Reasons to be cheerful … about entrepreneurship

2015 looks like it may well be the year where the “two E’s” collide in a positive manner – where Entrepreneurship meets Economics, so that novel ideas and their owners meet with the capital and other resources to ensure that their enterprise becomes more than a “one hit wonder”. Whilst entrepreneurs are compelled to bring new ideas into existence regardless of the economy, it obviously helps if ideas are launched at a time when people and businesses are in the mood and with the means to buy them.such as Anita Roddick, who started The Body Shop next to a funeral parlour in Brighton in 1976, estimated to be one of the best years in the UK in terms of well being.

Anita Roddick planted her seeds for The Body Shop on fertile ground in 1976

Anita Roddick planted her seeds for The Body Shop on fertile ground in 1976

What then makes me suggest that 2015 is going to be a good year for entrepreneurs?

Economics, Economics, Economics

I was speaking with my friend Dr Andrew Sentance on his economic forecast for 2015 recently. A former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee Andrew is currently Senior Economic Adviser for PwC and a member of my band Rock In The City, dedicated to humanising the square mile through rock music. He outlined several reasons to be cheerful:

  1. Economic growth is forecast to be 2.5% in 2015. Andrew suggests that only the US will do better among the G7 economies in the coming year.
  2. Investment is forecast to grow by over 6% in 2015.
  3. Inflation is low and set to fall further. Consumers may gain some much-needed economic relief in terms of prices.
  4. Unemployment is expected to fall to 5.5% by the end of 2015.
  5. Wages growth is picking up – expected to be 2.4% next year. When combined with low inflation, people can expect the first improvements in living standards since the financial crash.
  6. Real household disposable income is forecast to rise by 2.3% in 2015, providing the consumer with some purchasing power for the first time in several years.
The wonderful Stiff Records - an entrepreneurial startup that started in 1976 but ran out of cash eventually ...

The wonderful Stiff Records – an entrepreneurial startup that started in 1976 but ran out of cash eventually …

The one thing we can be sure of is that the future is that it is subject to change. Nonetheless, these predictions do line up to offer hope that we will be gently lifted out of recession for the first time in around 7 years. What then does the improved economic climate offer for the entrepreneur?

Reasons to be cheerful … for Entrepreneurs … 1, 2, 3

  1. If your enterprise is operating in what I call one of the “Brain Based Industries” you are likely to find a fertile climate for growth in 2015. These include biotechnology, nanotechnology, 3D printing and computing development, which shows no sign of having reached a plateau in our imagination of what’s possible.
  2. The service sector and creative industries are also predicted to show significant growth. If you are an entrepreneur with a creative idea or service, which makes people’s lives better in some way, now is a good time to be thinking of starting your business. My long experience of working with creative people reminds me to also say that you must couch your service in terms of simple to understand consumer focused benefits and not. Some creative minds are prone to think that people will beat a path to your door to seek out what you offer, however difficult you make it for them. That is the exception and not the rule.
  3. Finally some traditional industries are also set for growth with good forecasts for the construction industry and consumer goods. We need also to look at ways to innovate in these industries to make sure that our contributions in this area employ sustainable technologies and materials. This is an area where entrepreneurs can play their part.

We must learn to unlearn

It’s been a long haul through the deepest recession for many years and I’m personally hopeful that we will learn from the lessons of economics to create a more sustainable world economy. That’s not simply learning new things, but also unlearning out-dated habits that create boom and bust economies in favour of a more sustainable world. In this context, we finish with a song that Andrew Sentance loves for it’s rather cheeky Ian Dury inspired lyrics about economics and entrepreneurship. I wrote the song as a call to action for a more sustainable world, plus it was a lot of fun to do …

and, of course, one of the inspirations for Andrew’s predictions:

The “F” Word – Leadership Lessons from Failure

This Saturday September 06 I am presenting at The Institute for Contemporary Music Performance on the subject of failure. It’s a word that managers fear, yet any successful leader or entrepreneur will usually have failed a few times if they are talking honestly about success. The lecture offers practical lessons about entrepreneurship, strategy, creativity, project planning, team leadership and execution of your strategy for people trying to do new things, via the medium of a case study. Before you ask, NOOO, it’s not your usual dull business case study!!  Read on and check out the full conference at ICMP

