These Foolish Things

We’re throwing a party on April Fools’ Day to formally mark the release of my 7th book for Bloomsbury Publishing plc, at Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Money Lounge in London. I’d like to invite you all to attend.  It’s FREE but booking is essential via 0207 439 8802.

I will be joined by Professor Adrian Furnham from University College London. Adrian is author of 90 books, an eminent psychologist and writer for the Sunday Times on everything from dating to the dark side of climbing the corporate ladder. He will be interviewing me around “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise”.

May the Creative Force be with you ...

May the Creative Force be with you …

Since it’s April Fool’s Day, Adrian and myself will be discussing aspects of creativity, playfulness and tomfoolery, served up in a heady cocktail with some music to lighten the afternoon. Sir Richard Branson knows that a happy workplace is one where people have fun whilst getting the job done and this session will tickle your funny bones as well as carrying some serious messages about leadership, innovation and creativity at work.

Professor Adrian Furnham - he's no fool

Professor Adrian Furnham – he’s no fool

Booking is essential – Give the team a call on 0207 439 8802.

 

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Improvising into 2016

Improvisation and adaptiveness

My background as a scientist instilled curiosity and the understanding that most of life is a series of experiments. It has been very good for my life as a musician and even better now as a business owner in an age of disruptive change. In a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) business environment, life in a business requires perpetual change and experimentation to find new focal points. This is a subtle but important difference than a “random walk” which can leads to fad surfing and a lack of consolidation of your value. Improvisation and adaptation have been invaluable skillsets, through one of the deepest recessions for many decades. In the last year or so, some of the results are beginning to show from what I did when there was not much to do in terms of paid activity during those times.

Joining Dots

People tell me that much of my longevity as a business comes down to joining the dots between people, passions and purposes. After winning a prize from Sir Richard Branson for my work on leadership last year, this has flourished, through some deliberation and a bit of luck, into writing for Virgin, gaining an interview with Richard for my new book with Bloomsbury and, more recently running events, which blend business excellence with music in Branson’s Virgin Money Lounges, giving me the good fortune to work alongside Class A rock stars and discover their insights into business, life and the universe. I have also forged a partnership with the awesome Ted Coiné (awesome is not a word that I am drawn to as a sober Brit), but Ted does deserve this tag with his exclusive network Open for Business, which brings together 50 thought leaders around the globe as co-collaborators.

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Restarting the engines

This year has finally been one when a number of businesses have started again to use the services of external people after many years of simply treading water whilst people halted projects or suspended the use of outside people to contain costs. We’ve been fortunate to deliver a range of projects from business reviews, facilitated strategy summits to leadership and innovation conferences for companies as diverse as FujiFilm, MSD, University College London, Bentley and Roche in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Denmark, Germany and Poland. I was also surprised to receive requests for consultancy projects from The Welsh Assembly, Renault-Nissan and Alstom Transport during the year.

Private joys

I believe that we work best when we do what we love. In my case that means occasionally doing things that my colleagues tell me are dream jobs. Amongst the private joys I’ve had in 2015, I’d mention these:

1. Taking BBC Business correspondent Robert Peston to a P-Funk concert with George Clinton and subsequently writing him a song for his departure from the BBC in support of Cancer Research UK. Check “Pestonomics” out here:

2. Interviewing John Mayall, the Godfather of the Blues, Prince’s sax player, Marcus Anderson and Prince’s first lady, Sheila E, about flow, improvisation, music and a range of other topics. I was delighted to find that Sheila had previously seen my book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” – just an incredible result from delivering a copy of the book to Prince some 8 years ago and proof positive of the value of networking. Check Sheila’s interview out here:

3. Performing on stage at London’s Borderline with Bernie Tormé, Ozzy Osbourne and Ian Gillan’s guitarist. Bernie was extremely kind in crediting me for having contributed to the reinvention of his career alongside Arthur Brown and Ginger Wildheart, a great honour and a privilege for someone who takes no prisoners. Here’s the 3 minute rehearsal of his song “Party’s Over”:

4. A great joy was recording four songs as a tribute to my good friend Bill Nelson, who has inspired the likes of Kate Bush, David Bowie, Brian Eno, Brian May at al. Bill has been a constant source of inspiration and wisdom for over 40 years of my life and remains to this day a permanent flame when the lights go out from time to time. Check out the Be-Bop Deluxe song “Crying to the Sky”, which was itself an homage to Jimi Hendrix. Also one of my earliest musical influences from Bill’s band Be-Bop Deluxe “Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape”, written about Bill’s home area. Recording these songs was not an idle musical adventure. Through my advert for musicians, the project introduced me to Robert Craven, Virgin author and business speaker, also a Bill Nelson nut. I had already known of Robert through his work at The Director’s Centre but we had not met. To misquote Be-Bop Deluxe, the meeting was “Made In Heaven” and Robert and I are planning some collaborations for 2016.

5. I was fortunate to have played a small part in helping Patti Russo reinvent her career in the PME (Post Meatloaf Era). I enjoyed her performances with Spike Edney and the SAS band immensely but the high point was seeing her perform solo at The Opera House at Buxton where she gave a spine tingling performance of her song “One Door Opens”.

Public disappointments

The VUCA environment of the last few years have seen more window shoppers than usual and turbulence has just more or less cancelled much of my work for 2016, due to a merger at Pfizer-Allergan, an internal reorganisation and a persistent timewaster, who shall go un-named at the moment, since I am presently trying to mediate over the matter. No matter how old I get, I have not yet invented a foolproof way to spot fools in advance of them fooling me into giving my time for free. Hey ho, I guess that the alternative is to develop greater resilience!

My biggest mistake in 2015 was when I was approached by a chap called Mike Waterton, who rolled up in a Bentley seeking advice on how to transform his career from the boss of a recruitment agency into a noted author and speaker. I saw no reason to doubt his credentials (My wife tells me I trust everyone!) A while later, he told me he was unable to pay for the services I had provided as his business had gone into liquidation. Later on, he was accused in a local newspaper of pimping out his 25 year old girlfriend at a hotel in Kent! I generally consider myself to be a good judge of character, but I guess you never can tell … ! The FBI (Foolish Businessman Indicator) would have come in handy! It’s the first bad debt I have had in 21 years of business and I cannot understand how I did not spot the alarm bells earlier. It turns out that Mike is the victim of the seductive argument that you can have everything you want in life, as suggested in the book “The Secret” and beautifully parodied in “Family Guy” when Brian the dog decides to turn himself into a personal development guru and writes a book called “Wish It, Want It, Do It“:

FG

Click on the picture to see an excerpt of this brilliant piece of satire on The Law of Attraction

As a result of becoming indoctrinated by “The Secret” Mike bought the Bentley without realising that he would bankrupt his business in the process. His wife then left him after he acquired a young girl that appeared to come with the car. Lots of other people lost their jobs and earnings as a result of his self-obsessed strategy, informed by one of his mantras – “Think only of Yourself”, which is morally bankrupt and which bankrupted him and others who his life connected with. It’s not what I advised him to do and I’m disappointed that (a) he was economical with the truth about his situation and (b) that I was not able to persuade him to take a different course of action. I’d cautioned him about his strategy, suggesting that he built on his strengths rather than attempting to build a business on someone else’s brand, where he had no authority platform to operate from. Unfortunately, my advice turned out to be correct, but he also took advice from his girlfriend, who encouraged him to reach for the stars. A clear case of what my Mancunian wife calls “Fur Coat, No Knickers”.

Clearly I had little to offer in terms of professional coaching when matched against sex ... one of life's professional disappointments

Clearly I had little to offer in terms of professional coaching when matched against sex … one of life’s professional disappointments

Hopes and fears

“I made it through the wilderness, yeah I made it through” – Madonna

Having come through the recession over 8 years, I come out of it having refined what I do, branded it, become much better networked and with a range of artefacts to show for my efforts, the most precious one of which is a major new book called “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise” for Bloomsbury which I’m very excited about.

Of course, I am 8 years older into the bargain and this occasionally worries me as young things can see such people as irrelevant in a workplace that values apps over application and wisdom. To survive in business in an adaptive environment requires improvisation, curiosity and the willingness to learn new skills without becoming distracted by every shiny new thing that passes you by. As an improvising musician scientist and business owner I feel up for the challenge …

Wishing you a happy and prosperous 2016.

Peter

 

Making better decisions that stick

Introducing the wonderful Dawna Jones from Vancouver.  Dawna is CEO of From Insight to Action, a change management consultancy which helps individuals, teams and organisations escape from tramline thinking that can become embedded into business cultures. She is author of Decision Making for Dummies and writes for The Huffington Post.

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Click on the picture to view the book on Amazon

Dawna kindly interviewed me for as part of her online interview series “The Evolutionary Provocateur podcast”, hosted by Management Issues. Take a listen.

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Click the image to listen to the interview

She says of change management:

“Over a decade ago, I was facilitating an organizational change initiative which made a lurch forward only to settle back as incremental change. Instantly, I realized that business decision makers and underlying beliefs in the culture weren’t adapting fast enough to match the accelerating ecological, climate and social change. Ten years of research into the science and spirit of human performance (and complex systems) gave me greater insight into how to work with the unknown to create greater creativity and resilience in companies and leaders at every level. Brain science tells us that decisions fall into repetitive ruts unless you actively introduce diverse opinions, reflect to learn from assumptions or take other steps to see from many levels and broaden perspective.  Advanced skills to deepen personal and organizational awareness along with simple principles allow greater functionality in complexity. Providing the learning environment to deepen skills personally and collectively is a personal passion of mine.

