Spinal Tap, Business and Creativity: Interview with Peter Cook

music of business bookWe are stoked for fellow Think Jar Collective contributor Peter Cook to be releasing his new book The Music of Business.  Peter brings a unique perspective to creativity and innovation and certainly knows how to bash together and intersect diverse disciplines. He comes from a punk rock background in the UK and now consults with companies around the world on enhancing their innovation culture and practices.  He has written articles for Think Jar on subjects from Andy Warhol and innovation at “The Factory” to Deep Purple and the value of constraints for creative thinking.

Think Jar founder Ben Weinlick: Tell us a little about how you’ve connected music and particularly punk rock to thinking about creativity, innovation and business?

peter-cook-guitarPeter Cook:  There are many parallel lessons from music and business.  For example punk rock was a disruptive innovation, which shook up the cozy world of prog rock and redefined music in ways that have fed through into popular culture, music and fashion.  Secondly, structure and creativity are bedfellows in music and business.  Too much structure and you have little possibility of innovation in business and a dull musical performance.  Too much creativity and you may miss the customer need in business and fail to engage an audience through endless improvisation.

BW: Your previous book what called Punk Rock People Management. What’s your new book The Music of Business about?

PC: The Music of Business offers a carefully crafted cocktail of business intelligence, mixed with parallel observations from the world of music.  For nearly 20 years now, I have written, spoke and consulted about the parallels between creativity in the business universe and the world of music, be it rock, jazz, classical etc.  The book is perhaps the creative synthesis of three passions (Science, Business and Music) that have defined my career in an 18 year recurrent “Schumpeterian cycle” – 18 years working in science based innovative R&D, 18 years teaching management at MBA level for Universities and 18 years of self employment as a creativity and innovation specialist.  The constant through all this has been music, writing, recording and performing.

The book explores four business themes using MBA level business thinking, with the addition of the spark of creativity through the use of musical concepts and examples.

·      What can you learn about creativity and innovation from The Beatles, The Velvet Underground and David  Bowie?

·      What can Lady Gaga teach you about Business Strategy, performance and using social media to advantage

·      What can AC / DC, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin teach you that an MBA cannot?

·      Can Britney Spears and The Kaiser Chiefs help your company become adaptive, flexible and creative?

And so on.

Compared with the Punk Rock HR book, this book is about creativity in business generally rather than the specific of people management.  It is also more mainstream in its choice of musical examples.

BW: Not to spoil the book, but can you tell us a little about what Spinal Tap can teach us that an MBA cannot?

spinal_tapPC: Of course.  I have nothing against MBA’s – after all I have one and have taught on them for 18 years.  However, the models and concepts taught on an MBA are an idealized and sanitized view of how business should be run and do not teach people the realities of life in business.  In short, many MBA’s teach knowledge and some skills, but they do not deal with the “attitude” part of business.  Put in the hands of people who don’t possess a complementary suite of creativity and human skills, we get ill-fitting approaches to business.  We’ve all met someone with an MBA who seems to have lost hold of reality. Spinal Tap is a huge exaggeration of the realities of life.

Be bop deluxIf you have seen the rockumentary “This is Spinal Tap”, you will know that it is an hilarious tale of a spoof rock band that tries to resurrect their failing business, but makes things worse at every turn.  You may rightly say, “Well, this is a Hollywood comedy movie and nothing like real life”.  Not at all.  Indeed, the reason why “This Is Spinal Tap” is so awfully funny is because the sequences are all based on real life events that have occurred.  One such moment was the occasion when my friend Bill Nelson was trapped inside a perspex cage, which failed to open at the start of one of the dates from Be-Bop Deluxe’s “Sunburst Finish” tour.  Check out the album cover for Sunburst Finish to see the picture that inspired the perspex cage sketch in Spinal Tap.  If I had a dollar for every company that has told me they have wasted millions on poorly specified projects that resulted in delivery of the wrong thing, I would have retired and you would not be reading this.

BW: To me punk rock is in many ways about breaking music down to the core, cutting through the bullshit and being totally authentic.  If you break leadership down to its core, what is it about?  What should we keep in mind regardless of the field we come from?

PC:  Absolutely.  At the core of the punk rock metaphor are three things:  Simplicity, Brevity and Authenticity. Leadership at the core is about these things:

Keep it simple:  Great leaders make complex things understandable without dumbing them down.  This is very different than diluting the message.

Keep it brief:  Generation Y are not so tolerant to long aimless meetings.  Great leaders prepare well so that they can say it short with the same level of understanding

Keep it real:  Cut the crap and management weasel words.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.  Lou Reed said “I do me better than anyone else”.  People quickly spot inauthenticity so just say no.

I have worked with some original British Punks – Richard Strange, John Otway, Splodgenessabounds and Wilko Johnson.  Some of their thoughts on disruptive thinking turn up in interviews in the book.

BW:  Awesome!  What are your top 3 tips for enhancing creativity in organizations?


1. Learn from Mistakes:   We have entered a world where forgiveness for mistakes is a rare quality.  If we want more creativity and innovation, we must accept, tolerate and even encourage more mistakes provided people learn from them.  Repeat performances are, however not to be encouraged.  It’s a case of what The Who said “Won’t get fooled again” rather than Britney Spears “Oops I did it again”.

2. Foster a creative culture: Managers must learn to encourage creativity.  This does not necessarily come down to teaching them the ‘sheet music / techniques of creativity’ i.e. Brainstorming, six thinking hats and so on.  More, if they set a climate where curiosity, difference and forgiveness are part of the fabric of the company, people bring their ideas to work without artificial stimulation.

3.  Creativity techniques have a place: In a creative culture, techniques for creativity still have a place.  They are however there to increase the effectiveness of creativity (how well an idea fits a need / how radical it is and so on) and the efficiency of creativity (better ideas, faster).  I was blessed to have taught one of the few experience based MBA creativity and innovation programs for the Open University in the UK, delivering a suite of techniques for divergent and convergent thinking.  What I learned from that was that creativity techniques are no substitute for a climate and culture that supports ideas.  Get that right first before leaping for the toolbox.

BW: Is there a question you never get asked but would like to be asked?

PC: I’ve been asked many times by journalists “Are you just trying to make business interesting?”  My reply is always ” …. And what’s exactly wrong with that?  Half the problems we have in the world are down to people who aren’t interested in their work.  I’d prefer to be asked “What should we be doing to get people to bring their heads, hearts and souls to work?”

BW: Thanks Peter!  All the best. 


Pick up Peters book on Amazon Kindle here


Direct from his site here

Early praise for Peter’s new book

“Peter provides some very thought provoking moments on management and leadership using some unexpected musical metaphors and lessons.  Amongst my highlights, I love that “The Darkness are Queen without disco” and that this relates to the fact that “Companies can learn parallel lessons by adopting a mindset that looks to the future whilst respecting cultural signifiers of the past”. Clever and conscience pricking stuff. Well done.”

– Stephen Bourne, Johnson and Johnson

“Original, perceptive, effective and amusing… Peter Cook’s unique take on the parallel universes of Business and Rock music never fails to stimulate, inspire and entertain. There are more ideas in here than in a dozen self-help manuals … and even if you DON’T get to Number One, you’ll have a damned good laugh trying”

– Richard Strange, Founder of the Doctors of Madness

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