Failure and Success - The truth

Failure and Success – The truth

Some years ago, I sponsored an audacious plan to circumnavigate the world on a rock’n’roll tour, performing at the greatest venues on the planet and taking your audience with you. I invested nearly £50 000 of my life savings in order to help my friend John Otway to advance the enterprise forward. Alas, my involvement came too late and despite achieving a temporary turnaround in fortunes, it was not enough to recover the situation and I most the money and about 6 months effort in an attempt to help John realise his dream. I dubbed the project, “The Real Spinal Tap Tour”.  Take a look at the promo video for the tour to get a flavour of the ambition:

Like most business enterprises, the John Otway World Tour was a GREAT idea, poorly EXECUTED.  It is never enough to have a great idea in business. Meticulous execution skills are needed to bring the idea into existence and I will explore the successes, near misses and downright catastrophes that led to the eventual meltdown of the project.  To whet your appetite, here are a few stunning facts about the tour:

A comedy of errors...

A comedy of errors…

Our presentation is available in your company with parallel lessons for businesses. We are also available to help you avoid similar flights of fancy or to turn difficult corners in your own projects. For the moment, here is the magical moment that started John Otway’s career, when he fell off an amplifier on The Old Grey Whistle Test, injuring vital parts. This is a stunt which Otway has developed in his career ever since, including our performance at Pfizer:

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with the wisdom of the street via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE.

Harry Potter and the dark side of work

I was delighted to be invited by my good friend Professor Adrian Furnham to the launch party of  his new book  High Potential along with Kate Griffiths Lambeth.  High Potential is Adrian’s 78th book, co-written with rising star Ian Macrae.  The book is a superb compendium of practical ideas about psychology at work, written in an engaging style without all the usual jargon that the so-called professionals like to use to befuddle and ensnare us.

Highly Charged, High Voltage, High Potential - With Adrian, Ian and Kate at Bloomsbury - The Home of HP:  Harry Potter and High Potential

Highly Charged, High Voltage, High Potential – With Adrian, Ian and Kate at Bloomsbury – The Home of HP: Harry Potter and High Potential

The conversation and company were great and Kate and I shared some thoughts about the dark side of life afterwards over some warm beer.

On Twitter and Relationships

Twitter is a massive “Johari Window”, where people crash into each others lives, loves, hopes and fears in just 140 characters.  But, out of this chaotic and complex series of exchanges come a few genuine friendships and connections.  Amongst the people I am glad to know, like and trust that I would not know without Twitter are Trevor Lee, Kate GL, Mervyn Dinnen, David D’Souza, Andrew Sentance, Meg Peppin, Doug Shaw to name but a few, so Twitter works.   However, misunderstandings are the norm on Twitter and I always make a point of meeting people who interest me using more traditional means, such as a cup of tea and a proper dialogue. So 140 characters only take me to the point of “Knowing me, Knowing you, aha” and one needs more than this to create a proper relationship.  More a case of “Text and Drugs and Rock and Roll” … 🙂

140 characters is insufficient to move us out of mutual oblivion on Twitter, but it can help us make a start ...

The Johari Window: 140 characters is insufficient to move us out of mutual oblivion on Twitter, but it can help us make a start …

On High Potential

One of the fascinating conversations we held with Adrian and Ian Macrae was on the impact of loss on high potential.  Adrian, Ian and myself share the loss of a parent at an early age and it certainly affected our drive and determination.  But the issue is complex and Ian gave personal witness to his own example, where he and his brother reacted quite differently to the loss.  This neatly explains why some people lose something precious early on in life and “stay in a ditch” whereas others decide to “get out of the ditch”.  Entrepreneurs such as Michelle Mone, inventor of the Ultimo Bra, points to early hardship as a spur to her success, but the relationship is complex and it does not necessarily work the other way, i.e. treat your kids badly to make them into leaders, as one of my MBA students once suggested !! 🙂

michelle-mone-in-own-lingerie-77130890-874510

From the Gutter in Glasgow to the G Cup and G String – Michelle Mone’s entrepreneurial journey started with extreme hardship

On The X-Factor

Adrian eloquently explained the problem that can arise when confidence exceeds talent, using the X-Factor as a superb illustration.  High Potential explores the ‘dark side of personality’ and Adrian used Steve Jobs as an example of someone with a number of unappealing traits but who was saved by his unique vision and his ability to almost always make great decisions.  The substitution of confidence for talent is also a potentially dangerous cocktail …  Just witness this demonstration of mutually assisted narcissism on the X-Factor: Adrian ironically pointed out that Bloomsbury had made a great choice in commissioning the book, having also spotted the talent that is J.K. Rowling.  In this context, I was reminded of this simply great piece of popular psychology about the difference between talents and choices from Harry Potter:

Thanks for a superb evening of intelligent conversation, insight and inspiration.

High Potential - Click the picture to get your copy

High Potential – Click the picture to get your copy

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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.

Confessions on a Dance Floor – Anatomy of an Entrepreneur

Confessions on a dance floor - The Royal Institute of Great Britain - a superb venue for science  ... and dancing

Confessions on a dance floor – The Royal Institute of Great Britain – a superb venue for science … and dancing

I attended Entrepreneur Country’s forum recently and was so impressed that I decided to write a post on some of the lessons learned.  Held in the auspicious surroundings of the Royal Institute of Great Britain where the 1st Industrial Revolution began, I heard a lot about how entrepreneurship will reboot the UK plc.  Although I started life as a scientist and have had 18 years teaching MBA’s and doing business improvement, music has been a constant though my life.  I could not help but notice just how well the Royal Institute of Great Britain’s lecture theatre could transform into a dance floor, given the somewhat mythical arrival of Madonna as one of the guest lecturers! 🙂  Oddly enough, the day was characterised by entrepreneurs telling real life stories of their hopes, fears, successes and failures, hence my title Confessions on a Dance Floor.  Cue the music:

Hung up

Just like Madonna’s fitness video, a lot of the discussion was centred around what entrepreneurs do to avoid burnout.  Ed Bussey of iTrigga was a prime example, having come to the conference after an all night vigil at hospital on the occasion of his wife giving birth!   He did however point out the importance of pressing the OFF button from time to time to avoid the possibility of crash and burn entrepreneurship.

If what you are doing isn't working, STOP in the name of doing something different

If what you are doing isn’t working, STOP in the name of doing something different

Others talked of rituals and routines such as working out in the gym, taking forced holidays, running the London Marathon, going to the North Pole (that’s hardly chilling out!) and so on.  Seemingly obvious advice, yet not always taken by busy entrepreneurs.  Recall the post on STOPPING.

Like a Virgin

Several speakers gave witness to the importance of maintaining naivety if you are to succeed as an entrepreneur.  Madonna’s contribution to this area is via her blockbuster hit “Like A Virgin”, which translates to the need to treat each new business situation like it’s the very first time, or at least to see it with fresh eyes.  In particular Sir Will Sargent of Framestore painted a picture of the importance of intuition, creativity and the ability to remain adaptive and flexible as your company grows.

If I stand still for 12 months, I will be out of business 12 months later

Express Yourself

Perhaps the personification of Madonna’s hit record about expression was the opening addresses by Julie Meyer and Dr Mike Lynch.   Julie presented her ideas about entrepreneurship clearly, concisely and without apology for wanting to create an enterprise economy, which produces both economic and social benefit.   Business gets enough hard knocks and we need to see business as an engine of improvement, rather than an evil empire as it is frequently portrayed by Governments and a self-riteous public sector, who sometimes try to interfere in business and enterprise.  Mike Lynch extended Julie’s strident start to the day by giving us some home truths on entrepreneurship:

 “Without good marketing you can have something amazing and no one will know.  Marketing is not cheating

Avoid the myth of doing things properly

Mark Hoffmann of Oxygen Finance added another subtle dimension to Madonna’s title.  It would be too easy to assume that ‘expressing yourself’ was the realm of extroverts.  Mark calmly pointed out that expression can come from an introvert stance:

I’m quiet but very driven

Like a Prayer

Stephen Linnecar suggested that we gotta have FAITH – Not an allusion to George Michael, but the summary of his presentation which focused on five factors which he regarded as key to success as an entrepreneur: Future, Attitude, Improvisation, Timing and Help.  You had to be there to get the detail behind these buzzwords.  Picking up on one of these characteristics, improvisation featured strongly throughout the day, a point that resonated personally with me, having taught creativity, improvisation and innovation for the Open University MBA for 18 years.

