Innovation Excellence – Calling all firestarters

This week, I have a great opportunity for writers, musicians and business leaders.  I have just been appointed “Rock’n’Roll Innovation Editor” for a US based Global Innovation Company called Innovation Excellence.  The company is run by Julie Anixter, who worked with Tom Peters and Seth Godin amongst other leading business thinkers around the world.  Innovation Excellence is the most popular innovation website in the world with over 10 000 readers per day and counting.  As part of my job there, I am planning interviews with people in the coming year such as Ahmet Ertegun’s biographer, CEO of Atlantic Records, Bill Nelson, Professor Adrian Furnham, Bernie Torme, Sir Richard Branson and Sir Paul McCartney.  We’re starting shortly with a piece about the enigma that is Richard Strange, leader of proto-punk pop-art group The Doctors of Madness and perhaps punk’s godfather,

So, what then does the Rock’n’Roll Innovation Editor do?  Good question!  You don’t see many RNR Innovation Editors on the staff at the Financial Times or the New York Herald Tribune!  My job is to interview, write or commission articles with any of the following types of people:

  • Innovative musicians – Names that spring to mind include Robert Fripp, Lady Gaga, Brian Eno, Madonna – people who have either innovated within music or are gamechangers in the music industry.
  • Innovation leaders – Especially those who get the idea that innovative leadership requires both discipline and improvisation – Virgin, Toyota, First Direct, Google, 3M, The Eden Project spring immediately to mind.
  • Innovation authors and academics – Again those who have a ‘Rock’n’Roll outlook’ on the subject – Brian Clegg, Tom Peters, Adrian Furnham et al are on my list of suspects here.

Innovation Excellence is also open to sponsors who wish to help build the best educational resource in the world for innovation.  Contact me via e-mail at to see what’s on offer.

So, in the warped words of the hymn “Come all ye faithful … and also a healthy dose of firestarters …”  Drop me a line and let’s see if we can create a guest article or interview.

Speaking of firestarters, time to finish with a bit of that…


Innovation Excellence and all that jazz

This week, I’m offering you a business parable about jazz and innovation excellence.  As a generalisation, it probably works, although jazz is an enormous genre, so feel free to agree / disagree / extend the story as you wish.  It was written about 13 years ago for my 1st book Best Practice Creativity, and has resurfaced recently, since a University academic published an article on jazz and business in The Guardian.  If you enjoy this post you may also enjoy related posts on Innovation and The Flow and Jazz.

Let’s warm up with a bit of Herbie Hancock:

The Jazz Band – a metaphor for more innovative organisations

The Jazz band is a loose association of individuals that need no sheet music, since they share a common love for the music, achieved by careful selection of musicians, based on ability and empathy within and on the edge of the band’s style. There is scope for musicians to ‘blow their own trumpets’, whilst recognising the need for the ‘solos’ to be consistent with the overall musical direction.

The informal band leader helps band members reach new heights of musicianship and encourages the swapping of instruments to broaden skills. The band is paid on the quality of the group performance although random bonuses are allocated by group consent for outstanding individual performance from a ‘slush fund.’

The band’s repertoire is wide and both well rehearsed and unstructured, for the performance has both elements of formal musical structure and improvised chaos. Some performances are unremarkable, yet there are indefinable moments when the band seems to know exactly what to do to take the music in a new direction that has never been rehearsed formally in a state of ‘flow’.

Although the band get great enjoyment out of playing the music when practising or performing, off stage the members often disagree vigorously about many issues concerned with the music. In some cases, individual members are not great personal friends, yet this is subsumed to the greater ‘task’ of the music itself. For example, the guitarist tends to be simultaneously gregarious yet aloof, whilst the bass player will often be the one to arrange social events. The drummer is always late for rehearsals as he has to get a lift from the piano player since he is never organized enough to buy a car.

Competitiveness manifests itself in a positive way, in so far as individual soloists attempt to outdo each other with the aim of moving the general level of performance upwards. Although each person could probably play a very impressive piece on their own, the results that the band achieve somehow add up to more than the individual players could achieve on their own. The band also has to compete with other bands for gigs and one of the members carries out the job of getting the band gigs through advocating the band to club owners and using any tricks to make them more visible than other jazz bands.

The jazz band occasionally get asked to play requests. These are done in a dutiful way but often fail to reach the heights of performance achieved when they are in free flow. They claim to be unaware of anything around them including the audience when they are in this state, and they could be said to be creating music in a highly selfish way at these times.

The jazz band parable highlights the need for businesses and organisations to:

  • Balance structure and chaos according to the needs of the various stakeholders.
  • Learn continuously and adapt to change through the use of signposts which are understood by all.
  • Let creativity happen rather than trying to force it.  Technique and training helps, but no amount of engineering will necessarily produce the intended result.
  • Make personality differences irrelevant by a consuming mania with a shared purpose.

Speaking of improvisation and innovation, I have just been appointed Rock’n’Roll Innovation Editor for New York based Global Innovation Website Innovation Excellence.  Run by Julie Anixter,  who has written with Seth Godin and worked with Tom Peters.   I have been asked to write a number of prestigious articles and interviews – for example, the CEO of Atlantic Records, Sir Paul Mc Cartney, CEO’s who play music and more.   Innovation Excellence is the world’s most popular innovation blog with over 10 000 reads per day.  I am therefore offering guest interviews and articles to:

  • Innovation authors
  • Innovative musicians
  • Innovative businesses
  • Innovation leaders
  • Innovation academics

If you wish to publish an article or interview, let me know via this blog or mail me at

Do check out the website All About Jazz for much more on Jazz.  To finish, the master of improvisation and innovation, Wes Montgomery:

Bill Nelson: Integrity and Creativity in a bottle

The genius that is Bill Nelson – Photo courtesy of Stewart Cowley

Bill Nelson performs a special one off concert and art exhibition at the Clothworkers Hall in Leeds on October 1st.  This provides me with the perfect excuse to rave on about this man’s genius in terms of the sorts of capabilities that great business gurus such as Peter Senge, Tom Peters and Seth Godin write about.  Before we begin, let’s see the master at work, performing a song he wrote for Stuart Adamson of Big Country and the Skids as a tribute at his funeral – “For Stuart (Triumph and Lament)”.  Bill Nelson produced some of Stuart’s work and Adamson was a great admirer of Bill’s musicianship, which Bill incorporated as a series of ‘musical ornaments’ within this piece.

In case you are wondering just who Bill Nelson is, he led 70’s Art School band Be-Bop Deluxe and Red Noise.  In spite of his huge success, Nelson left considerable wealth and fame to pursue his own artistic and musical direction.   However, like so many great influencers his footprint on modern music is immense and pervasive.  Nelson is admired by a catalogue of rock’s monarchy, including Mc Cartney, Brian May, Kate Bush, Brian Eno, David Sylvian, Prince, The Foo Fighters, The Darkness, My Chemical Romance and so on.  If any of you saw MCR at the Reading Festival, you will have heard the opening lines from Bill Nelson’s song ‘Maid In Heaven’ towards the end of MCR’s emo anthem ‘Dead’:

Turning to the transferable lessons for people in business, Bill Nelson articulated his principles for personal reinvention in his online diary.  Although they are artistically expressed, they are directly transferable.  Bill kindly allowed me to do some ‘translation’ in my book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’.   We explored a couple of his reinvention principles in a previous blog.  Here’s some more:

Reinvention Principle No. 1 – Trust the muse – she knows best

In the context of business reinvention, ‘trusting the muse’ means that we should trust intuition rather than relying on research as a means of doing new things.  We live in a world that is drowning in data.  As a result we downplay intuition.  New stuff does not always come out of a detailed analysis of old stuff!

“Act when there are no alternatives to stasis” Photo courtesy of Stewart Cowley

Reinvention Principle No. 2 – Act only when there are no alternatives to stasis

‘Acting only when there are no alternatives to stasis’ reminds us to examine all alternatives before making a decision on critical issues.  This is not a recipe for not making decisions!  Examining alternatives requires us to synthesise options, to bring alternatives together that will produce better options rather than compromises.  It requires the use of analogue (and/also) thinking rather than digital (on/off) thinking.  The pressure of business life often forces us into action rather than reflection / synthesis, with the result that we get sub-optimal decisions and / or performance.  I’ve written more on this subject in previous posts on creativity.

Check out Bill’s extensive catalogue of music at SOUND ON SOUND.  To study Bill’s 12 principles for personal and corporate reinvention in more detail, read Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll. If you fancy seeing Mr Magnetism Himself check out the Clothworkers Hall in Leeds.  I am proud to know Bill Nelson, who has integrity and creativity written into his DNA, even at the expense of fame and fortune.  Integrity is easy when it does not mean you have to make tough choices, but most people fall by the wayside when the going gets tough.

Bill Nelson has a wonderful skill of making classy pop music, a skill which he has largely left on the shelf due to his desire to pursue his own artistic vision.  Lest we forget what a great talent he has for producing catchy pop hits, I’ll leave you with a film of Be-Bop Deluxe performing one of these 2.5 minute wonders on the Old Grey Whistle Test – “Maid in Heaven”, the song whose opening guitar lines are quoted by My Chemical Romance.  To see more of Bill’s work in this area get yourself a copy of his ITV Legends Concert, which includes “For Stuart” and an entire catalogue of Be-Bop Deluxe, Red Noise and Bill’s solo material:

p.s.  For a series of 2.5 minute lessons on business and Human Relations check out my new book ‘Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff’ – available FREE via the Punk Rock People Management webpage.

ITV Legends Concert DVD – AMAZON

‘Revolt into Style’ – The new book cover