Practice Makes Perfect

La Bohème

La Boheme

I attended a performance of La Bohème at London’s Albert Hall earlier this year.  Aside from the usual operatic story of romance, sex, drugs, rock’n’roll disease and death, I was struck by the preparation as the orchestra painstakingly practised their art before the performance began, although they had doubtless invested more than 10 000 hours of practice before this concert in mastering their instruments. Here’s a very short snippet of the warm up and what appears to be a cacophony:

Transferable Lessons:

  1. Professionals practice, amateurs try to wing it.  Even on pieces that they are familiar with, professionals warm themselves up. This is exactly the same when giving a keynote address or presentation in my experience.  Preparation is everything!
  2. Before a concert performance, individuals practice their own pieces in the main. This requires them to effectively shutdown their hearing and concentrate on their own performance. Once the performance starts, they need to hear their own performance and the rest of the orchestra. Listening to your own performance solo and to your performance in the context of those around you are distinctly different skill sets in my experience and are the hallmark of masters of their craft.
  3. The performers must also be untroubled by the audience talking etc.  So this is a selective type of hearing and deafness, what I call “listening through” rather than “listening to“.

These are the abilities of an emotionally intelligent person.  Someone who is a master of their own skill and who has the ability to tune in (or out) of what is going on around them.  Here’s our interpretation of a model that sums up the work of Daniel Goleman et al. on the topic.  Great leaders and great musicians share the skill of emotional intelligence.  What I call being a master of both inner and outer space.  For more on this take a peek at the book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll“.

We’ll be practising these skills at a corporate improvisation session in London this week with “Masterclass“.  get in touch if you would like to witness one of these in action.

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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 or +44 (0) 7725 927585

The emotional leader

Ii you are a regular to this blog you will know I went to see Nigel Kennedy recently.  Have a look at this article which interviews the orchestra conductor Marin Alsop, who conducted the Kennedy concert at the Proms recently.

EQ and Orchestras

Emotional intelligence is a double edged sword in business.  Yes, leaders need to tune into the people they lead and understand their motivations, concerns and so on.  At the extreme, the emotionally intelligent leader is paralysed by feedback and cannot make tough decisions. So, where do you stand on the debate?  Is it better to be hard headed in business or sensitive to your stakeholders?  I know that’s an annoying journalistic styled ‘A or B’ type question for a hugely complex issue, so here’s a fence sitting position 🙂  Or is there a middle ground?

POSTSCRIPT – I’ve been mightily impressed by  the quality of the debate on this blog so far and have decided to add the first two comments to the blog itself.  Grateful thanks to recent star of University Challenge Brian Clegg and Dr Reg Butterfield:

I think as a society we have serious problems if we really think ‘EQ is more important than IQ in this day and age.’ (BTW I skip over the fact that IQ is an almost meaningless number, I mean, rather, the intelligence it is supposed to measure.) In a technological society, that’s a recipe for collapse. ‘Hey, I don’t know how this machinery stuff works, but I sure empathise with it,’ will not fix your car/internet/central heating.

Of course the real answer is that both are important for different reasons. EQ is important to understand people and get the best out of them, IQ is important to understand the world and to keep technology running. In survival terms, EQ is valuable if the threat comes from other people, IQ if the threat comes from anything else. But going on all you see/hear in the news, I think in the West we’re doing just fine on EQ overall and could do with a good slug of IQ to balance it up.

Brian Clegg


Most good managers have a healthy dose of narcissism or they would not have the self-confidence that a great leader or manager needs to be successful in the midst of chaos or adverse business conditions. It can provide the source of internal confidence that allows a leader to stand strong behind decisions and maintain a vision for the group in spite of challenges along the way.

However, I believe that it is the EQ element that prevents them from becoming too much of a controller and separates them from those who are ill. People who have a narcissistic personality illness normally exhibit at least five of the following traits:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a very strong sense of entitlement
  • Is exploitative of others
  • Lacks empathy
  • Is often envious of others
  • Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes

I have worked with many managers who border on such an illness and yet were perceived to be successful by their CEOs or shareholders. These people tend to ignore feedback, are unable to let go of control, often believe that technical skills are more important than one’s leadership skills and so on. They also tend to undermine their own people because they cannot stay out of the low-level details of the team’s daily tasks.

EQ has been around forever and business people have known about it for many years thanks to the work of Daniel Goleman. If managers are able to harness their narcissistic tendencies and apply the following traits from EQ, then I believe that we have a good balance between the debate about EQ and the narcissistic approach to leadership and management:

  • Recognise what’s going on for oneself (one’s moods, feelings, thoughts, and reactions)
  • Read what’s going on for others (their moods, feelings, thoughts, situation, and reactions)
  • Respond in a way that is most appropriate, based on the environment and the people in it

By the way, isn’t that what a good musician does?  [Author comment – Yes, as with good leaders]

If we professionals use ‘client-centred consultancy skills’ combined with a ‘process consultancy’ approach (Edgar Schein) we can help leaders and managers achieve this balance.

Dr Reg Butterfield


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 or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Business and Music programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

The bookshelf

Waxing lyrical

I went to see Ruby Wax and Alastair Campbell at the RSA event “How to tame your mind” just recently. The title of the event alluded to the general concept of “mindfulness”, which I’ve studied and practised over the years in order to be better at my job as a business consultant and musician.  The event was particularly targeted towards the use of mindfulness to address issues of mental health, especially depression, a topic which is becoming a bigger issue in 21st Century society, just when we seem to be moving towards a position of conquering many of the world’s most limiting diseases.  Some years back I met Professor Susan Greenfield who spoke convincingly on the part which neuroscience may play in dealing with depression in the 21st Century.  It turns out that Ruby and Susan are acquainted.  Small world, as I am connected to Susan via Professor Trevor Jones, who I had the great privilege to work for at the Wellcome Foundation, a truly great company that gave space to people to learn, grow and love their work long before we invented ‘three letter acronyms’ such as CSR, EFS, CBT, NLP and so on.  Perhaps this example comes from an age that time has forgotten.

Firstly some statistics:

  • One in four people will experience mental health problems at some point in their lives.
  • The NHS spends more tackling the problem than cardiovascular disease and cancer combined.
  • The World Health Organisation estimates that by 2030, depression will be the leading cause of the global burden of disease.
  • There is absolutely no doubt that mental ill health will happen either to us, or someone we love – so why on earth are we still so afraid to open up and talk about it?

Here’s some things to do regarding mindfulness:

  1. Find some time every day to ‘put distance’ between you and ‘your conversation with yourself’.  It’s what NLP masters call ‘3rd position’ or detachment.  It’s what my MBA students would call ‘being a reflective practitioner’.
  2. We are confounded by our ‘busyiness in business’.  Being busy feels good and it gives us no time to think.  Yet, a mindful approach to business may help us focus on the things that bring us success, fulfilment and so on.  Our lives are full of distractions – social media, smart phones, security codes and so on – it’s what I called ‘thin-slicing’ in my question to Alastair and Ruby.  More that ever we need time to focus on what matters most.
  3. Whilst it’s good to think, the real killer is rumination.  This is where we spend ours focusing and reviewing our mistakes / foibles etc.  If something goes wrong in life, review it, learn from it and move on.  My wife has this down to a tee on the odd occasions when things go wrong in business and I commence the cycle of endless analysis.  I am firmly but politely told to shut up and move on! 🙂
  4. The ‘myth of happiness’ as outlined by the book “The Secret” is debunked in a hilarious way by Wax in her book, yet the fundamentals are simple.  Find something to do that aligns with your skills, beliefs and values.  Or, in the words of George Michael “Enjoy What You Do”.  Easy to say, harder to do, although I guess I’ve had a pretty good go at this in my career.  I’ll be writing more happiness and work in a few weeks time.

Here’s the full video of the event, including the question I asked about ‘thin slicing’ our lives around 36 minutes in:

Those of you that know me will be aware that I juggle all sorts of things into a 24 hour period and tend to live live as fully as it is possible.  As a musician I also know the value of solitude and focus – a side of me that is less well known.  It’s important to have some kind of anchor to the ground if you live a pressured life and I have found some ways to attend to the mindfulness that Ruby and Alastair mention.  There are always many more ways to learn and I recommend their books.

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I met Ruby and Alastair at the end of the session.  I presented Ruby with a copy of “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and Alastair with a copy of “The Music of Business“, books which feature material on getting relationships right and the related ideas of flow and emotional intelligence.


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

Like a Rolling Stone – The art of empathy

I am privileged to belong to The Stone Club.  Led by Carole Stone, former producer of BBC’s flagship Question Time.  The Stone Club is a meeting place for minds, connecting businesses, social enterprises, entrepreneurs, media and politics.  During my time attending The Stone Club, I have met Professor Charles Handy, Michael Buerk, the entrepreneur Lara Morgan, senior executives for Fortune 500 companies and quite a few less famous but equally phenomenal people.

I first met Carole many years ago where we shared a stage at Pfizer alongside John Otway.  Carole’s last networking event had an extremely engaging presentation and dialogue on the art of empathic conversation in a complex and changing world.  This session was jointly presented by Oman Krznaric, writer, cultural thinker & Co-Founder of The School of Life, and Karl James, Director of The Dialogue Project.

One of the phenomenal people I connected with at this event was Andrea Ehrenberg who offers live graphic facilitation.  Here is the rich picture / word collage that she produced live during the conversation in front of about 70 people.  An amazing feat.  Although I am an expert mind mapper, Andrea combines systemic and creative thinking with a more artistic approach than my own fair hands are capable of.  Check her work out for your next live graphic facilitation event.

The art of empathy

For me, the hallmark of a great networking event is great company, the kind of learning that leaves you with as many new questions as answers, plus a superb social element to the event.   Carole Stone does it all with swan like grace.  Here are some of the questions we explored.  Feel free to post your thoughts here.

  1. To what extent does an oversupply of Emotional Intelligence and empathy drive out the ability for business leaders to make tough decisions and lead change?
  2. Can empathy be taught?  If so, are children naturally inclined to be empathetic but it is drilled out of them as they get older?  If that is true, do we need more empathy lessons for adults rather than thinking it needs to be taught to kids?
  3. Is empathy a critical skill and more important than negotiation when dealing with critical conflict situations, such as the ones described in war zones?
  4. When is empathy a more powerful ‘soft’ skill than ‘hard’ skills such as direction, selling, negotiation and so on?

Let us finish with a different kind of provocation about the past and future of pop, politics, people and life.  Not Carole Stone, but a Rolling Stone:

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.

Don’t cry for me Argentina – Should leaders be allowed to rock out?

Introducing Argentina’s soon to be Rock’n’Roll Vice President.  Amado Boudou rides a Harley-Davidson and relaxes by jamming with rock stars.  He also follows in a long line of Rock’n’Roll leaders – Junichiro Koizumi, Japan’s reformist President and heavy metal addict, Tony Blair, Ted Heath, Bill Clinton, David Blunkett and so on.

Bill blowin' his business horn

So, why am I writing about Mr Boudou?  It seems that his lifestyle has become the focus of debate concerning his competence to handle the country’s economic affairs.  This is encapsulated in the comment “We want a minister, not a guitar player”

I find this bizarre.  Some people delight in picking out minor aspects of someone’s lifestyle and generalise that it adversely affects their competence to do their chosen job.  I’m wondering if a similar reaction would have occurred if the media had pointed out that Winston Churchill suffered from depression?  This is not confined to politicians.  Some years ago a senior HR colleague working for the Police confided in me for some career advice.  In his spare time he ran a disco and his boss had told him to stop running it if he wanted to get on.  Why is this stuff so threatening to those in authority?

In defence of his hobby, Amado Boudou has pointed out that “Rock helps me communicate directly with the people because rock doesn’t lie, and people are fed up with lying politicians”.  Unfortunately, he is right.  If I had to choose between a cold analyst and a competent economist with a soul, I know which one I would choose as a leader.  The people who lead need to brilliant technicians of their chosen disciplines, plus they need to have humility and soul to engage their followers.  It’s a theme I explore in the book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’.

Leadership with Soul and Attitude

So, should we allow Amado Boudou to keep his hobby?  Post your thoughts on why leaders should or should not be allowed to have a life or a hobby.

The title of the post reminds me of Madonna’s take on politics from the film Evita.  Any excuse for a bit of Madge!

At the Hop (Farm) with Prince

At the Hop (Farm) with Prince – thanks to Stewart Rogers!/TheRealSJR

As you know, I normally post on business and personal development, mixed with music, but I simply could not resist this short post on the Hop Farm and Prince’s superb concert there on Sunday night, just for the music. There are not enough superlatives that can describe his performance, which spanned songs such as Let’s Go Crazy, 1999, Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, U Got The Look, Nothing Compares 2 U, Controversy and Play That Funky Music amongst many others, over a two and a quarter hour set that put all other performances into the shade.As well as a truly fantastic performance, we were ‘taught’ many other things by Prince with transferable value to business and personal life. Here’s a few of them:

Prince on differentiation – Without being pompous, Prince pointed out that his band offered ‘real music’ by ‘real musicians’ – quite a contrast to some of the other x-factor hopefuls and so on. In marketing, we know that you need a ‘unique selling point’ and Prince denominated his ‘difference’ clearly and simply in ways that everyone understood. At 53 years old, Prince proved he could still ‘do the do’, making others half his age look like quivering geriatrics.

Prince on playfulness – When he announced ‘Nothin’ Compares 2 U’ Prince said “I didn’t write that song. That’s Sinead O’Connor’s song”. Later on, he pointed out “I bought a house with that song” to the great enjoyment of the crowd. Playfulness is a vital ingredient if you are to encourage creativity in yourself and others.

Prince on emotional intelligence – There had been quite a few sound problems with other acts during the day. So, instead of coming on and belting out a big hit to start with, Prince came on and played a funk workout to set the sound levels and get things right for the rest of the show – calling off the different musicians to come in and out of the performance to get a perfect mix. This is a big risk to take – effectively starting your show with a jam rather than a crowd pleaser. Read all about Prince’s approach to improvisation at Symbols, Signs and Sex and the new book “The Music of Business“, acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith.

The Purple genius in Red – picture courtesy of Stewart Rogers!/TheRealSJR

So a big thank you to Vince Power and the people at the Hop Farm. I never thought I’d get to see Prince on my doorstep but last night all my dreams came true.  I explore more of Prince’s personal qualities and the relationship with becoming an agile, ingenious and innovative company within the book “Sex, Leadership and Rock‘n’Roll” and the new one “The Music of Business“, acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith.