David Bowie: Serial Innovator and Re-inventor

On Monday 12th January at 7.30 am I was awoken by a phone call from CNN, asking me if I could be in London for a TV interview at 11.00. Why I wondered?  It turned out that David Bowie had sadly passed and they wanted me to comment on his life as a business person as much as a music legend. They had read my book “The Music of Business“, which included the article “Life On Mars” and wondered if I could make it into London on time. I wondered if Iggy Pop had not been up in time to take the call but said yes regardless !  I packed my bag, some Bowie albums, amplifier and guitar and set off.

It was a privilege and a bittersweet moment to be asked to comment on David Bowie’s passing

On arrival, I was taken straight into makeup (how appropriate !!) and within seconds was on the set of CNN News being interrogated by their news anchor about Bowie Bonds, his early adoption of the internet as a tool of engagement and his innovation and reinvention capacity, alongside artists such as Prince, Madonna and business leaders such as Sir Richard Branson. Here are some of the answers I gave:

What characteristics gave Bowie staying power?

I contributed to Sir Richard Branson‘s article on David Bowie and drew some parallels with Branson and Bowie’s abilities as serial entrepreneurs:

  1. Both Branson and Bowie have a strong sense of adventure across business disciplines and musical ones. It is the playfulness dimension that I’ve discussed here as part of the 4 P’s of creativity.
  2. Both are not afraid to use mistakes as a way to learn faster. Bowie Bonds, the credit card and Branson’s Virgin Coke being prime examples. Richard Branson noted that his entry into the US market with Virgin Coke was one of his greater failures in his interview with me recently.
  3. Both have contributed over a broad range of endeavours. Bowie through music, art, theatre, fashion and, of course, business. Branson through music, travel, well-being, telecoms and, recently, healthcare.
  4. Both are masters of reinvention. Bowie in common with Madonna and Prince, has reinvented himself several times over, kept his existing audiences and gained new audiences. This is the winning move for all businesses who change – to generate new customers from the change and potentially keep their existing ones.
  5. Both have challenged conventions and taboos to make the world a better place for all to live in.

Bowie has lasted longer in the music business because of qualities like this.

Ch, Ch, Ch, Changes – David Bowie as innovator

The usual situation in the music industry is to hit on a success recipe and then repeat it until the fans stop buying your records. Departure from the formula is often greeted with disapproval by fans who are creatures of habit and this probably accounts for the vast number of “one hit wonders” in music.  David Bowie had no concern for such matters and took us from the music hall inspired “Laughing Gnome” through hippy music, glam rock, smooth soul, the ambient pop art of “Low”, “Heroes” and “Lodger” on to new wave, metal, electronica and then almost a return to the beginning with his most recent output.

Bowie changed genres of music, kept his existing audiences and developed new ones. This is the hallmark of a serial innovator and reinventor. My friend the BBC Economics and Politics Editor Robert Peston had this to say about Bowie’s contribution across music, art, fashion and values: Bowie – the most important Briton of our time. Paradoxically I included a segue of Bowie songs in a song I wrote for Robert’s departure from the BBC to another TV network (Pestonomics), without realising that Bowie would pass so soon.

I comment further on the characteristics of business leaders who make innovation, creativity and reinvention part of business as usual in “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise“.

Thank you for your music, your art and your ability to challenge conventions.

David Bowie R.I.P 1947 – 2016.

image credits: CNN.com; the official Bowie badge for the new album made by my friend Debbie

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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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