The School of Hard Rocks

There have been many high points in 2014.  In business terms, the partnership with Nadine Hack’s Global Network is a major landmark in our development as a global consultancy business.  I won a prize for my work from Sir Richard Branson and we’ve enjoyed consultancy projects in Estonia, Ireland, Romania and Germany in 2014.

I’ve had equivalent joy in my musical life at The Academy of Rock – interviews with George Clinton, Roberta Flack, Hawkwind, John Mayall and, recently, performances with Meatloaf’s female singing partner Patti Russo and Bernie Tormé, guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne and Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan at London’s prestigious Borderline venue.  It is to this experience that I turn in this blog to reflect on lessons from “The School of Hard Rocks”.  Here’s a video of our performance of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” to start us off:

There was no time to rehearse for this performance, save for a three minute soundcheck a few hours before we hit the stage. For me this mirrors the situation that many managers face when having to deliver a presentation or performance. What then can we learn from this in terms of transferable lessons from the Borderline to the boardroom?

Learning from The School of Hard Rocks

Over-prepare to be flexible – In my case there was no rehearsal and only about five minutes to find out how the band works as a team before the soundcheck – how it sends signals to each other, who is responsible for shortening / lengthening the song, how leadership passes from one member to another and how we end together etc. I had assumed this might be the case so I took the trouble to attend one of Bernie’s other gigs on the tour to study the musical performance. I’d also used Bernie at one of our corporate team building events so I had some idea of how he “passes the baton” from person to person during a jam, although he is not as demonstrative as Ritchie Blackmore or Prince, so careful attention is needed.

Learn to read others – Once on stage, I could not hear myself as Bernie has an old school approach to making sure “everything is up to 11”. A lot of the necessary adjustment has to be done through using your eyes and not your ears in such circumstances. The musical people amongst you will notice there are a couple of moments in the middle of “Fire” when I had misunderstood how many bars we would do in “E” and in “D”. Towards the end, politeness meant that Bernie and myself were unclear on who would take the lead and you can see some “guesswork” going on between me, Bernie and the band. Ah well, not so bad after the three minute soundcheck I guess! 🙂

Be nimble, be quick – Bernie only did one number as a soundcheck – it was pretty much the same when I performed at Brands Hatch with “Punk Idol” John Otway a few years’ back and Patti Russo the other week at Henley Business School. In comparison, I recently stood in for an amateur band at a corporate event and they used 30 minutes to run through numbers – this is not what a soundcheck is for – the clue is in the title.

Expect the unexpected – The one thing I failed to prepare for was the need to climb on stage. All seemed well at the soundcheck, but once the venue filled, I was unable to get to the side of the stage where the stairs were. Once I was called to the stage, I proceeded to climb what seemed like a mountain without success, eventually needing to be hauled up by the band in a scene that looked like something from “Spinal Tap”. Ah well it caused some amusement!

BT Peter Borderline

A proud moment – Mr Tormé and me at The Borderline after I clambered to the stage in a shambolic Spinal Tapesque manner!!

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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.

Scrapyard Improvisation Challenge

How do you take a bunch of business people who have already done a full days work, enthuse them and, in just two hours, get them to write and perform some original songs followed by engaging them in a live open mic jam session? Well, some of that is “our little secret” at The Academy of Rock. But this post let’s you take a peek inside our approach to team development with music, which was judged as outstanding by one of our clients just recently.

The other week, I took the superb band Masterclass to London for an evening of music composition and fun with a market analysis agency whose HR Director prefers to give their staff ‘memorable experiences’ rather than training to engage, retain and motivate them. Alongside a diet of giving them a chance to actually play with the band, we also provided a ‘Scrapyard Challenge’, whereby we provided participants with a range of naive instruments that I got from a car scrapyard. This helps people escape from notions of what a musical instrument is and who is qualified to play one ….

Some of the scrapyard items we used

From the scrapyard to the stage

In the event, the scrapyard was barely needed. Instead we found an enormously talented bunch of people at the company.  A superb female bass player, several female drummers and singers.  Oh yes, and a few guys that got into the groove! So, how did we do this in such a short time from a standing start is perhaps a good question. Here’s our operating principles for doing amazing things in a short time:

Principles for Spontaneous Combustion

Install positive hallucinations – I learned many years ago through teaching MBA’s for the Open University that the first lesson one needs to teach people is to install the idea that success is possible. Many of my OU students would arrive having failed at school and it was necessary to ‘overwrite’ those assumptions before we could get on with the work.

Lead people to the water, but don’t make them drink – A lot of people think I make people do this or force people to participate. In fact I’ve seen people try to emulate what we do and fail miserably. No-one is made to do anything they don’t want to at our events, which is one of the secrets. This sounds like a really simple idea but it works, suitably led and facilitated and with suitable safeguards installed at the outset.

Choice, Choice, Choice – We always bring much more equipment than is really needed. But this provides choice for people and allows them to engage at a level of their own choosing.

Work inside the client / customer’s wish list – During the ‘aftershow jam session’ we took requests from the floor and then worked the songs up with the people. This is only possible if you have an enormous repertoire and was the main reason I chose Masterclass for this event. Involvement and participation breeds engagement. In the event, we ended up playing a whole hour longer than our agreed time with the company, after which time they still wanted more.

Girls Are Loud - Musical Talent emerges

Girls Are Loud – Musical Talent emerges if you let it happen …

The Masterclass boys

The Masterclass boys

A master of improvisation - We can also bring celebrities to events if required

A master of improvisation – We can also bring celebrities to events if required

We’ve done similar things for a wide range of companies and organisations. To arrange your next staff engagement or conference event with a big difference, please get in touch. Watch out for an exclusive interview with a master of improvisation and creativity – Mr George Clinton, pictured above – coming soon.

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk 07725 927585

Hard Rock Heaven

Wednesday 29th October is a red letter day in my calendar as I have the great honour of playing a song at London’s Borderline with Bernie Tormé, former guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, Atomic Rooster, Dee Snider and Ian Gillan. I’d be delighted to see some of you along at the gig and tickets are still available via Hard Rock at The Borderline.

Bernie funded the project through a crowdfunding approach and the project also donates money to a Teenage Cancer Trust. It just now needs to reach Bernie’s own personal target of 666% – the number of the beast! There are still just 6 days, 6 hours and 6 minutes to support the project. Bernie is offering a host of exclusive items in return for your support:

  • Guitar masterclasses in person or via SKYPE
  • An acoustic gig in your own house
  • VIP meet and greet at any one of his UK tour dates
  • Signed copies of the new album plus boxed set of catch up albums
  • The Fender Stratocaster that Ozzy Osbourne gave him

… and a number of other stunning offers.  Please check out the project via Monster of Rock – Bernie Tormé.

666 - the number of the beast ... still available to buy

666 – the number of the beast … still available to buy

 

Performing with someone of this magnitude throws up a number of issues regarding how you learn to work with a team when there is no opportunity for practice. This presents a huge potential risk for Bernie as it is his reputation on the line. But he need not worry ….  here is my list of transferable tips for high performance, be it hard rock heaven or hard work hell:

Tips for Spontaneous Combustion

Do the hard graft – Learn your piece inside out, forwards, backwards and then forget that you learned it – I’ve been allowed to suggest the tune we’ll play – Probably Manic Depression by Jimi Hendrix or something similar.  I chose this as I know Bernie loves Hendrix and it is sufficiently fluid to allow us to stretch out a little on the song. Check it out:

Understand the rules of engagement – In this case that means understanding how musical leadership passes around the band if we are to jam a little and keep things together.  I’ll have just a little time to study this at the sound check or maybe at Bernie’s garden party, to find out if it is the drummer who signals the end or Bernie himself and other matters of a practical nature.

Bernie - Peter Fire

Hire Bernie to come to your company and give a talk / play some music – we promise not to spontaneously combust anything unless you have asked in advance for it ….

Read the signs and signals – I’ve seen Bernie play before and worked with him at Corporate Functions, so we already have some understanding of our body language when communicating with the rest of the  band, re turn taking, stops, starts, finishes and so on. It’s very important to be emotionally intelligent when working with people in this way, not just living inside your own head but reading people around you. Music is such a good training ground for this – much better than management courses etc. as there is no rehearsal on stage.

Push the stop button – If you lose your way, just stop playing or turn the volume off. There are 3 other people playing who actually know what they are doing and the safety strap is to let them do just that if needed.

So, I’d love to see you at the gig on October 29th.  I have one spare ticket available in exchange for some assistance with getting to the gig from Kent and possibly a bit of filming on the night – contact me for details.

Tickets selling out fast - click the picture to buy yours now

Tickets selling out fast – click the picture to buy yours now whilst you can

To finish, here’s an example of jamming we did with cult punk rocker and two hit wonder John Otway at a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) event at Brands Hatch – in this case, the band learned all his songs and then John joined us on the day itself.  We played half of one song and half or another and then John decided that we knew what we were doing …

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.

In The City – Rock unites the business world

Rock In The City Logo Purple Mid

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

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

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

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

The core band members are:

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

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

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

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

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Box Set 7

Desperately Seeking Bankers Who ROCK

Here’s a piece of recent press attention in The Evening Standard on a project I’m working on with Dr Andrew Sentance, former Monetary Policy Committee member at the Bank of England:

In the City - With Andrew Sentance

In the City – With Andrew Sentance

So, we’re looking out for City business people (Bankers, Tinkers, Tailors and so on -:) who play an instrument and would like to participate in an open mic music jam sessione.  We are also looking for a venue in the City to do this amazing event and anyone who might want to help with lighting, PA and so on.  How will this work I hear you asking?