Hair

What impressed me most of all about the speakers at the event was a real and unusual sense of authenticity.  Truths were told about successes.  Much more importantly, we gained an insight into mistakes and outright failures.  It’s much more important for an entrepreneur to learn from their mistakes than their successes and many speakers were candid about their regrets.  We learned the perils of not owing up to mistakes via Peter Whent’s wonderful story of “United Breaks Guitars”, when a musician could not get any satisfaction from complaining to the airline after they broke his guitar.  He resorted to a viral youtube campaign and United’s share price plummeted as his youtube figures climbed exponentially:

Lady Gaga’s vulnerabilities show up in her song called Hair, which she performed unplugged and therefore conceptually ‘naked’ in her appearance on the Paul O’Grady show.  I feel it’s entirely appropriate to add Lady Gaga into a piece about Madonna, as she had clearly stood on the shoulders of giants in developing Madonna’s music into her own unique brand.  Listen to the words of “Hair” to see behind the makeup, pizazz and lighting to the soul of a true artist:

So, there we have it.  Five lessons for Entrepreneurs from Madonna and Lady Gaga:

  1. Hung Up – Don’t get hung up by flogging yourself to death – use the OFF switch
  2. Like a Virgin – Treat each day like it’s the first time to remain fresh
  3. Express Yourself – Be clear, bold and concise in your communications.
  4. Like a Prayer – Have faith in yourself and others that can help you realise your dreams
  5. Hair – Be aware of your vulnerabilities, successes, failures and learn

 

Little Red Corvette – Richard Branson

The Captain and Me

The Captain and Me

Today I took the inaugural flight on Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin “Little Red” domestic flight from Manchester to London with aviation specialist and guitar supremo Steve Courtie.  A splendid flight, and a splendid partnership.  I spoke with Steve Kelly, Fleet Manager for Aer Lingus (pictured above) and Edmond Rose, Virgin’s Director of Commercial and Revenue Planning about the partnership between Virgin and Aer Lingus.  Steve pointed out that Aer Lingus have moved from a position of trying to emulate Ryanair some 10 years ago to the point where their chief advantage is doing things differently under the leadership of Christoph Mueller.  This has made the merger of minds, bodies and spirit possible in ways that may not have been possible in times past.

Richard Branson continues to be a consumer champion and an innovator, moving into industries which have become tired or over complex.  Here’s a few of my favourite things about the man:

Simplicity – Virgin Trains is not called Connex South Eastern.  Virgin Money is not called J.P Morgan Chase – the clue is in the title.  I’ve just also found that Virgin Media‘s phone and internet packages are much simpler than the competition, having just switched away from Demon Internet after years of legendarily bad service.

PR Genius – Virgin gains a disproportionately high level of publicity compared with its actual size.  This spirit comes from its owner who is known to set aside about 25% of his time for public relations activity.  He’s comfortable in his own skin, and also in a wedding dress.  Here’s a quote from a happy traveller:

“Much respect to the man. He was mobbed in the lounge with photo hunters and even on board whilst sat in Upper could not get away from people wanting pictures. Guess it’s part of the job for him.  Super pleasant man, got up 45 mins to landing and walked up and down the plane greeting people, then made an announcement as we landed thanking everyone for flying Virgin, to huge applause”

Little Red Corvette

Little Red Corvette

Hippy Realist – Branson started life as a hippy with his record label, recording acts such as Henry Cow, Gong.  These acts were indeed radical but without some handle on the finances Branson would probably have been selling “The Big Issue” these days.  He has both a set of hippy ideals and a grip on realism to ensure that his fanciful ideas are grounded in some sensible economics.  This is how creativity turns into innovation.  Bob Geldof spelt this out in graphic terms when describing how Richard attempted to sign him to his record label, pointing out what a shrewd business person Branson is – decency prevents me from actually repeating Geldof’s words here!  Here’s one of Branson’s first audacious publicity stunts – the release of Gong’s album “Camembert Electrique” for just 59 pence, the price of a single at that time.  Photo courtesy of the great Daevid Allen via Dave Sturt, bass supremo for Bill Nelson and Gong:

Tu Veux Un Camembert?

Tu Veux Un Camembert?

I am showcasing one of Richard Branson’s former acts at a spectacular event in May aboard a ship in Kent.  Dubbed “The Godfather of Punk” by Johnny Rotten, Richard Strange will be appearing at an event, which spans art and business, sponsored by Kent Business School.   Tickets are strictly limited so hurry, hurry, hurry.  Full details below:

Richard Branson, Gong, Richard Strange and Bill Nelson (all Virgins) feature in my latest book “The Music of Business”, available at author discount worldwide via The Music of Business. We leave with a “Rolling Stone” gathering Kate Moss and another “Little Red” theme tune from the Rolling Stones.

The Little Red Rooster on the tarmac

The Little Red Rooster on the tarmac

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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. Check his exclusive interview with Sir Richard Branson out in his new work “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise“.

Book Cover HI RES

I get knocked down, but I get up again …

Entrepreneurs and leaders share what I call the ‘Chumbawumba effect’ in common.  Check out Chumbawumba’s punk folk song “I get knocked down but I get up again” to see / hear what I mean:

The lyric “I get knocked down but I get up again” summarises the quality of ’emotional resilience’ or ‘mental toughness’.  Emotional resilience is defined as an individual’s ability to cope with stress and adversity.  Accepted wisdom says that the ability to recover from life’s difficulties and move on is a good thing.  Certainly it’s a very important concept for creative people and innovators as life throws its fair degree of obstacles in the way of a new idea.  In my time working on life saving pharmaceuticals, I’ve seen brilliant scientists destroyed by changes of plans, which mean that they are asked to stop working on their pet project or passion.  Bouncing back may take years in such cases.  This is clearly not productive for the person or the enterprise.  When I worked for Sir Trevor Jones at the Wellcome Foundation, he wisely observed that it took 20 years to build a climate of trust and 20 seconds to destroy it.

At the other extreme we have those who keep bouncing back but who never learn from their mistakes.  Typified by people who start an enterprise, fail, make themselves bankrupt, start up again the following day and keep doing this, leaving chaos in their wake.  Hardly entrepreneurs, just charlatans and cheats.  Summed up in this deeply ironic clip from Alan Partridge:

The point of Chumbawumba’s song is that, if you hit an obstacle, setback or failure in your work or life, the most important thing is to learn from the experience.  Paradoxically, a high level of skill in the area of self-awareness can be just as dangerous as having none of this quality.  Those with high self-awareness may drown in regret / reflection / rumination.  Those without carry on crashing through life regardless at their own and other’s expense.

The differentiator between these two is the ability to learn from setbacks and move on, carrying the lessons with you.  Not so much ‘Shut Up, Move On’ as popularised by the SUMO man, but ‘Stop, Learn, Adapt, Move On’.  I must admit however that SLAMO does not have the same poetic caché ! 🙂

Contact us to find out more about our development programmes in creativity and innovation.

3M : Meatloaf, Macroeconomics and (Iron) Maiden – Rock’n’Roll Business hits the FT and The BBC

This week, I’ve prepared a round up of press articles on business, management, economics and music.   Starting with Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden, who has just opened an enterprise business in Wales, to service aircraft and provide jobs for 800 people in tough times.  The Financial Times covered the story:

Can I play with madness? Iron Maiden enter the fray to help fix the economy

Dickinson sounds a Mc Kinsey consultant who attended a ‘mass customisation masterclass’ and a ‘lean 5S programme’ when he says of the new aviation centre “We will tailor our services completely to the needs of our customers and we won’t employ more people than we need”.  To be fair, he makes his point much more clearly than a management consultant who swallowed an MBA for breakfast! 🙂  That said, I don’t see Dickinson’s business acumen embedded in the lyrics of Iron Maiden’s songs, such as “The number of the beast” or “Two minutes to midnight”, even after I played them backwards …  Why did I not learn more about entrepreneurship, business continuity and economic development when I attended Iron Maiden’s comeback tour at Twickenham with my testosterone-filled 13 year old son?  We must be told …

Moving on to Andrew Sentance, Senior Economics Adviser to Price Waterhouse Coopers.  I will be featuring a full interview with Andrew shortly, but could not resist a trailer in the form of this witty piece on Meatloaf and the economy from The Evening Standard.  Andrew stands head and shoulders above the consultancy profession with his approach, which is thoughtful but also incisive.  A rare breed.

“3M” : Meatloaf, Macro-economics and Management

Without realising it, Andrew had followed an earlier piece I wrote for The Financial Times, and another I wrote which got picked up by BBC Radio 4’s flagship “Today” programme.  Here’s the article and the Radio clip:

I’m delighted to say that the FT letter prompted a US University Academic to get in touch with me.  It turned out that he had spent three years sharing a college room with Jim Steinman.  I have performed a couple of times with Meatloaf’s female singing partner – she sang on “I’d do anything for love (but I won’t do that)”.

For more posts on the economy, see Vince Cable, Can rappers fix the economy? and Evan Davis, who I bumped into the other week whilst jogging round London.  Perhaps Evan is entering the Olympics?

To finish, let’s hear that classic Iron Maiden song again to see if there is any subliminal advice about the 3A’s of regeneration:  Aerospace, Aeroflot or Aerosmith contained within, 666, the number of the beast:

Postscript – The FT published a letter I sent in re this on Tuesday 8 May:

Can I play with madness (and the economy) ?

For more like this, read the book “The Music of Business”, acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith: