Scotland The Brave

Music and the arts have been a staple of protest and their messages reach people much better than a spreadsheet. I’m delighted to have helped three Scottish National Party MP’s to sing “500 Miles” by The Proclaimers opposite Theresa May’s house in Downing Street the other day. Whilst I don’t want Scotland to leave the UK and nor do I want the UK to leave the EU, let’s try seeing the current state of affairs as it looks from Scotland and in 2019. First, check the SNP MP’s rockin’ out on Downing Street:

As far as I can see, Scotland’s choice if the UK leaves the EU will be:

A – Putting Scotland at the centre of its nearest and largest world market, whilst ALSO being able to trade with England as a full member of the EU.  It is indeed what Theresa May called the “having your cake and eat it too strategy”, except, in Scotland’s case, it would be true.

B – Joining what remains of the UK (probably England and possibly minus London, as recent events show) as “Little Britain” with a WTO style “deal or no deal”.

As such Nicola Sturgeon is quite right to look after the interests of the Scottish people by allowing them to have their say once the UK has revealed what kind of Brexit we are having (Red, White and Blue, Clean, Dirty, a “Brexity” kind of Brexit and so on … !! )

Critics also say that the Scottish referendum was a once in a lifetime affair and we cannot keep having them. Whilst I agree that the continual referenda are inconsistent with having a life and stable Government, on this occasion, Scotland’s vote in 2014 assumed that they would stay in the UK as a member of The EU. Our Brexit decision nullifies that position and Scotland mostly voted to stay in the EU so it is perfectly reasonable for Nicola Sturgeon to test the new decision.

The SNP MP’s, a dog and a random Viking, led by John McNally on the pavement opposite Mother Theresa’s house

Help Scotland defend itself from “Hard Boiled Brexit” – Click on the picture to help

Come on down to Richmond Terrace, opposite Downing Street every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6 – 9 pm to sing, chant, chat or just enjoy the frolics. Join the Facebook Group and find them on Twitter. Last week we had “Boris Johnson” singing Uptown Funk with a bunch of French students carrying a Breton flag. Strange things happen outside Theresa May’s House …

I must confess that I find it bizarre in the extreme that our elected MP’s felt compelled to reject a public vote on the naming of a Royal Navy ship as Boaty McBoatface, but compelled to accept an advisory referendum informed by gross lies on an issue of strategic importance to the country.  I think that they may seriously need some help in the area of strategy and decision-making …

Join us this Saturday on the StopBrexit March.  Tweet about it using the #StopBrexit hashtag and join our Tweetup this evening Tuesday 21 March from 6-9 pm via AcademyofRock using hashtags #Scotland #ScotlandinEurope #No10Vigil

Brexit Breaks Britain


Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, helping companies develop sensible strategies to give them sustainable leadership through OD / high-level Facilitation and Coaching. He also heads The Academy of Rock, offering keynotes and conference designs that blend business excellence with the power of music. Check his books out on Amazon:



Business Leadership Rocks Warsaw

I was delighted to travel to Warsaw to deliver a Leadership Programme in partnership with The Pure Sky Club, Bentley, Lafarge, Businessman Today, Legimi, AntyRadio and Quadrilion Art Gallery. Our agenda was:

The Music of Business – exploring parallel lessons between music and business.

Far from the madding crowd

Far from the madding crowd – with Paul Cowen, Agnieszka Kupczynski, Filip Sobiecki and Brian McBride

Personal Transformation – delivered by Federico Tonetti, Director General, Lafarge. Lafarge is well known as a manufacturer of cement products but even its business model has been rocked to the foundations by disruptive forces. Federico presented a compelling vision of transformation and explained how it could be translated into a corporate context.

In my Madonna hed gear - at the Pure Sky Club - photos by Piotr Myzskowski

In my Madonna head gear – at the Pure Sky Club – photos by Piotr Myzskowski

The Mathematics of Trust – delivered by Sebastian Kotow, Quadrilion Art Gallery. Sebastian is a business psychologist with specific interests in management decision making and bias.

Punk Rock People Management – a look at the strategic and practical management of people through the medium of punk rock – shorter, simpler and more authentic business and HR.

The madding crowd at the aftershow at Pure Sky Club

The madding crowd at the aftershow at Pure Sky Club

The Virgin Way – a look at the Culture and Leadership practices of the Virgin group, informed by the work I’ve done for Virgin in the last year or so.

Plus an exclusive gala dinner at The Pure Sky Club hosted by Paul Cowen, a panel session hosted by Brian Allan and an after party featuring the best Polish rock bands in the capital.

Here’s one of the slide decks from the event and a video from the warm up event at Quadrilion:

I’m most grateful to Brian Allan, Malgorzata Krukowska, Filp Sobieki, Sebastian Kotow and Paul Cowen for arranging everything.

Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Author of eight books on leadership and creativity as it applies to business. His latest offerings “Punk Rock People Management” – 2nd Edition and a NEW edition of “The Music of Business” may be ordered now.

Connect with us on our Linkedin Company Page and join our group The Music of Business where we discuss parallel lessons from Business and Music.

A new book from a dirty old town


I’m delighted to have been asked to host the book launch event of “Do It Yourself – A History of Music in Medway” by Stephe Morris next Thursday April 23rd at The Barge in Gillingham, a well known music venue in the area.

Medway, Mersey and Mississippi share a river and mud but perhaps that’s where the comparisons must end, although the river Medway did produce Chicory Tip, Billy Childish, Judge Dread, Wreckless Eric, Tracy Emin, Zandra Rhodes, Charles Dickens and Kelly Brook. It also produced David Frost, who attended the same school as I did but who escaped the towns as quickly as possible to the more cultured Cambridge.

gq awards inside arrivals 090909

They could not get Kelly Brook to host the launch so they got me instead – sincere apologies

Romanticism? Perhaps. Yet, as one reviewer points out there are little record shops in Texas that have a Medway section, and big ones in Hollywood that have one too, yet none have sections from the “twin rock towns” of Little Milton (Oxon), Milton Keynes and Horsted Keynes.

On the evening we’ll be receiving several readings from Stephe, I will be explaining how I replaced one of our drummers with a spin drier and there will be performances from several of the acts that feature in the book, including the great Nick Hughes, who fronted punk band Gash and who I performed with in glam pop art combo Cenét Rox. I will be performing a post punk sonic performance painting called “Beyond These Towns The Sweetest Dreams” in support of the book launch and selling copies of Punk Rock People Management and the new edition of The Music of Business if it is available. Robert Peston, the BBC’s Economics Editor is the latest person to receive a copy of Punk Rock HR last night when we took him to see The Godfather of Funk, Mr George Clinton.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 12.10.38

From Spin Driers, to The Cowpokers, Music and Business – with Nick Hughes

So, come on down to The Barge, Layfield Street, Gillingham ME7 2QY next Thursday 23rd April at 8 pm for a cabaret of spoken word, music and mayhem. Bring your spin drier. We finish with some post punk prattling from the Pogues:


Our new book on Leadership, Innovation and Creativity is scheduled for 2016 release.

In the meantime, do order your copy of the NEW edition of “The Music of Business” – Parallel lessons on Business from Music.

Come to our next showcase event June 9th with The Godfather of Punk, Mr Richard Strange.

Punk Rock HR – A Manifesto for Better HR Strategy and Practice

I was asked by Steve Browne for a post that summed up my thoughts on how HR can get better.  Steve is Executive Director at La Rosa’s Pizza in the US and is a massive HR and rock music radical.  So here is my post with some background as to why I feel able to comment on such matters for my US cousins.

Having spent many years running the Kent Branch of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the UK, acting as a board member of their Council, working in HR for a Pharmaceutical Company and teaching Strategic HRM at MBA level, I had an extended period to study HR strategy and practice from the viewpoints of my original careers as a scientist and innovation leader. As a result, I wrote a manifesto for HR transformation in a book called “Punk Rock People Management”.  In case you are wondering if this requires HR pros to pogo whilst doing staff appraisals, relax! The “Punk Rock” aspect of the title simply refers to three underlying principles of the punk rock phenomenon that apply to good HR strategy and practice:

SimplicitySimplification in punk was about three chords or even less.  Lou Reed once claimed that anything more than three chords is jazz.  Likewise, good HR and great leaders make the complex compellingly simple. If HR is overly complex it’s no surprise if managers reach for their own versions of policies and procedures.

Keep it simple

BrevityBrevity in punk was exactly what it said on the tin. The Ramones managed to get their message across in just over two minutes and some of Wire’s early recordings coming in at under one minute, compared with the neo classical 20 minute overtures that characterised Prog Rock (Make no mistake, I’m a big Prog Rock fan as well, but we’re not here to discuss musical tastes).  To misquote Albert Einstein good HR keeps things as short as they need to be but no shorter …

Keep it short

AuthenticityAt punk’s core was the idea of telling it like it is. Good HR also keeps things real.  In practice the great HR professional speaks in the language of the business they serve rather than hiding behind HR jargon.  Jargon is a natural feature of all professions, but when it excludes rather than engages it has lost its purpose as a kind of ‘shorthand’.

Keep it real

Authenticity Lou Reed Annie Lennox

I was speaking with Ron Thomas, CEO of Great Place to Work, in the Gulf just recently. We discussed some other qualities that characterise great HR, amongst them:

Understand the business – Good HR professionals align the HR strategy and tactics with the long-term business imperatives.  It’s what I call the “HR Six Pack”:

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 17.23.04

The HR Six Pack – not modelled here by Iggy Pop …

Understand the numbers – Business starts with the financials rather than the appraisal process etc. A grip on the numbers gives you the context to make better HR decisions by fact rather than guesswork. HR professionals also need to be data savvy rather than leaving that to the IT or finance professionals.

Understand the context – You’ve got all your HR / Business qualifications right? So why isn’t the CEO wanting to implement the 9 box model, 360 degree appraisals and so on?  Business schools offer an idealized view of how things should be at work, but work rarely works like that. Successful HR professionals understand context and adopt a “best fit” approach, seizing opportunities to make their workplaces great and understanding the nuance of time and timing. This is usually superior than attempting to plug in “best practice” elements without considering the context, rather akin to attempting a kidney transplant without considering the recipient.

For more on subjects such as recruitment, induction, engagement, rewards, appraisal, promotion, innovation, training, conflict, exit and so on pick up a copy of “Punk Rock People Management” or attend one of our Music and Business keynotes or masterclasses.



Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with the wisdom of the street via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE. Connect with us on our Linkedin Company Page and join our group The Music of Business where we discuss parallel lessons from Business and Music.

Contact him via

Talking with the taxman about economics

I met Billy Bragg the other week. What a great pleasure, having seen him perform many times over the years. Lest we forget, here’s one of his most beautiful love songs:

Billy was talking about the idea of Power and Responsibility at the RSA and I managed to pick a copy of his book “The Progressive Patriot” up whilst swapping it for a copy my book Punk Rock People Management along with a badge and plectrum ( I realise this probably sounds like an “Alan Partridge Tie and Blazer combination pack” as I write the sentence 🙂  Bragg turns up in the chapter on Unions and he seemed pleased to receive a book about a snappier and more authentic approach to HR and business.


Check out Bragg’s catalogue of work by clicking the picture

Here’s some of the stand-out takeaways for me:

  • We need much better ways to engage people with decisions that affect them
  • Current ways of voting cause a large proportion of the population to disengage with politics and politicians on all sides
  • The gap between rich and poor has increased exponentially since 1979, independent of which Government has been in power
  • The only thing the 1% fear is the 99% getting organised
  • Social media offers a way to increase meaningful participation in society, but it also presents significant barriers

Here’s the full lecture below, including the question from yours truly.  In private conversation with Billy we discussed the idea that it’s possible to get much greater levels of engagement by posting a cat picture on Facebook than it is a discussion about economics etc. !

Cool for Cats on Facebook

Cool for Cats on Facebook

Bragg’s book The Progressive Patriot is a superb read.  We leave with another piece of his music and my own contribution to the poetry of economics via the video for my song “Fiscal Cliff”:

A great read whichever side you are on ..

A great read whichever side you are on .. Click on the picture to find out more

Disruptive Innovation : 3 Lessons from Punk Rock

On Thursday May 16th we take to the high seas in the same way as the Sex Pistols did on their Jubilee boat trip in 1977:

Friggin' in the Riggin'  - The Sex Pistols on board in 1977

Friggin’ in the Riggin’ – The Sex Pistols on board in 1977

Our trip takes us back to a point in history when the steady state of music was disrupted by Punk Rock.  Punk grabbed Prog Rock and Glam by their crown jewels and reduced them to a quivering mass.  As a self confessed lover of Genesis, Pink Floyd, T.REX, Bowie etc. I also loved the energy that punk brought back into music and its ability to wake up the establishment.  Given that there is much talk of disruptive innovation in today’s management landscape, can we learn anything from the realm of punk rock?  This is a theme I’m taking up with 250 Senior Public Sector HR Leaders and CEO’s this Friday, so wish me luck.  I’m expecting to be about as popular as Johnny Rotten on the Bill Grundy Show! 🙂  Lest we forget – bad language warning!

Here are 3 transferable lessons for business innovation from punk rock:

  1. Punk was all about simplicity and brevity.  Businesses must aspire to the same qualities when dealing with their end users, even if their technologies and processes are complex.  In a busy world, simplicity and brevity are watchwords of success.
  2. Punk destroyed itself in the blink of an eye.  This is NOT a transferable lesson.  Successful businesses are sustainable rather than one hit wonders.
  3. People talk of the need for disruptive innovation, yet punk was too disruptive for some and this led to its destruction by the establishment.  The corollary of this is that, if a product or service is perceived as too ‘dissonant’ with existing products or services, it may not be adopted.

There ain’t half been some clever bastards – The Blockheads from Left to Right : Mick Gallagher, Peter Cook, Chaz Jankel, John Turnbull, Derek Hussey

I had the good fortune to interview “The Blockheads” of Ian Dury fame for a TV programme last week.  It was a rare pleasure to interview Mick Gallagher, who has worked with Ian Dury and The Clash, plus Sir Paul Mc Cartney, Robbie Williams, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart.  Clearly Mick managed to adapt from punk to the mainstream and this probably accounts for his durability as a musician.  The parallel lessons are clear for businesses:

  • Adapt or die
  • Be Nimble
  • Be Quick

We have some innovation events coming up soon.  The first of these, aptly titled “Innovation, Business and Punk Rock” is on a historic lightship on May 16th in Kent.  The event is sponsored by The University of Kent and in collaboration with The Chartered Management Institute, The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply and The Open University Business School.  Details below:

p.s. If you are attending the Public Sector leadership conference on April 19, you have been warned! 🙂

Indecent Proposals

Desperate times make people do desperate things and this week I’ve produced a roundup of strange and bizarre business practices that stand out head and shoulders below the water line for business ethics.

Indecent proposals occur when there is dishonesty in a contract

Indecent proposals occur when there is dishonesty in a contract

Starting with Kent County Council, who are normally held to be good employers with decent standards and so on.  They seem to have lost the plot on this occasion, having sent a tender out for some services which a colleague applied for.  An extremely long tender document was sent with explicit and transparent criteria for selecting the winning bid:

  • Proven track record in leading successful change management projects
  • Experience of working with a range of statutory and independent organisations
  • Knowledge of mental health and knowledge of substance misuse issues

After spending considerable time preparing the proposal, a letter was then received, telling my colleague that they had lost the bid due to a ‘hidden’ fourth criterion:

The real criterion for selection

The real criterion for selection

Somewhat frustrating for an organisation that prides itself on transparency and so on.  There was no feedback on whether my colleague had met the other criteria, thus there was very little they could learn from the time they had spent on this “indecent proposal”.  What a waste:

Staying with local government, I heard that Medway Council are about to put their workforce on ‘zero hours contracts’ – this broadly means that staff will have no job security.  I am self employed and have therefore signed up to the idea of being hired and used for time limited projects – that’s what I do and my security derives from being able to have a variety of clients and so on.  However, many people in employment join an organisation partly for some sense of security re paying the mortgage and so on.  HR people talk of engagement and getting ‘discretionary effort’ from people.  In my long experience, taking away their ‘Maslow’ security needs is one surefire way of doing the opposite.  Talking to a friend who is a dinner lady, she reported bitterly:

As part of Medway’s ‘Better For Less’ programme, we have had our hours cut, but are expected to cook the same amount of food in that time.  They sent ‘potato consultants’ in to tell me that I could peel the potatoes in 8.5 minutes instead of the 10 that I take.  I used to stay extra hours to get things done.  That’s all stopping.  So there will be ‘less’ but it will not be ‘better’.

Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 09.23.01

Medway Council’s staff now have the worst of all worlds:  A single paymaster, but with zero job security and the possibility of instant dismissal without any employment rights.  Yet another “indecent proposal”.  I predict a riot:

Incidentally, I have just been sent this artist’s impression of a potato consultant:

Half Consultant, Half Potato - original photo at

Half Consultant, Half Potato – original photo at

Finally, I recently did a project for boutique outsourcing Accountancy and HR consultancy RSM Tenon.  The 7th biggest accounting firm in the UK.  Again, a respected firm according to their own website.  The project was to mediate in a dispute and I was informed that my budget was £3000.  I had nearly completed the work when their consultant called up to tell me that they had changed their mind and only wanted to pay £2000!  I reminded them that “The Only Way is Ethics”.

RSM Tenon - The only way is Ethics

RSM Tenon – The only way is Ethics

After a bit of straight talk, things were grudgingly settled, although I ended up doing some of the work for free, in an attempt to stay close to their “revised” budget.  It turns out that RSM Tenon made £100M loss last year and now have a £94 M overdraft to help them continue in business.  No wonder they are keen to slash contracts after completion! 🙂  Strange though for an accountancy firm to make a massive loss and not wish to pay their bills, as their main business is accountancy!  My attempts to help RSM Tenon stay within budget would prove later to be a “Big Mistake” in the words of Natalie Imbruglia

A couple of months later, I’d been asked to conduct some further work for RSM Tenon.  This required attendance at a tribunal hearing which I was told I must reserve the dates for and could not book alternative work.  These were then cancelled at very short notice and I was told that I would not be paid for the opportunity costs.  I complained and was informed that RSM Tenon’s lawyers would be brought in to handle things, a strategy presumably designed to batter me into submission.   Whatever happened to honour and gentlemen’s agreements?  Other disgruntled observers reported this in a financial magazine:

Bizzarely, they actually make a proportion of their fees from telling other people how to run their finances. Genius!  This is what happens when accountants try to run a relationship type business.  They’re like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.”

To quote The Beatles “I should have known better” from RSM Tenon’s previous form.  Oh well.  I now have to take these people to the small claims court, wasting everyone’s time.

What should we learn from all of this?

  • In desperate times, we need to be careful in taking contracts in case people default on their commitments.  Even from what we perceive to be honorable and large institutions.  How the mighty have fallen.
  • In desperate times, treating people desperately will lead to desperate behaviour in return.
  • In desperate times, smart people refuse to respond to desperate behaviour in kind.  They do something different.

Has anyone else experienced bad business ethics in challenging times?  My experience has been that there are plenty of them, although most people dare not speak of them or just assume that they are the only ones experiencing such things.  Please add your story to this blog.  For a further story on HM Revenue and Customs, check HMRC.


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

To 2013 – 10 Business and Music tips

Punk Rock Leadership

Punk Rock Leadership

In this new year post, I’m counting down 10 business tips as seen through the eyes and ears of punk rock.   A kind of “Business Top of the Pops” but without the DJ.  No need to pogo whilst reading these unless you must.  Punk refers to brevity, simplicity and purity of thought in business.   For more on all this, ping me a note with PUNK in the title to claim your new year’s gift – a copy of my micro book – Punk Rock People Management.

# 10 – What do you want from life? – The Tubes

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – The Tubes’ revolting anthem on happiness in life and work, coming out of observations on their fans opulent lifestyle in San Francisco, points out that consumption per se does not lead to happiness.  So, rewards given without there being some basic desire for the reward are worthless.  We did not need The Tubes or the happiness movement to tell us this.  All we had to do was to look carefully at Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory of Satisfiers and Dissatisfiers.  Somehow The Tubes’ message is more potent.  If you are not familiar with the song, listen to the rant at the end of this piece.  In more recent times, Radiohead did something similar with “Fitter Happier”.

# 9 – Blank Generation – Richard Hell and the Voidoids 

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – This is perhaps the first and only time that Punk Rock and HR Guru Gary Hamel will find unity … Hamel recently said that “HR must help kill bureaucracy and encourage greater innovation within organistions“.  Why? That comes down to the ‘blank generation’, aka people who are actively disengaged from work.  We don’t need engagement taskforces to know this – it’s punk rock common sense.  Less obvious is how to achieve that innnovation in HR, which, after all, is usually part of the risk reduction part of the enterprise.  I spent a third of my life working on scientific innovation and quite a bit of time watching people wringing their hands about innovation on the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Council and frankly, I don’t see innovation as a core HR competence.

# 8 – Oh bondage, up yours – X-Ray Spex

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – Poly Styrene’s point was really all about female empowerment or girl power.  This applies just as much to the guys.  As Poly says “Bind me tie me, Chain me to the wall, I wanna be a slave to you all, Oh bondage up yours“. Simply put, if you want to get extra performance out of people, stop controlling every last detail of people’s performance through lengthy job descriptions, KPI’s, SMART goals for everything, yada, yada …

# 7 – Public Image – Public Image Ltd

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – “You never listen to a word that I said, you only see me for the clothes that I wear” Do we look past people’s appearance towards their knowledge, skills and attitudes in interviews, appraisals etc?  After all, it’s those things we desperately want rather than an illusion.  In an age where virtually everything is choreographed at work, remember that Steve Jobs would probably have failed an interview at Apple.

# 6 – What do I get? – The Buzzcocks

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – We know well enough from Frederick Herzberg and The Buzzcocks that pay is a ‘dissatisifier’.  In other words, if you double people’s pay, they won’t work twice as hard for twice as long.  Take away their pay and you know all about it if it is perceived as being out of balance with the effort as Starbucks are just about to discover.  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?’ After all RNR stands for Reward AND Recognition, not just Rock’n’Roll.

# 5 – Two Tribes – Frankie Goes to Hollywood

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – The Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg, may not have been an employment lawyer, but he may have contributed more to our understanding of collective bargaining than all the employment law authors in the world if they were laid end to end, via his song ‘There is power in a union’.  Frankie goes to Hollywood also reminded us of the classic pluralist assumption within classical thinking on unions in their 80’s anthem “Two Tribes”.  OK, Frankie are not punks I know, but they conveyed the spirit of punk rock through their music.

Punk Rock HR offers us three chords on unions:

  • See unions as an advantage in a pluralist workplace due to the money and time they can save you if you get the relationship right.
  • Focus on interests rather than positions if you are to do collective bargaining well.
  • See negotiations from all viewpoints so that you can be most effective in reaching a solution.  It is what pre-punk Scandinavians Abba would have called “Knowing me, knowing you”.

# 4 – Happy House – Siouxsie and the Banshees

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – Siouxsie Sioux’s deeply ironic lyric flags up the problem with the ‘happiness movement’.  She commented that “Happy House” contrasts the illusion of family bliss, where everyone smiles, has blond hair, has all-day sunshine, eats butter without fat, with the realities of life – depression, wife beating and so on.  Grim stuff for a pop song!  The happiness movement also seems to operate under the illusion that we are all becoming more self-actualised and self-driven, when the data seems to suggest that people are less happy than they were 50 years ago, even though we are considerably richer.  Since work is a huge part of life, the implication is that we should design jobs and work which are fulfilling.

# 3 – Smash it up – The Damned

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – Disruptive innovation inside companies takes considerable effort.  Sometimes it’s necessary to destroy the status quo to make way for new practices.  Smashing up existing organisational structures and cultures may look like vandalism, but given the permanence of cultures, sometimes it is the only way to make space for the new.

# 2 – What a Waste – Ian Dury


THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – “What a waste”, like “Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll”, was a song about being in a job that makes you happy.  Perhaps all that is needed to create a high performance workplace is to develop the HR habit of finding out what turns people on and ensuring that the work gives them these outcomes.

In some cases, as Dury points out, this does not have to be Chief Executive or Vice President of HR, it could simply involve becoming “the ticket man at Fulham Broadway Station”.

# 1 – Teenage Kicks – The Undertones

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – When I asked Professor Adrian Furnham earlier this year to identify out some factors that make for an agile innovative company, his first point was to ensure that youth has a voice in the affairs of the company.  Youth brings ideas that are untrammelled by experience, as long as people feel able to voice those ideas.  The smart HR person gives a voice to youthful and other naïve inputs to company strategy.

Send your suggestions for other punk rock songs with a business message by commenting on this blog.  Order your copy of Punk Rock People Management by mailing me with PUNK in the title.  Also available on Amazon Kindle and as a hard copy full colour book.  Coming very soon now, the new book – The Music of Business  – Here’s a quote:  This book is a great tool for people in business.  Harvey Goldsmith CBE

Punk Rock People Management - Disruptive Innovation in HR

– Punk Rock People Management – Disruptive Innovation in Business

Punk Rocker Picture by Lindsay Wakelin Photography


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

Punk Marketing – An audience with Richard Laermer

“White Punks on Dope” – Richard Laermer – A live and dangerous asset to your company

Richard Laermer is a marketing genius from New York, who provokes his clients into much better marketing by helping them break away from tried, tired and worn out marketing strategies and tactics.  He is also a correspondent for the Huffington Post and a regular bon vivant.  I met him when we were both delivering keynotes at International Marketing and Leadership conferences in Athens during the massive strikes late last year.  Imagine our surprise and delight when we learned that we had both written books with Punk in the title:  Richard’s Punk Marketing and my Punk Rock People Management.  We became superfast friends and I wanted to find out more. We arranged to have a dialogue. Or really…to talk.

What is the essence of “Punk Marketing”?  What marketing demons do you want to purge?

“Punk Marketing” started when my friend Mark and I were talking at a grungy bar sometime in the mid 2000s. We realised so many marketing people had become entirely complacent. They were doing things that they knew did not work and they were hoping that nobody would push them off the cliff.   We realised that Punk Rock came about in the 1970’s when the music industry was at its most complacent.  The Osmonds, The Carpenters, Debbie Boone and so on.  When Punk Rock started, with The Clash, The Sex Pistols and so on, they crashed that party, they screwed up the mentality of the music industry and they made the staid industry wake up.  So we said, let’s do the same thing for marketing now that punk rockers did for music in the 1970’s.  We started this movement with a series of points in a manifesto, not a manifesto that says things that people already know, but not together, and have mostly forgotten. We made it an agenda for getting off your ass and becoming part of where marketing is today.

Editor’s note – at this point, we must have a bit of Ian Dury, having discovered our mutual love of his work through the occasional gig with the magnificent Norman Watt Roy:

The critics would say that punk only lasted two years and then it was all over?

Did it really?  There are essences of punk in everything these days.  Basically punk mainstreamed.  Punk to this day still makes people feel alive and “punk marketing” is the same way.  When something that happens makes people say “holy crap” they know that it’s something different and new and they can’t get enough of it.   We wanna destroy the old outdated marketing adages and start anew with points that are destined to make people feel as though where they are today is- finally- where they should be.

I interviewed Richard Strange, the Godfather of Punk the other week and he was talking about innovation in music.   He pointed out that all music is mongrel, so what can marketers do that is genuinely innovative?

Marketers need to have balls.  They are basically risk averse—a great many of them.  They look at a marketing project and say, our constituency is stupid so let’s just put out a fun tagline and some cute colours and everybody will think we’re great.  It’s all just clichés—dumb slogans and a lot of colors. Big deal.  What marketers should be saying is: “we suck”.  People don’t love us for what we should be.  People don’t see us for what we are, what we were, or what we have become.

A marketer has to stand up and say – You know what?  This is really stupid.  All we do is follow rules that don’t exist for any reason any more.  Why don’t we just shake it off and just go with the craziest idea?  The idea that everyone has been laughing at, the one that disturbs our competitors, the one that makes shareholders and board members nervous, because that’s the only thing that will give us any long term value.  And when you have that idea, don’t water the fu….er down.

Is there room for market research in punk marketing?

The consumers do not know what they want.  They want to be told what it is they need.  So market research has limited value. And I believe that the most successful companies (ahem, Apple) are resolute in their offerings.

What do you consider to be the future in social media?  What should go into room 101?

I’ve been working with web diaries since 1996 and I’ve watched this thing called social media drift up and off.  When you get people talking about stuff that you or your company put out there is a gift.  I got a call from a major fast food chain whose ads were being mocked on You Tube.   They wanted me to stop it happening and I said to the Marketing Director – Are you crazy?  People are taking time out of their day to make videos about your ad.  You should be paying them!

When someone calls me to tell me oh my God, one of our staff is going on and on about one of our products on his Tumblr, I tell them to buy them some editing software so they can show it off right.  So, people have to realise that controlling the message is about NOT controlling the message.  You must then participate in the conversation.  That does not mean just letting people talk – it’s like what Stalin said: You do have to control the people some of the time.  That means participating in the arguments, telling people the rules of engagement, making sure that people see what you are all about etc.  The problem with Twitter is that people are not that interested in what kids say about things.  They don’t have the breadth of experience to talk about things in ways that others are interested in.  They should use the most passionate people online.

People are now using all sorts of amazing new gadgets to create quick filmic looks at their lives and pinning things on Pinterest and so on.  But if what you put up there is brand new and not related to your mission statement and so on, then all the money in the world is a complete waste of time.  Proctor and Gamble can say a lot on social media but none of it makes people shake and shiver.  Look at their Man of the House, which was obviously something fantastic—and it turned out to be ditchwater. You will succeed because your audience goes Holy Crap.  If it doesn’t pass the shake and shiver test on social, it can go in room 101 and put its head on the desk.

With the tendency to graze, the “punk marketer’s”  job is to get them to stop for more that a millisecond?

You’ve gotta get people thinking.  And I know that’s hard. Everybody says the consumer is stupid.  Not true.  The consumer is constantly talking and getting information.  To think that somehow we’re gonna get their attention because we are more intelligent is ego.  Kodak died because they thought they knew more than the consumer.  They never stopped to think that we know more than an old complacent camera company from the suburbs.  This is also happening in media companies, social networking companies and so on.  You got to look around and pick up the intelligence that is swarming around you. Learn from it—get the info that you’re scared to hear about why some may hate your guts.

Editor’s note – now we move to teh issue of one man brand – what better way to do this than looking at The Tubes performing White Punks on Dope on the Old Grey Whistle Test

You are a one-man brand in terms of having developed an innovative and hard to copy USP.  Tell me your secrets?

Most people start out with the idea that they want to set their brand aside from everyone else but forget that a personal brand cannot be about making money.  It is about making people see the one or two things that people should know the most about you.   That’s it. If you are selling and selling and selling everyone smiles and clicks away. People think that if they talk about themselves endlessly and if they keep going across all the media, like the EverReady battery bunny, it will work.  What happens is that people finally get tired of it / you.  Be yourself. At all costs.

There is a personal fear of doing or saying things that they think will offend.  This assumes that anyone is listening or even cares.

What I do is spend a lot of my time looking at trends that are bubbling up and bringing those trends to my followers – I become a resource to those people.

Whatever you do on social media should align with who you are. Don’t try and film yourself doing acrobatics if you’re not a gymnast. You want to be consistent in everything you talk about so you become the go to person for some specific attribute.  That’s what makes a true personal brand. The other crap is all about making money, and you look desperate when you’re selling all the time.

Click to check Punk Marketing out on Amazon

Can you give me a couple of Punk Rock lessons as a taster from the book Punk Marketing?

Punk Marketing is based on a manifesto.  Here’s a couple:

When you avoid risk, you die – Have balls, the mortgage will follow – don’t worry about the job leaving you.  Worry more about doing things that people care about that touch a nerve.  When someone says to me, “This isn’t the right time”, I’m the first person to find their competitors doing something really great and sending it to the people who just told me it isn’t the right time.  General Mills and Kellogg Company found this out in the Great Depression of 1929.  At that time Kellogg was the number one cereal maker.  In the Depression Kellogg decided not to do any more advertising, due to the recession; they even cut their worker’s hours to 30. But General Mills, then the number 2, decided to go whole hog, even introducing Betty Crocker in the biggest possible way. Guess what? General Mills became number one during those tumultuous years—and still is. Kellogg learned a lesson I’m sure they never forgot.

Why not ask why not – People always assume that things are the way they are for a reason. Keep asking why things cannot be done differently. There’s always another way. Try a little creativity with your kindness.

Make enemies – These do not have to be the competition.  It only has to be positioning yourself against an alternative.  For example Oil of Olay made an enemy of a concept – they said that the enemy is aging. Women bought it (literally).

Don’t let others set your standards – What I mean is when someone else sets a standard for what they consider to be good, change the standard. You decide how to be measured. You make the rules. You… get the point.

Give up control – Realise that the control is all in your head, because a smart marketer will look at all the things that people say about them and the will love it and use it.  Domino’s Pizza used to have a terrible reputation, typified by the phrase “Dominos Sucks”.  They turned it round and told their customers “yep we suck so we’ve changed completely”. They introduced new recipes and tested them all round the U.S.  Within six months they had turned their reputation round. And they’re a leader in the diminishing pizza industry.

What part does music play in your life as a thought leader?

Music is a vital part of my life.  The other day for example, I played about 30 hours of Todd Rundgren songs on Spotify, but I don’t know why.  I get inspired by music but only at specific times and moods.  When I wake up I want to hear a particular piece of music and that used to be hard.  You had to go and search it out.  And God, it’s so easy to find anything you want.  It’s an embarrassment of riches.  I wish we all remembered when we had to run to the nearest Our Price to get what we wanted. I almost hate the fact that everything is so easy to find now as nothing is worth anything anymore.

Editor’s note :  This calls for a bit of Todd Rundgren for his lovely wife Michelle and all blog readers:

So, the big question has got to be why?

When I started in PR I realised that there was a game being played between people that knew a lot about what was going on in the world and people that were being told a lot about what was going on in the world.  My career has always been about trying to close that gap, because information is the biggest commodity of all.  Good, fun, cool information that people take to their grave is the best thing that anybody can own.  That’s the why of Richard Laermer. That’s my ken.  And leave Barbie out of it.

How can people find out more about what you can do for them?

My website is  Twitter @laermer  Huffington Post

People can also learn about the launch I’m doing right here in an article about that very product, ThankBank:

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: