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.

Thinking about High Growth sat in a Temperance Bar in Rawtenstall

A Temperance Bar is a type of bar, found particularly during the C19th and early C20th, that did not serve alcoholic beverages. A number of such bars were established in conjunction with the Temperance Society, advocating a moderate approach to life, especially concerning the abstinence from alcohol.

Temperance Bars with full temperance licences (allowing them to serve on Sundays, despite English trading laws at the time) were once common in many high streets in the North of England. The movement had a massive following, fuelled mainly by Methodists. These bars were the first outlet for Vimto, also serving brews such as black beer and raisin tonic, blood tonic, dandelion and burdock, herb bitters and sarsaparilla.

The temperance movement (one foot in front of the other please) began in 1835 in Preston, amid concerns about the Industrial Revolution’s equally industrial levels of alcoholism. Although prohibition was never formalised in the UK in the same way it was by our supposedly sober cousins in America, a wave of non-alcoholic bars began popping up in most towns to guard against the dangers of heavy drinking.

In their heyday, temperance drinks were not only seen as delicious non-boozy tipple, but were thought to have health benefits: ginger for soothing nausea or colds, sarsaparilla and dandelion for detoxifying. I’m a little sceptical: according to family folklore, my gran’s deafness was caused when my great grandfather decided to shun the doctor and treat her ear infection with his herbal linctures.

Some of the most famous Temperance Bars carried the Fitzpatrick family name. The Fitzpatricks, a family from Ireland, came over to Lancashire in the 1880s. A family of herbalists, they turned to building a family-run chain of shops throughout Lancashire. These shops dealt in their non-alcoholic drinks, sold herbal remedies, and cordial bottles.

At their peak, the Fitzpatrick family owned twenty-four shops, all brewing drinks to the original recipes brought over from Ireland. However, as new drinks came over from America, the Temperance Bars slowly waned away. Today, Fitzpatrick’s Herbal Health in Rawtenstall is the last Temperance Bar in the country.

The Rawtenstall bar has been thought of with affection by generations of the town’s residents. It is notable for its old copper hot water dispenser, which was originally a fixture at the Astoria Ballroom in Rawtenstall. It has also won awards as the country’s ‘Best Sarsaparilla Brewer’, and for its dandelion & burdock.

The bar has recently reopened after four weeks refurbishment, with a fresher, brighter look and product innovations on the menu However, it has maintained its traditional offerings, past traditions and family-run ethos. The bar retains many of its original fixtures and fittings, including the ceramic tap barrels and shelves lined with jars of medicinal herbs. Mr. Fitzpatrick would be proud.

When I was growing up, dandelion and burdock was the social tipple of choice. Darkly mellow with just enough fizz and a pleasing aniseedy aftertaste, I used to drink it at my grandma’s house in Manchester – which we would gulp down with Jacobs orange Club biscuits. She would prop the bottle on the doorstep outside, ready for the man who collected the empties.

Apparently, dandelion and burdock dates back to the days of St Thomas Aquinas and it’s back, along with other old-style temperance drinks gracing much fancier menus than the chippies of my youth. For example, at the St Pancras Booking Office Bar at the London station, you can sip sarsaparilla or blood tonic whilst snacking on crispy calamari and parmesan chips.

The drinks may appear simple, but are unbelievably complicated. Sarsaparilla, for example, involves an intricate blend of sarsaparilla root, anise, liquorice, nutmeg, molasses, cinnamon, cloves, brown sugar, lemon juice and other botanical extracts.

But back to Fitzpatrick’s. This quirky Pennines apothecary, with its ceramic tap barrels and jars of botanical herbs and roots holds a special lure, with its ghostly inhabitants, unknown pasts and general eccentricity. Come rain, shine or old-fashioned drizzle, it will restore you, warm your cockles, quench your thirst and satisfy your need for quirkiness.

However, the fact that it is the last temperance hostelry shows you have to keep moving and innovate, otherwise your market evaporates as your customer preferences change or alternative products take your marker. The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.

Rousing words from President Abraham Lincoln, taken from his 1862 annual address to Congress. It’s a call to action, which has resonance with the turbulence in most markets today. You simply can’t stand still, the need is to stay agile with a relevant value proposition and viable business model.

But most businesses hesitate to adopt new thinking, instead they focus on hunkering down and a low-key ‘back to basics’ approach, defaulting to a risk-reduction focus rather than a growth mindset. Whilst this often secures bottom-line improvement, it is unsustainable and rarely offers anything more than short-term expediency.

It impedes curiosity and experimentation, and stifles thinking beyond the immediate time horizon. However, whilst organisations may regard seeking breakthroughs as too steep a challenge and are content with simply maintaining their business, research shows that focusing on short-term aspirations typically yields only short-term results, whilst those seeking significant breakthroughs will both identify the big ideas and also generate closer, incremental ideas along the way.

It’s about holding an ‘innovation mindset’. Over time, I’ve developed a pretty keen sense of whether or not my efforts with clients will be successful, and one of the biggest red flags that tells me I’m in trouble is hearing this phrase: That’s the way we’ve always done things.

I can’t think of a single sentence that’s more antithetical to growth and innovation than the blind acceptance that some things can’t be changed within an organisation. It’s a sentiment few companies can afford to indulge, but transforming an organisation from innovation-averse to forward-thinking isn’t always an easy road to navigate.

And that’s where you need an entrepreneurial leader, so lets say if someone was to build a passenger-carrying rocket for joy rides into space and offer you a ticket, would you go? Of course you would, especially if Richard Branson was involved.

He’s a live wire, someone with a can do, will do attitude who doesn’t let short-term difficulties become traumatic, although I’ve had some mixed experience with Virgin Atlantic – the last time I flew the rate of progress through the lounge to board the plane was so slow that technically I was classified as a missing person. However, his innovation in mass-market long haul flights has had an impact, and of course, very customer focussed.

But let’s consider Branson himself. In the last twenty years, barely a week passed when we weren’t treated to the spectacle of Branson’s mouse like whiskery chops being winched to safety from some vast expanse of ocean. His speedboats kept running into logs of wood or his balloons too heavy for sustained flight.

However, I like the way he’s made it in business without a pinstripe suit or an obvious predilection for golf, and despite the often-disastrous attempts to go across the Pacific on a tea tray or up Everest on a washing machine, I do like the way he keeps on trying, his boldness and give it-a-go attitude. He’s also dyslexic, so overcome that significant personal challenge too.

He may be a publicity-seeker, but he’ll get us in space with Virgin Galactic. My concern wouldn’t be the perilous spins, loud bangs and crashes of Branson’s previous failures as I sat in my seat, but rather the expectation that every passenger will have to conform to Branson’s relaxed style and only allowed to fly in jumpers and corduroys, and his beardy face beaming out doing the safety procedure promo. He’s got nice teeth though.

But recall Fatal Attraction, you thought Glenn Close was dead, you relaxed and then, whoa, she reared up out of the bath with that big spiky knife. That’s one thing Branson doesn’t do. No, not lie in a bath of cold water pretending to be dead, love him or loathe him, he doesn’t sit back and think That’s it, I’ve had enough.

Obviously he doesn’t need the money, but he just keeps on with his self-belief and crashes into the next idea. He’s a disruptive force that never gives up and while his opponents are kept fully employed wondering what he is going to do, he is busy doing it, and its often something they hadn’t thought he’d do.

Based on this inspiration, research, my own intuition and experience, I’ve developed a blueprint for creating an innovation mindset, which I’ve called High Growth Anatomy, an assessment of you innovation dna. It’s a series of reflective questions, structured as to ‘Go’ and ‘No Go’. Evaluate yourself, what’s your ‘Go’ score?

Foresight or Hallucination?

  • We have clear and articulated goals based on our purpose, of where we want to be in the next 6, 12, 18 and 24 months;
  • We have some thoughts on where we are aiming to be, but it’s more of a wish list than a ‘lets make it happen’ plan.

Front-foot or Back-foot?

  • As a team we are moving forward all of the time;
  • As a team we are fire-fighting most of the time.

Clued-up or Clueless?

  • We are clear about how we make a difference in our market;
  • We are unclear about how to stand out in our market.

Dexterous or Clumsy?

  • We are agile in our business, we ‘seize’ the moment with alacrity;
  • We are blunderers, unable to move quickly or with grace.

Leaning-forward or Leaning-back?

  • We are restless thinkers, learning, imaging the future, eager to grow;
  • We are thinking about our future, but out time is spent living today.

Web-enabled or Webbed-feet?

  • We have a clearly articulated digital strategy in our business model;
  • We use the Internet and social media, but have no digital vision.

Harmonious or Mutinous?

  • We are all wearing the same jersey, pushing together in the same direction, one heart and one voice;
  • We’re a collection of tribes and opinions, connected but not united.

Curious or Cautious?

  • We develop lots of new things, some of them work, some don’t, but we’re always ready to experiment;
  • We generally keep trying things until they don’t work, then think of something new to have a go at.

Heads-up or Head-down?

  • When faced with a threat we respond rapidly and decisively;
  • When faced with a threat, we often step back and wheel-spin.

Fresh thinkers or Copy cats?

  • We are creative and restless, innovation is a core behaviour;
  • We don’t have a point of difference in our business model.

Stickability or Bendability?

  • When something is not going to plan, we reflect, adjust and kick on with renewed enthusiasm;
  • When initiatives do not work, we tend to give up and go back to what we know.

Kinship or Coldfish?

  • We actively pay attention to building our culture, values and spirit;
  • We do not pay attention to our internal culture – it just happens.

Connectivity or Disconnected?

  • We are hot wired, we’re all linked-in and linked-up;
  • Our organisation is not well co-ordinated – we’re disconnected and decoupled.

Insights or Blindspots?

  • We have a very good knowledge of our customers, their customers and our competitors;
  • We have an ad-hoc knowledge of our customers, their customers and our competitors.

These are uncertain times with Brexit, Trumponomics and a General Election. Companies are struggling to find the right balance between caution and optimism. No one knows what will happen next, and it is crazy to operate your business as though you do. But the more volatile the times, the more essential it is to keep your options open. Thus, taking less risk (closing down innovation options) is actually more dangerous than investing to preserve a number of future-focused options.

There are lessons for us all in the history of Fitzpatrick’s, decline and renewal, and the entrepreneurial attitude of Branson, where everything-is-possible and optimism rules. A strong sense of the possible is essential to driving innovation that in turn leads to success. Whilst the image of the swashbuckling adventure-hungry risk-taking buccaneering entrepreneur is somewhat of a caricature, positive energy and exuberance makes a refreshing change, as the news is a constant stream of maudlin and misery.

Things don’t just happen. You’re sure to get somewhere if you walk long enough isn’t the answer. Hope isn’t a strategy. It’s about strategic readiness, agility, clarity, direction and velocity and then execution. Sit down, have a glass of dandelion and burdock, and ask yourself the High Growth Anatomy questions and reflect on how to create your own future, before someone does that for you.

Fail in originality rather than succeed in imitation.

Having spent three years at university living with two biochemistry students who were hell bent on teaching me all about Crick & Watson, molecular biosciences and the rudimentary principles of genetic engineering, I’ve subsequently followed their careers with interest as I’m filled with curiosity about genetics and cloning – but also originality and individuality.

Simon is now Professor of Cellular & Integrative Physiology at a highly respected US university. His enthusiasm on Skype for keeping me updated on his research programmes, investigating the pathways that control pituitary gland organogenes, and developing new diagnostic and genetic tools knows no bounds.

As a result, I can talk for a good twenty minutes on how the anterior pituitary gland secretes polypeptide hormones that are essential for human development and physiology parameters including metabolic homeostasis.

Geoff took a different route to his career, wandering around various world-class commercial labs in America, Germany and now in the UK, collecting knowledge. Currently he’s in a role as Head of Research and Director of Lab Sciences focused on the betterment of humanity, so he tells me, leading innovative new drug research and discovery programmes.

He plans to save the planet, so he can live to 150 along the way. Our last conversation was about how integration of radioactivity data with metabolite profiling is key in the characterisation of the disposition of drugs and chemicals. I’ll fetch my (white lab) coat.

Both had a passion for genetics, and we had heated debates about the ethical and scientific boundaries regarding the deliberate modification of the characteristics of an organism by manipulating its genetic material. Alas my knowledge ceiling was the Czech monk Gregor Mendel and experiments on plant hybridisation with the breeding of pea plants in his garden, and his principles of heredity and inheritance.

Simon and Geoff lauded him as the father of genetics and we once went to a Biochemistry Society fancy dress party with the three of us dressed as Mendel, although I recall we were more mad monks than abstemious monks and hit the mead heavily that evening.

It’s now over twenty years since the first adult genetic clone, a sheep called Dolly. In the summer of 1996 Karen Mycock, a cell biologist, was attending a wedding in the Scottish highlands. Returning to her hotel to change her hat, she found a fax pushed under her door. It said: She’s been born and she has a white face and furry legs. An unusual birth announcement, but it was an unusual birth.

Karen worked at the Roslin Institute, an animal-research centre near Edinburgh. She had passed a tiny jolt of electricity through two sheep cells in a dish. One was an egg cell which had its nucleus removed, the bit of the cell which contains almost all its genes. The other, its gene-bearing nucleus intact, was from the udder of another ewe. The electric jolt had caused the two cells to fuse, forming an embryo. The ‘nuclear transfer’ she had overseen had worked. An adult sheep had been cloned.

The egg donor was a Scottish Blackface sheep who was the surrogate mother that took the embryo to term. The other cell came from a white-faced Finn Dorset. The fax had been kept brief and cryptic because the genetic breakthrough was hush-hush. When a scientific paper was published in Nature, a right furore broke out that went far beyond the scientific world.

The fuss among scientists was due to the fact that many believed cloning animals was impossible. John Gurdon of Oxford University had cloned frogs by nuclear transfer in 1958, but his creations never developed beyond the tadpole stage. All efforts to do the same in mammals had failed.

This had led biologists to believe that although all cells in a body shared the same genetic material, they were not equally capable of the same reproductive feats. Stem cells, found in early embryos, could develop into the various sorts of specialist cells found in skin, muscle or nerves, but development was way off.

The research at the Roslin Institute showed that this need not be the case. The key advance was made by Keith Campbell, who realised the importance of synchronised cell cycles, the rhythms according to which cells grow and divide. By starving the donor cells in a way that forced them to stop dividing, Campbell matched them to the eggs’ cycle.

Dolly opened up two new possibilities. Firstly reproductive cloning, the copying of individual animals, secondly, the creation of stem cells capable of forming other cells, something which came to be known as therapeutic cloning. The media and public became obsessed with the idea that human clones were just around the corner from the Frankenstein frisson of sparks of electricity.

However, from Dolly, 277 successful nuclear transfers produced just twenty-nine normal embryos, which were implanted into thirteen surrogate mothers. Only one survived. Alas Dolly developed osteoarthritis and a lung infection at an early age, and she died prematurely. That said, four clones of Dolly herself are currently enjoying a healthy old age at the University of Nottingham.

Beyond the lab, cloning has made slow but steady progress, successfully used on more than twenty species with the technique proving particularly fruitful in cattle and dairy farming, allowing multiple copies of elite animals. In New Zealand and America it is regarded as a normal animal-breeding procedure and clones are part of the pedigree market. Meat and milk from cloned animals is routinely farmed and sold in America. In Europe, though, it is banned on grounds of animal wellbeing.

Cloning produces replicas, not originals. Originality. What does it mean to you? Originality results from the power of imagination, like Picasso and Einstein. It’s up to the individual to take advantage of that imagination and turn it into something great. Imagination leads us to accomplish our greatest achievements. When you dare to be an original, you are in essence daring to be yourself and who you really are.

It’s true. Life is too short to live it trying to be anything other than your true original self. Be who you are, and be it the best way you know how. So how do you do this? Here are some thoughts.

Listen to the voices in your head – what do you mean, you don’t hear voices inside your head, is it just me then? Whatever the voices tell you, trust them and your instinct, and go for it. Trust yourself and your intuition.

Expect a lot from yourself, believe in yourself Don’t let someone else define your agenda, you decide what is possible for you. Dare to believe you can be the best, and make it happen. Embrace challenges and setbacks as defining moments, learn from them, use them as springboards.

Don’t care about being right, care about succeeding Steve Jobs used this line in an interview after he was fired by Apple, and I think it’s a great guiding principle for anyone, as a person or business leader.

Chose your attitude Regardless of appearances, no one escapes life without enduring tough moments and cul-de-sacs. The truth is, life is messy and unpredictable. The difference between those who overcome challenges and those who succumb to them is largely one of attitude.

JRR Tolkien’s words in The Hobbit are inspiring about your choosing your attitude for personal or business growth:

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead, today and tomorrow are yet to be said, the chances, the changes are all yours to make, the mold of your life is in your hands to break.

Be Unique Our world today is full of Dollys, replicas, clones and imitations, so craft a life of novelty and innovation. Conformity to the norm will merely sentence you to mediocrity, who wants to be average, surely that’s just a blank face in the crowd of irrelevance – be your own voice.

Life’s too short to go unnoticed Be audacious, but with humility. Life is all about progression from good to great. Push yourself to be there, at the top table, but never be afraid to wash the pots too. Leaning back, or leaning forwards, which do you think is the best stance to take?

Reach beyond your expectations A Shackleton quote. Success means different things to different people, and that’s okay, but it’s not other’s opinions you should be concerned with, but your own expectations. It’s my hope your sights will shift from the modest pursuit of success to the passionate pursuit of significance.

Live at your Personal Best Following on from the above, look into the minds of Olympians such as Beamon, Owens, Lewis, Fosbury, Redgrave and Liddell. Push yourself at every moment, seize the day. Today’s laurels are tomorrow’s compost.

Be a lifelong learner Graduation isn’t the end of learning, just the start. Learning defines the person and is a lifelong endeavour of discovery, improvement and fulfilment. The minute you stop learning is the minute you cede your future and check out on the race with yourself to realise your potential.

Be mindful Be conscious of living in the moment. Pay attention to the moment, and make it happen. Fantasy of ‘what will be’ is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope, but don’t take life too seriously, be happy.

Stay hungry, stay foolish The closing lines from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford University speech captures a sentiment that seems on the face of it somewhat flippant, however, when you reflect, it’s a statement about keeping your ambition and being adventurous, never taking yourself too seriously, keeping the zest and attitude of youth.

In addition, Jobs made three other points to the Stanford class, which are relevant to all entrepreneurs:

  • You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future, so follow your curiosity, intuition and your heart.
  • Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick, but keep going doing the thing you love, that is great work. If you haven’t found it, keep searching until you find it. Keeping looking don’t settle.
  • Live each day as if it is your last, because one day you will be right. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it by living someone else’s life, don’t be trapped by dogma of other people’s thinking, don’t let your own voice be drowned out by other people’s noise. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Everything else is secondary

Check out Job’s inspirational speech here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1R-jKKp3NA

There is a light that never goes out from our youth, keep it alive as the years clock on. Individualism is a human thing. Don’t waste your time trying to be a copycat. Be yourself, stand out from the crowd, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind. Champion novel ideas and values that go against the grain, battle conformity, and buck outdated traditions.

Don’t be a sheep in wolf’s clothing, or another sheep’s clothing. It’s better to fail in originality than succeed in imitation.

Entrepreneurial learning journey: Dominique Ansel’s Cronuts

Everywhere you look in New York City today, you see tech or creative startup spaces. The chaotic, hardscrabble, overstuffed, raging, romping, intoxicating, alluring, terrifying melting pot that is New York inspires. There’s a history of creative disruption here that casts a shadow down Broadway and the Bowery for more than three centuries, with a host of entrepreneurial endeavours.

It’s a city with a rich heritage of business pioneers. Titans of C19th and C20th industry have a legacy marked by buildings bearing their name that dominate the skyline, their omnipresence provides a backdrop and frame of reference to those setting out today about making their own mark.

Entrepreneurship is an endeavour that often requires a suspension of reality to clear mind-space for contrarian ideas, possibilities on the edge of their time, and creation of something that has not yet been. The culture and history of NYC provides a great backdrop for this thinking.

The great thing about entrepreneurship is that there are few limitations when you are equipped with the right mind-set. So a mime artist dreamer and a tablet toting spreadsheet loving tech entrepreneur walk into a bar – it doesn’t have to be the start of a joke but the meeting place for a creative teaming experience that can lead to great success and inspiration for all.

You can be a street artist, an author, a dancer – there are no boundaries on being an entrepreneur, it’s a state of mind, an expression of self. We don’t always associate chefs with entrepreneurship, but they are as much entrepreneurs as product inventors or app developers. Imagine you are a chef for a moment. In front of you is a blank canvas of ingredients, sat on the kitchen worktop, awaiting your spirit to infuse them with life.

Right beside you are your creative tools. It’s a simple set up, but combined with the human imagination and an ability to execute, has the makings to create a unique piece of work with the power to inspire. What chefs do is take an idea and manifest it into reality. They take a vision that existed nowhere else but in their own mind, and actualising it into reality through their work. That’s entrepreneurial thinking.

On May 10, 2013, Dominique Ansel’s did just this. He started selling a croissant-doughnut hybrid, which he called the Cronut, from his New York bakery. Nine days later, he’d registered the pastry’s name and crowds of people were queuing around the block to try the new innovative delicacy.

Last week I enjoyed a couple of Cronuts and coffee in his bakery café in a quiet stretch of Spring Street in Soho, New York. The creator of Cronuts isn’t just a baker. Dominique opened his little bakery with just four employees five years ago. Flash-forward to 2016, hundreds of creations later, a sister shop in the West Village and now across the world in Tokyo and London. He’s as much an entrepreneur as any tech rock star.

Prior to starting his own business, Dominique was executive pastry chef at Daniel Boulud’s flagship French restaurant in NYC. During his six years there, he was part of the team that led the restaurant to receive its first four-star New York Times Rating and three Michelin stars. He also spent seven years at the venerable French bakery Fauchon, where he was in charge of international expansion and helped set up shops in Russia, Egypt, Kuwait and other locations around the world.

Despite his ritzy resumé, the ‘Cronut King’ comes from humble origins. The youngest of four children, he grew up in Beauvais, about an hour north of Paris. His father was a factory worker, and the family couldn’t afford college, so Dominique began working at 16, training to be a chef and saving money.

At 19, he left home to complete a mandatory year of service in the French military, where he worked as a cook. After returning home he headed to Paris, not knowing anyone, and landed the job at Fauchon, where he quickly worked his way up from a temporary holiday season staffer to traveling the world and being in charge of international expansion.

With his unstoppable creativity, the New York Post proclaimed him the Willy Wonka of NYC, Food & Wine called him the culinary Van Gogh of our times, the most feted pastry chef in the world. With successful bakeries in London and Tokyo following New York off the back of the Cronut, he must be doing something right. a croissant-doughnut hybrid that became the most virally popular pastry of its time.

Believe me, they’re really, really good. The Cronut offers all the crumbly benefits of a croissant with the doughy sweetness of a doughnut. Sweet doesn’t really cover it – there’s a two Cronut limit, but eating any more would probably constitute a health hazard. Made with laminated dough, each Cronut is topped with a different colour of frosting and flavour, and each pastry is packed delicately, an elegant box in an elegant bag. If the only thing standing between you and opulence is five bucks and a long line, you might wait, too. But it was well worth the wait.

Ansel has a portfolio of innovative products he’s created – for example the Kouign Amann, a Breton inspired caramelised croissant with tender flaky layers on the inside and a crunchy caramelised shell a crispy shell on the outside. Then there is the Frozen S’more, inspired by the Turkish dondurma, made with Tahitian vanilla ice cream on the insider that’s covered in chocolate feulletine, then enveloped in honey marshmallow, placed on an applewood-smoked willow branch and torched to order.

This blog could evolve into a Masterchef critique, but I couldn’t help but think that his self-starter ambitions and product innovation provides some good entrepreneurship lessons. Dominique Ansel is undoubtedly one of the most celebrated and innovative pastry chefs in the world and for good reason.  He combines craft, nostalgia, analogies, complexity, surprise, shapes, interesting presentations, contrasting textures, and wow factor into his creations.  So what are the entrepreneurial lessons we can take from his craftsmanship?

Time as an ingredient In addition to focusing on ingredient quality and extreme freshness, original flavour and texture combinations, and fun, novel presentations – an aspect Dominique obsesses over to deliver the best possible product – is that each item be served at the optimal moment, when it’s at its peak temperature, lightness, and flavour. It was the first time I’d heard of time described as an ingredient, but it made total sense, and it is one of his guiding themes. Timing is everything for all entrepreneurs.

Put emotion into products One of the screening criteria for what makes the cut to appear on his menu is that the item evokes emotions, often nostalgic emotions tied to childhood, like the warm madeleines that Proust wrote about, or memories of summer camping the Frozen S’mores evoke, or the memories of milk and cookies after school his milk filled chocolate chip cookie shots evoke, or the traditional little pastries from Bordeaux, France called cannelés. Emotion engages customers is a key lesson.

Multisensory innovation Ansel’s creations have textural and temperature contrasts, like the liquid milk and soft cookies, or the S’mores with the soft honey marshmallow exterior, smooth and creamy ice cream inside and the crisp chocolate feuilletine that separate the warm marshmallow exterior from the cold, creamy ice cream inside. Capturing the customer’s imagination is vital for a startup with a new product to market.

Continuous product iteration Ansel’s is always searching for ways to make his products even better, he subscribes to the notion, and works in an environment where the products can evolve on the fly. This is a luxury other product categories can’t to the same degree, so gives him advantage. Build a culture where there is a focus on continuous development and iteration.

Be a relentless learner Ansel’s evidences the appetite for learning that is seen in many successful entrepreneurs.  Given how accomplished he is, you’d think there wasn’t much room for improvement, yet he feels there is so much more to try and do and create in his field. Build an ethos to always keep moving, innovating, learning, and growing.

Use your team as a source of new ideas Ansel constantly brainstorms with his staff.  The menu changes every 6-8 weeks, so the teams are always coming up with new ideas together.  He schedules regular tasting with to give feedback on new menu ideas and what ultimately ends up being added.  Use your team’s knowledge and experience as a source of innovation.

Combine ideas The Cronut pastries are not only a creative take on donuts and croissants, but also French and American cultures, combining a classic French pastry with America’s love for the familiar flavours of a caramel, chocolate and peanut combinations.  Keep an on open mind to serendipity.

Be authentic Ansel is an expert at the basics of pastry cooking as a foundation for innovation. If you study the early works of great contemporary painters and architects, like Picasso and Frank Ghery, they mastered the classics of their craft before they started to routinely innovate.  Dominique trained in classic French pastry, it’s an invaluable knowledge he brings to bear in deviating on traditional classics. Build your business on solid foundations before flying off at a creative tangent.

Trust yourself Dominique Ansel is always thinking broadly, about all the different ways he can innovate to make the experience of visiting his establishments special, different, memorable, and wonderful. In a recent interview, he was asked: ‘How do you know that what you’re doing is right?’. There was an awkward silence. Dominique put his hand on his heart and replied, in a serene, untroubled tone: I just know.

We live in an age where you can make anything possible. If you have an idea, just go for it. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity, because the perfect opportunity is now.

Be a 10x entrepreneur like Alan Turing

From Nikola Tesla, to Steve Jobs to Elon Musk, entrepreneurs’ vision and endeavour push civilisation forward. They are the driving force of human evolution, the vanguard of innovation leading us into the future. Innovators are not limited to those who run a business as entrepreneurs, an innovator is anybody who is consciously building the future that has an impact on society.

To create something truly original requires a deep sense of courage and vision. The interesting paradox here is that often those who invent new things also have a healthy disrespect for what has already been achieved. They use the past not as a boundary, but as the frontier upon which to innovate.

In this sense, those seeking to truly innovate find reassurance in the discomfort of originality, as those who strive to create new things are quickly confronted by the stark reality that we live in a world that finds comfort in doing what is tried and tested. The battle against conventional wisdom, therefore, becomes the innovator’s greatest encounter.

One innovator who was certainly confronted by conventional wisdom was Alan Turing. As an academic, Turing delivered a paper in 1936, On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, in which he presented the notion of a universal machine capable of computing anything that is computable. Turing’s inventions would go on to be called ‘Turing Machines’, the blue print for today’s computers.

After receiving his PhD from Princeton in 1938, Turing returned to Cambridge, and then took a position with the Government Code and Cypher School, a code-breaking organisation, the forerunner of GCHQ. During World War II, Turing was a leading participant in wartime code-breaking at Bletchley Park where he made major advances in the field of cryptanalysis, including specifying the bombe, an electromechanical device used to decipher German Enigma encrypted signals.

Turing’s contributions to the code-breaking process didn’t stop there. He also wrote two papers about mathematical approaches to code-breaking, which became such important assets that GCHQ waited until April 2012 to release them publically.

In the aftermath of WWII victory, Turing arrived in Manchester with an even bigger task in mind – development of his ‘Turing Machines’. It would be a task he left unfinished, publically humiliated and destroyed by the revelation of his sexuality and prosecution for indecency.

Turing held senior positions in the mathematics and the computing faculties at the University of Manchester in the late 1940s. He first addressed the issue of artificial intelligence and proposed an experiment known as the ‘Turing Test’ – an effort to create an intelligence design standard for the tech industry. Over the subsequent decades, the test has significantly influenced debates over artificial intelligence.

At Manchester, Turing made highly significant contributions to the emerging field of computing, including the Manchester Mark 1, one of the first recognisable modern computers. However, despite his soaring intellect, if tragedy requires the inventor to be undone by a fundamental flaw, it may have been Turing’s autism that brought about his fall.

Turing was incapable of speaking anything but the plain truth where a lie might be less hurtful. A fateful police interview in which Turing, having arrived to report a robbery, haplessly incriminates himself with the admission that he had been having sex with a man, was fateful.

Consequently, Turing lost his job, and was given experimental ‘chemical castration’ in 1952, after being convicted for homosexual activity. His criminal record resulted in the loss of his security clearance and meant he was no longer able to work for GCHQ.

Turing died on June 7, 1954. Following a post-mortem, it was determined that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning. An apple with a single bite taken from it was found next to the body The autopsy reported that four ounces of fluid which smelled strongly of bitter almonds, as does a solution of cyanide was found in the stomach. Trace smell of bitter almonds was also reported in vital organs. The autopsy concluded that the cause of death was asphyxia due to cyanide poisoning and ruled a suicide.

Turing’s death may have been an accident, the apple was never tested for cyanide, nothing in the accounts of Turing’s last days suggested he was suicidal and Turing had cyanide in his house for chemical experiments he conducted in his spare room.

Acknowledged as founding father of the discipline of British computer science, he posthumously received an apology on behalf of the British Government, for prosecuting him as a homosexual and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. Turing was subsequently given a rare Royal pardon almost 60 years after he committed suicide.

Turing’s scientific contributions are in line with many of history’s greats. It’s also easy to recognise many of Turing’s personality traits in today’s tech entrepreneurs who succeeded him. All are great dreamers, certainly, but they also possessed a tenacious and sometimes intransigent character with regards the realisation of their vision.

Turing’s is a parable of radical innovation that goes beyond incremental advances in search of great opportunities that have the potential to upset the status quo, and open up a nexus of possibilities for society. It is what investor Peter Thiel, in his book Zero to One describes as 10x innovation, meaning that it provides a solution at least 10 times better than the solution currently on the market.

Thiel points as examples the Google algorithm, which was at least 10x more powerful than the others search engines that preceded it, as well as the Amazon website, which offered at least 10x more books than any bookseller in the world. It is this kind of innovation, he notes, the world goes from a state of impossibility to a market reality.

Many entrepreneurs today are working on 10x projects, such as lightweight aerial drones that offer a multitude of potential uses, to Bitcoin, a crypto currency that has the potential to replace current cash systems. Perhaps it is Elon Musk, with his SpaceX, Hyperloop and Tesla projects that will mark him out as the 10X innovator of the early C21st.

In the case of Turing, his efforts to create an intelligent machine ‘with a brain and a memory’ were almost terminated by an impatient military commander. The latter tried repeatedly to cancel his initiative, deemed too risky and esoteric. Often, short-term urgency forces the use of more traditional methods to solve a problem.

Therefore, 10x innovation can sometimes be scary. In particular, we remember the classic episode of modern cinema’s introduction in 1895 by the Lumière brothers, where spectators fled the room when they started to believe that the train shown in the movie would come out of the screen!

Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. An exceptional man, his awkward posture and scruffy tweeds suggest a giant intellect trapped within the body of an overgrown schoolboy – indeed in the play Breaking The Code, currently playing at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, the only time he becomes truly eloquent is during an address in which he likens the grey matter of the human brain to the tepid porridge of his boarding school days.

We don’t celebrate Turing enough probably in part because of his sexuality, and also probably because he was a computer scientist and we don’t value that history enough either. For me, put him on a banknote. Better, put him in the school curriculum as an icon in the history of science. Turing is remembered as the father of modern computing and artificial intelligence. He should be remembered, additionally, as a pioneer in the practical application of maths that advanced both society and industry.

Suicide, an accident or an act of subterfuge by British Security Services who considered Turing a high security risk? Whatever happened, the fact remains that a half-eaten apple was found by Turing’s bedside. Fast-forward two decades, to a few guys making personal computers in a garage in San Francisco.

They had a name for their product and were now in need of a logo. The men were aware of Turing’s contributions to computers and coding, idolised his ingenuity, genius and talent for putting together the first real computer, and decided to honour him and comment on his persecution by removing a single bite from the apple graphic they had picked to represent their company. And that’s how we got the iconic Apple logo on the back of all of our phones, computers, and iPods.

Or is it? Is it a nod back to Turing and his role as creator of the machine for which Apple made its business logo? Designer Rob Janoff claims that he didn’t explicitly intend this meaning when he created the logo in 1977.

He intended it to be about taking a bite out of an apple for sure, because of its use as a symbol over hundreds of years of mythology, back to the Garden of Eden, and the logo being the ‘symbol of lust and knowledge’. For Steve Jobs, the apple logo symbolises ‘our use of computers to obtain knowledge and, ideally, enlighten the human race’.

So the story goes – other theories – that the logo references Newton’s discovery of gravity also exist. The original apple logo from 1976 featured a hand drawn image of Isaac Newton under the tree where the apple fell with the copy: A mind forever voyaging through strange seas of thought alone’. Perfectly sums up Apple, especially at the time as what they were doing was so pioneering.

Whatever the real story of the Apple logo, if it isn’t in recognition of Turing, the fact remains that everyone who taps at a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine.

Turing was a remarkable 10x innovator. We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done, he once said of himself. It was Socrates who said, The unexamined life is not worth living. It’s not the path itself that matters the most; it’s that it has been consciously created and is therefore a reflection of who you are.

Whatever you’re working on as an innovating entrepreneur today, this week, this month, look to the achievements of Alan Turing, and make your x10 mark.

John Coltrane: startups and all that jazz

I’ve been a clumsy, enthusiastic saxophone player for several years, someway off Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become anything close to consistently good, but I’m able to knock out a few recognisable tunes and get folks’ toes tapping.

As part of learning the instrument, you have to be able to improvise, playing with my teacher in a jazz jamming ‘free flow’ session to stretch your style, and speed of thought, playing chord progressions as spontaneous practice. Alas my concrete fingers constrain my dexterity, but playing jazz is fun and a chance to energise yourself.

My favourite saxophonist is the late American John Coltrane, also known as ‘Trane’. Coltrane pioneered the use of modes in jazz and was later at the forefront of free jazz. He played with some of the greatest jazz exponents, including trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Thelonious Monk.

Despite a relatively brief career – his solo career wasn’t launched until aged 33 in 1960 and he was dead by 1967 – Coltrane is among the most important figures in jazz. With a wealth of posthumously released material, Coltrane was a protean player who changed his style radically over his career.

Whilst taking jobs outside music, Coltrane attended the Ornstein School of Music and began playing in local clubs. In 1946 he switched from alto to tenor sax having met the iconic Charlie Parker, and in 1951 joined a big band led by Dizzy Gillespie, a septet, and on March 1 1951 he took his first solo on record during a performance of We Love to Boogie with Gillespie.

In 1955 he was hired by Miles Davis and began to record profusely, but he failed to kick his heroin habit and Davis fired him in 1956, only to reunite in 1957. Coltrane also joined the Thelonious Monk Quartet and during this period he developed a technique of playing several notes at once.

Coltrane’s second album was cut for Blue Note Records. This was Blue Train. From here on, his recording were noted for the ‘sheets of sound’ playing style. He also developed a ‘modal’ playing style, improvisations based on scales rather than chords, heard best on the album Kind of Blue, released in 1959, which became one of the best-selling and most acclaimed recordings in the history of jazz.

To truly know Coltrane’s work is to hear every note in every context, my favourites being his chord substitution cycles known as ‘Coltrane changes’, heard on Giant Steps (1959), generally considered to have the most complex and difficult chord progression of any widely played jazz composition. His development of these altered chord progression cycles led to further experimentation with improvised melody and harmony that he continued throughout his career.

In April 1960 he formally launched his solo career, increasingly playing soprano sax as well as tenor. In the wake of commercial success, his style was frequently dubbed ‘avant-garde’ or ‘free’, noted in a 16-minue improvisation of Chasin’ the Trane in 1961. Thereafter, he continued to play a middle ground between traditional and free playing.

Coltrane’s rich productivity of releases in 1966 were the last recordings during his lifetime, as he died suddenly in July 1967 of liver cancer. He left behind a considerable body in unreleased work that has been posthumously issued. He won the 1981 Grammy for Best Jazz Performance for Bye Bye Blackbirds, a live recording made in 1962, and he was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992, 25 years after his death.

Coltrane is one of jazz’s most influential musicians, stemming from an appetite for experimentation, taking chances and devoting himself to innovation in his craft. His name lives on, his 100 albums on iTunes each a compositional realisation, execution and recording from the mind, mouth and flurrying digits of the late, exponentially great Trane.

Coltrane was a jazz entrepreneur, he did what any startup leader does: he improvised. They invent novel responses and take calculated risks without a scripted plan or a safety net that guarantees specific outcomes. They don’t dwell on mistakes or stifle ideas. In short, they say ‘yes to the mess’ that is today’s hurried, harried, innovative and fertile world of startups. This is exactly what great jazz musicians do.

In his revelatory book, Yes to the Mess, jazz pianist and management student Frank Barrett shows how this improvisational ‘jazz mind-set’ and the skills that go along with it are essential for effective startup leadership. He describes how like skilled jazz players, startup leaders need to master the art of unlearning, perform and experiment simultaneously, and take turns soloing and supporting each other.

Yes to the Mess vividly shows how the principles of jazz thinking and performance can help startup leaders to develop these critical skills. Indeed, Coltrane believed that musical creativity was an act of discovery. He thought that the music already existed, and it was his role as an artist to explore, to look for a sound that lay outside traditional boundaries. He knew that spontaneous creativity was the business of jazz. With less than 1% of the notes on the written page, he made up the rest on the fly – no going back to correct mistakes or rethink a passage.

So let’s look at the lessons startup entrepreneurs can learn from jazz greats like Coltrane:

Playing it safe gets you nowhere If you don’t take risks you’ll never excel. Playing it safe all the time becomes the most dangerous move of all. Deviate from routines. Rote activity doesn’t lead to the path of innovation or disruptive technology.

Jazz follows a basic chord progression with a simple beginning, middle and end. In startups, we also start with minimal structures. Iterations begin as prototypes progress and then final aesthetics, allowing us to identify what works and what doesn’t throughout the iterative phases of product innovation.

There are no do-overs in live performances For every hour in a performance setting, you should spend five hours practicing. Athletes do this, musicians do this – muscle memory is no different to being in front of a new potential investor or client. So why aren’t you doing this?

A favourite saying of jazz trumpet legend Miles Davis was: If you’re not making a mistake, it’s a mistake. Endemic to jazz, errors push musicians to reach beyond their comfort zones. Jazz musicians assume that you can take any bad situation and make it into a good situation. It’s what you do with the notes that counts, but practice is key to developing your skills and style.

Listening to those around you is more important than what you play yourself If you’re the one talking all the time, you’re not learning anything. Listen, absorb what you hear, and use the information to make a conscious choice about whatever you’re facing.

In jazz performances, members vary their sounds and provoke others to respond, creating new music through collaboration. Similarly in startups, there is constant ideation and creation to disrupt, efforts to simplify the complicated and generate new ideas, but this collaboration happens best when everyone is working and listening together.

There’s a time to stand out as a soloist and a time to be a team player You rocked a project. However, it’s more likely the case that your team rocked a project, together. Katie was on top of the customer pitch, Susie got the product demo sorted, James nailed the process map. The best startup leaders are those that make others sound and look good.

In jazz, it is common for individual performers to alternate between lead and supporting roles in a single performance. Startups should employ a similar approach to develop the team and bring new thinking to the forefront.

Expect surprises and adversity, since jazz (and startup life) is about how you respond and adapt If running a startup was always smooth sailing, and it followed the notes on the score, everyone would do it. That being said, the old adage applies, that ‘a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor’, so anticipate hurdles and maximise your team’s effort to jump over them.

Jazz has its roots in real-time, collaborative innovation, just like the act of starting and growing ventures. If you’re not actively seeking new challenges and ways to expand your horizons, living the ups and downs, you are falling behind.

Jazz musicians often borrow from the past to create new music in the present. In startups, every past project acts as a library of inspiration and fuel for future work.

Don’t seek linear growth alone A jazz-driven approach requires the constant revision of assumptions and lessons learned from failure. There is no such thing as a mistake in jazz – come along and listen to me play! Coltrane built off of a constant change of pace to create new sounds. Startups should also embrace errors and accept new possibilities as they adapt, solve problems and improve inefficiencies.

Equally when developing their own technique and style, jazz musicians practice together, feeding off of each other to inspire creativity. Startups should foster similar innovation by designing their workspace in a way that encourages chance encounters and conversations between functional teams. A microcosm of a provocative learning nurtures an aesthetic of openness and surprise.

Rely on minimal structure and maximum autonomy A key lesson is that startup founders, like jazz musicians, need to, in Barrett’s words, interpret vague cues, face unstructured tasks, process incomplete knowledge and take action anyway. Musicians prepare themselves to be spontaneous. Startups can and must do the same.

To the uninitiated, jazz seems like chaos, whereas the reality is that it’s very ordered, underpinning the structure of apparent randomness is a long tradition of education and practice.

You can see a jam session as an effort to break down hierarchy. In a jam session, rank doesn’t matter. What matters is your ability, your willingness to take a risk, your spirit of both camaraderie and good-natured com-petition, and your wits in the heat of the moment. The jam session addresses a problem: How do you learn from other talented professionals that you don’t ordinarily get an opportunity to work with?

Listen closely to move as one As in business, communication is a crucial element of jazz. If you watch closely what’s happening between the musicians, you will see that without timely communication among the members they would never perform at their highest level. Just watch the different solos and see how the other members support the soloist and you will be surprised on the amount of dynamic emotion that is created.

Sometimes you’ll see jazz musicians performing in complete sync, changing tempos, ending the piece together, yet with no visible cues among them. Are they communicating by telepathy? No, they’re actually listening very closely to one another.

A jazz player listens in two special ways. Firstly, they ‘listen with generosity’, listening for the beauty, brilliance and ingenuity of their band mates, encouraging the expression of their virtuoso talents. Secondly, they listen to the silence between the notes. In business, listening rather than talking is a key skill. Whether you are listening upwards, listening downwards, or listening sideways in your startup, listen closely so you can move as one.

Find your own sound In today’s competitive environment it’s vital you differentiate yourself from the competition, to stand out from the undifferentiated greys of the pack and in living colour, show your uniqueness.

John Coltrane knew this instinctively, he pulled to the head of the pack by finding his own sound. Coltrane teaches us that you have to be authentically yourself, to find what’s right for you, leading from your own place of uniqueness. Trying to be what others want you to be will lead ultimately to failure. You have to find what you do best, and find what is best about you.

Coltrane played jazz as smooth and cool, as a rage, his solos never seemed to begin or end. Coltrane wasn’t methodical, but wasn’t messy either. His sax playing was a conversation, a give and take, a connection and a conversation between himself, his instrument and his audience. He said, I start in the middle of a sentence, and move in both directions at once – his spirit of adventure, improvisation and uniqueness captures the essence of an entrepreneur and their startup bravura.

Innovation lessons for startups from Dick Fosbury

The Rio Olympics saw 11,414 athletes step into the spotlight, and whatever the outcome, medal or not, they had achieved a level of performance to be admired. They did it. They beat the odds. They made it.

But what about the gold medallists, what makes on Olympic Champion? The combination of biological and psychological factors, and regular training, are key, but there is also risk taking and innovation, a need to do something different to find an edge on the competition when it matters most.

Innovation is key to any startup business, and Olympian Dick Fosbury captures the very essence of this. Fosbury is considered one of the most influential athletes in history after winning a gold medal at the 1968 Olympics and revolutionising the high jump event, inventing a unique ‘back-first’ technique, known forever as the ‘Fosbury Flop’, adopted by all high jumpers today.

When sixteen-year-old Fosbury first attempted the high jump at school he didn’t qualify for local club meetings. With a bad back, bad feet, and a weak body frame body, he was hardly champion material. He also had a terrible habit of jumping and landing the wrong way, to the dismay of his coaches.

Five years later, he broke high jump records, winning gold at the 1968 Olympic Games by clearing 7ft 4in.

At the time, competitors used what was known as the ‘straddle’ technique, running straight and seeking to clear the bar face-down, kicking their legs up and over in succession. At the 1968 Olympics, Fosbury shocked the world by running at the bar in a diagonal arc, jumping off the ‘wrong’ foot, and arching himself over the bar backwards — resulting in implausible height and the world record.

His method was to sprint diagonally towards the bar, then curve and leap backwards over the bar, which gave him a much lower centre of mass in flight (it was actually below his body) than traditional techniques.

Fosbury first started experimenting with his approach aged sixteen. Over the next two years, the evolution began. High jump rules stipulated only that competitors jump off one foot at take-off, there was no rule governing how a competitor crosses the bar, so long as they went over.

So he began to experiment with his technique, gradually adapting it to make himself more comfortable and to get more height, such that by his senior year he had begun to go over the bar backwards, headfirst, curving his body over the bar and kicking his legs up in the air at the end of the jump. This required him to land on his back, but prior to his junior year, his high school had replaced its wood chip landing pit with foam rubber so he was able to land safely.

Having previously failed to jump beyond 5ft 3in, he broke his high school record with a 6ft 3in jump, and the next year achieved 6ft 5.5in using his now recognised ‘Fosbury Flop’. Still under pressure to use the traditional technique, he won the argument when he cleared 6ft 10in.

As a student of physics and maths, Fosbury continued to refine his technique by studying ergonomics, developing a curved, J-shaped approach run. This allowed him to increase his speed, while the final curved steps served to rotate his hips. As his speed increased, so did his elevation.

Fosbury’s key discovery was the need to adjust his point-of-take off as the bar was raised. His flight through the air described a parabola, giving more ‘flight time’ so that the top of his arc was achieved as his hips passed over the bar. To increase ‘flight time’, Fosbury moved his take-off farther and farther away from the bar and the pit.

Jumpers have a natural tendency to be drawn in closer to the bar and it requires mental discipline to move out, rather than in. By way of comparison, Straddle jumpers planted their take-off foot in the same place every time, less than one foot away from a line parallel with the bar. Photographs of Fosbury attempting heights above 7ft show him taking off nearly 4ft out from the bar.

Fosbury’s new style was criticised at first. One local newspaper said that he looked like ‘a fish flopping in a boat’ while another called him the ‘World’s Laziest High Jumper’. But Fosbury went on to win a place in the US team with a jump of 7ft 3in.

In the Finals competition, only three jumpers cleared 7ft 2½in, and Fosbury lead by virtue of having cleared every height on his first attempt. At the next height, 7ft 3¼in, Fosbury again cleared the bar on his first jump. The bar was raised to 7ft 4¼in, what would be a new Olympic record.

Fosbury failed on his first two attempts, but cleared on his third, securing the gold medal. Fosbury asked the bar to be raised to 7ft 6in, hoping to break Valeriy Brumel’s five-year-old world record. However, none of his attempts came close to clearing.

Four years later, in the Munich Olympics, 28 of the 40 competitors used Fosbury’s technique, although gold medallist Jüri Tarmak used the straddle technique. By 1980, 13 of the 16 Olympic finalists used it, and of the 36 Olympic medallists in the event from 1972 through 2000, 34 used ‘the Flop’.

Today it is the most popular technique in modern high jumping. Javier Sotomayor (Cuba) is the current men’s record holder with a jump of 8ft 014 in set in 1993 – the longest standing record in the history of the competition and the only human being to jump over eight feet. Derek Drouin from Canada won gold in Rio with a jump of 7ft 10in.

Fosbury’s breakthrough took his sport to a new level. He did it not by working harder or developing bigger muscles than his competitors, but by recognising that a convention of his sport was not a rule. The same pattern is present in breakthrough innovations in business. Dramatic progress happens when entrepreneurs break rules that aren’t actually rules – in other words, when they rethink assumptions.

This is what psychologist Edward de Bono called ‘lateral thinking’. In most usual, real life situations we assume certain perceptions, concepts and boundaries. Lateral thinking is concerned not with playing with the existing boundaries and norms but with seeking to change this framework.

So how did Fosbury adopt this Lateral Thinking approach and convince himself to use his unorthodox technique? What can we learn from this to aid the calling of an entrepreneur to forge her own path despite the obstacles? Here’s what Fosbury did.

Be prepared to experiment One of the interesting interviews I’ve seen with Fosbury was explaining how he built experimentation into his training programme. The science was clear regarding the ergonomics to reproduce specific athletic movements of the arch of the back and speed perfectly, and skill in getting the body, arms, hands and feet into a position to create an extra inch of height. He then practiced, over and over again.

Measure performance All athletes measure performance whether it’s time, weight, height, or distance. Whatever the metric, they constantly evaluate where they are compared to where they expect to be, and whether they are on-track to achieve their goals or not. By evaluating performance they can determine if they need to change their plans.

Fosbury kept a meticulous journal of the metrics of his performance. At the end of every training session or competition, Fosbury debriefed to both understand performance, but also set targets for next time. In business you need to measure so you can analyse how to be more effective in the future. What gets measured gets improved. It’s an attitude of constant improvement.

Train like a champion No matter how talented an athlete is, they train to perfect their skills and maintain peak levels of performance. Continuing to dream is part of this, they never stop striving for that next big performance.

This captures the essence of Fosbury, planning to compete at the highest level and putting in a shift, like all high-performance athletes he planned out his training schedules in advance to make sure he reached specific performance goals.

Dont settle for good enough, use pressure to improve your focus Most business folk lack the same level of mental discipline that Fosbury had in abundance. One of the risks for businesses is being tolerant of sub-optimal performance. When an athlete does badly, their performance is reviewed and analysed from all angles and they work out how to improve from there. In business, average performance is often tolerated.

The choice is yours – average work, yields average results. In today’s global economy it is easy to think as a startup you cannot change anything and to struggle due to scale, yet there are entrepreneurs that are flying, so use the pressure to set the bar higher and to improve your focus. Chose your attitude and get the right mindset.

Focus on what you do best Fosbury was a specialist. Weight-lifters and divers have specialised skills, strengths and body types that enable them to compete in one sport. Other than in the pentathlon and decathlon, high-level sport is dominated by niche-oriented athletes who focus on just one field.

Increasingly, businesses must recognise that the more they pursue a single niche, the more they will succeed. Understand your true strengths and the unique way you create value for customers, and find an area of focus where you stand at the top of the world. Keep getting better at that one thing.

Set your priorities When asked what he had sacrificed to get to where he is now, Fosbury replied by saying ‘nothing’. The career he built and the accomplishments that came with it were because of choices he made – not sacrifices. He set his priorities and executed on them.

The principles applied at mastering a sport can also be applied to startup life. If we learn from athletes like Fosbury and filter the noise around us, focus on the task that we prioritise to be highest, be passionate about the things that mean most to us, and ensure we are resilient along the way, who knows, perhaps we can win our own gold medal.

Self-belief Did you ever doubt it? Fosbury didn’t. He found his fire. Know where your fire is and follow it. Even though the switch from sand to foam landing pits allowed athletes to experiment with a wider range of jumping techniques, everyone continued to do the same old thing until Fosbury came along.

Fosbury’s achievement is exactly why you see startups completely disrupt established industries. Take Uber for example. Taxis were the standard way to get around cities for decades. Then mobiles and internet access became the norm in our daily lives, but everyone continued to flag down taxis and pay for them the old fashioned way. The environment had changed, but the behaviour stayed the same.

Then one day Uber came along and said ‘Use your phone to request a car, we’ll pick you up wherever you are at, and you can easily pay through your phone’. Today, Uber is the biggest taxi company in the world. When the environment around a task changes, a new and better way to do things is usually possible.

You have to be willing to experiment with new ideas if you’re serious about discovering what works best for you. A startup is successful by following this path, spotting opportunities and winning by doing things differently. The key is to be aware of when the landing material has changed, so that you can experiment with new jumping styles.

It makes sense in most sports to reject the title ‘greatest of all time’ as Time has not yet run out. The boundaries are always being pushed back, new peaks crested. Yet Fosbury will always be in the Olympic pantheon, as his contribution is not measured simply in medals, but as an innovator.

For me, Fosbury’s influence is just as profound beyond the track. The human brain struggles to process such anomalous brilliance and disruptive thinking, but we all have to find our own flop if we are to win.

 

All our yesterdays: looking back to the future

I was clambering around in the attic recently and found a dusty box of mementos dating back to my ‘O’ and ‘A’ level years of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It’s always a bit unnerving looking at the visual evidence of your past life through the lenses of today, not least when you don’t know what you might find.

Aged 17, my face looked more like I was a ten year old, it’s shocking how young and thin and geeky I looked, old terylene school blazer and tight, tiny tie knot. I was in my Latin-American-Marxist affiliated with Tony Benn phase – intellectual posturing, because I could be cantankerous, irritable and juvenile back then. I was all about Devolution for the North – ahead of my time.

There were also photos of me outside our touring caravan in Cornwall in the hot summer of ’76 in obscenely tight blue Adidas shorts, and another going to a Joy Division concert trying to look earnest and intense. My mum and dad preferred Abba, to them it was bleak, harsh music. You can almost hear the overcast Manchester skies in their music.

A quick rummage through school exercise books revealed a one-sided view of religion as a CoE Protestant, despite the behaviour of King Henry VIII, who cut off his lovers’ heads, was sexually voracious and destroyed the monasteries. My history books were pretty empty. I only learned about the Spanish inquisition from Monty Python.

Some nice photos of me, mum and dad, and my sister Jane suggested there was a simplicity to life in the ‘70s, perhaps having just three part-time TV channels made family values more prescient. Our suburban existence was very pleasant. Manchester was 45 minutes away on a bus, a very different place than it is today. My only forays were to visit record shops and to buy cool music that wasn’t in the charts.

Another colour photo was of a trip to Blackpool. We used to go every year and drive up and down the Golden Mile looking at the Illuminations from the car. Staggering though it may seem now, it was exciting to see trams covered in light bulbs to look like they were space rockets. We didn’t even get out of the car except to buy fish & chips.

My dad seems to have had the same hair cut for about 40 years looking at the photos. There was a photo of a wedding where the young blokes had long hair and looked like Mungo Jerry. My dad’s short haircut made him look like the men from NASA Ground Control. He always had an air of polite defiance and measured individualism. Meanwhile there was me with an elasticated snake belt – an elongated ‘S’ as a buckle.

I have acquired some of my dad’s wisdom, but none of his practical nous. I remember him telling me in detail how a toilet cistern worked – I don’t recall what he told me and I’m rubbish at plumbing today. I also remember him crawling about under the floorboards laying the central heating system and drawing diagrams of the pipes and connections, saying when it breaks he wouldn’t be here. Suffice to say both are still going strong.

Thinking back, I realise I am part of the television generation, although it was rationed and books were considered to be far more important and outdoors play was always encouraged. I am very nostalgic about the television I watched in my youth, I recall watching Star Trek and Coronation Street with my mum. Of course, you had to watch and listen carefully because there was no recording or playback.

Teletext was part of my education, I was addicted to the smorgasbord of information. I remember my Mum always liking Sean Connery as James Bond and having no time for Roger Moore. My dad never liked Jon Pertwee as Doctor Who. I recorded Fawlty Towers and Ripping Yarns and football matches with microphones balanced on cushions in front of the television on my portable cassette player. I listened back to these cassettes time and again. Sadly, I spent so much time listening to these comedies and commentaries I could repeat them verbatim.

Finally, I came across some old copies of the NME and Sounds, my first crush was Kate Bush, then Siouxsie. Siouxsie is 60 this year. Where has the time gone? Music was tribal at school, we had the Genesis, Roxy and heavy metal lads, then the punks and new wave. My wife Susan’s claim to fame is that she once had a lift in the back of the Buzzcock’s van on a way to a gig. Being so near Manchester was surreal in the years from 1976 to 1983, book-ended by Joy Division and The Smiths.

As you can see, I’ve always been slightly obsessed with how we mark the passing of time, none more so than I have a clear recall being at school at 12.34pm on 5 June 1978. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. I also recall 31 December 1979, the end of the first decade I can remember, and where I was and whom I was with. Mark, Paul, and Nick at The Railway. Funny what sticks in your mind.

Pulp’s song Disco 2000 released in 1995 has always stuck with me, won’t it be strange when we’re all fully-grown. It will. I loved maths at school and was obsessed with the year 2000, I remember writing it down and thinking about the passage of time and the digits, must have been my liking for science fiction from Asimov, Bradbury and Arthur C Clarke. Oh nostalgia, it makes us a bit more human.

Nostalgia, a longing to return home, is a word that comes from Greek –nostos (to return home) and algo (pain or ache), first coined by C17th Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer as a label for the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries in their return from fighting away from home.

I’m sometimes a little wistful, but I see nostalgia as passing history forward – it’s not just reliving the past, but thinking about how events in that past affected where I am today. Nostalgia has a strong social side to it. It engenders feelings of belonging. As a son, husband and dad, I feel closer and happier when sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.

Alas there is no room for nostalgia in today’s business world. In the last few weeks it’s been announced that 120 branches of Austin Reed will close, costing 1,000 jobs, and British Home Stores will close 163 stores with the loss of 11,000 jobs. They join a list of well-known High Street stores that have disappeared over the last 40 years.

It’s 1976 and you’re out shopping. If you want to buy a record or some sweets, try Woolworths. Shoes? Have a look in Freeman, Hardy and Willis. For a shirt, go to C&A. If you need some money, join the queue in the Midland Bank, and for tonight’s tea, pop into Dewhurst for meat and Fine Fare for the rest of the food shop.

So, what happened to these shops whose logos once dominated the High Street?

Woolworths The US-founded store opened in the UK in 1909, selling goods ranging from hardware to pick ‘n’ mix self-service sweets, records to toys, but failed. All 807 stores went, the last in Glasgow’s Argyle Street, closing in January 2009. Around 30,000 people lost their jobs.

C&A The chain of clothing stores, founded in the 1920s by the Dutch brothers Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer, closed in 2000, with the loss of 4,800 jobs. Its 109 shops had come under increasing competition from other mid-market clothing retailers. The last UK store in Bradford, closed in May 2001.

Radio Rentals Set up in Brighton in the 1930s, Radio Rentals catered for a growing demand for radios. The rental model continued through the introduction of televisions and, later, video cassette recorders. But, as consumer electronics became cheaper, more people bought than rented.

Freeman, Hardy and Willis The shoe manufacturer was founded in 1870, and became a familiar presence on hundreds of High Streets. It ceased trading in the mid-1990s.

Comet Founded in 1933 as a business charging radio batteries, Comet opened its first store in Hull in 1968, expanding rapidly. There were 236 stores when it went into administration in November 2012.

Dewhurst The chain of butchers shops was founded on Merseyside in the late C19th, and had 1,400 outlets by 1997 but went into administration in 2006. Its traditional model faced increasing competition, as the supermarkets started packaging meat in plastic containers, so it became commoditised, rather than people wanting to request specific cuts or a certain weight of meat.

Midland Bank With its distinctive griffin logo, Midland was one of the ‘big four’ UK banks in the 1970s, along with Barclays, Lloyds and NatWest. In 1958 it had become the first UK bank to offer unsecured loans and in 1966 the first to provide cheque guarantee cards. Midland, established as the Birmingham and Midland Bank in 1836, was taken over by HSBC in 1992 and its branches were renamed HSBC from 1999.

Nostalgia can add significant value to brands that have the opportunity to tap into the heritage and stay relevant to the customer choice and demands of today – consider the resurgence of the Mini – whilst there are some iconic brands have defined Britain for years, some remain as strong as they were when they were founded – Hovis (1886), Marmite (1902), Brasso (1905), Bisto (1908), to name a few, have all stood the test of time as has Lyle’s Golden Syrup, Britain’s oldest brand, founded in 1885.

But wallowing in nostalgia can create inertia. It took 75 years to connect 50 million telephone users, 13 years for there to be a million TVs in the US, and four years for a million users of the internet. Today, a simple iPhone App can reach that milestone in a matter of days.

The challenge is to focus on the future, and not let nostalgia block innovation. What should your thinking be to keep a forward view on your business horizon?

  • Think relationships not transactions; offer experience not products; listen to customers, don’t sell.
  • Think bigger – past strategies may fail to engage new customers; commit a budget to R&D; create a culture of intrapreneurship
  • Move faster and more purposefully; play multiple bet; don’t just run neck and neck with rivals, look for ways to pull ahead of the pack

The future rewards those that press on. Have a picture of your future self and make decisions on that basis. Life is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future. Control your own future, or somebody else will.

 

The spirit of 1976: innovation made in Manchester

The Free Trade Hall in Peter Street, Manchester was a concert venue every north-west teenager visited as a right of passage. It was originally a public hall designed by architect Edward Walters and constructed in 1853–56 on St Peter’s Fields, the site of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819. The hall was built to commemorate the repeal of the Corn Laws.

It was home to the Hallé Orchestra and a vibrant part of Manchester’s culture, until it closed in 1996. In 1997 the building was sold to private developers despite public resistance, who viewed the sale as inappropriate given the historical significance of the building and its site.

After the initial planning application was refused, a second modified planning application was submitted and approved. A 263-bedroom hotel, demolishing Howitt’s post-war hall but preserving the main staircase, was built. The hotel opened in 2004, having cost £45m. Today it is a Radisson Hotel, but retains Grade II listed heritage status.

The Free Trade Hall was a venue for public meetings and political speeches besides a concert hall. Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, Winston Churchill and Christabel Pankhurst all roused Mancunians in the hall and on the steps.

However, it was forty years ago last Saturday, 4 June 1976, that the Lesser Free Trade Hall – adjacent to the main hall – was the venue for a concert by the Sex Pistols at the start of the punk movement, now regarded as one of the most influential gigs of all time, that gives it a special status for me.

It was a gig that inspired a generation to make their own music, and arguably changed their world forever. Only a handful of people were actually at the gig but it has iconic status. It’s one of those moments in popular culture whereby you can put your finger on it and say: that was it, that was the day, that was the time, that was the year that was the precise moment when everything took a left turn.And that is the music that we’re listening to now, the musical culture and heritage we have in Manchester, the way we buy records, the independent music scene, basically came out of that audience.

There were about 35-40 people there. Tickets cost 50p. So who was there? We know that Morrissey was there, who went on to form the Smiths. We know that the lads who went on to form the Buzzcocks – Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto – were there because they organised the gig. We know that two lads from Lower Broughton were there who went out the next day and bought guitars – Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner – they formed a band called Stiff Kitten, later to become Warsaw, later to become Joy Division. We know that Mark E Smith was there who went on to form The Fall.

There was another Sex Pistols gig six weeks later there that was actually full, and that’s where the Hacienda came from, that’s where Factory Records came from. Ian Curtis, Martin Hannett, Tony Wilson were there. So it’s a very easy thing to put your finger on and say: yes, that’s where everything kind of it changed.

I wasn’t there, but over the next 18 months I was a witness, although not enough of one to notice at the time that what was taking place was history. I bought the records and went to the concerts of those Manchester bands, and they still form the core of my record collection today.

I had no idea I would talk and write about a gig for what is turning out to be the rest of my life, finding new ways to point out that the evening was something of a revelation and a cabalistic psychic trigger for many.

The momentum caused by the event has now, perhaps, died down, or paused for thought, jumping back to the front page on a milestone anniversary. Or, ultimately, the momentum has turned into a constant nostalgic commentary on the momentum itself – what caused it, how we remember it and what happened because of it to Manchester and how it regenerated sociocultural history.

The people went to see the Sex Pistols, but in reality it was lead singer John Rotten – now known as John Lydon – they were drawn too, an innovator and performer without comparison, venting his social and political ideology through the power of music. Lydon has been angry and sticking two fingers up to the world since 1975 when the Sex Pistols formed. He hasn’t softened with age.

It’s hard to imagine how powerful a counter-cultural force Lydon and the Pistols were in the 70s, but they were perceived enough of a threat to the Establishment for them to be discussed in Parliament under the Traitors and Treason Act. Via his music and invective, Lydon has spearheaded a generation of young people to show their attitude, shown by the bands inspired from the Lesser Free Trade Hall gig.

With his current band, Public Image Ltd, Lydon expresses an equally urgent impulse in his make-up – the constant need to reinvent himself, to keep moving. From the beginning he set the ground-breaking template for a band that continues to challenge and thrive today.

The melancholic howl of This Is Not a Love Song, Rise and Death Disco, Public Image’s new wave tunes sound as vital as they ever did. Anger is an Energy is Lydon’s autobiography, a line from Rise, and his prose is as spikey and angry as his music, packed with defiant energy and an unwillingness to be a passive spectator to his own life. ‘To stay relevant, sometimes you need to stay angry’ seems to be his driving force.

The charismatic Lydon has been angry, wailing and ranting for years, and has remained a compelling and dynamic figure both as a musician, and, thanks to his outspoken, controversial, yet always heartfelt and honest statements, as a cultural commentator and a vibrant, alternative individual.

John’s music, lyrics and writing offer a brilliant insight into the creation of ideas. Right from the start he needed to fight his corner and he’s never stopped, and he’s never made it easy on himself, his inner anger and restlessness being raw and uncomfortable at times. At the same time, you can’t help but be captured by his warmth, humanity, honesty and clarity of thought.

It was the anger, energy and passion in his performance back in 1976 that inspired everyone. But what makes you angry? There are a mountain of reasons why we lose our temper, research shows that the average person gets angry about four times a day. Anger can be expressed assertively, aggressively or in a passive-aggressive way. It rises within us when our need to be valued, respected and appreciated is threatened, our passion spills out.

Anger is a powerful emotion, an energy that can create a decisive call to action. Think about successful entrepreneurs, they’re passionate, but also logical and rational. In the face of opportunity, crisis or danger they remain steely-eyed focused. They don’t get angry – or at the very least they don’t show their anger. Or do they?

According to research conducted by Henry Evans and Colm Foster, emotional intelligence experts and authors of Step Up: Lead in Six Moments That Matter the highest performing people and highest performing teams tap into and express their entire spectrum of emotions, including anger, as an energy and driver of top performance. So Lydon was right.

Evans and Foster say anger is actually useful when harnessed and controlled because it fosters useful behavioural capabilities:

Anger creates focus Get mad and you tend to focus on one thing – the source of your anger. You don’t get distracted. You’re not tempted to multitask. All you can see is what’s in front of you. That degree of focus can be extremely powerful.

Anger generates confidence Get mad and the automatic rush of adrenaline heightens your senses and reduces your inhibitions. Anger, in small doses, can be the spark that gets you started.

Use anger to overcome anxiety or fear When we’re nervous or scared we often later regret what we didn’t say. When you do, the rush of adrenaline will fuel anger and will help move you out of the fear zone and into a mind set where you’re excited and passionate and motivated – but not unreasonable or irrational.

Anger, manifesting itself as frustration, is prevalent in many start-ups. It may not always be obvious, but the combination of passion, desire, and expectation creates an environment ripe for frenzy. Most start-up schedules look like a mangled mess of meetings. Trying to maximise every minute of the day, they only leave a few minutes between each discussion to take a breath.

In this situation, when frustration boils over and anger strikes, it comes quickly. There isn’t time to anticipate the feeling, it just happens. Whether it’s a missed opportunity, a change in circumstances, or an unforeseen action by someone else, your mood quickly changes.

Most entrepreneurs try to continue, they try to ignore it. They put on their best face for the remainder of the day, but the emotion continues to stir under the surface – and no matter how hard you try to find the silver lining, there just isn’t one.

When this happens, you need to stop trying to be positive and channel your anger instead. Sometimes, bad stuff happens that will make you angry, and rather than internalise it you need to channel your frustration, it’s a chance to exert your force of will when the world is counting you out, just channel it into a constructive goal. Afterwards you can let go of your anger. That’s what Lydon did, using his anger as a motivating force to provide self-insight.

Anger is a vital part of that built-in ‘fight-or-flight’ response that helps you adapt to and survive challenges, personal and business. Anger is the fight component, the part that moves you to take offensive measures to defend yourself against actual or perceived threats – you get angry and suddenly you’re infused with a sense of empowerment, a feeling of strength, confidence, and competence. You’re standing straight up to the frustrations and conflicts you’ve been avoiding. There is a fire within each and every one of us, and like John Lydon use it.

In 1976, when popular music was directionless, youth culture dissipated and Britain in the grip of political paralysis, 20-year-old Lydon appeared like a lightning bolt from beyond. “I am an anti-Christ!” was his recorded introduction to the world as Johnny Rotten, the provocatively grotesque frontman of the Sex Pistols. He quickly became the pivotal character in a counter-culture movement that shook the music business out of its lethargy and left an indelible mark on British culture.

But life is long, pop careers are short. The Sex Pistols released one album before rancorously disintegrating in 1978. Over the next 38 years, with his ever-changing ensemble Public Image Limited, Lydon has dabbled in all the usual excesses but his anger was there, fighting to be heard among the excessive verbiage and irrelevant digressions. Oh how an inchoate rebel found his purpose in punk.

Forty years on from that gig in Manchester, John Lydon is still showing anger is an energy. Back then he showed he was ready to roar, and how he lit a touchpaper for others like him. There are full lives, and then there are his.

If your engine is fired up, get moving and get moving now. Set a list of goals or outcomes, and do not stop until you are in a more positive place. You can sort it out. You can turn anger into motivation. Keep angry to keep the energy, get out there and make it happen.

 

 

 

 

Stay relevant by creating your own future

Radiohead released their ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool last week, 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.

Nine albums in, 30 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?

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. However, the strongest influence came from the Pixies, the great but never world-famous Boston band whose gritty, brainy songs, shaded soft and loud, and also inspired Nirvana.

Since their formation, Radiohead have been lyrically and musically spearheaded by Thom Yorke, the essential spark of the band. Yorke’s somnambulant ramblings, individualistic performances cutting a strangely solitary figure make 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 most pleasantly.

Radiohead are in many ways the Rolling Stones of Gen Y but without the ostentatious commerciality driven by the marketing machine of an SME. They are a serious band that make serious music. At some point in the early C21st Radiohead became something more than a band, they became a touchstone for adventurous music with meaning.

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, A Moon Shaped Pool. It is, you’ll be unsurprised to learn, not an album for moments of shared joy and carefree abandon, easy listening music. Unless you didn’t get around to sleeping last night, there are other albums you will probably prefer to play in the daytime. Like much of the Radiohead back catalogue, it’s a record that seems better suited to the soft unknowable recesses of the human brain.

For me, A Moon Shaped Pool is attractively moody, and with what seems like a lighter hand than sometimes in the past. Or that could just be me. Put them on. I’ll nod along. And even if I nod off instead, it will be with a smile. The album is slower and softer than any of their previous work as opposed to the dark brooding Radiohead sound.

So I kept listening to Radiohead. They make me curious about the process of creating music. They seem to be interested in trying to attempt something more ambitious each time a new release is issued.

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.

So what lessons can entrepreneurs learn from a band that has remained in existence for a long time and continues to thrive, carving out an audience from paying customers for music and concert ticket sales, 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.

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.

The truth is though, Radiohead are perfectionists. They’re 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 with them. That commitment is driven by inspiration by determination by hunger. That’s what we’re all after to make our business different.

Open mindedness Radiohead’s work has always 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 innovation, 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 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 has built a loyal base of fans that follow and support them. They nurture and cultivate their audience through innovative online marketing – check http://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, whether overtly or not, 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 structure. 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.

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 Before there was email, there were letters. It amazes me to see the amount of time some of our greatest historical writers committed to their 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.

Radiohead are not productive – nine albums in twenty three years, two in the last decade and five years since the last for A Moon Shaped Pool. That to me says everything about busy work, and important work.

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. Of course, the legacy now replaces the future for Bowie, but like Bowie, Radiohead create their own future.

Radiohead have always sounded like a band in constant motion, each new release an agitation from the previous release, the traits of innovation highlighted above evident in their work, never resting on their laurels.

So Radiohead are back. Their best songs have never given you a choice but to listen, filled with existential dread, political and social anger, innate pessimism, but on A Moon Shaped Pool, there are unhurried, diffuse sounds. A beautiful album, so many influences coming through that haven’t been heard in their previous outings. A refreshing return to more guitar-based songs and, surprisingly, more conventionally structured ones too. A more soulful sound. Listen now, and learn how to stay relevant by creating your own future.