  • We’ll supply a backline of equipment and some great musicians to support the evening
  • I will be bringing my bass playing friend John Howitt, who is a session musician who has played with Anastasia, Celine Dion and Shirley Bassey and a great drummer.  I’m sure Andrew will also bring some muso friends
  • We will work up a set list of songs that people might like to play in advance but the evening will also be open to more spontaneous contributions.  If individuals want to replace one or more of the backline members that’s fine or they can just add themselves as a soloist
  • We’re looking to do this easily in Spring to give time for a little bit of mental preparation and incubation

Any questions?  Get in touch.  For those about to rock the Bank of England, we salute you!!

In the spirit of the event, here’s one of the contenders for the performance:

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About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Business and Music programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

The bookshelf

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:

Deep Purple in Rock: Improvisation and discipline in Business

Deep Purple In Rock

The hard rock band Deep Purple are responsible for millions of young boys camping out in music shops trying to play the riff to ‘Smoke on the Water‘.  At the age of 14 I used to sit at the top of the stairs at home in the darkness trying to figure out the riff with my Hofner Futurama guitar and 10 Watt Zenta amp, until my mum would shout me to come down to get my fish finger sandwiches.  Aside from these problems, Deep Purple offer us a great example of improvisation and discipline in action in the context of a rock outfit.  The Mark II incarnation of the band is generally considered to be perhaps the definitive lineup, but also the most volatile.  Much of the conflict within Deep Purple arose from Ritchie Blackmore, their phenomenal virtuoso guitarist and moody maverick.  Check out Deep Purple Mark II’s work when jamming here:

In this extract from ‘Mandrake Root’ we see the art of improvisation within a disciplined structure as Blackmore sends musical instructions (using his arms as a baton ! ) to the keyboard player Jon Lord, to repeat and develop certain lines (This is particularly obvious around 48 seconds onwards).  He also sends orders to the rhythm section of Ian Paice and Roger Glover with respect to starts and stops within the music (around 1 minute 50 seconds).  Blackmore’s signs are perhaps more aggressive than those used by Prince to change direction at short notice within the band 🙂  What then are the parallel lessons for business from Deep Purple?   Here’s three to get the discussion started – Please add your own views by commenting on the blog.

1. Innovation in business requires discipline as much as it does creativity:  Creativity to come up with novel strategies; Discipline to execute them, so that ideas turn into profitable innovations.  Companies such as Google, 3M and Innocent may seem to be all about creativity at first glance, but a deeper inspection reveals discipline and structure, even if that structure does not emanate from ‘management’ in all cases.  Giving people 20% of their time to work on speculative projects is the business equivalent of a free form jam within Space Truckin’, Lazy, Mistreated and many other pieces of Deep Purple’s repertoire.

2. It requires extremely strong leadership and a compelling shared vision to hold diverse people together.  To encourage a company that continuously learns / adapts and improvises into the future requires leadership that is precise on the destination, yet loose on the journey.  We’ve seen this point before in my blog posts on Led Zeppelin and Prince.

3. Conflict will occur where there is diversity / divergence.  It must be handled properly if progress is to be made.  Ultimately Blackmore’s maverick behaviour proved too much for the band, especially the singer Ian Gillan, and despite several reunions, the band proved impossible to hold together.  There have been many arguments to suggest that what Deep Purple Mark II needed was a manager who could hold the various personalities together and perhaps some time off from touring.

What else do you consider we can learn from Deep Purple about business, innovation, conflict and so on?  Share your thoughts by making a comment to this blog.

Editor’s postscript:  My thoughts go out to Jon Lord who is currently fighting cancer. Although I am a guitar player, it was Jon Lord’s innovative organ playing that led to my fanaticism with Deep Purple. Since I wrote this article, he lost that battle – so sad.

To finish, here’s another piece by Deep Purple’s Mark II line up, the famous California Jam performance where Ritchie Blackmore destroys several guitars and sets fire to his amplifiers.  I can’t immediately think of a transferable corporate lesson from this sequence but it sure is fun.  Takes me back to my teenage years with the Zenta amp on all the way up and me smashing the guitar into the speaker trying to coax some feedback out of the amp!

For more Heavy Metal Business articles – check SPINAL TAP on project management and LED ZEPPELIN on strategy.  Check out our conferences and events – where we extract business lessons from the Deep Purple classic ‘Smoke on the Water’ amongst many other things.  Come along to one of our ‘Monsters of Rock Business’ events, featuring Bernie Torme, who played guitar for Ian Gillan.   Take a look at one of these as featured on Bloomberg TV.

Our books including “The Music of Business” are available at AMAZON.

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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