Blood, sweat and tears – A climate for high performance

You gave a tremendous reaction to the post on Constraints and Creativity the other week.  This prompted me to gather some more material on the topic.  This time, we look at the impact of the built environment and creativity, via a conversation I had with Bernie Tormé, guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, GMT and Ian Gillan.  This is a short extract from the book “The Music of Business“.  The history of rock’n’roll is littered with examples of brilliance emerging from rather shabby recording environments.  Bernie gives us a bird’s eye tour:

Here comes the Sun

“When I visited Sun studios in Memphis I was astonished.  It’s just a shop basically, that produced some of the greatest sounding and culture changing records ever made.  The same is true of Chess in Chicago, Stax, Motown in Detroit, scruffy shopfloors.   Editor’s note:  Here is one of the products of those scruffy shopfloors:

I would also have said the same about Kingsway (earlier called the original De Lane Lea) where House of the Rising Sun was recorded, and virtually all of Hendrix’s early output up to Wind Cries Mary. All the Gillan stuff and lots more. It was a complete claustrophobic dump.

Deep Purple at De Lane Lea Studios

And IBC in Portland Place where all of the early Who stuff was recorded.  All of those places sounded wonderful with a decent engineer.  And as for Regent Sound, where all those initial Stones hits were made, an absolutely horrific place.”

PC:  So what happened later on?

“I remember lots of grandiosely stunning studios from the 80′s.   The ones in the 70′s were far more workmanlike, like garages.  Funny what happened in the 80′s.  Part of a bubble I suppose, like all the other bubbles.  It was more about attracting “clients” with the bells and whistles rather than a decent sounding room and an engineer who knew how to use it.  Hence all those electronica records. I must admit to never liking places like The Townhouse etc.  I did a bit there and lots in the old Marquee studios, lots of glass,  marble, stone and polished steel.  Both looked great and sounded like complete shit. I am ranting…….”

Ranting aside, I think Bernie has spotted a very transferable point here, that having it all does not necessarily lead to great results.  Sometimes desperate conditions produce greatness.

Bernie  offers exclusive guitar lessons in his barn studio in the garden of England, plus opportunities to stop over at his holiday cottage and record your dream record.  Contact me for further details.  To get hold of a copy of The Music of Business, click on the links in this slide presentation for the various options:

Rockonomics – Andrew Sentance on business, innovation, the economy and Rock’n’Roll

Andrew Sentance at a recent ‘gig’. Rumour has it that he arrived just before Rolf Harris sang “Two Little Boys” and was cut off in his prime by Lenny Henry

Andrew Sentance is Senior Economic Adviser to Price Waterhouse Coopers and combines a demanding career with a love of classic rock music.  I was curious to find out how he has synthesised these apparent opposites.

Tell me something about your background as an economist?

I started studying economics in 1974 at school in the sixth form.  I went on to accumulate three degrees in economics from Cambridge University and the LSE, and then joined the CBI’s Economics Dept in 1986.  That was a key stepping stone for my career.  I went on to become the CBI Director of Economic Affairs and was appointed to an important group advising the Chancellor of the Exchequer – which was known as the “seven wise men” – in 1992.  I also developed a high media profile while I was at the CBI, something which has been a key feature of my career since then.  After the CBI, I spent four years at London Business School and then nearly nine years at British Airways, as their Chief Economist.

In 2006, I was appointed to the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee and I served on the Committee until 2011.  I guess that is the position for which I am best known, partly because I was very vocal in making the argument for higher interest rates in late 2010 and early 2011.  Even though the majority on the Committee did not support me, many other people agreed with me and supported my arguments.

I know you wrote a paper about Led Zeppelin and the economy – please explain in brief?

Mervyn King – the Governor of the Bank of England – is a big sports fan and puts a lot of sporting analogies in his speeches.  He once explained monetary policy by referring to Maradona’s second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup semi-final.

I am useless at sport but I really enjoy rock music.  So when I joined the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England, I felt there was an opportunity to make some connections between rock music and economics.

In the summer of 2010, I started to argue for higher interest rates and I was looking for a good title for the first speech in which I would explain my position.  The speech was in Reading, which has good rock music connections because of the Reading Festival.

I came up with the title – How long should “The song remain the same”.  The basis of my argument was that very low interest rates had been put in place to deal with a crisis in 2008/9, but the economy had started to recover and inflation had been much higher than expected.  So interest rate policy should not remain the same when the economy was changing. You can read the speech on the Bank of England website at How long should “The song remain the same”.

I went on to give another speech inspired by rock music in February 2011 – inspired by the Genesis album “Selling England by the pound”.  Editor’s note – For our blogs on Led Zeppelin – see Whole Lotta Love.  We cannot move on until we have listened to a classic piece by Genesis:

A lot of rock songs have been written about money – can you comment in the inherent wisdom (or lack of it) in these songs?

I think a lot of the “money” songs are quite superficial in terms of their lyrics.  Pink Floyd are one of my favourite bands, and “Money” is one of the stand-out tracks on their album “Dark Side of the Moon”.  The irregular time signature – 7/4 – which then resolves into a straight 4/4, along with the sax and guitar solos, make it an excellent piece of music.  But the lyrics are pretty banal – just a rant against various aspects of the supposed lifestyle of rich people.  Ironically, the members of Pink Floyd went on to embrace a number of aspects of that lifestyle!

Interviewer’s note:  I must agree.  As Prince noted “Money don’t buy you happiness, but it sho’ ‘nuff pays for the search”

There are some good songs, both lyrically and musically, which reflect on broader economic themes.  Two of my favourites are “The Pretender” by Jackson Browne and “American Tune” by Paul Simon. Both reflect on the state of economic unease in the US in the 1970s in different ways.  “American Tune” comments on the loss of political direction:

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower; We come on the ship that sailed the moon; We come in the age’s most uncertain hour; and sing an American tune

Jackson Browne’s lament is more personal and reflects on how we are all drawn into a very materialistic lifestyle through necessity and habit:

I’m going to be a happy idiot and struggle for the legal tender, where the ads take aim and lay their claim to the heart and soul of the spender

Can you comment on what we can (or should) do to encourage a climate where innovation is at the heart of the economy?

Innovation is a very broad concept, and it is not just confined to hard technology. Economic studies show that the introduction of tea, coffee and sugar into the British economy was one of the most valuable innovations – from a consumer perspective – in our economic history.  See A spoonful of sugar.

So if we want to encourage innovation – we should not just look to certain high-tech sectors of the economy, but to how new ideas, products and processes might affect the way we live. It is all about how creativity and creative processes feed through into economic activity.

In my view, the flowering of creativity in the 1960s and 1970s laid the foundation for the technological advances of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s in information and communications technology. The ICT revolution of the last couple of decades has been based on ideas of sharing information, music and visual impact. These were ideas which developed in the 60s and 70s and the “geeks” who have carried forward this revolution grew up in that era..

If I can identify a driver for creativity and innovation in the future, it is probably more closely linked to the challenges we face in managing our environmental problems and the scarcity of energy and natural resources. We have never before been in the situation we now face where nearly 7 billion people all aspire to higher standards of living, and a claim on the limited natural resources on the planet.

We are already seeing these stresses reflected in market prices, as global demand outstrips supply. We are in an era of high and volatile energy and commodity prices. Even in the depths of the euro crisis, the oil price is $100/barrel, compared with $10-20/barrel in the late period from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s. Looking further ahead, the current pattern of use of energy and natural resources risks creating a severe problem in terms of global climate change.

Technology and innovation can help solve these problems of resource scarcity and climate change but it will take time. In my view, the next big wave of innovation will be in these energy and resource-hungry industries – helping us to develop new energy sources and be more efficient in the way we use energy and other natural resources.

What do you do currently?

I work for PwC – PricewaterhouseCoopers, as their senior economic adviser.  After serving for nearly five years at the Bank of England, I was keen to return to the private sector.  PwC has a wide range of clients who are keen to understand the impact of economic trends on their business.  At present, one of my key themes is understanding the “new normal” –  the world that has been shaped by the financial crisis and the emergence of the large Asian economies, especially China and India.  My message is that we should expect disappointing growth and volatility in the major western economies to persist through the mid-2010s.  The era of steady growth and low inflation which prevailed before the financial crisis will not return quickly, if at all.

You play in a part-time rock band. How do you square that with your professional career?

If you have a high profile professional career, I think it is very helpful to have other interests to maintain a sense of perspective on life.  I’ve kept up musical interests throughout my career. Until the mid-2000s, I mainly played as an acoustic guitarist/singer or church organist.  But I now play the bass and sing in a rock band called Revelation, which performs at village fetes and fayres in the area where we live in south Essex.  We cover rock classics, mainly from the 1960s and 1970s.  I also get together occasionally with a group of university friends for jam sessions.

Most people enjoy music.  And many people in my generation appreciate the classic rock of the 1970s.  So music is often a good ice-breaker for conversations at business lunches, dinners and meetings.  I’ve found many rock music enthusiasts in my business contacts and at the highest levels in the Bank of England and at the Treasury.

Who are your rock heroes?

I love a wide range of music from the late 1960s and 1970s.  So I am a big fan of the very accomplished musicians who established themselves in that era.  Jimi Hendrix has to be the king when it comes to guitarists, though I am also a big fan of Dave Gilmour, Steve Howe, Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi.  On keyboards there is only one supremo – Rick Wakeman.  I like bass players who play a strong role in the band, rather than thudding along in the background – like Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce and Chris Squire.  When it comes to vocals, I like a more mellow sound – David Crosby, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne and the Finn brothers (Crowded House).  Editor’s note, let’s have a further indulgence in the form of Mr Blackmore:

If I had to single out one musician, however, it would be none of the above.  I would choose Stephen Stills. He has a very distinctive guitar and singing style, and wrote some really great songs – “For What it’s Worth”, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, “Love the One You’re With”, and “As I Come of Age” stand out.  His solo albums from the mid-70s are also greatly under-rated. Crosby and Nash were great, but Stills gave them an edge.

How has rock music inspired you, and made an impact on your career?

I can’t imagine a world without music, and most of the music I listen to is rock music or some variant of it.  Great rock music is the combination of individual virtuoso performances and the ability to work together as a band.  This is one of the key lessons I take away from the rock world for my career.  The combination of individual ability and team effort is at the heart of success not just in the world of music, but also in business and politics.  For the dominant and mercurial lead guitarist, read the overbearing CEO or Prime Minister who does not acknowledge and recognise the views of his/her colleagues.  All are ultimately doomed – notwithstanding their ability.

To succeed in rock music, you need to be good, but you also need to be surrounded by other good musicians and be able to work constructively and creatively with them for the good of the band.  When this works well, great music results.  That is the approach I find works well in the business context too.

Andrew Sentance has his own website: www.sentance.com and a personal blog:. He also contributes to the PwC economics blog: and is very active in sharing his views with the print and broadcast media.   He can be found on Twitter at @asentance

Related blogs – see my posts on meetings with Evan Davis of Dragon’s Den / BBC Radio 4 and Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The numbers go up to 11 – Jim Marshall R.I.P 1924 – 2012

Peter displays his six Marshall stacks and his burnt Fender Strat - a total of 18 Watts of untamed power ...

Last week saw the passing of Jim Marshall, the father of rock and metal amplification.   Without the Marshall amp, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and a host of other musicians would not have got the classic sound that became a trademark of their music.  Marshall’s great contribution to the world of music was twofold:

The Marshall stack produced a warm fuzzy sound, beloved by rock musicians, unlike its peers such as Fender, which were considered more suitable for jazz.

Marshall stacks were quite simply loud, giving Jim Marshall the nickname “The Father of Loud”.  The spoof metal band ‘Spinal Tap’ coined the phrase “The numbers go up to 11”  and more recently “20″ based on the amplifier’s reputation:

As a tribute to the man behind the technology, I’ve put together a short series of videos that give testament to Jim Marshall’s contribution to music over the last 50 years.  No doubt Bernie Tormé will be cranking his Marshall stack up at our “Leadership meets Rock showcase” event in June.

Monsters of Rock’n’Roll Business

Announcing our ‘Monsters of Rock Business‘ event.  A unique blend of a leadership keynote, business to business networking, a live music performance and an opportunity to meet Bernie Tormé and John Howitt, star performers.  The event was filmed by Bloomberg TV, BBC One News and BBC Radio 4′s flagship ‘You and Yours‘ programme.

The event is part of an offering that we can deliver to businesses in a variety of formats from 90 minutes to a 24 executive experience wrapped around specific business issues, identified in advance or as part of a corporate leadership development programme with one of our partners e.g. Imperial College London.

I interviewed Bernie Tormé the other week alongside the rest of the band and two clients, Steve and Andy, who came to Bernie’s studio for a private masterclass, to get the inside track on music, creativity and business.  Oh, yes, and joy of joy, we even had a jam session with the great man himself :-)

Bernie : In the course of my career, I have worked with a fair mix of class A rock stars.  The music business is a great teacher of life skills such as negotiating, marketing, teamwork, high performance and so on, both how to do them well and occasionally the dark side of the force.  We’ll be discussing these and other topics at the event.   At the same time, I’ll be playing some music, which is always a lot of fun.  I’m leaving the satanic art of business to you lot! :-)

On Improvisation and Innovation

Peter : Given that Rock’n’Roll has its own conventions and that there are only 12 intervals in an octave and so on, tell me about your approach to the guitar when you are trying to come up with something new?

Bernie:  For me, it is not an intellectual process.  I try to go blank and start afresh.  If then I spot something that I like, then I will refine it until I have something that hangs together for the piece I’m writing.

John : The Americans call this “If you think, you stink”.  It has to be fluid.  Some jazz players spend so much time intellectualising how to move from one chord to another that they never produce anything of great value.

Bernie: I have applied the same general approach to lyrics.  I’d play the songline over and over and just write phrases until they start to fit.  I’d thought that this was fairly unique but I’ve since found that its not.  It’s not exactly Bob Dylan ! :-) but then I think even he did that from time to time.

Peter: Sam, you teach music for a living.  How do you escape the tramlines of rock history when composing or teaching others to improvise?

Sam : For me, the quote of Albert Einstein is instructive.  He said something like:  The people who seem like the best geniuses hide their influences the best.  So, at my tender age, my music is a sandwiching of my influences, although you would need to know what those were if you were to dissect a piece into its constituent influences.  If you did not know this information, you may well find something novel in it.  Perhaps novelty arises out of the combination of influences into something new and sublime.

Editor’s note:  Sam will not be able to be at the event as he has a hobby of extreme sports and is jumping out of a plane while we play guitars.  He will be replaced by Vicky Nolan of the rock band “Genital Sparrow”.  Here’s a bit of Sam’s work so you can see what you will miss on this occasion:

On tools for creativity

Peter : Are you aware of any techniques or approaches that assist you in the creative process?

John : I find that listening with new ears is a  very important skill.  For example, I have been listening again to Glenn Miller of late, noticing things that I’d never noticed before.  I think that’s an underrated skill in business.

Steve and Andy : We work in a highly regulated industry (Railways) with a long history.  Nonetheless, we need to constantly look for new ideas in the search for improvement and innovation.   The idea of looking again at old practices in a new way is highly transferable to our environment.  One of our difficulties is the ability to get people to empty their collective minds, due to the long legacy of our industry.  So, getting our people to ‘escape’ from the ‘burden’.  People tend to look towards their seniors or previous solutions which is not always the best way to solve problems.

Hear my train a comin’ – Heavy industry meets heavy rock!

Bernie : I can relate to that. Some bands I’ve been in have had a strong hierarchy – basically “it’s my way or the highway”.  Big companies are far more complex, although it’s not as different as you would think.  The core of a band is surrounded by a plethora of people involved and they don’t always act in the bands best interests, so even a band is a what Peter would call a complex adaptive system.

John : Can you (Steve and Andy) comment on the impact of the work we did for the kick off of a major IT project?  Especially in regard to the value of music in that event.

Steve and Andy : Basically, in one day, we achieved as much as we would have done in 3-4 weeks of meetings in terms of developing a cohesive team that can work, learn and play together.

On whole brained musicianship

Peter : Where do you look in your personal search for inspiration re playing an instrument?

Bernie :  Using pure intuition to create and a more intellectual process to judge your work.  It sometimes helps to have a producer to fulfill this job as these two jobs require different sides of the brain – the right hand side for the more intuitive, playful style and the left hand side for judgement and evaluation.  I also love getting my hands on another instrument to shift gears in my thinking and playing.  I had a Sitar for a few years for example.  It only had 4 or so songs in it for me, but I would not have had those songs without it.

Peter: What examples would you point to re an innovative approach to rock music?

Bernie : For me, Jimi Hendrix epitomizes innovation in rock music still.  His willingness to explore sounds that were way beyond those being used by his contemporaries at the time still stands up to scrutiny.  He had a playground approach to using equipment and effects that was totally alien at the time.  If you listen carefully to Hendrix’s playing, you can hear hints of Steve Cropper, in the way in which he put in little fills and subtleties.  He also fused styles in ways that others would not dream of.

“Genital Sparrow” warm up for some hard rock with Bernie Torme

On the music machine

Peter : Can you tell me about the good, the bad and the ugly of working in a rock band that is printable?

Bernie :  NO, NO, NO Peter !  :-)  Suffice to say that some of the stories in ‘This is Spinal Tap’ are funny because they are not so far removed from real life.  I may offer some ‘Rock’n’Roll life lessons’ at the Monsters of Rock Business event coming up in June, but only if you are very nice to me indeed!  :-)

Peter : OK, so what can business people learn from music?

Bernie : One of the difficulties is that once you hit a success recipe, management are interested in you repeating that for years unless you are the exception.  For example it’s well known that Ozzy Osbourne is a great Beatles fan, but he has a great reputation for doing heavy metal and he knows that his fans expect that from him and he’s bloody good at it anyway!

John : On the other hand, some bands split up because they don’t evolve.  In your talks Peter, you discuss Madonna, Prince and Bowie as examples of that.  Is it too far a stretch to suggest that some businesses fail if they don’t evolve?

Peter : Absolutely, for some businesses, stagnation is not an option, but it’s a fine balance – Editor’s note – check out the posts on AC / DC and Learning Companies in this respect.

Bernie : I spotted an opportunity when I was in Ian Gillan’s band.  We had a top 10 album although the songs were written by someone else.  I found a niche in helping the band repeat and improve on that performance for the next two albums.

John : So, innovation is a brilliant thing, but it does not necessarily put food on the table.  A balance between existing and new ventures is needed in any enterprise.

Peter : What can business people learn from the music business?

Bernie : The music business is something of a basket case compared with the sorts of businesses you tend to work in Peter.  I understand that you have had a fairly lucky life, working in Research and Development for ‘decent’ companies and in academia, where work is play.  That’s pretty much a Rock’n’Roll lifestyle.  But my understanding of most businesses is that they are not about that.  In that respect management in the music business is no different to what happens in the ‘grind em down’ type of businesses that cause so many people to find work a chore.

Peter : I guess I do have the luxury of working for businesses that by and large have decent leaders and managers :-)  My early years were spent at Wellcome Foundation, who gained 4 Nobel Prizes for its work in Tropical medicine etc.  We worked hard all day because we could and we played hard all night as well.  By modern standards, the company was poorly managed, but excellently led and I draw important parallels between this and the world of rock bands.  Perhaps that time has gone, or maybe we are at the tipping point where capitalism must rightly be balanced by a proper sense of purpose if we are to solve important world problems.  I have found that you get the best out of people by treating them as humane beings rather than human resources.  The world’s greatest leaders in business understand that.  The rest, well, perhaps they match some of the worst excesses of the music business.

So come along to Monsters of Rock Business and get yourself a supercharge of Rock’n’Roll Wisdom.  Here’s three summary points:

1.If you want to innovate, learn to ‘clear the screen’ of industry limitations for enough time to see the future.

2. Accept that creativity is necessary for innovation but insufficient – perspiration is always more important than inspiration.  Learn to sweat as well as glow.

3. Know when to intellectualise and when to behave like an animal in business.

Let’s get the real deal out – here’s Bernie Torme in action, causing some Trouble with Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan – it really does not get much better than this – see you at RIFFS AND MYTHS OF LEADERSHIP for some lessons from the School of Hard Rock.

Hopes and Fears 2012

Firstly, may I thank all of you that have been reading the Rock’n’Roll Business Blog through 2011.  We have had a whopping 14 000 views since it started in earnest in June last year.

In terms of 2012, if we are to turn the UK plc round, its going to take every bit of adaptation, learning and innovation.  You may care to reflect on some of the more popular posts of 2011 - Lady Gaga and adaptive strategy, Deep Purple, improvisation and innovation, The Beatles on creativity, Prince on excellence, Britney Spears on becoming a learning society, Hendrix v Clapton on innovation and Personal mastery in business and music – lessons from Jeff Beck, Les Paul and Bill Nelson.

So, what does 2012 hold in store for us?   Well, here’s some views taken in the course of my travels recently, with the themes linked to pop and rock songs of course! :-)

There is power in a union?

2011 was marked by a resurgence of industrial relations unrest in the UK.  However, the recent public sector strikes was marked not by braziers, banners and protest songs, but by the best shopping day in 2011, as retail sales soared.  I saw people leaving local government picket lines to go to Costa Coffee at 10 am.  Is shopping for Ugg boots and flat screen TV’s the hallmark of the new rebellion?

Can we look forward to more industrial unrest?   From talking with people in local government, it seems that there is still plenty of scope for downsizing and it also appears that quite a few people are basically happy with their pension, so it appears that the current industrial unrest may not develop.  When I talk to my self-employed friends, there appears to be little sympathy with the strikes – as one remarked “Pension, what pension?”  One thing is for sure, in an age of unrest we can expect more performances by proto punk protest singer Billy Bragg:

What’s new pussycat?

During 2011 I met Evan Davis of BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme and Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills.  During our conversations we touched on the vexed question of what we should do to rebuild Britain.  There are no easy answers here and a debate has since been raging on Linkedin over this issue.  There seems to be broad agreement that the UK plc desperately needs more innovation, especially the type that can be exported and that which builds out of our strengths in ways that are hard to copy or appropriate.  At the same time the service sector needs to shrink, whether this is through a smaller public service component to the economy or in service industries that merely consume wealth at a local level – for example tanning rooms and burger bars.  The change is going to be hard to swallow for some.  Doing more of the same will not do, we need to do things differently.  Musically, it’s more a case of ‘What’s new pussycat’ rather than ‘Do the standing still’.

We’ve got a meeting with the Department of Business Innovation and Skills to explore some of the ramifications of the UK’s innovation needs coming up.   More on innovation coming up in future posts.

What are your hopes and fears for 2012?  Post a comment on this blog.

The Flow – Personal Mastery in business and all that jazz

Mastery, unconscious competence, effortless genius.  These are all ways to describe what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called the state of ‘flow’.  What can we learn about ‘flow’ from music that we can transfer to the world of business and personal development?

Let’s begin, not by talking about the state of flow but by experiencing it through looking at masters of their craft operating at a state of effortless genius.  Let’s start with jazz master Joe Pass:

What then is flow?  Are there any ways to learn how to be in this state and what can we learn from professional musicians?   Here’s a great quote to open up the debate from Richard Thompson:

“Focus for performance is extremely important. I start quite early in the day of a performance, just very slowly focusing in on performing later that day with the whole idea that you are going to be as present as possible. You can play music for yourself, and that’s one thing, but to communicate with an audience is really something very special. When it happens, it’s a beautiful thing, an extraordinary thing, a wonderful feeling for the performer – this idea that you play something and people get it.

The way that you’re able to get stuff across to an audience is by getting inside the music as much as possible, reaching that really still place in the center of the music where you are totally present, almost unconscious, and totally engaged in the musical process and the storytelling process. When you get to that point, you’ve really achieved just about everything you can achieve as a musician.”

John Howitt is a professional session musician, who has performed with Celine Dion, Anastasia and Shirley Bassey.  He also works with us in our business and music masterclasses.  As a session musician, John must be at peak performance with every engagement.  I asked him to reveal some of his tips for staying in the flow:

Flow master – John Howitt with Peter – Picture by Jason Dodd – master photographer http://www.jasondoddphotography.com

Peter :  Can you tell us something about your career and the role of practice as a spur to personal mastery?

John : “Mastery comes out of preparation.  In business circles, people talk of the need for 10 000 hours disciplined practice to master an art or discipline.   Contrary to what amateur musicians might think, to do what I do, it’s all about practice and preparation.  I have probably exceeded the 10 000 hours in my career as a session musician and still spend 5 hours a day playing an instrument if I am not actually engaged in a piece of client work”

Peter :  Many so-called ‘creatives’ say that they feel they would lose their creativity / mojo if they overprepared. What do you say to that?

John : “Practice gives you ease AND versatility.  Playing routine pieces of music almost goes on auto pilot allowing you to concentrate on what is needed to add that extra piece of sparkle.  I feel this is just as applicable to business and personal excellence as it is to performing music”

Peter : As well as your stage and session work, I know you also record soundtrack music for films.  In your experience, how do you move from a performance role to one that is perhaps more introverted?

John :  In one way, there is no difference.  When performing, you still need to keep your focus both internally on the mastery of what you are doing, whilst keeping your antennae open to hear those around you.  It’s what the business gurus called ‘emotional intelligence’ – living inside your own head AND paying attention to your co-performers.  Good musicians and leader do both.  Bad musicians and leaders just listen to themselves.

That said, when I’m recording soundtracks, I can focus completely in on the point of detail that I’m working with, PLUS keep in mind the overall piece.  The big picture AND the small detail are essential if you are to achieve what Peter Senge calls personal mastery.  As a musician or leader, I find it essential to be both gregarious AND solitary.

Peter : On innovation excellence, can you share one important insight for us?

John : I’ll offer two.   In music, the innovation challenge lies in breaking away from habits. Practice can force you into habit but it need not.  It’s what companies like Toyota, Nokia and First Direct have achieved, rather than just repeating themselves.  Furthermore, it’s like Miles Davis says “There are no mistakes”

Please share your thoughts on what gets you in the high performance zone.  A recent interview with Tom Peters on the related topic of personal excellence can be found at Innovation Excellence.  I found flow is vital when writing perhaps the shortest business book known to man or woman – Punk Rock People Management – get a FREE copy via the link.

If you enjoy this blog, you may also enjoy related blogs at Prince, Deep Purple, Hendrix and Bill Nelson.  To finish, let’s see some more masters of music immersed in the art of effortless genius.  None other than Jeff Beck giving a tribute to Les Paul, plus the original, plus a tribute to Les Paul by Bill Nelson:

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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  Check our latest book reviews out:

Beyond the Fringe – The Edinburgh Festival and Leonard Cohen

Leonard himself

Very short post here to mention two performances of a special show written by Joe Blair, on the life, loves and music of Leonard Cohen at the Edinburgh Festival – Follow the link to Blue Raincoat.

The evening offered a selection of Leonard’s most special songs alongside a narrative that reviewed his life as a poet, lover and songwriter.

I met Joe a couple of years ago at a management seminar in Northern Ireland and he has been trying to infect me with his obsession with for Leonard Cohen ever since.  Speaking personally, I only travel as far as Morrissey and Lou Reed on the scale of moribund reflective music but it takes all sorts etc.  I agreed to provide much needed coaching on the musical performance aspects of the event and to provide some accompaniment using the haunting tones of the e-bow, an unusual guitar effect that makes guitars sound more like a violin, hence the name ‘energy-bow’.  I bought my e-bow around 1978 after seeing the music genius Bill Nelson play one.  Read more about Bill’s next show on October 1st at The Art School Ascended on Vapours of Roses.

Copies of our latest album “Music from the Basement of Cognition” will be available at the Leonard Cohen show.  For now here’s one track, aptly titled “I always knew you would come back to Earth” after a week of madness on the streets of England.  I did once record a Prince styled version of Cohen’s “The Butcher” and an electro-pop version of the same song in the style of Erasure, but I am not posting them here for fear of reprisals by ardent Cohen fans! :-)

I’ll finish with my favourite interpretation of Leonard’s ‘Hallelujah’ by John Cale:

Postscript:  The highlight of the Festival was meeting up with the Jimi Hendrix styled blues guitarist Richard Blues - Check Richard’s work out by e-mailing him at richardsgottheblues@yahoo.com and here’s a brief excerpt of his performance at the Fringe:

Also very much enjoyed meeting Will Gracie.  As one third of the outrageous group Hot Gusset, Will’s journey started at the age of 7 when he saw Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman.  We did some impromptu Queen and Prince songs on the street to the amazement of the festival goers.  Later that day I saw him appearing on BBC Newsnight.  It’s no wonder, for Will is a great talent. “Gimme fried chicken” in the words of Freddie Mercury !

Whist developing the show, I discovered to my surprise that even Leonard Cohen was sensitive to his musical environment and did change his musical style towards songs that people could almost dance to in the 1980′s when synthesisers became popular.   I guess that’s where Lady Gaga got it from ! :-)

Guitar Gods: Hendrix vs. Clapton : Innovators vs. adaptors

R U Experienced ? By Craig Swanson © http://www.perspicuity.com

Jimi Hendrix is still considered to be one of the greatest guitar players in the world, more than 40 years after his premature death at the same age as Amy Winehouse.  Plenty of guitarists have surpassed Hendrix in sheer technical dexterity, but most people point towards Hendrix’s ‘attitude’ towards the instrument as the source of his genius rather than his technical skill per se.  In my own case, my life was never the same after I saved up the money to buy a copy of his hit single ‘Purple Haze’, which I still own.  We even staged a re-enactment of Hendrix’s famous guitar burning stunt at a University in Cambridge with a bunch of MBA students some years back.  Here’s the record and the result of the spontaneous combustion of my Fender guitar:

Purple Haze – original Track label single

IBM burnt my guitar ….

Check out the real deal from Hendrix’s 1967 performance of ‘Wild Thing’ at Monterey:

Jimi Hendrix is an archetype of what psychologist Professor Michael Kirton would call an innovator, someone who fused together musical ideas to come up with something totally novel.  Jimi Hendrix fused the blues with soul, funk, hard rock and psychedelia in a heady cocktail, whereas many musicians stay within a musical genre.   In doing so, it could be said that he lost some of his audience in the process, if you were to take a very critical view of his work.   See also my post on Prince in this respect.

So what about Eric Clapton then?  Let’s take a look at some of Clapton’s classic work in the form of some blues mastery with Buddy Guy:

Generally speaking, Eric Clapton has stayed within the blues genre, (with the exception of a few ballads for the ladies :-) ) sticking closer to this genre and consequentially bringing it to a wider audience.  This is the behaviour of what Professor Kirton calls an adaptor.  In business, adaptors often have greater success than innovators, as they tend to produce ideas that are less challenging and which are recognised by consumers in the marketplace as being a logical build on existing ideas.  It’s the new saying “familiarity breeds repeat purchases”.

Often we need both innovators and adaptors to produce sustainable innovations.  The innovators to produce the hard to copy ideas and the adaptors to help bring the ideas into a practical market focus.

In business, examples of innovators include Sir Clive Sinclair, Sir Trevor Baylis and James Dyson whose innovations have not always been in tune with market desire, for example Dyson’s early attempts to redesign the wheelbarrow:

James Dyson’s Ballbarrow

Archetypal adaptors would include Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and possibly Sir Richard Branson, who have succeeded by taking relatively low risks with product and service innovation.

Finally, let’s hear another musical boundary crosser / innovator talking about Hendrix, none other than Jeff Beck:

To read about others who have been greatly influenced by Jimi Hendrix, see my post on my night in a pub with Bernie Torme, lead guitarist extraordinaire for Ozzy Osbourne, Ian Gillan and Twisted Sister.  Also the music genius Bill Nelson, who has innovated continuously for 40 years in music, whilst shunning the music industry circus.

If you like this mini blog on Hendrix check out our new book ‘The Music of Business”, which has an expanded article on Jimi and much, much more – acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith.  Sample it here:

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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

Got the business blues (again) – Motivation, HR, job design unplugged

A while back, I explored the business blues in a light-hearted fashion.  I was surprised and delighted at the reaction to this in my personal e-mails.  It seems that somehow, I struck a chord (or perhaps three - musical in-joke for the blues players out there ! :-) ).  I was told that a number of major companies have used music in a cathartic way to ‘purge their business demons’, by ‘getting it all out in their blues’.  Take a listen to this clip from BBC Radio 4’s Flagship ‘Today’ Programme.  Even John Humphries succumbed to my post in The Financial Times on the credit crunch blues:

To be more serious for a moment, here are some causes of ‘The Business Blues’ with antidotes.  For more like read “The Music of Business

1. Badly designed work and jobs – The antidote is simple to say but a little harder to apply.  Basically, design jobs using the wisdom of Herzberg’s work on satisfiers and dissatisfiers.  Take a look at the work of Hackman and Oldham.  This is explored in more depth in Punk Rock People Management.

2. An over-focus on measurement and objectives – What get measured gets done.  The corollary of this is that what is hard to measure may get ignored.  Everyone needs objectives to keep focus, but I would rather have open heart surgery without an anaesthetic than have 7 pages of specific objectives, critical success factors and key deliverables as I have seen on some occasions.  Appraisals and objectives are all about focus, not shopping lists that rival the length of ‘War and Peace’.

3. Poor leadership and management – It’s all too easy to then suggest that the antidote is to plug in some good leadership and management, almost like an I Phone app, yet this is a subject that requires more than a couple of lines to explore.  Plug and play may work with memory sticks but it does not in the world of business leadership and management.

I’ll leave you with Jimi Hendrix and Prince playing the blues.  These versions of Red House see Hendrix and Prince in rare moments of reflectivity.  The playing is thoughtful and poignant. In my humble opinion, Prince is Hendrix plus much better lighting ! :-) – there is an obvious musical influence but Prince has vastly improved the presentational aspects of his work across 30 or so years.  What do you think these two pieces?  Post your thoughts on the blog comments page.  To read previous posts on the genius of Prince see At The Hop (Farm) and Prince on Improvisation and Ingenuity.  Coming up soon, a post on Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck with respect to innovation style.

Contact me via the ACADEMY OF ROCK WEBSITE to reserve your FREE copy of “Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff”.

Another one bites the dust – The sad loss of Amy Winehouse

Just got back from work today to find out that Amy Winehouse has died.  Lest we forget too soon what a great talent Ms Winehouse was:

One of the big downsides of Rock’n’Roll is the plain fact that some people cope better than others with fame and all its demands on them.  Sadly, Amy Winehouse will go down in history alongside a long line of those who could only cope with the use of recreational drugs. Janis Joplin, Tommy Bolin, John Bonham, Elvis Presley, Keith Moon, Jimi Hendrix, Phil Lynott, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Sid Vicious etc. Will we ever learn that the drugs don’t work?  I’m afraid I don’t think so. Unfortunately this lesson applies just as much to business as it does Rock’n’Roll.  It underlines the importance of finding better coping strategies for pressure and fame than sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.

So, spare a moment to recall the great talent that sprung from this addictive personality:

Amy Winehouse RIP 23 July 2011 aged just 27 – this seems to be a very dangerous age for rock stars Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain all left this mortal coil at 27