The making of “Fiscal Cliff”

Click on the Cliff to buy the song on iTunes - also available on all other outlets

Click on the Cliff to buy the song on iTunes – also available on all other outlets

Thursday 25th July marked the day when I received the final mix of the song I wrote about the economy – “Fiscal Cliff”.  I just met up to collect the master mix with Bernie Tormé, who played for Ozzy Osbourne and Ian Gillan, the Producer of the record – what an exciting day!

The song is available on i Tunes, Amazon, Google Play and everywhere else.  I’d be made up if you are able to buy a copy and tell your friends.  “Fiscal Cliff” is a rock anthem about economics, banking, fake suicide, false Gods, false hopes, repentance, renewal, environmentalism, sustainability sex, drugs and rock’n’roll …  It is the first song ever to feature the words Quantitative Easing, John Maynard Keynes, Northern Rock etc. in the lyrics …

The First Verse of the song as illustrated by Simon Heath - "Fiscal Cliff - The Film will follow shortly

The First Verse of the song as illustrated by Simon Heath – “Fiscal Cliff – The film will follow shortly

We recorded the single last Saturday at Bernie’s Barnroom Studios in the heart of the Kent countryside.  Roll the credits:

Bass and expert musical direction by Andee Price of Scarlett Rae and The Cherry Reds

The enourmously talented Andee Price eclipsed by her double bass

The enourmously talented Andee Price eclipsed by her double bass

Vocals by Dave “The Poet L’Oreal – cos’ he’s worth it” – A Swiss Banker who likes Swiss Chard

Drums by Mike “Animal” Grigson – a good friend of mine

Illustrations by Simon Heath, social media’s “Quick Draw McGraw” – a corporate artist who works with us round the world at our seminars and events – We’re next off to New York to work on an innovation summit – who knows, we may perform the song there…

Video work for the film by Val and Errol Whitter of 154newmedia – where “Lordswood meets Hollywood” in Kent.  We have some awesome video in the ‘can’ including the burning of a Stonehenge monument and destruction with a burning guitar and the moment when Bernie Tormé felt he had to attack me in the studio when I made a mistake on the guitar solo!!

I’m also grateful to Dr Andrew Sentance, former Monetary Policy Committee Member at the Bank of England, who has provided excellent informal support and insights into Keynsian Economics, horse racing and Prog Rock – the ‘usual’ combination of interests beloved of world leaders 🙂   Looks like we are going to launch the song at his garden party in August – big fun!

Oh, and I wrote the song …  I guess that makes me Fiscal Cliff Richard …

funny-fiscal-cliff-richard-100-dollar

So, watch out for further announcements – we have been asked to perform the song on the BBC World Service, so this may be the World’s First Global Economics Hit!  🙂  If you are able to help once we have released the record, please let me know.

The First Chorus Line

The First Chorus Line – Click to buy the song now

Bankers, Economists, Politicians, Accountants – lend me your ears …

and some money would be nice … 🙂

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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  His latest book “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise” is available direct or in the usual places by clicking the relevant link in the slideshare presentation below:

Happy talk – Motivation unplugged

"Cos' I'm worth it" - A marketing executive from L'Oreal rocks out at the Marketing Directors Forum in Athens

I was reading the blog of Video Arts the other day on the issue of happiness at work.  It reminded me of the words of honorary punk rockers Rogers, Hammerstein and Captain Sensible, “Happy talk”.  Yes, it’s nice to be happy at work, but that’s only half the story.  We looked at the blues and motivation previously.  The Smiths’ classic “Heaven knows I’m miserable now” is the mantra for people stuck in jobs that don’t fit their skills, attitudes, inner or outer desires.  Let’s check out the dark side of the motivational equation:

What then are the reasons to be cheerful at work?  Certainly NOT because the 360 degree appraisal system has been put online in full colour,  because the team has won a set of fake plastic palm trees inscribed with the company mission statement, or when the HR department places a ‘People are our greatest asset’ plaque in every toilet cubicle.

It may be slightly quaint or even old fashioned to say this, but whatever happened to good old job design, as described by Hackman and Oldham?  They pointed out that people work well when they have well designed jobs.  These include some good old fashioned but not out of date factors:

  • Skill variety – using an appropriate variety of skills.
  • Task identity – being able to see the whole task.
  • Task significance – the extent to which people identify with the task and its importance to something wider.
  • Autonomy – giving some discretion over the way in which work is done.
  • Feedback – gaining an idea of how well people convert effort into performance.

In practical terms, many of the tried and tested methods of improving job design at work still have value.  For example:   vary work where possible to encourage skill variety;  assign work as a whole unit to enhance task significance;  delegate tasks to their lowest possible level to create autonomy and responsibility;   connect people to the impact of their work through feedback.  Some of the world’s best workplaces such as Prêt à Manger use these principles intuitively as they are common sense, although they are not commonly applied.  Others have made significant improvements by just following them as a conscious protocol, such as I have observed in work at The Royal College of Physicians.

My latest book Punk Rock People Management offers us three chords on motivation:

  • Design work according to Hackman and Oldham’s principles.
  • Eliminate pointless tasks from the daily grind that add no customer / stakeholder value.
  • Remember that reasons to be cheerful 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.

‘Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff’ is available for purchase of as a FREE download via the Punk Rock People Management webpage.  If you like this extract from the book, you will also LOVE my other book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’, acclaimed by Tom Peters, the daddy of them all.  Contact us to book your next conference keynote based on our heady mixture of business leadership and music.  Just back from Greece, and shortly appearing in Romania, South Africa and Slough – hardly a Rock’n’Roll schedule I admit! 🙂  Read a review by clicking on the picture:

Good companions

I leave not with Happy Talk by Captain Sensible, but with his rather more thoughtful anti-war / eco warrior song “Glad it’s all over” – The Captain ‘extinguished me’ with a fire hydrant at the Marquee during a Doctors of Madness gig, for which I am eternally grateful.

Spinal Tap, John Otway and the not so gentle art of project mis-management

You could attend a 3 week executive masterclass to learn the principles of project management.  To learn about the practical stuff could take you a lifetime and involve learning from expensive mistakes as well as successes.  So, is there a way to learn about Project Management quickly and without risk by examining the spoof rockumentary ‘This is Spinal Tap’.  Of course there is! 🙂  Let’s examine the classic ‘Stonehenge’ sequence to get us started:

It’s obvious to me as a Taphead and sad business consultant with an MBA that the Spinal Tap sequence is a sorry tale of poor project management… 🙂  Just before the sequence starts a drawing of Stonehenge is drawn on a napkin by Nigel Tuffnell, the group’s guitarist and handed to the scenery designer.  This is unwittingly taken by the designer as a definitive project specification.  All the project resources are committed to the ‘model’ based on the dimensions (in inches).  The band is then forced to execute their strategy using a micro Stonehenge model, due to lack of budget to correct the mistake.   They attempt to accommodate the mistake in size by using dwarfs and bringing the Stonehenge model down from the heavens, but it is clear that they have failed.  You may rightly say “Well, this is a Hollywood comedy movie and nothing like real life”.  Au contraire, as a I break into French, as if to make the point seem more important – if I had a dollar for every company that has told me they have wasted millions on poorly specified projects that resulted in delivery of the wrong thing, I would have retired and you would not be reading this blog.  The comparison of the ‘project management gospel according to Business and Spinal Tap’ summarises this:

The Project Management Gospel according to Spinal Tap vs Business

Spinal Tap Business Lesson # 1.  If you are experiencing problems in executing a project, look back several stages to the project definition or proposal.  Fuzzy goals produce fuzzy action.

I had my own ‘Spinal Tap’ moment when I made a large investment of money and time in ‘cult punk rocker and two hit wonder’ John Otway’s World Tour, having done corporate gigs with John at Pfizer and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).  This was a wonderful idea to live the Rock’n’Roll dream on a record breaking world tour, calling at the greatest venues on the planet with a birth, death and car crash all in two weeks, but not necessarily in that order.  The idea was great, so what went wrong?  Poor execution of the strategy killed the project dead.  Watch the trailer video to see the essence of the project idea:

Read more about the comedy of errors that was John Otway’s world tour at The Real Spinal Tap Tour.  What was the project management lesson?

Spinal Tap Business Lesson # 2. Inspiration is essential for innovation, but perspiration is even more important to turn your ideas into profit!  Bright ideas are plentiful but people who are prepared to sweat it out are rarer.

Check out our seminar offerings based on project management lessons from the John Otway World Tour at The F Word.  A recent article about the self-proclaimed ‘Patron Saint of Failure’ can be seen in The Independent.  Check out our posts on real heavy rock bands – Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Prince and our evening out with Bernie Torme.

My new book ‘Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff’ is available for FREE as a pdf.  Please contact me directly here or via the Punk Rock People Management webpage for your copy.  A beautiful full colour print version and a KINDLE version are is also available.

We’ll finish with another classic Spinal Tap song, Big Bottom, a metaphorical tale about the bottom line…

Postscript – I was just sent this additional video by my Web guru Nick Power of ‘The Folksmen’ – faces seem familiar?

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:

Deep Purple in Rock: Improvisation and discipline in Business

Deep Purple In Rock

The hard rock band Deep Purple are responsible for millions of young boys camping out in music shops trying to play the riff to ‘Smoke on the Water‘.  At the age of 14 I used to sit at the top of the stairs at home in the darkness trying to figure out the riff with my Hofner Futurama guitar and 10 Watt Zenta amp, until my mum would shout me to come down to get my fish finger sandwiches.  Aside from these problems, Deep Purple offer us a great example of improvisation and discipline in action in the context of a rock outfit.  The Mark II incarnation of the band is generally considered to be perhaps the definitive lineup, but also the most volatile.  Much of the conflict within Deep Purple arose from Ritchie Blackmore, their phenomenal virtuoso guitarist and moody maverick.  Check out Deep Purple Mark II’s work when jamming here:

In this extract from ‘Mandrake Root’ we see the art of improvisation within a disciplined structure as Blackmore sends musical instructions (using his arms as a baton ! ) to the keyboard player Jon Lord, to repeat and develop certain lines (This is particularly obvious around 48 seconds onwards).  He also sends orders to the rhythm section of Ian Paice and Roger Glover with respect to starts and stops within the music (around 1 minute 50 seconds).  Blackmore’s signs are perhaps more aggressive than those used by Prince to change direction at short notice within the band 🙂  What then are the parallel lessons for business from Deep Purple?   Here’s three to get the discussion started – Please add your own views by commenting on the blog.

1. Innovation in business requires discipline as much as it does creativity:  Creativity to come up with novel strategies; Discipline to execute them, so that ideas turn into profitable innovations.  Companies such as Google, 3M and Innocent may seem to be all about creativity at first glance, but a deeper inspection reveals discipline and structure, even if that structure does not emanate from ‘management’ in all cases.  Giving people 20% of their time to work on speculative projects is the business equivalent of a free form jam within Space Truckin’, Lazy, Mistreated and many other pieces of Deep Purple’s repertoire.

2. It requires extremely strong leadership and a compelling shared vision to hold diverse people together.  To encourage a company that continuously learns / adapts and improvises into the future requires leadership that is precise on the destination, yet loose on the journey.  We’ve seen this point before in my blog posts on Led Zeppelin and Prince.

3. Conflict will occur where there is diversity / divergence.  It must be handled properly if progress is to be made.  Ultimately Blackmore’s maverick behaviour proved too much for the band, especially the singer Ian Gillan, and despite several reunions, the band proved impossible to hold together.  There have been many arguments to suggest that what Deep Purple Mark II needed was a manager who could hold the various personalities together and perhaps some time off from touring.

What else do you consider we can learn from Deep Purple about business, innovation, conflict and so on?  Share your thoughts by making a comment to this blog.

Editor’s postscript:  My thoughts go out to Jon Lord who is currently fighting cancer. Although I am a guitar player, it was Jon Lord’s innovative organ playing that led to my fanaticism with Deep Purple. Since I wrote this article, he lost that battle – so sad.

To finish, here’s another piece by Deep Purple’s Mark II line up, the famous California Jam performance where Ritchie Blackmore destroys several guitars and sets fire to his amplifiers.  I can’t immediately think of a transferable corporate lesson from this sequence but it sure is fun.  Takes me back to my teenage years with the Zenta amp on all the way up and me smashing the guitar into the speaker trying to coax some feedback out of the amp!

For more Heavy Metal Business articles – check SPINAL TAP on project management and LED ZEPPELIN on strategy.  Check out our conferences and events – where we extract business lessons from the Deep Purple classic ‘Smoke on the Water’ amongst many other things.  Come along to one of our ‘Monsters of Rock Business’ events, featuring Bernie Torme, who played guitar for Ian Gillan.   Take a look at one of these as featured on Bloomberg TV.

Our books including “The Music of Business” are available at AMAZON.

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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

Cool friend – Phil Hawthorn – The Business Cook

It may not be Rock’n’Roll to be a cook, or is it?  Well, I must say how much I admire the leadership coach and trainer Phil Hawthorn, who synthesises his ideas about business with cooking, actually preparing food while he speaks at corporate conferences and events.  He is also the author of Can Men Cook, a saucy look at gender stereotypes and cooking which rocks!  I interviewed Phil about his views on cooking, music and life.

So, what is your unique difference Phil?

I have built a fun little business linking cooking to order, leadership and teamwork.  A lot of the time I will work helping teams and their leaders to work more effectively together.  This is where the theory and practice of organisational life come together.  I’m especially good at just getting people to talk – which is a god start for fixing problems.  At the other extreme, I have run cookery demonstrations at The Ideal Home show and other places, and appeared on ITV’s competition “Britain’s Best Dish”.  I mix the two in presentations on management teams and cooking!  Here’s a clip from Britain’s Best Dish:

If music be the food of love.  What’s the link?

Shakespeare. Next question?  Seriously, both food and music feed the soul. They are ultimately involved in being creative, making something new, making the thought processes a bit different, a bit of relaxation and making people happy.  This isn’t a bad set of aims for organisations too, I feel.  Much recent research has shown that the happier an organisation is, the more successful it is.  Simple but true.  Perhaps Lord Sugar should read more of this stuff! (I loved your blog on The Apprentice, btw).

Have you got an example of a company you worked with using this approach?

A team from The Environment Agency, would you believe?  The team worked on day one learning about Rhododendron clearance, and then met up to cook a communal dinner.  They had to create the menu, do the shopping and work to a budget.  I was tasked with making a gallon (literally) of custard.  What a lot of stirring!  Food of love?  Yes, calm, content and smiling.  What better way to team build?

Another event was at a Business School for their MBA Alumni a while back.  Their leader said of it:   “If you think you have seen everything then think again. The principles of management are presented in a very entertaining, professional and unique way”.

What about music?  What music do you love?

I’m of an age where I grew up in Glam Rock – T.Rex, Bolan, David Bowie, Squeeze.  I love female singers (Kate Bush, Madonna, and Lady Gaga).  Really enjoyed Florence and the Machine, but still hark back to rock – Led Zeppelin and anything with a blues feel really.  Bach and Mozart haven’t passed me by either…

This, of course gives me the perfect excuse to play some T.REX

And The Beatles.  I am from Liverpool so have an affection.  I love the creative juice that flowed from Lennon and McCartney being friends and enemies.  Love, hate, Yin, Yang.  And that created some of the most beautiful harmonies and dichotomies in the world of music.  And I love some classical masterpieces that have created love and hate.  Elgar’s cello concerto, for example.  No-one dared do it after ‘brave’ (yes, she was) Jacqueline Dupree defined it in the repertoire.  Until Natalie Klien became BBC Young Musician of The Year (XXX?) when no-one dared to perform it.  How sad!  Natalie won by a unanimous heartfelt and emotional mile.  But she didn’t record it until 2009.  We saw her performing it in the Albert Hall in 2010.  And it was better than both the Dupree renditions.

Where can we find out more?

We have a new website called The Two Cooks, delivering exceptional corporate events and keynote speeches that blend business, music and cooking.  Check my personal website out at Can Men Cook.

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

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

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

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

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