Monday, 28 January 2013

The Music of Business

I don't usually do guest blogs, but I'm making an exception for Peter Cook. For nearly 20 years now, Peter has written, spoken and consulted about the parallels between the business universe and the world of music, be it rock, jazz, classical etc.  This follows his much longer involvement with three passions that have fuelled his career: Science, Business and Music.  We met when he hired me to speak on creativity and physics.  He recently completed his 5th book “The Music of Business”, acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith. I asked him to explain more:

"The Music of Business” offers a carefully crafted cocktail of business intelligence, mixed with the wisdom of pop and rock’s monarchy.  I have a Slideshare presentation which gives a rapid overview of the book.  One way into understanding what the book is about is via some of the questions it attempts to address:
  •  What can you learn about creativity and innovation from The Beatles, David Bowie and a night at the opera?
  • Can Jazz and structured improvisation help you succeed in a complex and changing business world? 
  • What can Lady Gaga teach you about business strategy and using social media to build a powerful and durable brand?
  • What can Spinal Tap, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin teach you about business strategy and project execution that a business school cannot? 
  • Can Britney Spears, Bill Nelson and The Kaiser Chiefs help you become a true learning company? 
The book has come from my career, which seems to rotate (accidentally) in 18 year cycles – almost Schumpeterian in nature!  I spent 18 years in Pharmaceutical Research and Development at the Wellcome Foundation, 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.  Along the way, I’ve played win a number of rock bands, which added “attitude” to my CV, performing with people such as Bernie Tormé, John Otway, Wilko Johnson, The Fall, Altered Images and Classix Nouveau to name a few.  It’s 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.

In case anyone is in any doubt, the book has four solid business themes: Strategy; Creativity; Innovation and; Leadership of Change.  Each chapter offers a solid business idea, reinforced by bite sized examples of how such ideas work in business, using the musical concepts to help make the business pills go down better for longer lasting and better learning value.

Strategy is no longer just about rigid plans and Gantt charts to execute your strategies.  In a turbulent world, strategy is a continuous process of reconnaissance, involving colleagues, clients, customers and competitors.  Execution of strategy is also about responsiveness and the ability to change course in mid-stream, whilst avoiding being blown off course by the myriad of business fads that bedevil the business landscape these days.  We compare AC / DC with Radiohead and the Kaiser Chiefs in this respect, making connections with Unilever, Apple and many other business examples.  Failure is an instructive way of looking at strategy and we examine strategic mismanagement, along with a trip to the Opera to examine complex strategy execution where there is no room for error or failure.

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, First Direct and others.  Punk rock offers a metaphor for disruptive thinking 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.

Under Leadership we examine questions of stability and reinvention via Bill Nelson, leader of 70’s pop art group Be-Bop Deluxe and who reinvented himself at the expense of x-factor style popular acclaim.  We compare this with chameleons who have done the same thing but taken their audiences with them – Madonna, David Bowie, Nokia, Stora Enso et al.  Leaders need to have abilities to bounce back from setbacks, be sensitive to others but not overwhelmed by feedback and this part of the book has significant content from Professor Adrian Furnham, Punk folk group Chumbawumba, Britney Spears and Daniel Goleman.  Toyota is compared with Sony and Marks and Spencers, as a company that is responsive and adaptive compared with others that have nearly perished through their rigidity.

The most enjoyable part of writing this book was the day when I had a chance encounter with Harvey Goldsmith – I felt that it might be worth making an approach but, what do you say to start the conversation?  In the event I pointed out that I’d been to a lot of his ‘gigs’ but he had never showed up!  Against the advice of what many PR experts would have given, he laughed out loud and this resulted in getting his endorsement for the book.  It is the hallmark of all great people that they make time for others less important than themselves and make them feel like they are the only person in the room.  Harvey Goldsmith is a shining example of this.

The Music of Business is available (at bargain prices for business books) at as a paperback and on Kindle, and at as a paperback and on Kindle, or alternatively via The Music of Business webpage.  Peter is also offering a free iPhone app with daily business tips on business in the same mode, available via the webpage.  Peter also has some Business meets Music events planned with HSBC.  These include a launch event aboard a ship with some very special rock star guests.


  1. Well, Brian - we reached No 10 in Leadership books on Amazon on the launch day - that's almost unheard of for an independent release - thank you so much for your help in achieving this