Anatomy of an Innovator – Prince R.I.P 1958-2016

I’m heartbroken as someone who was born in the same year as me passed far too early. Prince Rogers Nelson was a serial innovator in his music, his style and his interactions with the music business and I feel very lucky to have lived in the same age as him.

I’ve written an extremely long post about Prince on Linkedin at “The Prince of Innovation“. Here is a flavour of that article plus some other thoughts relating to his approach to innovation:

1. If you want to be adaptive, practise, practise, practise

To reach mastery in improvisation paradoxically requires intensive detailed preparation. What looks like a seamless performance is the result of many hours of preparation and Prince is meticulous in this respect. It’s what is popularly known as the ‘10,000 hours effect’, popularised by Tom Peters and, more recently, Malcolm Gladwell. The idea of prepared spontaneity contradicts what some so-called creativity and innovation gurus say on the subject, yet we constantly see parallels across many industries. Sloppy creativity produces sloppy results in many businesses as well as in the rock business.

2. Be a boundary crosser to create sustainable advantage

Prince is also a master of fusing musical genres and influences outside his core style. This enables him to still exert a major influence on artists of the 21st century, such as Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. In business, the ability to cross mental boundaries is the parallel skill set, exemplified by companies such as 3M, Virgin and Google.

Virgin, in particular, is a great example of a large enterprise that encourages experimentation and practice. In my interview with Sir Richard Branson he talks about this openly and graphically:

“We’ve had our fair share of failures over the years but it’s not something that worries us, if anyone tells you they haven’t then they’re lying. Failure needs to be embraced as it’s going to happen if you’re willing to take risks – the key is ensuring that you learn from your mistakes. An example I often give is that of Virgin Cola. Whilst we usually look to enter an industry and disrupt it, offering consumers a better product or service, we didn’t really have anything superior to give them on this occasion. Virgin Cola was a good product, but so is Coca Cola, and we soon found out that our presence in the market was not welcomed by our competitors, who pulled out all the stops to drive us out of business. When British Airways tried to do this with Virgin Atlantic we were able to stand our ground, our customers wanted to stick with us as we were offering something truly different – the same cannot be said of Virgin Cola.

We learned a big lesson by going through this process. We also unearthed some great talent that went on to work on many of our other projects. A failure can give you more than a success sometimes”.

Sir Richard Branson – Extract from “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise

3. Innovation = Perspiration + Inspiration

Prince’s level of risk-taking on stage is perhaps greater than other artists such as Celine Dion, who aims for a perfect, polished performance, which can be reproduced night after night. Through conversations with a session musician who works with Dion, this becomes apparent. Dion also showcases the individual band members in what appears to be a loose jam, but the order and sequence of each individual solo is preset in advance.

In contrast, Prince will call out individual band members for a solo on the fly. This requires every band member to be watching and waiting for the instructions that Prince gives to the band members.

Both approaches rest on meticulous preparation and practice if you want to reach out for excellence. An object lesson for all: If you want to be a star, know that perspiration is much more important than inspiration.

Check the full article out on Linkedin. Here’s some of the floral tributes outside Koko’s in Camden, London where I visited recently after this postmodern tragedy.

A tribute fit for a Prince

Here’s a little but of my own tribute to the massive talent of Prince via a piece of music I performed at a business conference “aftershow” in Italy a while back. Little did I know just what would come to pass. Sometimes it snows in April …

Bella Italia - Click image for some Purple Rain

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock, providing Keynotes, Organisational Development and Coaching. He is the author of seven books on business leadership. His three passions are science, business and music, having led innovation teams for 18 years to develop life-saving drugs including the first treatments for AIDS and the development of Human Insulin. Peter is Music and Business editor at Innovation Excellence. You can follow him on twitter @Academyofrock.

Peter Cook




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