Deep Purple – Improvisation and Innovation in Music

Creative Collaboration

By Think Jar Collective member Peter Cook

The hard rock band Deep Purple is responsible for millions of young boys camping out in music shops trying to play the riff to ‘Smoke on the Water’.  At the age of 14 I used to sit at the top of the stairs at home in the darkness trying to figure out the riff with my Hofner Futurama guitar and 10 Watt Zenta amp, until my mum would shout me to come down to get my fish finger sandwiches!  Aside from these problems, Deep Purple offer us a great example of improvisation and discipline in action in the context of a rock outfit.  The Mark II incarnation of the band is generally considered to be perhaps the definitive lineup, but also the most volatile.  Much of the conflict within Deep Purple arose from Ritchie Blackmore, their phenomenal virtuoso guitarist and moody maverick.  Check out Deep Purple Mark II’s work when jamming here:

In this extract from ‘Mandrake Root’ we see the art of improvisation within a disciplined structure as Blackmore sends musical instructions (using his arms as a baton ! ) to the keyboard player Jon Lord, to repeat and develop certain lines (This is particularly obvious around 48 seconds onwards).  He also sends orders to the rhythm section of Ian Paice and Roger Glover with respect to starts and stops within the music (around 1 minute 50 seconds).  Blackmore’s signs are perhaps more aggressive than those used by Prince to change direction at short notice within the band.  What then are the parallel lessons for business from Deep Purple?   Here’s three to get the discussion started – Please add your own views by commenting here.

1. Innovation in business requires discipline as much as it does creativity:  Creativity to come up with novel strategies; Discipline to execute them, so that ideas turn into profitable innovations.  Companies such as Google3M and Innocent may seem to be all about creativity at first glance, but a deeper inspection reveals discipline and structure, even if that structure does not emanate from ‘management’ in all cases.  Giving people 20% of their time to work on speculative projects is the business equivalent of a free form jam within Space Truckin’, Lazy, Mistreated and many other pieces of Deep Purple’s repertoire.

2. It requires extremely strong leadership and a compelling shared vision to hold diverse people together.  To encourage a company that continuously learns / adapts and improvises into the future requires leadership that is precise on the destination, yet loose on the journey.

My faded copy of Deep Purple in Rock

3. Conflict will occur where there is diversity / divergence.  It must be handled properly if progress is to be made.  Ultimately Blackmore’s maverick behaviour proved too much for the band, especially the singer Ian Gillan, and despite several reunions, the band proved impossible to hold together.  There have been many arguments to suggest that what Deep Purple Mark II needed was a manager who could hold the various personalities together and perhaps some time off from touring.

What else do you consider we can learn from Deep Purple about business, innovation, conflict and so on?  Share your thoughts by making a comment below.

To finish, here’s another piece by Deep Purple’s Mark II line up, the famous California Jam performance where Ritchie Blackmore destroys several guitars and sets fire to his amplifiers.  I can’t immediately think of a transferable corporate lesson from this sequence but it sure is fun.  Takes me back to my teenage years with the amp on all the way up and me smashing the guitar into the speaker trying to coax some feedback out of the amp!


Peter Cook runs Human Dynamics, a creative management consultancy. With 20+ years’ business, academic and consultancy experience in leading innovation teams, international trouble-shooting, internal business and OD consultancy and leadership and management development. Peter Cook, MBA, MRSC C.Chem, FCIPD, FRSA  www.humdyn.co.uk and www.academy-of-rock.co.uk

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