if your audience want Status Quo, burgers and a knees-up. (No problem, but can the harpist blag it on a Telecaster or how adept is the flautist with a pair of BarBQ tongs?) It’s that point about making music again, but it’s about using your ears as well as your instrument: musicians don’t just play together, they listen very closely to each other too. Might this be their biggest lesson to humanity?

Well, I don’t think I can follow that Dave – thanks everso for your time and we’ll finish with one of the artists you have mentioned here. In the spirit of what Dave has said re premature evaluation, let’s give this piece its proper time and space:

Finally, on the subject of the pace of business life and the need to balance this with life experiences that require more gradual and careful attention, here’s a plug for a one-off concert taking place on October 01 by the musical genius Bill Nelson.  Bill produces beautiful soundscapes mixing electronica with his virtuoso guitar work.  Just a few tickets left.  Here is the master at work at the ‘Sensoria’ art festival in Sheffield earlier this year: