Entrepreneurial learning journey: restlessness & reinvention of Radiohead

Music is the sound of the soul, the direct voice of the outer and inner worlds we inhabit. It triggers a mental reaction, our moods vibrate in response to what we’re listening too. We can set free profound emotions with the intensity with which music affects the nerves and elevates human consciousness, and at the same time, brings silence to life, uncovering the hidden sound of silence and solitude.

The music I like is for me, the isolation of being in one’s own head is often the easiest way of losing yourself in the moment or to memories of past, feeling, life, motion and emotion, good and bad. Music that we feel in our marrow, that invites us into some other dimension of time, magnetises us to the present yet contains within itself all that ever was and ever will be.

We like music because it makes us feel good. In 2001, neuroscientists Anne Blood and Robert Zatorre at McGill University in Canada used magnetic resonance imaging to show that people listening to music they liked had activated brain regions called the limbic and paralimbic areas, which are connected to euphoric reward responses, like those we experience from sex, good food and addictive drugs. Those rewards come from a gush of a neurotransmitter called dopamine.

A surge of dopamine enlivens the brain with a pleasurable play of emotions, but it’s not the whole story. Our emotional response to music may be conditioned by many other factors too – if we are hearing it alone or in a crowd, for example, or if we associate a particular piece with a past experience – Temptation by New Order; Susan, they’re playing our tune.

So you have an epiphany that gives you goosebumps as your brain floods with dopamine. Over the years I recall when I first heard the opening bars of a number of Radiohead songs, and something just happened. I just felt this rush of emotion come through me. It was so intense. I had to concentrate on the song and the pleasure it gave me.

Like any business, a band is focused on new products and developing its fan base. As musical tastes change and new bands and sounds capture the imagination of the public, how does an established band like Radiohead keep their music fresh, so that it appeals to existing fans and yet at the same time grows their audience? It’s a challenge for any business.

Radiohead is an English band formed in Oxford in 1985 by five school friends. Initially the band were called On a Friday, the name referring to the band’s usual rehearsal day in the school’s music room. In late 1991, after a chance meeting between band member Colin Greenwood and EMI’s A&R representative at Our Price, the record shop where Greenwood worked, they signed a six-album recording contract with EMI. At the request of EMI, the band changed their name – Radiohead was taken from the song Radio Head on the Talking Heads album, True Stories.

Since their formation, Radiohead have been lyrically and musically spearheaded by Thom Yorke, the essential spark of innovation in the band. Yorke’s somnambulant ramblings and markedly individualistic performances cutting a strangely solitary figure, making him look like a man in the throes of a tortuous titanic confidence crisis. It’s all there in the songs, spooked, soul-baring millennial masterpieces. Yorke’s vocals trail through those atmospherics with angst and despair of a tortured performer.

Radiohead released their ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool last year, an eleven track gem. As with each of the previous eight albums, it makes a statement about their musical influences and direction. Each has marked a dramatic evolution in their style, as they incorporated influences from experimental electronic music, expansive sounds, themes of modern alienation and C20th classical.

Radiohead are in many ways the Rolling Stones of Gen Y but without the ostentatious commerciality driven by the marketing machine. They are a serious band that make serious music, a touchstone for adventurous music, yet you have to actively listen to the music and the lyrics, they have meaning.

Just like Joy Division, they are seen by many as morose, gloomy harbingers of doom and introspective sensibilities, purporting monochrome view of the world. Not everyone’s cup of tea but for me there are toe tapping and sing-a-long moments a plenty. Something about Radiohead inspires a disorienting kind of hope.

So I keep listening to Radiohead. We all like music for different reasons – tunes, lyrics, live gigs etc., but for me Radiohead articulate a sentiment and voice that has something to say that resonates, be it political, a perspective on social conscience or simply a point of view, the nagging suspicion that some fundamental stuff needs shouting about and that someone else, somewhere else, needed help and that society should be doing do more. I guess it’s C21st protest music.

Nine albums in, thirty years together as a band, how do you keep your product innovation and keep pushing the ambition? What can we learn from Radiohead in terms of their business model, thinking and attitude from an entrepreneurial perspective, at a time when the music industry has been disrupted by digital like no other? Here are some of the best values of entrepreneurship and disruptive innovation that I see from Radiohead tat should spark a startup.

Passion – do it because you love doing it Thom Yorke wasn’t thinking of building a global brand and business when he started playing guitar. He did it simply because he loved it, he had talent and gave it a go. Musicians often say they play for themselves first and that it is a choice by which they can earn a living. This is a very basic principle that is common to successful entrepreneurs everywhere.

Put in 10,000 hours before you expect to make a difference Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000-hour rule in his book Outliers. He states that to be good at anything, you have to put in 10,000 hours of practice to hone your skills. Radiohead were gigging for seven years before they released their first record; in business you have to craft and refine your offering before customers notice.

Radiohead are ingenious, wonderful musicians, and they really put the hours in, so much so, that Thom Yorke often complains of how physically draining it is making a record. That commitment is driven by inspiration, by determination, by hunger. That’s what we’re all after to make our startup different.

Open mindedness Radiohead’s work is drawn from a diverse range of influences. Their uniqueness is the product of constant change and combining existing elements in new ways, producing something entirely their own, with a prowess for throwing stuff together randomly to discover new combinations and possibilities. This ability to create genuine uniqueness is a key trait of an entrepreneur.

Each member of the band has also undertaken a series of independent, solo projects, collaborating with a range of artists. This builds a sense of both free-spirit and freedom yet unity, free thinkers who then regroup to do something together that is better, having had time to breath and explore individually.

Restlessness & reinvention Radiohead has never succumbed to the stick-to-a-formula mantra, each release has emerged with something completely new and unexpected. Not all of his experiments have worked, but this willingness to try out new ideas, knowing that not all will triumph, is a trait every innovator needs.

In 2007, when CD sales were taking a major hit due to illegal downloads, they offered their seventh album, In Rainbows, as a download directly from their website, avoiding all the middlemen, and let fans choose what they wanted to pay, including the option of nothing. About one third did choose the free option, but the average donation for the two months this offer was available was $8.00. It turned into a huge financial success.

Novelty Their passion for novelty and spirit of experimentation is a constant presence in their music, imagery and style, even when if it is critically maligned. Radiohead nurture and cultivate their audience through innovative online marketing – check outhttp://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/feb/11/radiohead-polyfauna-app-iphone-ipad-android Paying attention to your customers is the essence of any business.

Build IP If you are an entrepreneur or aspiring musician, you have made the decision that you are someone that wants to make a mark on the world you live in, live by your own rules and create your own life. Your innovations and intellectual property are your lifeblood. Radiohead are shrewd and carefully manage their IP, the copyright to their songs and music is the greatest revenue earner from licensing.

Yet, they’ve worked without a record deal since leaving EMI in 2003, in an effort to ‘get out of the comfort zone’, and maintain their independence. They must be the best unsigned band in the world. Their last three albums have been released by independent label XL Recordings.

A clear dividing line between important work and busywork Radiohead are not productive – nine albums in thirty years, two in the last decade and five years prior to the last A Moon Shaped Pool. That to me says everything about busy work, and important work. Radiohead have always sounded like a band in constant motion, each new release an agitation from the previous release, never resting on their laurels.

It’s about the team Each member of Radiohead is a talented musician in their own right, everything is balanced and nobody gets into overdoses of egos. It always seems like they’re one step ahead of the game, not to mention that their popularity hasn’t really got in the way of creativity. They have not exactly mellowed with age, either. Most of their songs come about through improvisation, and from chaos and noise you suddenly get some music.

As time marches on, Yorke looks a little like Ming the Merciless reborn as a compassionate yoga instructor. Although their commercial peak maybe behind them, Radiohead continue to release new albums that are liberally sprinkled with strong songs. Unperturbed by changes of fashion, these albums sell to faithful fans who actually pay money for music, almost an anachronism in the age of digital downloads and Spotify.

The formula for Radiohead’s endurance is like a restless entrepreneur, never resting on their laurels, they retain the mix of uplifting, anthemic melodies with craftily serious lyrics. Amazingly now in their fourth decade, their enduring appeal comes from the combination of swagger and often fragile words and on-stage presence. Their albums are always fine soundtracks to life’s more dramatic moments locking together and producing some wonderful noise.

I know they are an acquired taste and not everyone’s cup of tea, but people like Thom Yorke are intrinsically motivated to innovate their craft, and reflect the guile, graft and learning journey of any entrepreneur. Yorke is a talented, spirited man, an aggrieved, affronted isolated figure whose rage was borne of annoyance at the status quo. He is driven, passionate and more than willing to rebel against the norm. And that’s what every entrepreneur does too, to do their own thing and make their mark.

Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent

It’s just over 33 years ago that New Order’s Blue Monday was released – 7 March 1983, and its cutting-edge electronic groove had a major influence on popular culture. But what would it have sounded like if it had been made 50 years earlier? In a special film, using only instruments available in the 1930s, from the theremin and musical saw to the harmonium and prepared piano, the mysterious Orkestra Obsolete present this classic track, as you’ve never heard it before. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHLbaOLWjpc

The song has been widely remixed, re-released and covered since its original version, and became a popular anthem in dance clubs. It is the biggest-selling twelve-inch single of all time with total sales standing at 1.25m in the UK alone. At nearly seven-and-a-half minutes is one of the longest tracks ever to chart.

The song begins with a distinctive kick drum intro, programmed on a synthesiser, which fades in a sequencer melody. The verse section features the song’s signature throbbing synth bass line, played by a Moog Source, overlaid with Peter Hook’s surging bass guitar leads. Bernhard Sumner delivers the lyrics in a deadpan manner, almost a hark back to their founding Joy Division days.

After a lengthy introduction, the first and second verses are contiguous and are separated from the third verse only by a brief series of sound effects. A short breakdown section follows the third verse, which leads to an extended outro.

The 1983 edition artwork is designed to resemble a 5¼” floppy disc. The sleeve does not display either the group name nor song title in plain English anywhere -the only text on the sleeve is “FAC SEVENTY THREE” on the spine. Instead the legend “FAC 73 BLUE MONDAY AND THE BEACH NEW ORDER” is represented in code by a series of coloured blocks. The key enabling this to be deciphered was printed on the back sleeve of Power, Corruption & Lies, the album released in the same period.

The single’s original sleeve, created by Factory designer Peter Saville cost so much to produce that Factory Records actually lost money on each copy sold, due to the use of die-cutting and specified colours. Saville noted that nobody expected Blue Monday to be a commercially successful record, so nobody expected the cost to be an issue. The artwork was so late that Saville sent it straight to the printer, unreviewed by either the band or the label.

New Order appeared on the BBC’s Top of The Pops on 31 March 1983 and insisted on performing live. The performance was dogged by technical problems, and was unrepresentative of the recording. In the words of drummer Stephen Morris, Blue Monday was never the easiest song to perform, anyway, and everything went wrong.

At the time, and even in retrospect, they were leading edge innovators and creatives. If I think about creativity and what innovation looks like, the same slideshow of images clicks across my mind: that photo of Einstein with his unkempt hair all over the place, Edison with his light bulb, and in Steve Jobs onstage in his black turtleneck jumper introducing the latest iThing device.

For all the innovators who have impacted our lives, it’s not just about that romantic Eureka! moment, it’s about the nitty-gritty work that comes after the idea in terms of getting it accepted and implemented.

Thinkers need doers to get things done, and idealists need number crunchers to tether them to reality. Then again, the risk-takers and the risk-averse must co-exist otherwise an organisation veers too far to one extreme or the other, and either jerks all over the place with the push-and-pull, or simply moves nowhere at all.

An effective and productive culture of innovation is like a good homemade vegetable soup – it needs to have the right mix and balance of all the ingredients, otherwise it’s unbalanced – and downright mushy.

Everyone is born creative, everyone is given a box of crayons early on. Then when you hit puberty they take away the crayons and give you books, on algebra and calculus (which I liked better than crayons, but that’s a different story). Suddenly years later when get the creative bug, you want your crayons back.

Many creative geniuses are driven by anxiety and self-doubt, yet the way they create stuff, despite innovation seeming to be a random, messy outcome, is methodical. Many have routine or process that is disciplined and ordered. I discovered this disciplined approach a couple of years ago when I came across the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey. In it he examines the schedules of 161 painters, writers, and composers, as well as philosophers, scientists, and other exceptional thinkers.

He hypothesised that for these geniuses, a routine was surprisingly essential to their work. As Currey puts it A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods. He noted several common elements in the lives of the geniuses that allowed them to pursue the luxury of a productivity-enhancing routine.

Here are the highlights of structure, routine and habits that seem to enable a creative genius to do what they do:

A workspace with minimal distractions Jane Austen asked that a certain squeaky door hinge never be oiled, so that she always had a warning when someone was approaching the room where she wrote. Mark Twain’s family knew better than to breach his study door. Graham Greene went even further, renting a secret office, only his wife knew the address and telephone number.

A daily walk For many, a regular daily walk was essential to brain functioning. Soren Kierkegaard found his constitutionals so inspiring that he would often rush back to his desk and resume writing, still wearing his hat and carrying his walking stick. Charles Dickens famously took three-hour walks and what he observed on them fed directly into his writing. Beethoven took lengthy strolls after lunch, carrying a pencil and paper with him in case inspiration struck.

A clear dividing line between important work and busywork Before there was email, there were letters. It amazed me to see the amount of time the people in Currey’s study allocated to answering letters. Many would divide the day into real work (such as composing or painting in the morning) and busywork (answering letters in the afternoon). Others would turn to the busywork when the real work wasn’t going well. Ernest Hemingway always tracked his daily word output on a chart ‘so as not to kid myself’, but left dedicated time for letter writing.

A habit of stopping when they’re on a roll, not when they’re stuck Hemingway puts it well: You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. Arthur Miller said, I don’t believe in draining the reservoir, do you see? I believe in getting up from the typewriter, away from it, while I still have things to say.

Limited social lives One of Simone de Beauvoir’s friends put it this way: There were no parties, no receptions, no bourgeois values; it was an uncluttered kind of life, a simplicity deliberately constructed so that she could do her work. Pablo Picasso and his girlfriend Fernande Olivier borrowed the idea of Sunday as an ‘at-home day’ to enable undisrupted painting, and kept themselves to themselves.

This last habit, relative isolation, sounds much less appealing to me than some of the others, and yet I still find the routines of these thinkers strangely compelling, perhaps because they are so unattainable for me, so extreme. Even the very idea that you can organise your time as you like is out of reach for most of us.

Nancy Andreasen is a leading neuroscientist, who has studied the science of genius, trying to unpack the elements that make up the brightest creative minds. It’s not a high IQ that indicates creative genius, she’s found. In her research, Andreasen has explored the link between mental illness and creativity, finding a strong connection between the two.

In a 2014 study, Andreasen scanned the brains of 13 of the most famous scientists, mathematicians, artists, and writers alive today. Her subjects included Pulitzer Prize winners, and six Nobel laureates – and filmmaker George Lucas. Andreasen delved into their family and personal histories, also studying the structural and functional characteristics of their brains using neuroimaging.

The study was challenging given how hard it is to pin down the creative process. Creativity, of course, cannot be distilled into a single mental process, and it cannot be captured in a snapshot—nor can people produce a creative insight or thought on demand she stated.

Andreasen hooked them up to an MRI scan and gave them different word association, picture association, and pattern recognition tasks. The essence of creativity is making connections and solving puzzles, she said. In her findings she has distilled some key patterns in the minds of creative geniuses. They include:

Creative people like to teach themselves rather than be taught by others. Think of all the creative geniuses who dropped out of school – Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg. Andreasen found that her subjects were autodidact, they preferred figuring things out independently, rather than being spoon-fed information.

Because their thinking is different, they often express the idea that standard ways of learning and teaching are not always helpful and may even be distracting, and that they prefer to learn on their own.

Many creative people love both the arts and the sciences There’s a mentality out there that you have to choose between either the arts or the sciences in your studies and career, but Andreasen found that some of the greatest creative minds are polymaths, sharing a love for both.

Creative people persist against scepticism and rejection When you’re coming up with new unheard-of ideas, you’re pushing against the status quo. Rejection and scepticism are inevitable. It’s what you do in the face of those that matters most.

Andreasen found that creative geniuses are resilient when presented with such scepticism. They have to confront doubt and rejection, and yet they have to persist in spite of that, because they believe strongly in the value of what they do. What this persistence might breed, however, is psychic pain, says Andreasen, which can manifest as depression or anxiety.

So reflecting back 33 years and the epic release of Blue Monday which went on to serve as an inspiration and influence for countless bands and is still frequently covered and sampled, we may never know precisely where creativity comes from, why some people use their creativity more than others or why some people are most creative during specific times in their lives. How does one person end up with the right balance of brainpower, intelligence and creativity?

So you’ve got the itch to do something. Go ahead and make something. Make something really special, something amazing. Dust off your guitar, and sing in your own voice. Don’t walk in silence, don’t let a new dawn fade, I’m sure you’ll find some unknown pleasures in your creativity.

Bowie, innovator and disruptive entrepreneur in sound & vision

Even at 69, David Bowie was a bit different. Though he arrived in the 1970s, he was restless and creative to the last, Blackstar created in the knowledge he did not have long left and released two days before he died, is exploratory, unsettling, the work of someone still minded to take inspired risks.

The achievements of what is now Bowie’s last album informed the almost perplexed response to his death: how could an artist be in apparently full voice again, just as he was taken away?

But in much of what has been said, there has also been a clear sense of something historic and the marking of time in the passing of one of the most pre-eminent members of a golden generation, confirming that no matter how much we hang on them, they are now leaving us, at speed.

The Beatles’ and The Stones shattered the commercial music landscape in the 1960s into a new paradigm, but six years after these two groups reached their commercial peak, Bowie embodied something even more profound: when he played Starman on Top of the Pops, a self-expression so radical, starting his lifelong journey of ideation, innovation and regeneration. And let us not forget, it was 1972.

To say Bowie was a cultural pioneer and icon is an understatement from a man who constantly, restlessly reinventing himself while always staying icily cool, colourfully flamboyant and iconic. From Aladdin Zane to Ziggy Stardust to finally just Bowie, stripped back, he changed the face of music forever as the overwhelming flood of tributes show.

I was too young to witness that Starman moment but I can vividly recall the raucous defining, opening guitar riffs of Rebel, Rebel, the mesmeric lyrics of Heroes and the heady video of Ashes to Ashes. He had a defining place in my music collection.

This brilliantly talented, outrageously creative glittering chameleon of a man, a master of reinvention who smashed down so many barriers in music, fashion, film and art, I felt the same palpable sense of shock and loss when Curtis, Lennon and Strummer passed, all uncompromising, ferociously charismatic and singularly individual characters. I just know, like so many of my generation, that at every stage of my life, Bowie’s tunes have been lurking somewhere in the background.

What fascinates me about the musicians of the 1960s who shaped our culture is where did it all come from, what was their catalyst? The details of Bowie’s early life speak volumes about the historical circumstances that made him and others. He was born only 17 months after the surrender of Japan, to parents whose adult lives had been defined by the Second World War. His father served in Europe and North Africa, his mother was a waitress, and after the war, his father worked for the children’s home Barnardos.

My thoughts are that the 1960s was the age of curiosity and possibility, in which a new sense of individuality replaced the idea of meekly taking one’s place in the masses and conforming. The political left looks back at this period as one of revolt and rebellion; it is equally true to say it spawned the modern individualism so beloved of the right.

Whatever, it was the dawning of the age of the entrepreneur, go out and make it happen, for yourself by yourself. Be different. Be disruptive. Chose your attitude. Have big hairy audacious goals – this was the decade we put a man on the moon, the decade, which shaped people like Steve Jobs. The point is if you were in the right place, everything seemed to be in a state of ferment, and for a few extremely talented people, the stage was set.

There are lots of words to describe David Bowie, but there are two that consistently pop up at the mention of his name: innovation and reinvention. Ziggy Stardust, Spiders from Mars, Aladdin Sane, Ashes to Ashes; if there’s one thing Bowie did well, it was staggering reinvention.

But how exactly did his passion for reinvention and transformation manifest itself, and what did it teach us? He showed endless possibilities. He extended out into the new spaces, metaphorically and physically. That man could move. Bowie the entrepreneur, the disruptor, the instigator, the craftsman of his own self, manifesting uniqueness and original thought.

What were the traits of the audacious showman that we can reflect upon as genuine entrepreneurial genes? Here are my thoughts.

Open mindedness Bowie’s work has always drawn from a huge range of influences – dance, fashion design, film, literature, contemporary art, and of course from music of all genres. His uniqueness was often the product of combining existing elements in new ways, producing something entirely his own, with a prowess for uncovering hitherto unknown artists, throwing them together randomly to discover new combinations and possibilities. This ability to create genuine uniqueness is a key trait of an entrepreneur.

Restlessness Bowie never succumbed to the stick-to-a-formula mantra. At the height of the success during the Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane eras he killed off his character and pressed the eject button, and re-emerged with something completely new and unexpected. Not all of his experiments have worked, but this willingness to try out new ideas, knowing that not all will triumph, is a trait every innovator needs.

Novelty Bowie’s passion for novelty and spirit of experimentation was a constant presence in his music and vocal style. For example, Bowie and producer Tony Visconti rigged up a ‘multi-latch gating system’ to record Heroes, consisting of three microphones set up at increasing distances away from the singer- one microphone nine inches away, one twenty feet away and the last fifty feet away. The microphones were turned on and off to create a rippling effect of reverb and ambience. It was this spirit of innovation that kept Bowie’s output fresh, even when it was critically maligned.

Collaborative & co-creative Spanning five decades, Bowie has worked with many musicians, artists and performers. He recorded with Freddie Mercury, Jagger, Arcade Fire, Annie Lennox and Bing Crosby to create wildly different outputs. He had the ability to spot the right talent for each project and bring out the best from each collaboration. Some of these have been for the duration of a single project, whilst other relationships have endured – such as with Brian Eno, Iggy Pop and producer Tony Visconti. Bowie was apparently also really easy to work with, described as mild-mannered, patient and open to hear other people’s ideas. He listened, he read, he viewed, he engaged, and as a result he constantly evolved.

Staying relevant by creating your own future Musical tastes change, new artists emerge – your market can move in a new, unexpected direction. For a while in the late 1970s the emergence of punk pushed Bowie to one side. Before his last record on his last birthday, Bowie had released no new material for a decade. But he stayed relevant. The unexpected was, after all, Bowie’s modus operandi. His 26th album as a solo artist was an incredible feat of subterfuge, recorded unnoticed over the past two years in New York. Bowie was destined to be that most elusive type of rock icon who can continue to command the world’s attention, even as he begins to draw his pension. Of course, the legacy now replaces the future.

Presence His Top of the Pops performance of Starman on 6 July 1972, one of the most inspirational, influential live performances, broke boundaries not only in music but also in fashion – that red hair and jumpsuit, what’s not to like? – and must have had mums and dads shouting at the television. Bowie understood the power of mass communication and he liked to control his profile, persona and message. Because he was so self-aware, Bowie knew that his relevance depended on something less tangible than new record sales or chart positions. I don’t know where I’m going from here, he once declared, but I promise it won’t be boring.

He was a Futurist In 2002, when most of us were filling boxes with CDs and a year before Apple launched iTunes, Bowie foretold the future where he saw digital formats being available. Some six years before this, Bowie made history by releasing a new song, Telling Lies, on the Internet – and nowhere else. The move made him the first major artist to send fans who want to hear his music to the web instead of the record store. It was a success, with Telling Lies selling more than 300,000 downloads. In 1997, he live-streamed a concert from Boston online, again a world first.

There are to great examples of where Bowie disrupted the commercial and customer engagement with his market that are examples of true innovation and entrepreneurial thinking.

Bowie bonds Seeing that the future did not look friendly for the wallets of recording artists, Bowie decided to lock in his future earnings. In 1997, he sold the rights to future royalties from some of his biggest hits for $55m. The securitised royalty streams were dubbed Bowie bonds and they sparked a financial trend known as esoteric asset-backed securities – basically the rights to future payments from unconventional sources.

BowieNet In 1998, one of your options if you were looking for an ISP was BowieNet, which combined features of an ISP, a fan website and a social network. Users got a BowieNet email address, access to an iTunes predecessor offering downloadable music for sale and access to David Bowie fan content. They also got 5Mb of space online, with users encouraged to create their own websites and chat with each other in forums. Bowie saw interacting and collaborating with fans online as an extension of his art in addition to a business venture, way ahead of others.

Blackstar is the final chapter in a decades long history of innovation. I bought it on iTunes when released out of curiosity. I knew there would be some gems on it. Now it has an almost unbearable lightness of being and pathos that makes it tough to listen to. It is all the more poignant because of the speculation about Bowie’s awareness of his pending mortality when making it. Such a mournful record now marks witness as his musical swansong, a final statement of epic genius.

As a musical entrepreneur, he made clear statements of identity, a proud and profound declaration of autonomy and expression. It might have been over the top, but it never seemed unnatural. He simply made his mark – the Heteropoda davidbowie is a bright orange huntsman spider from Malaysia, not Mars.

The poignancy and synchronicity of space exploration, for me the most outrageous statement of human endeavour and entrepreneurship and a consistent backdrop to Bowie’s music, played out as he left us. His introduction to the world was the single Space Oddity, the spooky, ambiguous tale of the fictional astronaut Major Tom was the soundtrack to the BBC coverage of the 1969 moon landing, and just these past few weeks we’ve had Tim Peake playing out his own personal Major Tom adventure.

The generation of music entrepreneurs that challenged life and shaped us are now being embraced by death. They are coming thick and fast and our high decibel tears are burying them. David Bowie has gone. Another of the founding fathers has departed. He was never past. Always present.

This most sublime of English artists hankering around innovation even at the end. Still dislocated. Still embodied in the music. That door. He unlocked it. For me, for you. For us. He gave us everything. He gave us ideas above our own imagination, a truly disruptive entrepreneur. Forever in my mind he will always be the eternal beautiful Ziggy, vibrant in Sounds and Vision. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYEOlxcirX0

From Ian Curtis to John Peel, the unknown pleasures of creativity

It was Monday, 19th May 1980 and the John Peel show started at 10pm on Radio 1. Sat in my bedroom, I was thinking to myself, hope he plays the new Joy Division single, Love will tear us apart.  After the iconic Pickin the blues theme tune by Grinderswitch, which introduced the show, faded, the customary ten seconds of absolute silence before John’s deadpan voice.

A few seconds later, the shock news came onto the air. Bad news lads, monotoned Peel solemnly. Ian Curtis, of Joy Division, has died.

I didn’t know whether to feel sad, angry, shock or cheated or what. Joy Division had been my favourite band for the previous year, part of putting Manchester on the map. Their bleak, stark, atmospheric experimental sound had carved a place for them into the record collections of many in 1979, including my own. Living just outside Manchester, they were big news for me and my mates.

May 18th, 1980 Ian Curtis ended his life, aged 23. The driving force behind Joy Division’s dark vision, he hanged himself in the kitchen of his Macclesfield home. It was not his first suicide attempt. Curtis ended his life before he could feel the range of his influence. As the singer/songwriter for Joy Division, he wallowed in his own deep despair, peering into the dark underbelly of human existence. He wrote stunning lyrics from the pictures in his head, until he saw no purpose in living.

Factory released Love Will Tear Us Apart in April, and as a piece of music it has stood out years, surely everyone recognises the song immediately the first throws of the incessant, hollow drumming with pace launches the humming, driving guitars in the intro, before Curtis comes in with the vocals? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHYOXyy1ToI&feature=list_related&playnext=1&list=AL94UKMTqg-9BJBiOddivXxWNavYgSXPDJ

So for me, an anniversary of the death of someone who at 17 was shaping my life, still resonates today with 95 digital tracks on my iPod and the Unknown Pleasures, Closer and Still albums safely stored in the attic, and all their Peel Sessions performances saved too.

Joy Division’s appeal has far outlasted their tragically short life because, if they were miserable, they did miserable differently. Curtis’s baritone voice and lyrics about personal anxiety, pessimism and intensely dark memories, combined with his intense, wide-eyed stage presence was unique. Curtis was an innovator, a creative genius, and at the same time John Peel was a pioneer too. Both played a major part in changing the music industry in terms of their ideas, influence and how to connect with an audience – it was all about what they did, and being different.

If I think about creativity and what innovation looks like, the same slideshow of images clicks across my mind: that photo of Einstein with his unkempt hair all over the place, Edison with his light bulb, and in business terms, Steve Jobs onstage in his black turtleneck jumper introducing the latest iThing device.  For Curtis and Peel, their creativity and originality was in a different form. Who can ignore Atmosphere or The Festive 50?

For all the innovators who have impacted our lives, it’s not just about that romantic Eureka! moment, it’s about the nitty-gritty work that comes after the idea in terms of getting it accepted and implemented. For Curtis and Peel, they may have been the creative driving force, the catalyst that had the original spark, but successful innovation is frequently about the team too, being surrounded by like minded people with complimentary talents.

Forbes Insights recent study How entrepreneurial executives mobilise organisations to innovate identifies five major personalities crucial to fostering a healthy atmosphere of innovation within an organisation. Some are more entrepreneurial, and some more process-oriented – but all play a critical role in the process (http://www.forbes.com/forbesinsights/europe_entrepreneurs/index.html). Thinkers need doers to get things done, and idealists need number crunchers to tether them to reality.

Then again, the risk-takers and the risk-averse must co-exist otherwise an organisation veers too far to one extreme or the other, and either jerks all over the place with the push-and-pull, or simply moves nowhere at all. An effective and productive culture of innovation is like a good homemade vegetable soup – it needs to have the right mix and balance of all the ingredients, otherwise it’s unbalanced – and downright mushy.

The Forbes Insights study surveyed more than 1,200 executives in Europe. Using a series of questions about their attitudes, beliefs, priorities and behaviours, a picture emerged of five key personality types that play a role in the innovation cycle.

Movers and Shakers. With a strong personal drive, these are leaders where the major incentive for innovation is the idea of creating a legacy and influence over others. These are the ones who like being in the front, driving projects forward, they provide the push to get things done. On the flip side, they can be a bit arrogant, and impatient with teamwork.

Movers and Shakers tend to cluster in risk and corporate strategy, in the private equity and media industries. From the research they comprise 22% of all executives.

Experimenters. Persistent and open to all new things, experimenters bring a new idea through the phases of development and execution. Where there is a will, there is a way is perhaps the best way to describe them. They’re perfectionists and tend to be workaholics, most likely because it takes an incredible amount of dedication, time and hard work to push through an idea or initiative that hasn’t yet caught on.

Experimenters take deep pride in their achievements, but they also enjoy sharing their expertise with others. Because they’re so persistent, even in the face of sometimes considerable pushback, they’re crucial to the innovation cycle. They tend to be risk-takers, and comprise about 16% of executives – and least likely to be CEOs or COOs.

Star Pupils. Do you remember those kids at school who sat at the front, whose hands were the first in the air anytime the teacher asked a question? Maybe they even shouted out Ooh! Ooh! too just to get the teacher to notice them first? This is the segment of the executive population those kids grew into. They’re good at…well, they’re good at everything, really. They make things happen. Unsurprisingly, CEOs tend to be Star Pupils.

Controllers. Uncomfortable with risk, Controllers thrive on structure, they prefer to be in control and like to have everything in its place. As colleagues they’re not exactly the team players and networkers, more likely insular, and tend to focus on concrete, clear-cut objectives where they know exactly where they stand and can better control everything around them. They comprise 15% of executives, the smallest group overall.

Hangers-On. Forget the less than flattering name, these executives exist to bring everyone back down to earth and tether them to reality. On a dinner plate, Hangers-On would be the spinach – few people’s favourite, but extremely important in the completeness of the meal. They comprise 23% of all executives, they cluster in the CFO role. Someone has to remind everyone of budget and resource constraints.

No one group can be considered the purest entrepreneurs, the most creative or best innovators, but Movers & Shakers and Experimenters may be the closest. Younger, more innovative firms generally need Movers & Shakers at the top, channelling the energy of Experimenters into a vision that can be implemented. As organisations grow and become more established, they need Star Pupils who can translate that vision into a strategy and lead it forward, Controllers who can marshal the troops to execute it and Hangers-On who can rein it in. You need a team who between them can do the blue-sky thinking and wash the pots. Creativity should be applied or considered in everything we do, simply by asking the question how could we do this differently? Throw creativity at new ideas not money.

Everyone is born creative, everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take away the crayons and give you books, on algebra and calculus (which I liked better than crayons, but that’s a different story). Suddenly years later when you get the creative bug, you want your crayons back.

So you’ve got the itch to do something. You don’t know where the itch came from. You don’t know if you’re any good or not, but you think you could be. Go ahead and make something. Make something really special, something amazing that will really blow the mind of anybody who sees it. If you’re creative, if you can think independently, if you can articulate passion, if you can overcome the fear of being wrong, then this is your time to sing in your own voice.

Ian Curtis didn’t have the greatest singing voice or vocal range, but that didn’t stop him, right? So I guess the next question for you is, Why not?  Don’t let a new dawn fade, I’m sure you’ll find some unknown pleasures in your creativity and make your mark.