Life’s good – Lou Reed 1942 – 2013 R.I.P

Lou Reed - Rock'n'Roll Animal

Lou Reed – Rock’n’Roll Animal

“One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz”

Lou Reed

Lou Reed was a formative part of my teenage life and it was a real shock when I heard the news of his death at 71 yesterday.  I say shocked, but not surprised.  Based on Reed’s chemical intake earlier in his life I guess that, on paper, it was something of a miracle that he lived as long as he did.  He reportedly said that he gave up drugs using alcohol, but that didn’t work …  Nonetheless, a sad day which must be marked by a sad song ….

What did Lou Reed mean to me?

Lou Reed was not afraid to write songs that dealt with difficult themes such as addiction, depression, terminal illness, poverty, politics to name but a few.  Some will of course say that music is meant to be bouncy and happy.  Lou Reed gave music an ability to deal with subjects well beyond sugary pop.  It’s always bemused me that the BBC chose the song “Perfect Day” as it’s theme tune for Children In Need, when some say the song deals with Heroin addiction. Lou Reed also taught me about the use of feedback in music and indeed, the art of noise.  Reed was not exactly a flash guitarist in the traditional sense of the word, but he did know how to use noise and tone to illustrate a piece of music – critics would even say annoy. Perhaps the most extreme statement of this ‘rock’n’roll animal’ came from his album “Metal Machine Music”, which consisted of 64 minutes of seemingly unstructured white and pink noise.  Following hot on the heels of a hit album this tested his audience’s patience (and that of RCA, his record company) to destruction.  Rolling Stone Magazine described it as “the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator”  A slightly more palatable example of Lou Reed’s animal approach to noise comes from “Sister Ray” by the Velvet Underground:

The lyrical quality of Reed’s songs have also had an impact on me at a deep level.  Essentially poetry set to music, his words are direct and his delivery speaks directly to the person, almost as if he is sitting next to you in a room.  It is perhaps this aspect of his writing that has set him apart from others.  Reed’s acidic wit, a willingness to go to places that other people would not touch and the simple beauty of his words have made a long term impact on me. I wrote about Lou Reed, Andy Warhol and the Factory as an exemplar of innovation in the book “The Music of Business” – little did I know just how little time he had left to live.  Just as well he made the most of it.  In his own words:

“My week beats your year”

What did Lou Reed mean to others? Václav Havel found inspiration in darkness from the Velvet Underground’s music, when he was a Czech dissident.

“The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.”

Brian Eno

“RIP Lou Reed 71. You defined New York City. Too f****** young. Wayy too young. Berlin one of my most loved albums”

Mick Hucknall

Here’s a performance of Reed’s song “Pale Blue Eyes” by my good friend Richard Strange with Peter Capaldi and Sarah Jane Morris, which perhaps sums up the long term influence of Lou Reed’s songwriting on others:

What did Lou Reed mean to Lou Reed?

“It’s depressing when you’re still around and your albums are out of print”

“I do Lou Reed better than anyone else”

“I don’t like nostalgia unless it’s mine”

“That’s why I survived because I still believe I’ve got something to say”

Lou Reed

What did Lou Reed mean to you?

For more on the topic, check out The Factory.  Share your thoughts here.  Lou Reed, 1943 – 2013 R.I.P.

Goodnight Mr Reed

Hello, it’s me. Goodbye Mr Reed

The Innovation Factory … and blog roll

We’re off to New York to run an innovation summit for a major Pharmaceutical company w/c 02 September.  This prompts me to mention Andy Warhol, The Factory and the transferable lessons re innovation in business.  I see Warhol’s Factory as the ultimate ‘skunkworks’ in terms of the business literature from Tom Peters et al on the topic, where paradigm shifting art was produced from almost nothing in a kind of ‘guerilla’ approach to creativity and innovation.

As a bonus part of our process with the company in the evenings we will be working in a low tech way with a ‘garage innovation’ approach instead of iPads and high tech.  This for me models the idea that, whilst some people believe that creativity and innovation needs opulent surroundings and resources, the opposite is also true.  Many of the world’s greatest breakthrough drugs have come from shabby laboratories and people who were underfunded and under loved. Much innovation and entrepreneurship starts in garages like HP’s famous start up in a ‘shed’.

To emphasise the ‘garage’ approach to innovation and creativity we are working with toilet tissue as a means of capturing the process, or ‘blog roll’ as I like to call it :

Innovation in just three sheets of 'blog roll' - Image by Simon Heath - Corporate Illustrator who is working with us in New York on the project

Innovation in just three sheets of ‘blog roll’ – Image by Simon Heath – Corporate Illustrator who is working with us in New York on the project

The approach uses a successive series of divergent an convergent thinking stages, spread out over 24 hours to allow just a little time for incubation and improvement.  Not quite the levels of incubation that Wallas (1926) had in mind but hey ho, life is busy and this is a piece of added value we intend to use to develop the team’s ability to work confidently and quickly together for the evening.  This process admittedly will not produce the final innovations, as the whole process is designed to fit into a few hours.  But, it will produce about 30 ‘quick and dirty’ ideas to be taken to the board for further consideration via  a peer review process.  This is in addition to our main work at the summit to tackle some thorny strategic problems in their full detail.  Obviously that’s not shareable.  However, it’s based on our approach to what we call “wicked” problems:

Wicked problems

The wicked problem matrix

For more details on our process design skills, do get in touch.  For more on Andy Warhol, The Factory and Innovation, get hold of a copy of our books “Best Practice Creativity”, “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and the latest one “The Music of Business“, acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith CBE and Professor Adrian Furnham.

We leave with an insight into The Factory and Warhol courtesy of Lou Reed and John Cale.  The Factory, Max’s Kansas City and The Chelsea Hotel may no longer be what they were, but we can still learn valuable lessons from their example.

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

Punk Rock Business Attitude – Top Ten Punk Rock Business Tips

Punk Rock Attitude – Smarter, faster and more authentic business – Image by Lindsay Wakelin photography

Whilst we were preparing for the various media initiatives the other week, the papers, radio and TV wanted me to offer them some punchy (and short of course) punk rock tips for business.   Here’s the ones that got through the press filter on the BBC One News piece with Dolly Parton introducing us – what a coup !

And here’s a few of the rest with some links to previous blog posts.  Granted, they are not all punk rock, but I use the term in it’s widest context 🙂  You can find much more like this in the revised edition of Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll.

1. Bad Romance – Lady Gaga – If you’re having trouble in a work relationship, change what you’re doing, rather than banging your head against the same wall.

2. Like a Virgin – Madonna – To succeed in business, treat each day like its the first time.

3. Knowing me knowing you – Abba – If you want to serve someone really well, find out their wants, needs, whims, foibles, fancies, fantasies, fanaticisms and ensure what you are offering touches the parts that others cannot or dare not reach.

Reasons to be cheerful

4. Reasons to be cheerful – Ian Dury  – Reasons to be cheerful at work include: being listened to; doing things that count; understanding why they matter; being part of something; not having to do pointless tasks; getting meaningful feedback on what you do and so on.

5. Who killed Bambi? – Sex Pistols – Separate conflict over work from conflict over personalities. You can have a good bun fight over a project, but once things are settled, move on and don’t harbour grudges towards the people.

6. I can’t control myself – The Troggs – Creativity without discipline rarely leads to innovation.

7. What do I get? – The Buzzcocks – Pay people well enough, but don’t just focus on pay as the reward for work. This reinforces the conversation about ‘What do I get?’

Walk on the wild side

8. Walk on the wild side – Lou Reed – Encourage mavericks, madonnas and the odd primadonna at work if you want new things to happen.

9. Sexy MF – Prince – Style always wins over substance.  Once you have got your product sorted, go for style every time.

10. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for – U2 – Business needs constant learning and reconnaissance.  If you stop looking and learning, just like Kodak, you may disappear from view.

To finish listen anew to Bad Romance by Lady Gaga for a bit of punk business attitude:

Andy Warhol, The Velvet Underground and the Innovation Factory

Andy Warhol, The Factory and The Velvet Underground were synonymous with a groundbreaking synaesthesia in music and art in the 1960’s.   Their influence has been pervasive over nearly 50 years on people such as The Sex Pistols, The Doctors of Madness, The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs, Patti Smith, Vaclav Havel, Bill Nelson, Iggy Pop, The New York Dolls and many more.  Simply stated:

“The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.”

Today I’m looking at the qualities that led to the success of The Factory as a music innovation incubator, with parallel lessons for businesses wishing to make innovation part of their business as usual activity.  See also the post on Lou Reed.  My epiphany came about after many years of teaching an MBA programme in creativity and innovation for the Open University Business School.  I noticed that the example of The Factory has useful parallels with the four ‘P’s of innovation: Person; Place; Product; Process. To help tell the story of Andy Warhol and The Factory to the uninitiated, I’ve linked these to music from the great retrospective album by Lou Reed and John Cale “Songs for Drella”.  Note “Drella” was a nickname for Warhol – a combination of Cinderella and Dracula!

Person – The song “Open House” makes reference to the grating tension between the Velvet Underground’s personalities – e.g. Reed – Cale and Warhol’s role as a creative leader – demonstrating permission giving behaviours and creating a climate where different things could happen.  Many creativity experts only emphasise the positive aspects of creative people, yet much creativity comes out of struggle, sometimes with the task, but sometimes through tensions between the people.  This also occurs in corporate life:

Because of the trust and respect we’ve built up, like an old married couplewe are able to rubbish each other’s ideas. Yes we have to kill our babies – it’s the only way to arrive at a viable idea

Simon Kershaw, Creative Director for the Land Rover Discovery

Check “Open House” out and listen carefully to the words:

Place – For me, the idea of ‘Place’ refers to the physical and psychological environment that encourages innovation.  The parallel is in seeing The factory as a business incubator or ‘innovation hothouse’.  John Cale said:

It wasn’t called the Factory for nothing. It was where the assembly line for the silkscreens happened. While one person was making a silkscreen, somebody else would be filming a screen test. Every day something new

Andy Warhol clearly understood what business schools would call ‘innovation climate’, building a physical and psychological environment where people would be inspired to think great ideas and then convert them to finished product.  The principles behind innovation climate are neatly summed up by a rich picture designed by one of my MBA Alumni.  Mail me for more background on this highly condensed view of innovation research.

Precepts for developing an innovation climate

Warhol cared less about traditional boundaries of art and this is what the rich picture calls ‘explore the givens’.  This is epitomised in Reed and Cale’s piece “The trouble with the classicists.”  Take a listen:

Product – The Factory produced uncompromising real life ‘art’ that dealt with subjects largely untouched by the art world – at the same time Warhol’s protégé’s produced an unending supply of sensational pop art, such as the images of Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s Soup.  Despite the huge diversity, whatever emerged was instantly recognisable as coming from The Factory.  In effect, The Factory was an ‘anti-corporate brand’ much in the same way that punk rock and punk clothing quickly became mainstream music and fashion.

Cale and Reed epitomised The Factory’s unending art production line in their words and music to the wonderously grating and dissonant piece “Images”

Process – Andy Warhol was a workaholic, contradicting the view that creativity was about waiting for inspiration to arrive.  He favoured perspiration above inspiration and this is poetically summarised in Cale and Reed’s words to their song “Work”:

Finally, we finish with some questions to provoke your own innovation factory:

  1. Have you got the right people in the right balance to make innovation regular and frequent?  Inventors, Innovators and Entrepreneurs?
  2. Have you got a physical and psychological environment that encourages creativity and calculated risk taking?
  3. Do you seek constant innovation in the products and services that you provide?
  4. Have you got reliable strategies and processes for divergent thinking (creativity), convergent thinking (deciding) and converting decisions into innovation (implementation)?

In the spirit of pop art and punk for punk’s sake, my latest micro book “Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff” is available.  Our new full size book “The Music of Business” is also available.

We cannot conclude without visiting Lou Reed’s classic “Walk on the Wild Side” which tells stories of many of the personalities at The Factory – Holly Woodlawn, Joe Dallessandro, Candy Darling etc.   Coming up soon an interview with the illegitimate Godfather of Punk and confirmed Velvet Underground fanatic Richard Strange.

Rock’n’Roll innovators – Steve Jobs 1955 – 2011

It’s pretty much all been said, but we lost one of our greatest old school innovators this week as Steve Jobs fell prey to cancer.  This resonated especially with me as my brother also succumbed to this most resilient of diseases this year.  In spite of huge leaps forward cures for cancer still elude medical and pharmaceutical innovation.  Having come from the world of scientific innovation myself, I believe that even cancer will be history by the end of the 21st century.  Lou Reed sums up the rollercoaster of emotions that cancer represents in his album ‘Magic and Loss’, which examines the demise of personal friends to the disease:

I was talking to Richard Bandler last night and the conversation reminded me of how Steve Jobs describes death as life’s ultimate change agent, in terms of its ability to make way for the new.  Check his Stanford University talk of 2005 on this point, shortly after he contracted the disease.  It is a breathtaking speech:

Steve Jobs was a remarkable man, so I pondered what he leaves us as a lasting legacy:

Jobs was no friend of market research, preferring intuition as a spur to innovation.  It’s a characteristic he shares with Leo Fender, who was not a great guitar player, but designed intuitively great features into his groundbreaking Fender Stratocaster guitar.  I’ll be telling the Fender Strat story in a future post.  For now, here’s my dead Fender Strat, after its premature cremation by IBM leaders at a business conference some years back.

IBM burnt my guitar

Jobs’ 2nd legacy was his insistence that technology needed to fuse style and substance.  This was modelled down to the last detail in Apple’s products, which made Apple products design icons as well as functionally superior.  People’s love of the Apple brand and design is evident in their personal tributes this week at Apple stores all over the world.  I believe this arises not just out of style for its own sake, but because Jobs fused style with substance.

Jobs’ third legacy is his mantra “stay hungry, stay foolish”.  Comfort does not make for great innovation, nor does taking yourself too seriously.  All too often hunger and playfulness are driven out of corporate life with disastrous consequences for long term innovation.  To read more on the HR issues surrounding innovation check out ‘What’s New Pussycat?”  The credit crunch and the recession have exacerbated blame cultures and disputes over pay.   Steve Jobs’ last reported yearly salary was $1.  Check Dean Becker’s blog out for an excellent personal analysis of the qualities that made Steve Jobs an agile and adaptive learner.

It seems fitting to end this post with a personal consequence of Jobs’ approach to innovation.  Here’s a piece of music I wrote and recorded on my beloved iMac entitled “Mars Warming” from the album “Music from the Basement of Cognition“.  This music was conceived as a coda to an epic film and is filled with joy, sadness and melancholy.  It simply would have not been possible to have recorded this piece of music without Steve Jobs.  May he rest in peace.

What’s new pussycat? – Musings on Innovation

What’s new pussycat? Click on the picture for the book

This is a preview for the new book ‘Punk Rock People Management’, available as a high quality print version at Punk HR and  as a Kindle book.  I’ve included an extract from the book on the theme of innovation to whet your appetite.  Our title suggests that we ought to have some music from Tom Jones – hardly punk rock!  But a sideways shuffle takes us to one of Tom’s classics performed by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band – the wonderful tortured tale of Delilah:

Here’s the extract:

INNOVATION – What’s new pussycat?

I once read a book entitled “Innovation in HR”, published by an HR institute.   I was moderately excited to receive the book, which was a gift for perceived services of acting as an ‘agent provocateur’ to the profession – by the way that’s ‘irritant’ in English.  You can be sure that, once an HR professional starts speaking in French to you, they are about to be inauthentic.  Imagine my disappointment when I opened the book to find it empty – ha, ha!  ‘Caveat emptor’ I should have replied to keep the foreign language HR intercourse going….

Yet, perhaps that is a little unfair, and I feel I deserve to have my bare bottom thrashed with hawthorn twigs for even having such thoughts!  Nonetheless, I must be brutally truthful, in that this rather long book had very little to say other than ‘be positive’.  This in itself is often only half the story in terms of innovation.  It may be nice to surround yourself with ‘shiny happy people’, but they don’t always succeed in the innovation game.  If Isambard Kingdom Brunel had decided to hold a series of ‘iron horse focus groups’, 360 degree appraisal forums and ‘drop in customer transportation strategy listening sessions’, he would probably have never built the Great Western Railway and the world would have never have discovered Swindon – some good points in this then – oops!  If James Dyson had written a pleasant letter to Hoover explaining his minor concerns with their vacuum cleaner rather than getting fed up and  making one that sucked (in the best sense), we would NOT now have “The Dyson” as a new name for “The Hoover”

In short, innovation in new products and services requires more perspiration than inspiration.  Innovation is not over when the flip chart is full in the brainstorming meeting and everyone has imagined 101 ways to use a paper clip as a labour saving device for nail care in HR.  Cold sweat, blood and sometimes tears are required.

If you want to innovate, know that perspiration matters more than inspiration, and comes AFTER the brainstorming session.  Too many so-called innovation social networks are only concerned with creativity.  This fine as far as it goes.  However, there is evidence to suggest that modern social networking websites are a new displacement activity, replacing ironing, daydreaming and focus groups at work.  In the words of Andy Warhol and Lou Reed “It’s work” that counts.  Toyota stands out by being excellent at execution as well as inspiration.

Punk Rock People Management offers us three lessons on innovation:

  • Perspire more than inspire.  A walk on the wild side to discover new ideas is necessary but never sufficient for profitable innovation.
  • Run the numbers alongside the brainstorming and recycle your thinking until the innovations have been tested to destruction to improve the ratio of new ideas : profitability.
  • If your innovation is more ‘product push’ than ‘market need’, know that you need to work much harder and differently to succeed.

‘Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff’ is available for FREE via the Punk Rock People Management webpage.   If you like this extract, you will LOVE my other books – so ‘BOGOF’ – Buy One and Get One Free !  Contact us to book your next conference keynote based on our heady mixture of business leadership and music.  You can watch a slideshow of some Punk Rock HR women previewing the contents at ‘I Kissed an HR Girl and I Liked it‘.  Big thanks to Lindsay Wakelin Photography and Sue Cook for this.

To finish, here is Rock’n’Roll’s greatest failure John Otway performing Delilah at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)  annual conference to the amazement of 200 HR professionals!  John attempted to innovate by organising his own record-breaking Rock’n’Roll World tour in the style of Spinal Tap, but failed.  This is an innovation story in its own right, more of which will be told in the post on Spinal Tap.


Kissing a fool


Three top Rock’n’Roll business tips – From Abba to Queen and Bananarama

As part of an occasional series of blogs, I will bring you some great tips on business, extrapolated from the lyrics of great rock and pop songs, sometimes wildy so!  There are many more examples in the book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’, acclaimed by Tom Peters.  Today’s Rock’n’Roll Business tips focus on the area of interpersonal relationships.

Rock'n'Roll Wisdom mixed with top business thinking

Let’s start with 70’s Swedish glam classicists Abba with their song ‘Knowing me, knowing you aha’.

In my Rock’n’Roll world, this innocent phrase is an allusion to the concept of ‘emotional intelligence’, as Daniel Goleman puts it.  I’d put EI more plainly as:

‘Living inside your own head AND outside it’

Great leaders / musicians are able to do BOTH i.e. they exhibit personal mastery whilst maintaning a connection with those around them.  Bad leaders / musicians often live inside their own heads, not noticing their impact on others.  Let’s have your thoughts in the comments on ways in which you can develop the systematic habit of inner and outer awareness?

From Freddie Mercury, we get the evergreen hit ‘The Great Pretender’.  What business wisdom can we read into these three words?  Well, it reminds me of the issues of leadership style and authenticity.  Leadership requires us to be a master of style.  Dictator, salesperson, facilitator, confidant, comedian, entertainer, counsellor and so on.  Importantly, you should know your own range so that you don’t have to end up ‘faking it’.  Lou Reed wisely observed “I do me better than anyone else” on the question of authenticity.  What do you consider the practical business implications of Mercury’s cover to be?

Finally, in the world of interpersonal relationships, the ‘how’ is often much more important than the ‘what’.  In other words, the journey is more important than the destination.  It’s what Bananarama sang about in their hit ‘It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it (that’s what gets results)’.  A seemingly trivial point, but one with massive impact if you need to get results through others or influence people to change.   Please share your tips on how you place value on the ‘how’ when working with others in the comments to this blog.

For fun, what might be the ‘hidden business message’ in this song by Abba?

Share your answers on the blog comments and I will award a copy of Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll to the most strange and wonderful one.  Entries close on 31 July 2011.

For more Rock’n’Roll tips visit The Academy of Rock website and click on ‘ROCK WISDOM’ on the front page.  Join the blog to receive regular updates on business mixed with ideas from the world of music.