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 !! :-)


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


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.

The emotional leader

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

EQ and Orchestras

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

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

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

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

Brian Clegg


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Reg Butterfield


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via 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

What makes you happy at work?

What makes you happy at work?  Money? Praise? Doing something new? Meeting people? The ability to use your expertise? Giving something to others? Fame? Feedback? …  There’s some background to the question, in the form of a summary of Fred Herzberg’s work on satisfiers and dissatisfiers, and that of the other motivational giants in the book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll

Business mixed with music

What turns you on at work? Find out here

I was reflecting upon my own motivators the other day when a client said to me “You’ve never had a care in the world.  For you, work is play”

Whilst I accepted this casual remark in the manner in which she intended it, as a piece of praise, the person in question obviously did not know just how much I care about my work and the painstaking design activity that sits behind what I do, so that it all looks easy on the day. But, indeed she was right.  We often do our best when there is a happy marriage between our own talents and what our job requires of us. When people have asked me “what is my secret to personal motivation”, I point out that I have simply brought what I love doing into close proximity with what my customers want and need, always ensuring that their needs come before my wants.  It’s what Wham were talking about when they came up with their ‘Choose Life’ T-Shirt:

If you're gonna do it, do it right

If you’re gonna do it, do it right …

That said, there are moments in my work when I do realise just how lucky I am .  One such moment occurred the other week after I had delivered an evening keynote address in innovation for a company and we had completed some team building activities with music after dinner.  Around 10.30 pm I realised that all was well and, just for a moment, I felt I could relax  and observe the scene.  I was playing “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath with Bernie Tormé, guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, Ian Gillan, GMT et al, and was getting paid for it.  “How lucky am I”, I thought to myself.  Better still Bernie was kind enough to complement me on my playing when I drove him home later. Proof positive that praise and authentic feedback are huge “Herzberg motivators”.

Sharing a joke with a Monster of Rock - Bernie Tormé

Sharing a joke with a Monster of Rock – Bernie Tormé

So, never mind the boll…cks and books on personal development.  If you want to “Live to Work” rather than “Work to Live”, the goal is simply to marry something you love to do with something that someone else (a) wants / needs and (b) is prepared to pay you for.  If you wish us to come and do a masterclass on the topic plus a live music experience, please get in touch.  We’ve had enquiries from a wide range of people around the world, from pharmaceuticals in the USA to HMRC and a University who wants to help the local economy make a step up through innovation and export.

To finish, we must reach out again for George Michael and Co, who said it simply with the phrase “Enjoy What You Do” in their 1980′s benefit classic ‘Wham Rap”:


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

New York, New York

We’re off to New York in a few days time to deliver an innovation summit for a major pharmaceutical company.  I’ve brought together an international team for this event and it’s going to be extremely hard work but a great deal of fun.  Here is the rogue’s gallery, expertly illustrated by Simon Heath, social media’s “Quick Draw McGraw”:

The international team's diverse passions and drives

The international team’s diverse passions and drives

Our work in the build up to the event has involved extracting a number of topics that keep the company’s leaders awake at night, but which are amenable to radical or incremental creative options.  We need to develop a micro climate where creativity can flourish and convert that creativity into sustainable and profitable innovations to succeed.  We’ve produced a pack of cards to assist people in learning from the event AS WELL as reaching the deliverables.  Here’s one of the card deck which summarises our thinking on the principles for innovative thinking:

Human Dynamic's principles for innovative thinking summarised

Human Dynamic’s principles for innovative thinking summarised

Oh, and the client found out about our ‘evening work’ and has asked us to perform “Fiscal Cliff” on one of the evenings after the work is done.  No pressure then!

Obviously the nature of our work there is company confidential so I can say no more on this.  Other than to illustrate the principles of a successful innovation event via the medium of music:

I feel fine – to succeed at such an event requires the tolerance of the unknown.  Much of our preparation will focus on building this ‘corporate muscle’:

Walk on the wild side – We will take a number of excursions into the world of radical and incremental creativity at the event using a set of strategies and a suite of tools taken from our repertoire of over 100 approaches to divergent and convergent thinking.  This was one of the main reasons we won the business, based on a ‘best fit’ approach rather than a ‘plug and play’ approach.  We have built an approach to innovation based on Andy Warhol’s approach to making new things happen at “The Factory” – his ‘innovation hothouse’, which fits in nicely with our location.

Perspire – Creativity may be about inspiration, but innovation is all about perspiration, so our event will emphasise execution and implementation over pure divergence.  Check Prince’s song Black Sweat for some inspiration on perspiration!

Finally, and in synch with the title of this blog, here’s a remix of New York – Empire State of Mind by Alicia Keys.

Empire State of Mind - Click on the image to hear a remix of the Alicia Keys song

Empire State of Mind – Click on the image to hear a remix of the Alicia Keys song

5 Creativity Tips from Music

Here are some of the quotable quotes, as extracts from the book “The Music of Business“.  There’s much more in the book itself, available as an illustrated paperback book and a Kindle version.

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity”

Charlie Mingus

“Anytime I have an idea, I’ll make sure that I put it down so that when we do sit down to write an album, I don’t have to dream it all out of thin air. I don’t have to be creative on the spur of the moment, or spontaneously artistic. I just take advantage of whenever creativity strikes ” 

Neil Peart, Rush

“The spirit of jazz is the spirit of openness”

Herbie Hancock

And the fourth and fifth tip?  Well, that’s up to you.  Write in with your favourite tip.

Find out much more about creativity in our books “Best Practice Creativity”, “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll”, “Punk Rock HR” and “The Music of Business” and via our work at The Academy of Rock:


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  Buy his new record Fiscal Cliff – an unusual song about Keynsian Economics, banking and repentance.  All formats available via the link Fiscal Cliff.

It’s the end of the world as we know it … Part 2

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the world’s top-rated universities, has announced its first free course which can be studied and assessed completely online.  An electronics course, beginning in March, will be the first prototype of an online project, known as MITx.

This is the leader column from a recent BBC Report on online learning.  Undoubtedly this is a potentially disruptive innovation in the world of education with 77% of US Companies now reporting that they use online learning  In such a world, universities may turn into clubhouses, where social networking and pure socialisation take place, with learning taking place anytime, anyplace, anywhere in the world, accessing the world’s experts on particular subjects.  Professor Charles Handy foresaw this many years back when he wrote “The Empty Raincoat”.   Here’s a picture of us, when we last met.

Choose Life ... with Charles Handy

Choose Life … with Charles Handy

Handy also talks powerfully about youth as a driving force for change.  My own touchstone for the MIT report and Handy’s observation comes in the form of my 19 year old son Tom, who is studying Computer Sciences in his second year at University.  Tom claims that nearly all his lectures could be handled remotely, making going to University an irrelevance, were it not for the social experience and peer to peer learning.  Whilst he possibly exaggerates a tad, he has spotted a potential future which many universities have not yet embraced.

University - "It's all about the relationships" - with my son Tom

University – “It’s all about the relationships” – with my son Tom Cook

We took the initiative ourselves a few months back, when we partnered with online education specialist Udemy, in the provision of an MBA level online business leadership programme covering strategy, creativity, innovation and change.  Take a free five minute tour of the programme via this LINK.  This is not the only development in this field.  BBC Radio 4 recently featured Coursera, who are offering the same product, but using university lecturers instead of practitioners, with the product leading to qualifications.  Clearly people are moving faster than the average university here.  This is typified by a comment I received from a university lecturer recently when I was called in to develop some Business courses:

This is an exciting time in terms of developing the programme at the University and I think it would be great to have you involved in one way or the other. Your enthusiasm is much appreciated. However, as we do operate within a bureaucratic system these things take a long time to develop and any possible new courses will not start before at best, Sept 2014. I will keep in touch with any progress, good luck with everything.

By the time the University in question gets started, Darwin may well have swung his evolutionary axe!  You can listen to the BBC Radio programme at Zeitgeisters.  Take a look at our curriculum for a pragmatic approach to business leadership where you can drop in and drop out of the lectures at any time you please, as you keep the materials for a lifetime:

Will Universities turn into social clubhouses teaching kids lifeskills whilst they learn their chosen subject from subject experts on platforms like Udemy?  Will this be the end of the ‘duff lecturer’?  Share your thoughts here.  My title gives me yet another excuse to play REM:


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

Talkin’ ‘Bout Pop Music

Is there a natural order to pleasure?

Are we creatures of habit?

Can mathematics help explain the pleasure (and pain) we gain from music?

What can we learn from pop music about engagement?

Big questions to start this week’s blog, inspired by a video from “The Axis of Awesome”, which points out that the structure of many successful pop songs comes down to 4 chords, the 1st, 5th, 6th and 4th, or what I call “The Pachelbel Canon Effect”.  Take a look at this awesome video – yes, I used the word awesome and I am over 27! :-)

The video illustrates what I call “The Physics of Pleasure”.  The various intervals between the chords are known to create a sense of repose or resolution.  It’s what musicians call cadences and there are a number of these in common used.  If you want to write a pop song, you would do well to set the piece within one of the more familiar cadences to increase your chances of success.

Peter Warhol

Business and music parallels

  1. There are identifiable but mostly invisible patterns of music that engender a pleasurable response in a majority of people.  What are the identifiable but invisible patterns of behaviour that produce the same sensations in business?
  2. In terms of innovation in business, if you are introducing the unfamiliar to people, one way to lesson the perceived ‘shock of the new’ is to build the innovation on the safe scaffolding of the familiar.  Product designers have known this for years.
  3. Before anyone runs away with the idea that all you need is a formula to run a successful business, of course there are exceptions to every rule.  In music “Bohemian Rhapsody” breaks just about every rule that we’ve discussed, although the verse does use the 1st, 6th, 2nd and 5th – a near relative of the cadence we discuss here.  And, of course, what is popular is culturally conditioned.  For example Indian music has different conventions, which we explored previously in ‘Sex, Raga and Rock’n’Roll’.

And finally

To ram home the point about the four chords, listen to Brian Eno’s sublime piece of ambient music “The Big Ship” from Another Green Day. Then follow it up with U2′s “With Or Without You” from The Joshua Tree.  It’s he same four chords, albeit in a different key to suit Bono’s voice – incidentally, U2’s song and the album were produced by Brian Eno! :-)  Was there some subliminal influencing going on here?

To finish, here’s the title of this blog – another highly successful trio of chords, the 1st, 7th and 4th, which spawned “I can’t explain” by The Who and many more:


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  His latest book “The Music of Business” is available direct or in the usual places by clicking the relevant link in the slideshare presentation below:

Creativity, Business and Music : 5 Tips from a Google Hangout

I had the pleasure and privilege of sharing a Google Hangout with six creativity champions from around the world recently.  Our next hangout on Creativity and Music is scheduled for Sunday 16th June at 16.00 GMT.  The dialogue from this first hangout was so rich that I decided to capture some of the insights in this blog.

We started the session by looking at the notion of ‘combination’ as a strategy for creativity in music, business and life.  ‘Combine’ is one of the keywords in the “SCAMPER” creativity method, beloved of companies I’ve worked for such as Pfizer, 3M, Unilever and so on.  Drop me a line for more information on SCAMPER.  We started our conversation with a look at the ‘recombinant DNA of music’.  Cue the film:

Our first stop on our dialogue was in the Netherlands with Christof Zürn.  Christof is a online brand strategist / creative director and evangelist of Music Thinking.  He had this to say on the notion of creativity and music:

“Making music is about pattern recognition (listening) and pattern generation (playing).  For example, if you know the ‘Smoke on the Water’ riff by Deep Purple, you can answer with the ‘Burn’ riff, which is made of similar notes, as indeed is ‘The Man on the Silver Mountain’ by Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.  If you don’t know it, or you don’t want to go this way, you can come up with something else.  So you can play with the knowledge and listening skills or invent and respond with new melodies. I think creativity works the same way.”

Insight # 1. The good thing with music is that it is not only about playing, but also about listening. With creativity it is the same. If you only broadcast idea’s and don’t listen, you may be a creative person, but not a good co-worker or leader.

Cue Clarice Dankers from Portland, Oregon, a writer and story mentor. We moved on somehow in the conversation to discussing what the cultural signifiers of a good piece of writing were.  Clarice pointed out that there were clearly identifiable hallmarks of a good story and we drew parallels with music, website design and many other areas.  Clarice takes up the story:

“I think the process of creation has at least two stages. The first is the “Muse” phase in which we generate ideas—whether we are talking about words or music or web design or anything else. This phase is often a wild, passionate, emotional time in which ideas flow rapidly and we struggle to get them down “on paper” as quickly as possible–before they evaporate from consciousness.

Connecting to our muse is only the first phase, however. Blobs of color splattered across a website, a diarrhea of words jumbled across a computer screen, or random notes scrawled across a five-line staff will fail to communicate if they lack form. Precise structural elements such as counterpoint, harmony, organization and rhythm immediately identify a Bach concerto as “Baroque.” Similarly, polyrhythms, syncopations and improvisations immediately identify a piece by John Coltrane as “Jazz.”

In the business world, a website needs to be structured in a way that visitors can immediately identify what the site is about (What’s in it for me?). It also needs to have a navigation system that clearly and easily guides visitors through the site. Similarly, any kind of writing that communicates successfully with readers is based upon precise types of structure and organization. For example, website content and press releases are built upon a reverse pyramid structure in which the most important information is given in the first two or three paragraphs (i.e., above the fold).

Creations that lack form confuse and frustrate readers, listeners and viewers. Creations that fail to go through the Muse phase are dull, shallow and lifeless. Both are necessary to successfully communicate our ideas to others.”

Clarice offers a free book about the creative process and the structures used in business writing called “All Writing Tells a Story.” Get it here in one click All Writing Tells a Story.

Insight # 2.  Storytelling is a powerful way to excite our synapses to think new thoughts and see the familiar in new ways.

Stewart Rogers Twitter @TheRealSJR is a technology marketing specialist and shares a love of the artist known as Prince to boot.  Stewart shared some great business examples of how some elements of the SCAMPER methodology has been used in practice.  I will update the blog as these become available.

Insight # 3.  Techniques for creativity replicate the strategies and skills of naturally creative people.  In the hands of skilled practitioners, they can turn basic brainstorming into sustainable competitive advantage.

Simon Kiteley added the vital insight from his own experience of a website designer that great websites have a single ‘banana’ on each page – something you can buy or what you need to do next..  Trouble is that sometimes there are too many trees in the ‘forest’ to see the banana.  Wise words indeed and I’ve been working on my own website quite a bit with his advice in mind! :-)

Insight # 4. Whereas creativity can be complex, when we are communicating  creativity to others, we need to aim for simplicity and brevity.  There is a real but different skill in being able to communicate complex ideas simply and briefly without dumbing them down, as compared with simply having the idea.  This skill is in relatively short supply in my long experience of working within companies trying to turn creativity into innovation.

Albert Combrink is a classically trained pianist with special interests in Tango, Opera and Accompanying.  Albert raised the issue of improvisation in music.  He pointed out that it is the musician’s job to bring a sense of uniqueness to a piece of improvisation, even when the music is itself  a ‘standard’.  We were reminded of the classic guitar solo in Free’s “Alright Now” which has been ruthlessly copied in open mic jam sessions the world over.  Paradoxically, legend has it that Paul Kosoff played the paradigm setting solo once in the studio and never felt he had to copy the design ever again, preferring to invent something new on each live performance.  Lest we forget how the ‘karaoke’ version goes.  Check the hairdo’s out as well:

Insight # 5.  The trick move in staying continuously creative is to see each situation as if it is the first time you have encountered it.  In the words of Madonna “Like a Virgin”.

Although the hangout was not a ‘show’, I was goaded by Stewart to perform a piece of music.  Here’s a version of the piece, a simple piece of structured improvisation around a few drum / music loops, entitled “Stargazing”:

Read more about creativity and innovation in “The Music of Business“.  Check the references out below:

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.  Let’s hear Madonna’s take on faith:


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

I’m offering two x 66% discount vouchers for  for my Online Learning Programme, “The Music of Business” – MBA level learning for entrepreneurs blended with ideas from the world of music.  That’s JUST 65 dollars for 10 hours of world class learning in exchange for a review or less than a pint of lager every hour without a hangover!  There is also an option to join an affiliate scheme to earn a residual income whilst you get on with running your business.  To examine the programme take a look at the slide deck below:

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.  Cue the music:

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 and via our ONLINE Learning Programme. 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


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 online programme The Music of Business out.  Grab discounted copies of his books by mailing him at peter@humdyn.co.uk