Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution

Going way back in time to the point when I first started doing talks about business and music, here is my deeply ironic translation of the lyrics from The Beatles’ song “Revolution”, reset in the context of the management of change.  It is a great tale of the difference between vision and action.  I’ve set out the original lyrics first and my translations in bold italics!  Admittedly the new lyrics do not scan and that perhaps accounts for why Lennon did not use them …  In case you don’t know the song you young people, here’s a video clip:

VERSE 1

Say you wanna revolution, well, you know

So, you are an advocate of Business Process Re-engineering and radical change

We all wanna change the world

Yeh, that’s what the workers want – creative leadership

You tell me that it’s evolution, well you know

But then you come on with benchmarking and TQM, man

We all wanna change the world

Yeh, we need to reform the bureaucratic paradigm, man

But when you talk about destruction

But when you say we have to drop our existing products

Don’t you know you can count me out 

I’m not sure I wanna be on the project team 

Talkin' 'bout a Revolution

Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution

VERSE 2

You say you’ve got a real solution, well you know

You’ve seen Ricardo Semler and have swiped his vision

 We’d all love to see the plan

Intuition’s fine but I’m not a bloody mind reader 

You ask me for a contribution, well you know

Then you ask me to ‘buy in’ to something I can’t even see

We’re all doin’ what we can

Well, I’m trying but can’t you give me some clear goals? 

But if you want money from people with minds that hate

So if you want the ‘late majority’ to come on board 

All I can tell you brother is you’ll have to wait

You’ll have to do better than a mission statement! 

Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy

 VERSE 3

You say you’ve changed the constitution, well you know

You’ve rewritten the KPI’s and the reward strategy

We all wanna change your head

We all wanna change our jobs

You tell me it’s the institution, well you know 

You tell me now that it’s the ‘culture’ and IT systems

You’d better free your mind instead 

You’d better start modelling some change yourself!

But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao 

If you keep bringing in iconic examples of success

You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow 

Chaos theory predicts that we’ll build in further resistance to the change programme

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

Paul Mc Cartney

FT Beatles salmon SMALL

Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Asset Management Company …

What can one say about the innovation and creativity skills of a man who composed songs ranging from Eleanor Rigby, The Long and Winding Road, Blackbird to The Frog Song? Let’s start at the beginning:

Beginnings

Paul Mc Cartney was born on 18th June 1942 to parents who were around 40 years old when he arrived. Much of his early life was spent playing on bomb sites on the outskirts of Speke in Liverpool. His father was a jazz musician, playing the trumpet and a self taught pianist. He used to tell Paul “Learn to play the piano – you will get invited to parties”

LIverpool around the time of Paul Mc Cartney's birth

Liverpool around the time of Paul Mc Cartney’s birth

One of the most important elements of the bond between Lennon and Mc Cartney was the fact that both of them had lost their mothers early on in their lives. A partnership needs a bond and early childhood experiences are frequently very powerful in this respect. Other examples include Simon and Garfunkel and Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, who were childhood classmates. All proof positive that you really just need “A little help from your friends” …

Help - The Beatles as represented by Corporate Artist Simon Heath - Twitter @simonheath1

Help!! – The Beatles as represented by Consulting Artist and friend Simon Heath – Twitter @simonheath1

Creative Tension

It is reckoned that Lennon and Mc Cartney were quite different personalities. See an assessment of the Fab Four’s Myers Briggs types. There is of course some disagreement as to where each of them sit as (a) your type varies over time and (b) it’s rather difficult to assess John and George these days … 😦 Some argue that John Lennon was an ENTP, which is my own type – a rare breed. In any case, it’s interesting to note that all of The Beatles occupied essentially minority types, especially George Harrison who conceived of the idea to produce large scale concerts to highlight world poverty issues long before Bob Geldof got on the case with Live Aid etc.

The case for diversity

The case for diversity

Mc Cartney and Innovation

Paul Mc Cartney is perhaps a lower risk taker than John Lennon, what psychologist Professor Michael Kirton would call an adaptor, as compared with those people he classed as innovators. Adaptors tend to work within the system, producing ideas that are more within accepted wisdom and so on whereas innovators tend to challenge existing norms, producing more radical ideas, some of which are impractical. Contrast “Yesterday”, written by Mc Cartney with “I am the Walrus”, written predominantly by Lennon. In business, adaptors often have greater success than innovators, as they tend to produce ideas that are less challenging and which are recognised by consumers in the marketplace as being a logical build on existing ideas. Often we need both innovators and adaptors to produce sustainable innovations: The innovators to produce the hard-to-copy ideas and; the adaptors to help bring the ideas into a practical market focus. Here’s a graphic comparison of the two types, with Mc Cartney perhaps being the more adaptive individual and Lennon the more innovative one. This probably explains the intense different loyalties between fans of Lennon or Mc Cartney.

Innovators and Adaptors compared through the metaphor of building a pyramid

Innovators and Adaptors compared through the metaphor of building a pyramid

Whereas Paul Mc Cartney has traversed musical genres, these have tended to be within existing musical paradigms, for example in his writing of Standing Stones, an album of original classics. He has also tended to be a great arranger of other people’s music. For example Mc Cartney wrote the distinctive mellotron introduction “Strawberry Fields Forever” for John Lennon. His latest album, entitled “New”, provides us with a set of Beatles’ inspired songs. After all, he has nothing to prove. This does not mean that he did not produce anything outside the paradigm. For example it was Mc Cartney that instigated the use of tape loops on “Revolver”. Here is the title track from the album – some shades of Sargent Pepper in this I feel …

Mc Cartney and Creativity

Paul Mc Cartney says that he still seeks advice from John Lennon when songwriting, imagining what John would advise him to do. This skill is what psychologists call projection and fantasy and is embodied in creativity techniques such as ‘Superheroes’, ‘The Disney Creativity Strategy’, ‘Six Thinking Hats’, ‘Wishing’ and so on. Here’s a graphical view of some creativity tools which one of our clients devised at the end of a masterclass event we designed for them, with a representation of the Superheroes approach in the centre. Can you guess what the others are?

Some creativity strategies summarised by one of our clients - in graphical form

Some creativity strategies summarised by one of our clients – in graphical form

He also exhibits playfulness in his approach to creativity. For example, Mc Cartney woke up with “Yesterday” in his head.  For several weeks the lyrics to “Yesterday” were “Scrambled eggs, oh my baby how I love your legs”. I certainly identify with the idea of putting down a prototype in order to develop an idea into an innovation, both in my life as a musician and as a Research and Development Scientist. Sometimes, putting down any idea produces the creative tension needed to develop a better idea.

There’s more on The Beatles and Creativity in the books “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and “The Music of Business“. We are currently considering some corporate events with the cast of “Let It Be”, as it turns out that I’ve performed with “Paul Mc Cartney” at open mic jam sessions in my home town a few times over the years. Contact us for more details or to arrange a unique business masterclass or conference.

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

Beatles 2

Still Life with Apple, Mac ca and The Beatles

With the Beatles

Poetry in motion

Poetry in motion

A little break from business this week with a superb poem produced by my friend Dr Reg Butterfield in Vienna using titles and lyrics from songs by The Beatles.  Reg has just written a free book about change and natural systems.  Contact him for a copy.

Dear Prudence

Do you want to know a secret

Ask me why

There’s a place

I should have known better

I don’t want to spoil the party

I’ve just seen a face

Tell me what you see

You won’t see me

What goes on

Here there and everywhere

I want to tell you

With a little help from my friends

All together now

We can work it out

Across the universe

Crying, waiting, hoping

Lonesome tears in my eyes

Ooh! My eyes

Ooh! My soul

How do you do it

You know what to do

All things must pass

I should have known better

I’m a loser

Contact Reg for your copy of “Change – A Personal view” by clicking the picture

Click to get a free copy of the book

Click to get a free copy of the book

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our books via Amazon.

Box Set 7

New York, New York

We’re off to New York in a few days time to deliver an innovation summit for a major pharmaceutical company.  I’ve brought together an international team for this event and it’s going to be extremely hard work but a great deal of fun.  Here is the rogue’s gallery, expertly illustrated by Simon Heath, social media’s “Quick Draw McGraw”:

The international team's diverse passions and drives

The international team’s diverse passions and drives

Our work in the build up to the event has involved extracting a number of topics that keep the company’s leaders awake at night, but which are amenable to radical or incremental creative options.  We need to develop a micro climate where creativity can flourish and convert that creativity into sustainable and profitable innovations to succeed.  We’ve produced a pack of cards to assist people in learning from the event AS WELL as reaching the deliverables.  Here’s one of the card deck which summarises our thinking on the principles for innovative thinking:

Human Dynamic's principles for innovative thinking summarised

Human Dynamic’s principles for innovative thinking summarised

Oh, and the client found out about our ‘evening work’ and has asked us to perform “Fiscal Cliff” on one of the evenings after the work is done.  No pressure then!

Obviously the nature of our work there is company confidential so I can say no more on this.  Other than to illustrate the principles of a successful innovation event via the medium of music:

I feel fine – to succeed at such an event requires the tolerance of the unknown.  Much of our preparation will focus on building this ‘corporate muscle’:

Walk on the wild side – We will take a number of excursions into the world of radical and incremental creativity at the event using a set of strategies and a suite of tools taken from our repertoire of over 100 approaches to divergent and convergent thinking.  This was one of the main reasons we won the business, based on a ‘best fit’ approach rather than a ‘plug and play’ approach.  We have built an approach to innovation based on Andy Warhol’s approach to making new things happen at “The Factory” – his ‘innovation hothouse’, which fits in nicely with our location.

Perspire – Creativity may be about inspiration, but innovation is all about perspiration, so our event will emphasise execution and implementation over pure divergence.  Check Prince’s song Black Sweat for some inspiration on perspiration!

Finally, and in synch with the title of this blog, here’s a remix of New York – Empire State of Mind by Alicia Keys.

Empire State of Mind - Click on the image to hear a remix of the Alicia Keys song

Empire State of Mind – Click on the image to hear a remix of the Alicia Keys song

Here Comes the Sun – Solar Power, Creativity and Innovation

The Solar System at Blackfriars Bridge, London

The Solar System at Blackfriars Bridge, London

Alan South leads Solar Century, a company dedicated to bring novel and sustainable solar energy products to the world.  He has a background working for IDEO, perhaps the foremost design innovation company in the World.  I wanted to know how he has created a climate of innovation at Solar Century and his thoughts on creativity, design and the role of leadership in building an innovative enterprise.

What did you take away from IDEO in terms of creativity and innovation?

I joined in the early days of IDEO in 1995 some three years after its creation.  During the time I was there, it evolved into a global leading light in innovation, taking design thinking way beyond product to services, infrastructure, national problems.  It continues to grow and thrive in that space.  Perhaps the most important thing I took away was not so much about the idea generation process itself.  The rate limiting step for innovation in so many cases is about how ideas get traction so that they turn into something useful.

I also see that IDEO ‘converge with care’, preserving what is novel and cool about an idea.  Can you say more about that?

The core of many ideation processes is about how one idea can build upon another.  An awful lot of idea evaluation processes are quite reductive.  What IDEO did extraordinarily well was to make the ideation process additive.

There are some that say that creativity techniques are for dummies.  What is your view on the value of techniques for divergence and convergence versus more intuitive approaches?

If you are the lone inventor then fine – your own intuition may be sufficient.  On the whole if you are trying to make big differences, you are usually talking about groups of people.  The absolute first thing they need is a common language.  Number two if you want significant numbers of people to work together is that they need to agree on a set of common processes.  The agreement on that process is much more important than the particular process itself.

So, say something about how you see innovation

Innovation is about going wide, turning the corner, going narrow.  That’s all there is although  there are a number of different ways of going about this.  The Design Council in the UK talk about doing that process twice – what they call the ‘Double Diamond’ model.  IDEO always started by observing people using a bunch of human practice techniques to uncover latent user needs.  A good IDEO project would be one where solving latent user needs would make a big difference.  They had about 6 high level ideas that were part of their process.

And yet, it would be insufficient to write down those 6 ideas to an inexperienced person?

Yes.  The real art is in interpreting those high level ideas to fit a particular problem at hand.  Each problem is sufficiently different combined with the fact that the world is moving and changing – so the idea of writing a guide book becomes problematical.

Solar roof on a house in Languedoc, France

Solar roof on a house in Languedoc, France

How does Solar Century innovate?

Solar Century is a solar photo-voltaic power company.  We are in the business of doing large solar projects and manufacturing solar building products.  We set out our stall as being a company that providing solar to be integrated into buildings.  We noticed that there was a lot of redundant space on buildings such as roofs, facades and so on which could be turned towards energy production, allowing power to be generated and used locally.  We raised some money and hired some people including me.  We had to turn an abstract idea into a business.  In 2003, solar building products did not exist – at that time solar was something you would see on satellites and not in builder’s yards. We struggled with compatibility issues – the idea existed, the market and the customer was not well understood.  The distribution channels were not really understood.  But it felt like an idea with real promise.  We were not alone in this – there were other pockets of this thinking around the world.  The job of the innovation team was to bring this very abstract idea to life.

The first thing we had to do was to get under the skin of two industries – The Photo-Voltaic industry and the construction industry.  We characterised the PV industry as lab coats and the construction industry as hard hats.  Our job was to innovate solutions that would join the lab coats to the hard hats, which was a bit like mixing oil and water.

We had to avoid innovating perfect solutions in a vacuum that would confound any part of the value chain.  For example, a solution that the PV industry would not be able to manufacture would or an elegant solution that the construction industry would not know what to do with.  So we set up some processes to get under the skin of the industries and this is an ongoing process that continues to this day.  We also needed to make some judgment calls on how far we thought we could innovate beyond the status quo in a way that would start to build adoption.  We kicked off by exploring a pretty wide range of ways of getting moving and to go through a relatively short (one year) cycle to come up with ideas of the kind of product we would take to market.  We pulled the industry by the nose and then relaxed back a bit when it started to hurt.

Although parts of the construction industry are quite conservative, one thing that delighted me was to find that roofers were very open to our ideas on reinvention.  We ran a campaign called ‘Don’t miss out on the roofing revolution’ and it was extremely well received.  Each year we have gradually started launching more and more offers.  The journey moved from a roof tile, then another roof tile through more sophisticated complete building systems for commercial roofs towards massive aerodynamic systems for factory roofs, based on the ideas on technology adoption in the book ‘Crossing the chasm’.  Editor’s note :  Reminds me of the classic adoption curve:

The classic adoption curve

Essentially we became very good at mass customization as the company began to export, for example in the big building roofing product that we have designed here but carefully fit to a customer need.  We ship a bespoke kit of parts.

Turning inward, does Solar Century have a set book of techniques for creating and innovating?

We do not have a book of techniques for the divergent and convergence.  We do have a process and we do use divergent and convergent techniques but these are tacit knowledge amongst the staff group, as we are only 120 people.  In essence, it’s rather like being in a rock band.  Nobody knows the notes, but everyone can play the tune.

What do you find the most valuable techniques for diverging and converging?

I find that the toughest bit in innovation is turning the corner between diverging and converging.  I struggle with it, teams do.  It takes real guts to stop diverging and say we have spent enough money and time.  It requires getting the whole team to stop the process and get consensus that it’s OK to turn the corner.  Otherwise one of the diseases of innovation is that you hover around at a certain level of abstraction or keep going wider and people lose interest.

Diverging is the easy bit.  I still am a big user of brainstorming, done properly.  The IDEO method of creativity is built on the principle that you get greater creativity when you put some boundaries and rules in place.  Rule Number one is stay focused on the topic.  The corollary of that is that if you don’t know what the topic is it’s hard to stay focused.  A good creativity facilitator can take a bunch of very conservative people and get some real results out of them.

For me the two big challenges are converging and execution.

It is clear to me that Solar Century have acted as what Rosabeth Moss Kanter would call ‘boundary crossers’ in joining two disparate industries together (PV and Building)?  What else do you consider to have been critical in getting the industries to join up?

A green housing estate in Northumberland

We are structured wholly as a virtual manufacturer, which means we have to be good at co-ordinating the whole value chain.  The only part of our operation that we retain is the innovation function.  The upside of being a virtual manufacturer is that we can be much more flexible.  It has allowed us to experiment without buying factories.  We have for example used a contract manufacturer in the UK to develop and test new products, then exported the manufacturing to China and start on the next product in the UK.  The flipside is that you cannot have it all ways.  You have to become quite expert in production planning as you cannot have loose commitments in terms of volumes and then be expected to turn the dial up.

Tell me something about leadership for innovation

If it’s not about turning ideas into results, then it’s not innovation.  There are plenty of non-monetary forms of results, such as effecting cultural change, but in many cases money is a good proxy for the results sought from an innovation intervention.

Hence I tend to use the equation: innovation = turning ideas into money. I know such an equation has its shortcomings, but it does have the benefit of simplicity.

My point of view is that attention needs to be given both to the management of ideas and to the creation of valuable results. I find there is a bias towards ideas and less towards execution.

Covering both successfully requires innovation leadership needs to cover a broad space within an organisation

On the one hand, an innovation leader has to be senior, well connected and influential. There will be uncertainty and chaos to be embraced. The leader will need to facilitate and give permissions and have the ability to deftly handle the stakeholders. To own the innovation vision and to have the credibility to make on occasion some big judgment calls. To have the time and freedom to do some broad thinking and be widely networked to pull in external influences.

On the other there’s a pervading need to pay attention to the details. Great innovation leaders so many times have a deep passion for the content. Innovation teams expect to be led from a position of content expertise, not from a position of hierarchical power. There will be times to make big demands of the innovation team and leadership needs to from a position of respect.

Big demands, and not business as usual within most firms. To deliver on this mix of seniority and depth means that T-shaped people even more critical than ever.

Can you develop T-Shaped people?

You cannot develop all people into T-Shaped people.  There are two things you can watch out for.  To be a good T-Shaped person you need to have the breadth in order to connect into and respect a multidisciplinary working life but you also need the vertical of the T.  One of the things you can do is to make sure that your vertical remains deep.  The flip side about T-Shaped people is that there are a bunch of people who are often brilliant and invaluable who are going to be nothing other than I-Shaped.  There can be a tendency in some organisations to reject them or undervalue them.  What’s important is to recognise them and value them.

Successful innovation – where ideas go all the way to results – is hard and requires innovation leadership that stands tall. When times are tough, like now, innovation is ever more important – but to succeed, innovation leadership has to stand even taller.

Final thoughts

Innovation is about getting results – if there’s no result, it’ ain’t innovation.

There’s an inbalance in reporting or teaching innovation towards idea generation and creativity rather than executing them.  A lot of frustration about innovation in companies arises from teams who throw their all into idea generation and then don’t see any results.  Whereas, it’s an execution problem.

In good times innovation tends to be judged as turning ideas into money. In tough times innovation needs to be accountable as turning ideas into money.

Five success factors for creating and managing ideas

  1. Maintain a true passion for the content
  2. Use qualitative customer research methods to complement qualitative methods
  3. Prototyping is the engine for innovation, fail early fail often
  4. Brainstorming: great innovation companies are fluent in brainstorming
  5. Recognise the importance of storytelling to communicate innovation vision.

Five success factors for turning those ideas into results

  1. Demand greater accountability for innovation outputs – not inputs
  2. Push the connection to the bottom line
  3. Increase innovation efficiency and get more done
  4. Expand innovation diversity to cover services, processes and supply chain
  5. Be firm about the vision, flexible about the present

Alan South can be contacted via Solar Century.

We finish with Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”.

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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

Alive and Kicking

In recent weeks, I’ve been doing a number of live book launch events, some shorter, others longer.  I’ve attached the slide deck from one of these and have expanded on some of the points in the slides below

AC / DC and Strategy

1. AC / DC have surpassed their peers by ‘sticking to the knitting’ – developing a strong brand and reinforcing it through everything they do.  They have not ‘crossed genres’, wandering into hip hop or jazz fusion.  It’s rare for businesses and individuals to be able to keep doing the same thing and keep their customers in the current age.

2. When they have changed, they have built a strong bridge between the future and the past, which has allowed them to keep their audience and gain new followers.  This is a very transferable lesson for businesses and individuals.

Deep Purple, Creativity and Innovation

3. Innovation needs discipline and structure.  People think that creativity is enough for innovation to take place, but it takes discipline and structure to execute an idea.  We see this on stage when Deep Purple were jamming.

4. Innovative teams require strong leadership.  Deep Purple nearly imploded on many occasions due to creative tensions between the band members.

The Beatles and Creativity

5. Find ways to listen to ideas that seem ‘dissonant’ to currently accepted views.  The Beatles were masters of bringing outside influences into the world of pop music.

6. Delay evaluation of ideas for as long as reasonable, so that you can put distance between the novelty and a sober evaluation of the potential feasibility and impact of an idea.

7. Requisite diversity is essential if you are to have an innovative business.  Find ways to resolve tensions that build up by putting different people together, but resist attempts to sidestep conflict.  The creative leader utilises the tension between opposites whilst maintaining a focus on the goal.  The Beatles are an excellent example of this.

Lady Gaga and Innovation

8. Innovate within the familiar range of the customer’s expectation for maximum early impact.  Build on that for long-term sustainability.  Gaga has cleverly built her music on the firm foundations of Madonna and her peers.

9. Stand on the shoulders of giants if you want to innovate.  Be a genuine learning organisation if you want to stay in business for the long term.  What will be interesting is to see what Gaga does next, having established world domination.

10. Use innovative partnerships and joint ventures to enlarge your market share in ways that benefit all.  Choose your partners wisely and in ways that provide genuine win-win benefits.

For more detail on these points, mail me for your copy of The Music of Business.  Tomorrow, I give the final keynote at a large Pharmaceutical Conference – my title is “Innovation Lessons from the Past, Present and Future“.  If you want to perk up your next meeting, conference or keynote with a healthy blend of business thinking plus live demonstrations and the engagement that comes from live participation, give us a call on 07725 927585 or via e-mail peter@humdyn.co.uk

We finish with the title of this blog:

The Long and Winding Road – Longevity, The Beatles and Business

IMAG0172

Still life with fruit, apple and The Beatles

Last week saw the 50th anniversary of the recording of The Beatles first album “Please, Please Me”.  This caused me to go out and play a version of “Blue Jay Way” from “The Magical Mystery Tour” as a rather unusual contribution to a 50th anniversary night on the Fab Four.  It also set me thinking about the enduring legacy of The Beatles music as compared with the long tail of one hit wonders that typify the music business.  Given that businesses rarely last 50 days let alone 50 years, it also made me think about some comparisons with businesses that have longevity.  Thankfully, my own business has lasted 18 years.

Perhaps one single fact that we learn in business from the example of The Beatles is that managers (and people in general) are rather bad at foresight.  After recording fifteen tracks for Decca records, the group were told that “guitar groups are on their way out” and “the Beatles have no future in show business.” Decca instead chose a group called the Tremoloes, who were local and would not cost as much money.  In business, Sony missed the digital revolution probably because they had a record company.  The question for the smart leader is:

“What long range future trends are we about to miss, because of our investment in the present and the past?”

Beatlenomics – “Give me money, that’s what I want”

The Beatles flexed musical styles within the context of pop music and broke many boundaries of what could be considered to be pop music at the time.  We can hear their influence in ELO, some of Prince’s orchestrated work, Oasis, Kurt Cobain, Siouxsie and The Banshees, Paul Weller, Blur and so on.  Perhaps this has ultimately helped them maintain longevity, as others have built their music on the ‘safe scaffolding’ of what they did.  It probably also helped that they stopped making records before sliding inexorably down the other side of their ‘innovation S curve’.

The challenge to modern businesses, leaders and entrepreneurs is to change what you are doing even when there is apparently no need to do so, at the top of your ‘S Curve’.  The question for the smart leader is:

“Where are you on your S Curve?”

The S Curve and Reinvention

The S Curve and Reinvention

What other business lessons can we learn from The Beatles?  Post your thoughts here.

To learn more about The Beatles and Creativity in Business, try my new online learning programme “The Music of Business”.  Claim a 50% discount voucher (7+ hours of top quality learning for just $65 instead of $125) HERE.  Read all about it here:

To read “The Music of Business”, get in touch with me for your signed copy, delivered worldwide via The Music of Business.

We leave with the title of this blog and a video I made for the online programme on the creativity contribution from The Beatles:

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 http://www.flickr.com/photos/raysto/5914581571/

Half Consultant, Half Potato – original photo at http://www.flickr.com/photos/raysto/5914581571/

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.

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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

Hopes and Fears 2012

Firstly, may I thank all of you that have been reading the Rock’n’Roll Business Blog through 2011.  We have had a whopping 14 000 views since it started in earnest in June last year.

In terms of 2012, if we are to turn the UK plc round, its going to take every bit of adaptation, learning and innovation.  You may care to reflect on some of the more popular posts of 2011 – Lady Gaga and adaptive strategy, Deep Purple, improvisation and innovation, The Beatles on creativity, Prince on excellence, Britney Spears on becoming a learning society, Hendrix v Clapton on innovation and Personal mastery in business and music – lessons from Jeff Beck, Les Paul and Bill Nelson.

So, what does 2012 hold in store for us?   Well, here’s some views taken in the course of my travels recently, with the themes linked to pop and rock songs of course! 🙂

There is power in a union?

2011 was marked by a resurgence of industrial relations unrest in the UK.  However, the recent public sector strikes was marked not by braziers, banners and protest songs, but by the best shopping day in 2011, as retail sales soared.  I saw people leaving local government picket lines to go to Costa Coffee at 10 am.  Is shopping for Ugg boots and flat screen TV’s the hallmark of the new rebellion?

Can we look forward to more industrial unrest?   From talking with people in local government, it seems that there is still plenty of scope for downsizing and it also appears that quite a few people are basically happy with their pension, so it appears that the current industrial unrest may not develop.  When I talk to my self-employed friends, there appears to be little sympathy with the strikes – as one remarked “Pension, what pension?”  One thing is for sure, in an age of unrest we can expect more performances by proto punk protest singer Billy Bragg:

What’s new pussycat?

During 2011 I met Evan Davis of BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme and Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills.  During our conversations we touched on the vexed question of what we should do to rebuild Britain.  There are no easy answers here and a debate has since been raging on Linkedin over this issue.  There seems to be broad agreement that the UK plc desperately needs more innovation, especially the type that can be exported and that which builds out of our strengths in ways that are hard to copy or appropriate.  At the same time the service sector needs to shrink, whether this is through a smaller public service component to the economy or in service industries that merely consume wealth at a local level – for example tanning rooms and burger bars.  The change is going to be hard to swallow for some.  Doing more of the same will not do, we need to do things differently.  Musically, it’s more a case of ‘What’s new pussycat’ rather than ‘Do the standing still’.

We’ve got a meeting with the Department of Business Innovation and Skills to explore some of the ramifications of the UK’s innovation needs coming up.   More on innovation coming up in future posts.

What are your hopes and fears for 2012?  Post a comment on this blog.

All you need is love – Creativity with the Beatles

The Beatles transformed the pop song from simple three chord tales of love lost and found into an artform that has defined and redefined much popular music for the latter part of the 20th Century.   Take a listen to ‘I am the Walrus’ to hear one of The Beatles’ more complex orchestrated pieces of psychedelic pop from 1967:

This is the first post in a long and winding road which explores what we can learn from The Beatles about business.  More on the Beatles and Business in the book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll.  We’ll focus on what business leaders can learn about creativity from The Beatles in this post:

Beatles Business Insight # 1.  Creativity rests on difference

The Beatles pulled off a clever trick of making diversity work, when it is much more common to resist working with people who are different in business.  Lennon and Mc Cartney were quite different characters and this is audible in the songs that they instigated.  Some of Lennon’s early songs  are considered to have been influenced by the loss of his mother at an early age, for example “Help” and “Nowhere Man”.   A kind of beautiful melancholy.  It is considered that McCartney coped with his loss rather better and tended to write more optimistic songs such as “All My Loving” and “We can Work it Out”.  Of course, both had their moments of doing the opposites of these – witness “Hey Jude” and “Another Day” by Mc Cartney much later in his career, the former was intended to be a message to Lennon’s son after the breakup of his marriage.

Business lesson:  Requisite diversity is essential if you are to have an innovative business.  Find ways to resolve tensions that build up by putting different people together, but resist attempts to sidestep conflict.  The creative leader utilises the tension between opposites whilst maintaining a focus on the goal.

Beatles Business Insight # 2.  Creativity rests on dissonance

The Beatles were pioneers at combining textures and influences from Indian music, creating a sound which was at that time dissonant to western ears.  Musical note:  Indian music tends to use different scales to those traditionally used in Western music e.g. major or minor scales.  Take a listen to “Within You Without You” to hear what I mean:


Whilst it is possible to profit from dissonance in music, dissonance in business is the silence in the meeting when someone suggests something that is ‘outside the box’ of traditional thinking patterns.  Sometimes it can be heard through people talking about other people as mad, bad or evil outside the meeting in the locker rooms and so on.  Dissonance in business costs millions through wasted time, missed opportunities, inadequate follow through of ideas and so on.  We spend a lot of time helping people use dissonance in business in order to create strategies that set businesses apart from the crowd. It is a strategy that has helped companies such as Unilever continue to succeed.  For example – Their ‘All you need is Dove’ campaign – in their use of full figured women to promote beauty products.

The Doves from above

Business lesson:  Find ways to listen to ideas that seem dissonant to currently accepted views of your business strategy.  Practice curiosity on a daily basis.

Beatles Business Insight # 3.  Creativity rests on discipline

Contrary to conventional wisdom, creativity is not the enemy of structure and discipline.  Quite the reverse.  If you are going to write a song that is different, it’s important to mark out the territory in ways that leads the listener towards certain familiar aspects, i.e. a refrain, verse and so on in music.  Even in some of The Beatles strangest compositions, we find such devices e.g. “Strawberry Fields Forever”:

Creativity without structure and discipline in business does not lead to innovation. Witness Pfizer’s breakthrough inhalable insulin product Exubera.  The product was a brilliant idea (no more needles), but failed at the detailed execution stage due to the development of a medical device that was cumbersome and difficult to use.  It seemed that nobody dared tell the CEO that the device was a turkey, since he had staked his reputation and that of his employees on it.  See my point about dissonance above.  Failure to package the product in a way that ‘felt familiar and comfortable’ cost Pfizer a cool $2.8 billion.

Some considered the inhaler for Exubera to be as large as a domestic fire extinguisher … a major social embarrassment

Business lesson:  If innovation is your business, make sure that there is enough of ‘the familiar’ about the new to make the innovation attractive to your customers.

If you like this mini blog do check out our seminar offerings which include sessions on The Beatles, innovation and creativity.  Our next stop is at an international conference on the subject in Athens next month.   Our new book ‘The Music of Business” has an expanded article on The Beatles – acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith.  Sample it here:

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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