Dawna

Click on the image to move from Insight to Action

I asked Dawna for some insights into her work:

Making Better Decisions

Peter : What are the hallmarks of companies that make great decisions?

Dawna : They tap into both their intuitive intelligence and their collective intelligence. Transparency and trust are central to providing a growth oriented decision making environment where customers and employees contribute to providing the multiple feedback input required to stay alert to changing developments.

They take time out from being busy to reflect and gain perspective. Without that there is limited to no capacity for foresight – to see what’s coming ahead.

They flex their thinking to fit the situation rather than applying analytical thinking for every situation.

They are highly networked, consequently can keep pace with emerging change.

Peter : I love the idea of using their own intelligence and that of others. This triangulates a complex decision, leading to the best possible outcome rather than the lowest common denominator if done with skill. In a busy world, reflection becomes even more important if there is to be foresight.

Making decisions stick

Peter : As we know, it’s one thing making good decisions, quite another to take other people with you. How do you ensure that people follow their decisions? Why is an outsider essential?

Dawna : A decision not followed is a decision not inspired by a shared common goal. When a decision is forced from the top down, and it has a negative impact on those implementing it, it stands to reason that it won’t inspire the energy required for action. An outsider brings in an objective take on the underlying dynamics so the invisible factors, like cultural beliefs in conflict with the direction, can be identified and reviewed rather than dealing with the undertow created when you’re trying to do something different and it conflicts with what’s always been done before. Most often, this kind of conflict surfaces in behaviour and the temptation is to fix the behaviour. It’s a much deeper dynamic going on that someone not immersed in the environment can detect quickly using intuitive insight.

The importance of reflection and incubation

The importance of reflection and incubation – extract from Decision Making for Dummies – click on the picture to find the book on Amazon

Peter : The concept of undertow resonates strongly with me, reminding me of the lyrics to the song by Suzanne Vega, although clearly the song places a different meaning on the word undertow …. but do we really need an excuse to play a Suzanne Vega song!? 🙂 However, it made me think that the more leaders push, sometimes this produces an equal and opposite reaction from those being ‘pushed’. Leaders must learn to engage and develop collaboration if they want to ‘pull’ instead of ‘push’. There are only a few circumstances when push is of value such as turnarounds and crises. Even then, smart leaders understand that great decisions may come from those closest to the action. You remind me that the outsider sees things that others don’t see and much earlier, allowing an enterprise to correct its decision before it has happened.

Music and the mind

Peter : We talked a lot in the interview you kindly did about music and the mind. Share some of your thinking on the role which music can play in shaping our lives.

Dawna : To me, music is the song of the soul celebrating life in its many emotions. With respect to business, it can serve as a metaphor as you do so well in your work and it can also serve to bring calm to a stressed high pressure environment. Mark Romero’s music, for instance, has the effect of calming and bringing your body into physical coherence meaning you’re able to access your alpha (creativity) state and also gain harmony between the mind and the heart. Certain classical music is used by more enlightened education systems to help students remember their work without needing to exercise recall – That helps those of us have the ability to recall or memorise. None of this has to be set at high volume to work. Low volume works just fine. Music gives us the chance to enrich our creativity (same part of the brain) and stimulate expression.

Work with Dawna and myself on learning at the speed of sound

Work with Dawna and myself on learning at the speed of sound

Peter : I can certainly attest to the memory value of music, having used it over many years to help people excel across a range of circumstances from passing exams to locking in important thoughts into long term memory. I have never visited a country yet where people cannot more or less recite the words to Bohemian Rhapsody, now 40 years old. A pity they don’t always know so much about their company’s mission statements!! 🙂 Having just watched a Queen documentary on television last night it reminded me of attending Hyde Park to see them in 1976 – one truly amazing concert.

Contact Dawna via From Insight to Action if you are interested in making better business decisions. Dawna and I are available for joint projects into 2016 around the world, combining thoughtful Organisation Development with masterclass inputs that blend business ideas with music for maximum engagement and application.

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About the Blogger

Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Check out our books on Amazon which make excellent seasonal gifts. We are currently booking launch events for Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise, a major new book for 2016 with Bloomsbury, featuring exclusive interviews with Sir Richard Branson and Sir James Dyson.

Books x 4

Directing HR

Sex, HR and Rock'n'Roll, a heady cocktail

Sex, HR and Rock’n’Roll, a heady cocktail

I was invited to give the afternoon keynote at the HR Directors Forum, held at Mayer Brown Solicitors in the City the other week.  Here’s a few highlights from the event:

Myths and Riffs of High Performance

The morning kicked off with a big bang from Professor Adrian Furnham, who elegantly blew away some myths surrounding the development of High Performance organisations and people.  Here’s just a few of the key insights:

Adrian released some interesting research on Coaching.  Whilst in general research demonstrates that the vast majority of Coaching is fairly ineffective, he highlighted some conditions under which it works.  Like most things, it all comes down to solid preparation:

  • Ensuring the client is ready to receive the coaching – 40% contribution
  • Getting the relationship right between client and coach – 30% contribution
  • Client expectation that coaching will lead to improvement – 15% contribution
  • The coaches’ repertoire of models / strategies and tools to help the client – 15% contribution

This provided me with great levels of satisfaction and a certain level of smugness!! 🙂 since I always spend a lot of time making sure my clients are fully prepared to benefit from coaching.  We then have an initial session to find out if the ‘chemistry’ will work and I work from a wide palette of approaches to coaching and not just the limited ‘question based approach’ that bedevils the ‘friendly co-pilot’ style of coaching, otherwise known as the ‘dumb leading the blind’.  There is of course a place for purely “Socratic” question based coaching but it is just one approach from a much wider repertoire.

Adrian also dealt a critical blow to the beloved “Nine Box Performance Management model” based on UCL’s detailed research into the model.  Read his new book “High Potential” with Ian MacRae for more insights if you want to do this stuff properly. Adrian also wrote an article on music and leadership for Psychology Today – read it here.

Nine Lives no more ...

Nine Lives no more … read High Potential by clicking on the picture

It also featured superb sessions from Liz Codd, who gave great insights into the realities of assessing leadership potential in an international Asset Management Firm and from John Renz at Novae Group, who also gave a practical example of how to do Coaching well in a business context, giving pragmatic triangulation to Professor Furnham’s ideas

Never Mind the Neuro-Boll … ks …

The most difficult session was an input on neuroscience and HR.  Admittedly, it was far too short to give any real opportunity to dig into the topic so I have some sympathy for the speaker.  My main difficulty with the session is that there was very little that did anything more than to reinforce some well known truths from over 100 years of social research on the topic by Herzberg, Victor Vroom et al. We already know that money doesn’t satisfy and that recognition is more important than reward.  We also know that the alignment of goals with personal motivations matters for high performance.  The speaker admitted that the addition of the word “neuro” to just about everything is simply an example of “old wine in new bottles”.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a scientist by original profession and neuroscience is an important scientific development, but I agreed with her that we must be careful to avoid strapping it on to just about everything.

Be skeptical when being sold neuro - bollocks

Be skeptical when being sold neuro – bollocks

I fought the Law, and the Law won …

Plus a superb session from a Lawyer – YES, a superb session from a Lawyer.  I have suffered the slings and arrows of numerous talks by lawyers when I was Branch Chair and Council Board Member for CIPD, but this was exceptional.  Clear, simple advice and insights from Chris Fisher at Mayer Brown into how companies can protect their intellectual property when people leave plus a range of other topics.

Sex, HR and Rock’n’Roll

The odd ball of the day was the panel session on “Sexism and the City”.  I am a vigorous advocate of diversity in every shape and form, having worked in a meritocracy at the Wellcome Foundation, a company who won four Nobel Prizes for it’s groundbreaking work in medicines for life threatening conditions.  In such a company, the work is much more important than politically correct quotas of black / white, straight / gay, able-bodied / disabled, male / female as a driving force for the selection and development of people.   As a result we had a genuine global village at the company and I found myself wondering whether the square mile was somehow still stuck in the 14th Century?  The session included a rant from a self-confessed “alpha female” who asked for a revolution to introduce female quotas in the City.  There is nothing less persuasive than a single issue protester with a ‘sandwich board’ so it was difficult to hear the sensible arguments that lay beneath it. However there were three other panel members who put forward wider arguments, beyond the outdated idea of bringing back quotas for women in senior positions which has failed over several generations.  After all, do we really think that just transplanting women without the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes into positions is likely to make them shine?  The thinking needs to go much further than this, more along the lines of Professor Charles Handy and Tom Peters’ thought leadership in this area.  Overall, the panel session was provocative and set me thinking about the issues, so it did succeed in its aim of livening up the session before lunch after a long morning.

Adaptation, Improvisation and Organisation

I was asked to deliver the after lunch keynote … where I was rather strangely introduced as “I met some bloke who mixes rock music and business the other week” to a series of slightly confused people who were expecting a thought leader and former CIPD Council Board member rather than a busker.  Oh well, that happens from time to time! 🙂  The session went very well despite losing nearly 1/3 of the time available and with this strange beginning.  Here’s my slide deck on the substantial issues of adaptation, improvisation and organisation in HR.  Contact me to discuss the issues I raised or for a personal walkthrough of the talk, where we looked at personal creativity and is relationship to adaptive or learning companies.

We finish with the main title of my talk:

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

 

SKETCHNOTE BLUE

Simon Heath’s work in corporate graphic illustration – an absolute joy. Contact him for your next conference at sjheath@live.co.uk, or for a full assault on your synapses, hire Simon and myself for some “Art, Business and Rock’n’Roll” at your next conference.  Our next booking is in New York with a Pharmaceutical Company for an innovation summit.

Murmuration

In my last post but one I said a little bit about what I now do for a living. This post expands on that by delving into the topic of sketchnoting.

Sketchnoting is a technique in which one uses imagery and diagrams in note-taking as a way of anchoring memory, concepts, context and themes. Done well, it helps bring content to life in a unique and compelling way. It provides an opportunity for warm humour and leaves a long-lasting impression. You’ll never want to throw your meeting or conference notes away again and I guarantee it’ll be much easier to recall what the hell was going on.

As a consulting artist with a corporate background I am uniquely placed to offer sketchnoting as one of my services. This might see me sitting alongside your senior management team on a strategy retreat, attending a sales meeting or capturing the Chairman’s town…

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The Heart and Soul of OD – An interview with Fuchsia Blue

Fuchsia Blue

The other week, I was privileged to interview Julie Drybrough of Fuchsia Blue.  I am absolutely made up with the work of Simon Heath who sketchnoted the film in his blog at SKETCHNOTE BLUE.  Simon may be contacted at sjheath@live.co.uk for his incredible work.

The dialogue was wide ranging and we learned the following things from this:

About Organisation Development

Boards are often unaware of the habitual patterns of communication.  Julie employs a range of Organisation Development practices to help boards make the most of their time together, such as process observation and feedback.  The Organisation Development Matrix that I have found to be of great use over time is shown below:

The OD Matrix

The OD Matrix

About Dialogue

Dialogue differs from discussion, in so far as it is a much deeper form of conversation that leads to much better results.  It turns out that we have both travelled similar roads around the work of Physicist David Böhm and Peter Senge.  If you want to have more productive conversations about important things, a study and practice of dialogue is essential.

About Emotional Intelligence

Julie differentiates the idea of being human at work from ‘human resources’.  If human beings are our greatest asset, we make a big mistake by treating them as human resources.  This requires leaders to possess and demonstrate emotional intelligence, having mastery of themselves and being aware of their own impact on others.  More on this aspect at Emotional Intelligence.

Julie may be found on Twitter at @fuchsia_blue  and works predominantly in the public sector on Organisational Development Strategies and Practices.  I’m looking forward to finding an opportunity to work collaboratively on dialogue using music in the future.  Let us know if you wish to advance this proposition.  Since Julie hails from Scotland, we must mark the occasion with some music from that Big Country:

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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

Dave Wakely of ASK Europe on Music, Business, Life, The Universe etc.

I interviewed Dave Wakely who works for ASK Europe – a premier HR and coaching consultancy on music, business, life etc.  Dave had kindly given the thumbs up to my books ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’ and the new one – Punk Rock People Management – available for FREE by clicking on the cover below:

Punk Rock People Management - Click the pic for your FREE copy

Firstly Dave, tell me something of what you do for a living?

I manage and edit the ASK blog, providing food for thought for people in a range of HR, L&D and management/leadership roles. My role at ASK is mostly about language and organisational culture: finding and using a public voice for the company that reflects its values and style, but also exploring themes, topics and ideas and posing questions where conventional wisdom seems heavier on the first of those words than the second. (My role here also includes a whole range of other ways in which we put words in front of the wider world. As an occasional sailor, a non-musical metaphor springs to mind: I may not be steering the vessel, but I’m adjusting the cut of the jib and how closely to the wind we sail.)

The remainder of the week I work in web development, scoping and defining website projects, evolving email campaigns, advising on or helping to create content – much of which involves subtly reminding organisations that whoever operates the mouse calls the shots: the web isn’t just broadcasting. Those who don’t work in a similar role would probably be surprised how much of that role consists of asking people about different aspects of their business, including its culture, values and ethics – but I’d counter by saying that you can’t build an effective web presence for a company if you don’t understand that company in the first place. That’s the difference between ‘being present’ and ‘presenting an advert’.

Along the way, I’ve been a poetry librarian, a learning resources database manager, an information officer in many a setting, an author and editor of open learning materials, a senior university administrator, an events organiser: a very 21st century ‘portfolio worker’ CV, although ‘patchwork’ is perhaps closer to the mark than ‘portfolio’. My life is an abstract quilting concept in motion!

What do you gain from music as a metaphor for thinking about business and organisational life

Apart from solo performers (which I shall therefore just duck entirely as an issue!), music is something that requires multiple inputs and some kind of organising principle. (I see even something as general as ‘everyone improvise simultaneously’ as a principle, although I’m aware that I’m the kind of person that starts from a ‘how shall we behave’ point of view – something MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) recently reminded me.

Sometimes music starts with a closely scripted score where everyone’s part is prescribed for them to play, sometimes there’s a general theme and the arrangement at any given point is a matter of interpersonal interaction and negotiation: either way, there are many contributions and at some level an approach to deploying them. If it weren’t for the word ‘music’ at the start of that description, that could easily be a description of work.

Having played in a wide range of musical combinations (including jazz quartets, big bands, orchestras – and working as a session musician), there’s another important element that is about making music rather than about music in the abstract: the relationships between the players. Each group, band or orchestra needs the right mixture of people, just as it needs the right combination of talents; likewise, each musician has situations that either do or don’t inspire, satisfy and so on. (This is the ‘engagement’ issue: if the music, relationships or people don’t inspire, you probably won’t play your best.)  Editors note – too true!

Sticking to popular music, most bands have a culture, a defining spirit, which has arisen from the combination of individuals and their shared values. Although most organisations are perhaps more like backing bands: an entrepreneur (read songwriter/singer/front-person) who develops a repertoire and a style, and builds their outfit around them. How much of their total potential contribution their band members get the opportunity to make might make a good metaphorical question to ask of organisational managers? (In other words, are you giving your staff the opportunity to show what they can really do or add, or are you just directing them? Being a supplier feels rather different to being a colleague, even if – in the context of the relationship – your role is pretty much just to supply. I’d brave a rash conjecture that most people want to give more at work rather than less, as being able to give more makes them feel they have a voice and a contribution to offer.)

How do you use these ideas in your professional life? Any favourite examples?

An interesting question – especially having recently completed a series of psychometric questionnaires, which confirmed or underlined my impression of myself as someone who’s more interested in the potential of collaboration than competition. Amusingly, when I interviewed you in 2009, I referred to Brian Eno’s published diaries and the band James. Another idea I remember from the same book is James’ realisation that “an arrangement is when some of the band stop playing some of the time”.  Editor’s note – only the tiniest prompt needed to play some of Eno’s music:

To me, in any given working situation, there’s probably one approach that will be more appropriate than others: to me, that’s not so different to the idea of identifying which instruments, arranging in which way, would make the most effective soundtrack to the moment. It’s a matter of understanding the particular contribution that different individuals can make and deploying your combined human resources to maximum effect. It also goes back to the point about ‘making music’ rather than music in the abstract: the masterful conductor knows how to work not just with music but with the musicians. If you want a great example of how someone helped (you could even say ‘lead’) a group of people to realise and actualise their potential, I think George Martin’s work with The Beatles is a classic case. ‘Produced’ is a very broad adjective, that doesn’t convey the other roles – adviser, arranger, and motivator are just some. He could have simply adopted a managerial line, but he chose to adopt more of a coach’s role. Some of the methods may have stretched a few envelopes, but not as far as they were stretched by the money that subsequently rolled in: there can’t have been too much arguing about the bottom line. If he had been more interested in efficiency and control, Sir George could, of course, just have typed up some sheet music and ordered them to play it …

Kant said that music is the language of the emotions.  How does music affect our emotional lives and what implications does that have for people in business and organisational life?

I had to pause and read around on Kant before replying, but found a reference to him classifying instrumental music as “more pleasure than culture” – without words, it can appeal to our senses but not to reason. My understanding is that he was awed by its ability to convey or evoke emotion, but had no role as a conduit for ideas. (Kant lived, of course, many years before Late Junction on Radio 3 or the John Peel Show, so perhaps we can forgive him?)

Within minutes of arriving home in the evening, two things will happen: I will put on the kettle, and I will put on music. There are a few thousand CDs in the house, but I’ll spend a few minutes while my tea brews to select something that gives voice to a feeling that has been suppressed throughout the day, or that has been invoked by the day, or to a feeling the day has generated that needs something to counter-act it. My partner has little interest in music, but gets an instant emotional update as he crosses the threshold from whatever is coming out of the speakers in the kitchen. I think of it as akin to hydration: you have water when you’re thirsty, you play fado when you’re rueful or wistful, and you play kora music when you’re optimistic and thoughtful (or you aren’t but you’d like to be). It’s a restoration of emotional balance, or a purging of an imbalance of one emotion.

My musical choices are overwhelmingly instrumental, which might either offend Kant or lead him to dismiss me as tasteless or shallow. That’s fine: he could still stay for a cup of tea, but we’d have to agree to differ. I have nothing against vocal music per se, but I’m too interested in language to accept perfunctory twaddle: I demand a decent lyric.

As individuals, identifying something that we can use to help us to maintain our personal emotional poise has obvious value; this is harder to think through in an organisational context – one person’s ideal background music is another’s fingernails down the blackboard moment. (I’ve promised not to play that John Surman CD in the office again: the finance team are still recovering.) I cringe a little at the idea of the utility of music, but I can’t deny that I do it.

In terms of implications for organisational life, anything that can encourage us to recognise our impact on others – and help us to deal with their impact on us – has merit in itself. (A couple of organisations I’ve worked with have had no problem with people who rarely have to answer phones working with headphones, choosing their own soundtrack. Others would sternly ban this as inappropriate, but if it helps personal productivity and improves people’s mood I’m not sure I can see the harm.)

More broadly, the example of the impact and importance of something as hard-to-define and non-verbal as ‘atmosphere’ is probably a neglected aspect of working life: it was interesting to note that The Work Foundation highlighted a sense of team atmosphere as a common attribute of those leaders most admired by those who work for them.

Music is one of those things that remind us that human beings cannot be boiled down to process manuals, spreadsheets, job definitions and bottom lines: there are ineffable aspects to us that we should not ignore. Even at the broadest level, if the existence of music can remind us that our moods and emotional tone affect others, then that’s a valuable lesson. And very few valuable lessons come with the bonus of a beautiful tune.

What can we learn from the music business about business in general?  More importantly, what should we NOT learn from the music business about business in general?

A hard question, having kept my distance from the music business for many years, although I can’t help but feel that mainstream business could probably draw more and better lessons from the art form than from the industry that has evolved around it. I think we can safely learn that management and creativity are distinct skills, and that the music business requires a balance of both. I’d like to think we can learn that authentic branding trounces manufactured branding every day of the week, but I very much doubt that we can. And the more shameless examples of amateurism or lack of skill – and ethics – in the music business are something we’d do well to avoid importing into other sectors.

It’s very difficult to generalise about a business that embraces everything from The Saturdays to Radiohead, Leonard Cohen to Justin Bieber, indie-labels to global corporations and many other dichotomies. But I’m not too sure it generally provides a healthy model in its treatment of its ‘talent’: “build ‘em up, milk ‘em, drop ‘em” and an urgent sense of churn aren’t characteristics that bode well. Each golden goose is expected to lay all its eggs as quickly as possible and then surrender to the stockpot, to be replaced by the next goose: any development on the goose’s part seems to be coincidental, accidental or self-motivated – at least in the mainstream.

Beware laying all your eggs in one session ...

The cricketer Ed Smith has said some very interesting things about striking a balance between the passionate amateur and the schooled, consistent but less inspiring professional, and about the dangers of putting academies on some kind of pedestal. I’m more concerned by the business people within the music industry than the performers, too many of whom seem to be treated shoddily. As an industry, it’s parasitic: the business depends on the performers, without whom there’s no product.

The story of the music business in response to the rise of the net and the iPod is also a powerful lesson in the importance of keeping an eye on the longer-term and being as interested in that as in maintaining an urgent sense of churn in the present. (I was going to say something about the potency of adolescent dreams of glory, but even if it’s harsh it’s fair to say that those are just as prevalent in many other sectors.) It’ll be interesting to see how musicians use the net and structure their careers in future – I think there’s an unexplored parallel there with knowledge workers and their relationship with employing organisations.

It is thought that attention spans have shortened in a world bombarded by media of all sorts.  Perhaps that plays itself out in a nation of people that prefer to consume ‘The X-Factor’ over progressive rock that requires longer and more detailed attention.  What do you think to this?  What might be the implications for people working in the field of human development?

I think you have a good point, and I think we see its effects in many ways – the familiar death by PowerPoint syndrome, the number of times any writer/editor is encouraged to use bullet lists (‘people won’t read this stuff …’), the tickertape nature of rolling news. Lots of pans with lots of flashes in them, and a comparative lack of metaphorical hearty slow-cooked stews. I do see a contemporary world more fascinated by – and expectant of – the ‘instant’ than 20 years ago: I suspect a lot of this is down to technology and the abundance (of ‘information’, to flatter some of it) that it’s enabled us to generate. Waiting more than a few minutes for something now feels not just like an eternity, but an affront. (One of the many points made in Michael Bywater’s excellent and very funny Big Babies, and a point explored more fully in Michael Foley’s The Age of Absurdity.)

As someone primarily concerned with communication, I can understand the pressures that have produced a culture that’s more heavily slanted to the soundbite, the headline, the nugget, although it’s hard not to be concerned that all this haste might be coming at the price of not just more in-depth understanding, but more especially of nuance and of perspective. We seem more interested in the idea of having news 24 hours a day than in the content of that continuous news (often the same handful of 3 minute clips circulating on a playlist that shifts slowly as the day goes by). While I wonder if I’m turning into a Grumpy Old Man, the questioning approach of such tech-literate commentators as Sherry Turkle and Jaron Lanier makes me feel less alone. And I haven’t forgotten a very ahead-of-the- curve book by Marshall McLuhan’s son Eric, Electric Language, that was first published back in 1998 – and mentioned in an earlier blog – that now feels like a topic in need of a significant update.

(The two things that have struck me most about ‘The X-Factor’ have been the umbrage taken at that cover version of ‘Hallelujah’ – and seeing a performance as fine as Jeff Buckley’s version in the singles chart was an uplifting communal response – but also the lack of longevity of most of the winners. The programme has always struck me as a firework display: buckets of wow, whizz and bang, but precious little left the following morning beyond a lingering bad smell. There’s an immense urgency and drama about something that really doesn’t matter that much, except to the contestants and the programme owners, which seems emblematic of rather too much of our times. )

From the work we do at ASK, in terms of implications for human development, we’re conscious that it’s the transfer of learning that ultimately delivers value and improved performance – both for the individual and the organisation – but that this (and the techniques used to enhance it) takes time. Organisational impatience for instant results means that outcomes are measured at the earliest opportunity (Kirkpatrick’s Level 1 – the proverbial ‘happy sheet’), and therefore don’t measure appropriately. What organisations want is the long-term impact of the learning event, but what they measure is the degree of satisfaction with the event itself. Misleading data feeds back into the process, and allowing time for transfer – or factoring in its importance – take a backseat. I’m not sure how we can counter this tendency – which impacts on more than our approach to learning and training: perhaps the answer is a new series of motivational posters. (“There is no F in magic bullet” springs to mind.) Suggesting an organisational equivalent to the Slow Food movement sounds both fatuous and pretentious – and implies there’s a merit in taking your time for its own sake – but I think most of us would benefit from more frequent reminders that there are multiple timescales in life and that something we might give more attention to is the signal to noise ratio in the ‘messages’ we receive.

Finally, tell me about your personal music tastes.  What do you gain from music, both personally and professionally?

My own musical tastes are free-ranging, as colleagues would probably agree. (I often get Amazon to deliver CDs to the ASK Office to save all those cards through the door, and most weeks 3 or 4 albums will arrive. They tend to fall into the jazz or world music categories more than pop and rock, and I have some particular loves (30s/40s jazz songs, fado, Nuevo flamenco, modern tango, gypsy jazz, ambient electronics, a good torch song) and total blindspots (reggae, ‘African desert blues’, klezmer and Celtic folk – the last of which makes me cringe on impact). This week’s stack includes Lokkhi Terra (who describe themselves as ‘Banglafrolatinjazz’), Argentine composer Guillermo Klein, Portuguese guitar maestro Carlos Paredes, Swiss guitarist Nicolas Meier who’s heavily influenced by Turkish folk music, and a Lebanese oud trio, Le Trio Joubran. I’m as obsessive about the guitar as about music, so everything has a plucked stringed instrument of some kind involved, but the styles range very broadly – musically and geographically. Two of these are performers I saw at this year’s WOMAD Festival, where I remember a conversation with an old friend – a singer – about what drew us to different musicians. For her, possibly as one who loves to dance, it’s often a rhythmic pulse, while for me it’s almost always a captivating melody or an interesting way with harmony. (I dance like an Englishman – badly and rarely – so a beat is not enough.) She wants to be moved, while I want to be captivated and entranced.

If I could put fully into words what I get personally from music, I’d have linguistic powers of such astonishing prowess I might be tempted to abandon music – but its music’s ability to go beyond words and to evoke emotions, situations or places that is so compelling. It’s almost like our sense of smell – the way fresh bread can bring back the corner baker’s shop from your childhood, or a particular flower’s scent can recall a grandmother. There are pieces of music that made such an impact the first time I heard them, I could describe exactly where I was when I first heard them – even the stranger stood in front of me in the crowd and the temperature of the room. If we could do that so powerfully with words, music might become redundant!

Professionally, I think I’ve gained at two levels. Given the chance, there will be background music where and while I work, and the soundtrack can really influence the mood: I can enhance – or undermine – my own performance depending on my choices on the day. Less superficially, I think music has taught me about team-work and collaboration, about knowing that there are times to play to the gallery and times to provide thoughtful unobtrusive accompaniment. And that not playing, or providing an unconventional counterpoint, or combining instruments in different are all available options. And, of course, that even the most exquisite harp and flute duet is a waste if your audience want Status Quo, burgers and a knees-up. (No problem, but can the harpist blag it on a Telecaster or how adept is the flautist with a pair of BarBQ tongs?) It’s that point about making music again, but it’s about using your ears as well as your instrument: musicians don’t just play together, they listen very closely to each other too. Might this be their biggest lesson to humanity?

Well, I don’t think I can follow that Dave – thanks everso for your time and we’ll finish with one of the artists you have mentioned here. In the spirit of what Dave has said re premature evaluation, let’s give this piece its proper time and space:

Finally, on the subject of the pace of business life and the need to balance this with life experiences that require more gradual and careful attention, here’s a plug for a one-off concert taking place on October 01 by the musical genius Bill Nelson.  Bill produces beautiful soundscapes mixing electronica with his virtuoso guitar work.  Just a few tickets left.  Here is the master at work at the ‘Sensoria’ art festival in Sheffield earlier this year: