Music of Business - Peter Cook bookI’m honored to have this guest post from Peter Cook, renowned author of five books on business leadership and creativity. In his latest book “The Music of Business”, he draws parallel lessons from the world of music and relates them to his MBA and his work as a business consultant. I asked him some questions about some of my favorite musical artists at the end. Here’s what he had to say about the book. What can you learn about creativity and innovation from The Beatles and David Bowie? What can Lady Gaga teach you about Business Strategy and using Social Media positively?

Can a study of Jazz help you beat the competition? What can Spinal Tap, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin teach you that an MBA cannot? Can Britney Spears and The Kaiser Chiefs help your company become a true learning organisation? These are just some of the questions I examine in “The Music of Business“. The book offers a carefully crafted cocktail of business leadership excellence, mixed with the wisdom of pop and rock’s monarchy. Acclaimed by Professor Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE, the man behind Live Aid, The Music of Business is a synthesis of three passions that have fueled my career:

Science – 18 years leading science based innovation teams and international pharmaceutical troubleshooting;

Business – 18 years teaching MBA’s and running a consultancy business;

Music – 18 years writing and speaking on the parallels between music and business leadership and management. A much longer time writing and performing music itself which has been a constant through my life.

Here’s a sample of some of the ideas from the book around four facets of leadership and management that are crucial to success: Strategy; Creativity; Innovation and; Change.

In Creativity we look at the importance of creativity principles and techniques via The Beatles with parallel lessons from Proctor and Gamble, HSBC and others. The Beatles offer a powerful set of parallel lessons in how to convert bright ideas into sustainable innovations.

Punk rock also offers a metaphor for disruptive thinking and we explore punk creativity via chapters on marketing and spontaneous thinking, comparing the wisdom of US marketing guru Richard Laermer with the writer of the punk anthem “Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Please”. The song was inspired by intuition rather than management creativity techniques such as six thinking hats or synectics. Techniques have their place in leadership and management, but intuition is undervalued in a world dominated by data and evaluation.

We examine principles of business Innovation, using the examples of The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol, Prince, Lady Gaga, Dyson, Innocent Drinks and more. This includes lessons on how to adapt and take your customers / audience with you, how to use social media to its full effect. We also look at the vexed question of how to manage creative, who are often characterized as precocious, edgy and difficult. It’s probably a truism that Steve Jobs would have not gotten past the HR department in the modern age and that would have been a tragedy. Leaders and managers need to learn how to see beyond the HR tick boxes on selection forms and do what the boss of Sony Music calls “seeing round corners”. This is real talent management.

In the section on Change we examine questions of stability and reinvention via chameleons who have reinvented themselves and taken their audiences with them – Madonna, David Bowie, Toyota, Nokia, Stora Enso et al. There’s a vast difference between those companies that reinvent and take their customers with them and the ‘one hit wonders’. We also look at personal leadership qualities with Punk folk group Chumbawumba, Britney Spears and Daniel Goleman. As we know, leadership is about changing existing behaviour whereas management is about perfecting existing behaviour. Most of us have to do both and it’s important to understand the differences

Nadine: So, tell me about the relevance of music for business and leadership?

Peter: After the economic meltdown of 2008, we need new models to take us forward. That requires companies and countries to value innovation and creativity more than we have done in the past. People sometimes say to me that it was creativity that caused the crash. That was simply gambling and has nothing to do with what I call “good creativity”. Good creativity combines novelty with appropriateness and feasibility so that ideas turn into innovations that fit societies’ needs and which are sustainable rather than “here today, gone tomorrow” fads. Music is inherently about creativity i.e. the thinking of new ideas from limited raw materials (the notes, instruments and so on), and converting that creativity into innovation i.e. something that someone wants to hear. There are many parallels from the world of music that have currency more widely in business and it’s these parallels that offer great insights for leaders in ways that are very powerful.

Nadine: I’ve spent a lot of time studying engagement. Is there a parallel with music there?

Peter: In many ways, music echoes the time in which it exists – just think of how the protest songs in the 60’s echoed the socio-cultural context of the age. Businesses also need to be in tune with the market and prevailing socio-cultural norms if they and their products are to be accepted. Being “out of time” is important for both musicians and for businesses in different ways. A major reason for the non-acceptance of new products is that they are somehow out of time with the market. A classic example was the “Sinclair C5”, an environmentally friendly means of transport that was probably 30 years ahead of its time.

Nadine: Now, let’s get on to music itself. Is there a lesson for us from Jimi Hendrix, whose guitar riffs cut to my soul and whose creativity blew my mind? He was certainly someone who was off the beaten track with his music. Can you say something about that?

Peter: Hendrix was an innovator in terms of his creative style, fusing musical genres, whereas Clapton was an adaptor, sticking close to the blues genre and popularising it. We need both in society in the world of work if we are to convert bright ideas into sustainable innovations. There’s a chapter on Hendrix and Clapton in the book.

With respect to being off the beaten track, improvisation in music is a wonderful way of understanding the value of divergent thinking and even failure. Miles Davis went so far as to say “There are no mistakes”. Hendrix is a great example of someone who valued improvisation and being “off the beaten track”. Another example of someone who has developed improvisation as an art form would be Prince who I write about and have seen many times. He enjoyed the copy of Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll I gave him a few years back.

Nadine : I agree with you about Hendrix and Clapton and I loved both. One of the most pervasive forms of music has been the blues. Can you say something about that?

Peter : I talk about the blues in the previous book, Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll, acclaimed by Tom Peters. Both in a frivolous way in the ironic sense that “you cannot have no blues in a shopping mall, ‘cos the lighting is all wrong!” J On a more serious level, the blues is an evergreen musical genre. I believe this is for several reasons. Technically, the blues has a simple structure (basically three chords). More importantly, the blues tells the story of the human condition, of dealing with pain, torment and so on. Many blues songs are cathartic for the singer and the listener. Music does catharsis much better than many ‘instruments of business’ such as counselling, coaching and so on. The blues also links to soul and protest music in terms of emotional content.

Nadine: A lot of leadership literature focuses on the question of authenticity. Does music inform us about this aspect of leadership?

Peter: When we play or sing, it often comes from our true self. Indeed, many leadership writers have talked about authenticity as a key driving force of the future, for example in the book “Why should anyone be led by you?” Music opens the door to discovering what we truly think and feel on a number of topics, as in protest songs.

Nadine : Which brings me on to the role of protest and poetry in music. I have loved many of the poetic song-writer/singers and/or protest songs, such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Leonard Cohen, Odetta, Mahalia Jackson, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Tracey Chapman. Tell me more about how music is a unique communication vehicle when you have something important to say.

Peter : I think it was Emmanuel Kant that said “Music is the language of the emotions”. Or was it Madonna? J In any case, this statement accounts for why millions of songs have been written about love gained and lost, war and peace, injustice, motivation, leadership and so on. When music is combined with a great lyric on a subject of protest that others care about, it stands head and shoulders above memoranda, policies and speeches in ways that politicians only dream of. Just think how much more effective Sir Bob Geldof was in raising the issue of Africa on the world stage than our politicians via Live Aid. I did a tribute to the songs of Leonard Cohen a few years back at the Edinburgh Festival and love the work of Tracey Chapman, Joan Baez, Billy Bragg (who did a tribute album to Woody Guthrie) and many other protest singers. The clue to a successful protest song is that it must engage others that feel the same sense of injustice if it is to transcend just being a piece of music.

Nadine : And Soul and Motown, another influence in my life. Is there a lesson there?

Peter : When I was a kid, my brother loved Soul, Motown and Reggae, Naturally I was compelled to choose Glam and heavy metal! J I have grown to realise just what I missed and recently met Doug Shaw, CEO of Sony Records, who wrote ‘Sweet Talkin’ Guy’ for the Chiffons. Music is the language of the emotions. Soul music and Motown captured that spirit.

Somewhat strangely, there is a Soul / Motown link via my connection with hard rock musician Bernie Tormé, guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne and Ian Gillan of Deep Purple. Bernie has worked in some of the great studios in the world including many of those that produced some of the world’s greatest soul records, such as Stax, Chess in Chicago, Sun Studios in Memphis and Motown in Detroit. We have an article in the book on the impact of the built environment on creative endeavour, drawing parallels between these ‘music factories’ and ‘innovation hotspots’ in companies. Paradoxically, greatness does not always rely on opulent surroundings and there are strong parallels in the world of work, where innovation sometimes comes out of adversity.

Nadine : I loved The Rolling Stones. They were the band of choice for the rebellious vs. those who followed all the rules and preferred the Beatles. What do you have from them?

Peter : Quite surprisingly the song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” flags up the difference between what we want and what we need. Many people don’t know the difference. The wise leader does.

Nadine : I gather you have even dared to suggest we can learn something about business from Michael Jackson’s music. Surely there’s not an MBA Parallel with his work?

Peter : 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. For me, it’s not that important whether one likes an artist or not and I am of course applying a certain degree of the legendary British irony and humour to my remarks on Mr Jackson!

The Music of Business is available in hard copy and Kindle worldwide via The Music of Business webpage. We also have an MBA level online learning version of the programme via The Music of Business ONLINE. – Peter Cook

Nadine’s note: if you would like to post a guest piece on my blog, please let me know.

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Desiree Elliott April 28, 2013, 12:49 am

    Thank you for taking the time to do the interview. I found it different and appealing. When immersed in data and connections its always nice to see one more way of “looking at something” and you have done a wonderful job of presenting a teaser to your written work. I will probably have to investigate your “crazy train*Ozzy” of thought and see what If “I get by *Everlast”. Thanks again I look forward to reading more from you Nadine (as always a pleasure) and to you Mr. Cook. ~ TS (AKA: Desiree Elliott)

    • Peter Cook May 9, 2013, 5:05 pm

      Hello Desiree,

      Nadine posed some absolutely brilliant (if challenging) questions and that got the best out of me. That’s the trick of getting the most from people, challenge them to do more and better.

      I like the idea of a Crazy Train of thought and might incorporate that somewhere in the next book, suitably credited etc. As we are on Ozzy, here’s a clip of some work we did with his old guitar player, Mr Bernie Torme

      all the best to you


    • Nadine B Hack June 11, 2013, 11:55 am

      Desiree – I’m glad you liked Peter’s interview. You might also enjoy my TEDx ( Look forward to staying connected via our multiple platforms & following each other’s latest.

    • Nadine B Hack November 16, 2013, 7:20 pm

      Desiree – Truly always more than one way to look at everything and our exchanges with each other open us to those possibilities. As always, a pleasure to interact with you too!

  • Sara Mears May 2, 2013, 3:45 pm

    Great post Nadine. Peter, the connections of music (which can be BIG business but we don’t think of it that way) to business is quite interesting. That juxtaposition lets us see business and organization and culture (and engagement) in a more profound way. Thank you.

    • Peter Cook May 9, 2013, 5:02 pm

      Hello Sara,

      Engagement is a topic which Nadine is much more qualified to respond to. That said, music has a way of engaging people’s heads, hearts and souls in ways that Excel spreadsheets do not :-) Just think how much more Live Aid did to raise consciousness than the best efforts of our politicians.

      Our cultures in business are becoming more and more ordered through various corporate programmes and we need to find ways to make ‘spaces’ where creativity, innovation and intrapreneurship can flourish. Music offers us some clues about all of these things.

      Thanks for stopping by to comment.

  • MizB (Jeanne Browne May 13, 2013, 6:39 pm

    Past research (regrettably currently ignored and even disparaged) has taught us that music in particular and the arts in general can play a legitimate, effective role in education (music and math, drama and language, etc.). Your correlations between music and business is, I believe, original and accurate, and should be of keen value to any businessperson — especially business leaders — who are willing and able to think outside the proverbial box.

    While you make specific connections between certain artists/genres and business elements, I think the parallel can also be useful in general terms. Good business, like good music, requires imagination and an innate sense of what works and what doesn’t. Both also require discipline, practice and teamwork (whether within a group and/or solo artists, and their A&R, management and PR partners), trial and error, common sense, people sense, and an understanding of your market.

    Both also reflect the value of collaboration. Nadine and I went to the same high school: Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn. It covered most of a square city block and had a student population of 6,000. In keeping with its size – and its extensive music studies program – we had a junior chorus, senior chorus, boys chorus, girls chorus and a large orchestra, all of which were excellent. Our “assembly” was constructed more like a chapel, complete with a wrap-around balcony. Every Christmas, the school produced a concert that not only attracted parents, but “unaffiliated” adults and kids from all over Brooklyn.

    Picture if you will the senior chorus on stage, the orchestra below them, and the other three choruses grouped on the U-shaped balcony all singing the Halleluiah Chorus. It was stunning! As a member of the senior chorus, I remember those concerts as the most gratifying experience of my [aspirational] singing experience. Being a part of that exquisite “wall of sound” was amazing — far more wonderful than singing solo.

    And speaking of “wall of sound,” felon though he may now be, Phil Spector, like many producers (e.g. George Martin and the Beatles), as well as recording engineers, play a pivotal role in making music work, just as their business counterparts do.

    Congratulations, Peter, on your unique and valuable work. I also think one could make the same creation/performance/success correlation between music and politics. Any way you can work with Congress??

    • Nadine B Hack November 16, 2013, 7:23 pm

      Jeanne – you and Peter remind us that music and arts profoundly affect every other aspect of life, improving greatly all dimensions. Amen to your suggestion that the US Congress take some tips from Peter!

  • Peter Cook May 15, 2013, 5:38 am

    Wow, thank you for your comprehensive reply Jeanne. I will let Nadine come here to discuss school days with you but let me thank you straight away for your valuable parallels.

    On the specifics of what you say, absolutely there are a good many parallels between music and business, plus some important ones that one should NOT learn, such as some of the less palatable human failings such as narcissism, hubris and so on. Leaders need followers, not fans – fans follow you over a cliff. Followers will point out that there is a cliff in front of you ….

    On the Beatles, I may well be doing some innovation work with a company soon at Abbey Road Studios. Now that WILL be interesting on several levels! :-)

    And on to politics. I make a rule, like the best TV presenters, never to work with animals or children …. so politicians may also fall under that rule – I jest of course and have worked with some senior people in highly political contexts such as the head of our Diplomatic Protection Group in the Metropolitan Police. Politicians work with impossible choices at times, so their decisions must be the best they can be, based on the people they serve. I’ve also broken my own rule in working with kids to raise their self esteem using rock music from time to time – Here’s a clip of The School of Rock I did a few years back, which the Headmistress claimed raised achievement levels beyond what she had predicted.

    Having worked with kids, I feel that Congress cannot be any more difficult ! :-)

    Thanks so much for your comments. Let me know if you want to get hold of copies of the books or the online learning resource direct – my mail


  • Judith Schraemli May 20, 2013, 11:45 am

    Dear Nadine,
    Responding to your blog and or emails will become my blossoming of life. I look forward to developing a correspondence with you about everything and anything in life.
    Another sister of mine taught me that to get really close we have to play all the keys. Like a piano. The major the minor the black and white and flats and sharps. My daughter Edith only plays two keys with me. What she wants and when she gets it. Actually it turns out to be one key because I’m a mama from Brooklyn.
    So, if you disagree with me say so and if I disagree I have to have the confidence in you that I can say so. go ahead prove me incorrect or , show me another view point. but no kiss ass , politically correct hokey pokey. I mean we don’t have to get vicious. Peace, love and all that but your heroes, Mandela, Martin Luther King Ellie Wiesel, Gloria Steinem when you read their speeches; in between the ones they are famous for, They rocked this world.
    Before Dr. King said we’d all hold hands he spoke of “racism dripping with the blood of interpostion from the lips of the likes of Bull Conner”etc. I will speak of the Patriot Act. Stop and Frisk. Women’s rights., The need for women in government, Unequal education, Wow we are going to be getting for real…
    Love Always,
    Pohaybe, (Judith)

    • Nadine B Hack May 25, 2013, 3:24 am

      Judith – I love the idea that “to get really close we have to play all the keys” and it’s so true! Of course, we must be candid whether we always agree or not. But, like all musicians who want to continue to riff together, we must do that in a spirit of mutual respect, as you always do.


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