The Music of Business

The Music of BusinessInnovation Excellence’s Executive Editor Julie Anixter caught up with Peter Cook about his newest book, The Music of Business.

Peter, I remember the Sunday Times article by Adrian Furnham about your last book Sex, Leadership and Rock ’n’ Roll.  Adrian wrote about your work and what makes the ‘music metaphor’ so compelling in general, but also specifically to business management.  Please tell our audience about your latest project…

Why did you write this book?

“The Music of Business” came from my career, which seems to rotate (accidentally) in 18 year cycles.  I spent 18 years in Pharmaceutical Research and Development at the Wellcome Foundation (now GSK), to bring novel life-saving drugs to market and fixing factories around the world; 18 years working for Business Schools on MBA programmes, and 18 years running my own business.

The Music of Business bookFor me, The Music of Business is an unusual combination of deep industrial experience, supported by formal learning about business and management, and less formal lessons from the school of hard rock.  It brings together my three passions of Science, Business and Music and I was compelled to write it.  I’m pleased to say that others agree that it has been worthwhile, having got an endorsement from Harvey Goldsmith, the man behind Live Aid, Live 8 and just about every significant music event in the world.  I’m waiting on another from Seth Godin, now that he has completed his UK tour.  It does not get much better than that.

What can innovators specifically learn from musicians?

How to improvise, think creatively, and how to convert that creativity and improvisation into innovative products and services that an audience or customer wants, needs and is prepared to buy over and over again.

In Creativity we look at examples of great improvisers such as Deep Purple, Joe Pass, US creativity specialist Michael Michalko and virtuoso jazz-fusion guitarist Scott McGill, drawing parallel business lessons out in each case.  We also compare the creative style of Hendrix versus Clapton.  We look at the importance of creativity principles and techniques via articles from The Beatles with parallel lessons from Proctor and Gamble, HSBC and others.  Punk rock offers a metaphor for disruptive innovation and we explore punk creativity via chapters on marketing and spontaneous thinking.

Under Innovation we address questions of individual personality via the examples of Marc Bolan, Steve Jobs and Richard Strange, the godfather of punk.  We also examine principles of business innovation, using the examples of The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol, Prince, Lady Gaga, Dyson, Innocent Drinks and more.  Finally we explore the impact of the built and psychological environment on innovation using Stax Records and the experience of my hard rock friend Bernie Tormé, guitarist to Ozzy Osbourne and Ian Gillan.

There are other sections in the book on Strategy and Change, which are things which all innovators need.

What do you hope people will do differently as a result?

A few people have actually offered me examples of what they are doing differently as a result of my work.  One Telecom’s company developed products worth 12 product ideas each worth a minimum of £100 M turnover annually as a result of an innovation summit event.  Pfizer developed four innovative ideas that would extend the life of a product and therefore head off the competition at the pass.  Here’s a couple of direct quotes that summarise reactions I’ve received from business people.

“Amongst my highlights, I love that “The Darkness are Queen without disco” and that this relates to the fact that “Companies can learn parallel lessons by adopting a mindset that looks to the future whilst respecting cultural signifiers of the past.” Clever and conscience pricking stuff.  Well done.”   –  Stephen Bourne, Johnson and Johnson

“The Music of Business is a really enjoyable read. Great insights in how to approach 21st century business challenges, using lessons from the world of rock music. It’s funny and thought provoking whilst absolutely hammering home the messages of strategy, collaboration, and project execution.”  – Alex Watson, Lloyds Register

“This book is a great tool for people in business” – Harvey Goldsmith CBE

Will you give us some specific lessons from bands?

Wanna Be Starting Something?  –  Michael Jackson

Michael had a great hit with ‘Wanna be starting something?’.  It’s unlikely that we would have been as successful if he had called the song ‘Wanna be stopping something?’.  Yet stopping the momentum of a failing project once in full flow is much harder than starting a new enterprise or innovation project.  The wise leader stops a project before it has failed and regroups.

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For  –  U2

Business needs constant learning and reconnaissance in a complex and changing world.  If you stop looking and learning, just like Kodak, you may disappear from view.

Like a Virgin – Madonna

To succeed in business innovation, treat each day like it’s the first time. Business decline can come from comfort.  Keep yourself alive.

I Can’t Control Myself – The Troggs

Creativity at work without precise execution and discipline rarely leads to innovation.

Loving the Alien – David Bowie

Opposites don’t attract at work even if they do in the home and in bed.  Whether we like it or not, it’s easier to surround ourselves with agreeable people at work.  Unfortunately agreeable people don’t ask each other terrifying questions, don’t generally have a diverse skill set and don’t dare to venture into unknown territories.  Wise leaders welcome intellectual conflict by ensuring that there is a rich mixture of people, mixed up in different permutations from time to time.

Minority – Green Day

Green Day made a mistake when they claimed they wanted to be the minority.  When introducing innovations, a minority called the ‘innovators’ first adopts the idea, but they only represent 2.5% of the market.  Successful marketers often target so-called ‘early adopters’ – about 13.5% of the market.  These people are better networked and influence the ‘early majority’ – 34% of the market.  Minorities matter at the outset of new product diffusion, but make sure you reach the other groups for overall success.

Chain Reaction – Diana Ross

Successful innovation often requires the combination of several different talents:  Inventors, who often produce ideas without concern for their practical value;  Innovators, who develop ideas such that they have sustainable commercial value;  Champions, who bring resources to help the product / service idea succeed.  Smart people ensure that these types are represented at the right stage of an innovative project.  The innovation chain reaction is then achieved.

Should we be playing/listening to more music at work?

Absolutely.  The inspiration must fit in with the perspiration if creativity is to turn into innovation excellence though!

How can we get hold of The Music of Business?

It’s on, and worldwide, signed copies via The Music of Business webpage, and the book is available as a Kindle download.  It will be accompanied by free iPhone and Android apps as well, covering daily business tips through the medium of music.

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The Music of Business Peter Cook is a business academic, author, consultant and musician. He leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock, and provides Keynote speaking, Organisational Development and Business Coaching. You can follow him on twitter @Academyofrock.  Peter is Rock ‘n’ Roll Innovation Editor at Innovation Excellence.

Peter Cook




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