Be remarkable. Be a Purple Cow.

Last week Radiohead issued a vast collection (1.8 gigabytes) of unreleased tracks from the sessions for their 1997 album OK Computer, after a MiniDisc archive owned by frontman Thom Yorke was hacked, and were reportedly asked for a $150,000 ransom to return the recordings.

Instead of paying the ransom, the band made eighteen MiniDisc recordings, most of them around an hour in length, available on Bandcamp for £18. All proceeds will go to climate activists Extinction Rebellion.

Frontman Thom Yorke described the hours of recordings as not very interesting, and guitarist Jonny Greenwood – who confirmed the hack via Twitter – said: Never intended for public consumption it’s only tangentially interesting, and very, very long. Not a phone download. Rainy out, isn’t it, though?

Yorke and Greenwood are absolutely wrong: the files are a treasure trove. Frankly, a look behind the curtain of one of the most innovative albums of a generation is priceless.  This hoard of private material is an illuminating chronicle of a band reinventing the mainstream. The eighteen tracks have been documented in a Google Doc by fans. If anyone understands the dynamics of content, innovation and the internet, it’s Radiohead.

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 atmospherics with angst and despair of a tortured performer.

Radiohead are in many ways the Rolling Stones of Gen Y but without the ostentatious commerciality driven by a 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.

What Radiohead did to counter the hack was remarkable. It reminded me of Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, the concept that you’re either remarkable or invisible. In a world that grows noisier by the day, Godin’s challenge has never been more relevant.

Godin evolves the traditional ‘4Ps’ marketing thinking with a new P – the Purple Cow. He identified this when he was with his family driving through France and were enchanted by the hundreds of cows grazing on picturesque pastures. For dozens of kilometres, we gazed out the window, marvelling about how beautiful everything was. Then, within twenty minutes, we started ignoring the cows. The new cows were just like the old cows, and what once was amazing was now common.

Worse than common. It was boring. Cows, after you’ve seen them for a while, are boring. They may be perfect cows, brown or black cows, attractive cows, cows with great personalities, cows lit by beautiful light, but they’re still boring. A Purple Cow, though. Now that would be interesting.

On a long car drive you may see some cows on a hill, and see many more as the hours pass. Brown cow. Brown cow. Black Cow. Black Cow. There’s nothing remarkable about them, they pretty much look the same. But if you spotted a purple cow, then wow, that would be remarkable. You’d sit up in your seat and take notice; you might even pull the car over, let the kids out, take some pictures and share them with friends on Social Media.

Godin’s book came out in 2003, before the first iPhone, however, it is almost like Steve Jobs took everything Godin mentions in his book and put it into creating the iPhone. The iPhone succeeded wildly as a product everyone wants, and it stood out like a Purple Cow in the field of normal phones.

Tesla, Uber, Airbnb are all Purple Cows. As is Paypal. Banking is probably one of the hardest industry of all to try to disrupt, because the barriers to entry are huge – you need mountains of capital, regulatory approval, and years of building trust with your customers.

Banks’ business models are largely unchanged in hundreds of years, and they’re insanely powerful and almost impossible to displace – as we’re seeing with the Challenger Banks and Open Banking initiatives still to truly disrupt their business model – but for some crazy reason PayPal didn’t seem to care, and became remarkable.

Look at their Purple Cow attributes:

  • PayPal spends less money on technology than even a medium sized bank does. Yet its technology platform is far superior.
  • Consumers trust PayPal as much if not more than they trust their bank. Even though PayPal has been around for a fraction of the time.
  • When a customer buys with their PayPal account, the bank has no clue what the customer actually bought. The transaction appears on the bank statement as ‘PayPal’. That gives PayPal all the power when it comes to data mining.
  • PayPal is quicker to market with just about any kind of payment innovation going.
  • PayPal refuses to partner directly with banks – instead opting to partner with retailers directly.

In a small period of time, PayPal inserted itself as a whole new method of payment to become a real alternative to debit or credit cards. But how did it manage to do it? There are two huge pillars of success to PayPal’s story.

They seized the moment. They got a lucky break when they ‘accidentally’ became the favoured payment provider for eBay transactions. This was followed a few years later by their $1.5bn acquisition by eBay themselves. eBay were smart enough to leave them alone, and their newfound sense of boldness saw them strike a series of deals with other online retailers to try and replicate the success they’d had with eBay.

The second pillar of their success was Partnerships. Banks had always been wary about forming partnerships directly with retailers, instead they relied on their scheme partners Visa/MasterCard to do that for them. They didn’t want the hassle of managing so many different relationships, and were extremely confident about the fact that credit and debit cards would always be at the heart of the financial payment system.

But the problem was that MasterCard themselves were already working on a partnership with PayPal, leaving the banks out in the cold. Today, PayPal has 20% market share of online payments in the US, and 63% of the eWallet space. Almost all of that growth has come from their direct relationships with merchants large and small.

Paypal is a Purple Cow. Making something remarkable means asking new questions and trying new practices, doing the unexpected and creating an offering that is genuinely innovative. Godin identifies some key traits of Purple Cows, for example:

Get into the habit of doing the unsafe thing. Remarkable isn’t always about changing the biggest machine in your factory, it’s about being bold and every time you have the opportunity to see what’s working and what’s not. It’s safer to be risky. Use this mindset to go for the truly amazing moon-shot things.

Explore the limits with early adopters. What if you’re the cheapest, the fastest, the slowest, the hottest, the coldest, the easiest, the most efficient, the loudest, the most hated, the copycat, the outsider, the hardest, the oldest, the newest, or just the most? If there’s a limit, you must test it. The early adopters heavily influence the rest of the curve, so persuading them is worth far more than wasting time and effort trying to persuade anyone else.

Target a niche. The way you break through to the mainstream is to target a niche instead of a huge market. With a niche, you can segment off a chunk of the mainstream, and create an ideavirus so focused that it overwhelms that small slice of the market that really and truly will respond to what you offer. The market is small enough that a few wins can get you to the critical mass you need to create an ideavirus.

Think small. One vestige of the social media explosion is a need to think mass. If it doesn’t appeal to everyone, the thinking goes, it’s not worth it. No longer. Think of the smallest conceivable market and describe a product that overwhelms it with its remarkability. Be remarkable by being curated.

Differentiate your customers. From the above two points, find the market segment that wants your product and ‘own your market’. Within this, find the group that’s most likely to influence other customers – cater to the customers you would choose if you could choose your customers. Have the insight and guts to craft a Purple Cow product/service offering that gets the right people to seek them out.

Find things that are ‘just not done’ in your industry. And then go ahead and do them. Ask ‘Why not?’ – almost everything you do is the result of fear or inertia or a historical lack of someone asking, ‘Why?’ Uber and Airbnb did just that, and what about Tesla – who gave away their IP of their electric batteries.

If you’re remarkable, then it’s likely that some people won’t like you. That’s part of the definition of remarkable. The best the timid can hope for is to be unnoticed. Criticism comes to those who stand out.

Playing it safe. Following the rules. They seem like the best ways to avoid failure. Alas, that pattern is a dangerous and mistaken fallacy. In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible. Boring is always the riskiest strategy. Startups realise this and work to reduce the risk from the process. They know that sometimes it’s not going to work, but they accept the fact that that’s okay, as ultimately, chewing your own cud leads to being remarkable.

Understand the urgency of the situation. Half-measures simply won’t do. Being noticed is not the same as being remarkable. Running down the street naked will get you noticed, but it won’t accomplish much. It’s easy to pull off a stunt, but not useful. Extremism in the pursuit of remarkability is no sin. In fact, it’s practically a requirement. Remarkability lies in the edges. It doesn’t always matter which edge, more that you’re at (or beyond) the edge.

Part of what it takes to do something remarkable is to do something first and best. Roger Bannister was remarkable. The next guy, the guy who broke Bannister’s record wasn’t. He was just faster, but it didn’t matter.

Godin challenges us to be a Purple Cow, crafting something truly exceptional in everything we create or do. Like the Radiohead reaction to being hacked, like Tesla giving away their IP and PayPal did in challenging the status quo, be unexpected, be innovative, standout from the crowd, make people stop in their tracks and think. Be remarkable.

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.

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.

A start-up business making fake plastic trees

Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood recently gave an update on the band’s new album, not exactly an exciting one: It’s all up in the air at the minute. We’re having some quiet time. I’m sorry to be vague but we’re all just taking it easy at the moment.

I wish I could say we were going to start work and put something out then spend twelve months on the road touring but we’re just enjoying being at home right now. The bassist concluded on an optimistic note, saying We definitely want to do it all again but we’ve just got to give it some time for the dust to settle.

So that’s me waiting for some new tunes then. Radiohead have been one of my favourite bands since they were formed in 1985. They have an expansive and pioneering sound, often acclaimed as one of the landmark bands of the 1990s, but I know they are an acquired taste and not everyone’s cup of tea. Radiohead’s innovation came to the fore when they self-released their seventh album, In Rainbows, as a digital download for which fans could pay their own price.

Most of the music I listen to wasn’t even recorded in the last decade. Like most people I arrived in my fifties aware of, and not much bothered about, the truth that my musical tastes were unlikely to expand much further, if at all. I knew what I liked and, by and large. It remains theoretically possible that some or other brainstorm will bestir a hitherto utterly dormant affection for techno or trance, but aside from Frightened Rabbit, http://frightenedrabbit.com/ I’m pretty locked into a musical taste shaped by bands from my youth – aren’t we all?

But I kept listening to Radiohead. The Bends had been one of my favourite albums, and they seemed to be interested in trying to attempt something more ambitious each time a new release was issued. We all like music for different reasons – tunes, lyrics, live gigs etc, but for me Radiohead articulated a sentiment and voice felt by the people who constitute the constituency of youngish, fundamentally decent, intelligent middle-class with social conscience, born into a fortunate life crafted from grabbing an opportunity laid before them, which held no impediment to their future happiness bar the nagging suspicion that some fundamental social stuff needed shouting about and that someone else, somewhere else, needed help and that society should be doing do more.

For this audience, Radiohead’s singer and principal songwriter, Thom Yorke was the ideal everyman: an aggrieved, affronted isolated figure whose rage was borne of annoyance at the status quo. You were more than willing to rebel against whatever you’d got, but didn’t quite know where to start, but he did. Or maybe that’s just me.

Radiohead’s continued success is in part down to consolidating all the great things they’ve done in the past and the fact they continue to innovate. In 2007, when CD sales were taking a major hit due to illegal downloads, as highlighted earlier they made a decision to try something different and offer their seventh album, In Rainbows, for free or for whatever fans wanted to pay. Why? At the time Yorke said Partly just to get it out quickly, so everyone would hear it at the same time, and partly because it was an experiment that felt worth trying, really. It’s fun to make people stop for a few seconds and think about what music is worth, and that’s just an interesting question to ask people.

So they let fans download their album directly from their website, avoiding all the middlemen, and let them 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.

From this, at the very least Radiohead learned not to be afraid to experiment with something new, and understood the value of their music to their audience. Sometimes, depending on your product, giving it away for absolutely free could be the most profitable decision you ever make! Not all companies can do this of course, but perhaps there is something aside from your primary products or services that you could offer in this manner.

Starting a new band is just like starting a new business, it’s all about the future potential and promise of what can be. The economics (and perhaps egonomics) are uncertain and unproven when things are driven and shaped by potential, but like any market, long term success is about having a product that attracts customers and continues to meet demand ahead of the competition.

So what lessons can entrepreneurs learn from the bands that have remained in business for a long time and continue to thrive, and from the new ones that are carving out market share from paying customers for music and concert ticket sales? Here are some of the best values of entrepreneurship that I see from Radiohead and other musicians:

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.

Nurture your community Radiohead has built a loyal base of fans that follow and support them, with an identity and substance. They played many free concerts early on to build this fan base, and subsequently nurture and cultivate their audience, today mainly 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.

Don’t self-destruct Greed, ego, and lack of discipline are often the causes for bands to break up, often at the peak of their success. It’s the equivalent of co-founders falling out. Keep the personality differences aside and remain committed to what is good for the business. Keep aligned to your vision, purpose and values.

Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself Faced with declining record sales, bands have hit the road more often and enhanced the stage shows to draw concert-goers back to the arenas. But this isn’t innovation, it’s just tweaking at the margin, drawing the same audience. You have to keep being radical and changing as your market changes to attract new customers.

Forming the idea and iterate I get asked all the time: How do you come up with an idea to work on?  I always quote the famous chemist Linus Pauling: The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas. The thinking What kind of music do I want to make? is the same as What kind of product do I want to build?  Just start working on something you are passionate about or interested in and the rest will take care of itself. Most bands go through several iterations before becoming successful.

Creating – just do it! It is a core part of the music industry’s allure that artists can record an inexpensive demo on home equipment and get global success. Those artists that are proficient with technology can use a Mac and home recording and mixing software, such as Garageband and Cakewalk to create professional sounding recordings. The start-up analogies are obvious with tools like AWS, Survey Monkey and Google Analytics – just do it!

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 stamp on the world you live in, live by your own rules (as much as possible), and create your own structure.  Often it’s not really your choice, as organic events dictate your decision-tree.  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.

Recently Thom Yorke has been likened to an old guy shouting at passing trains – music is a tool to unite people, but so often it breaks us into subcultures. Yet Radiohead are insanely forward-thinking, extremely private and they hardly ever conduct any interviews. That’s without touching on how many people claim their music has changed their life.

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.

But they also make mistakes. Shortly after Radiohead released In Rainbows online, the band misplaced its password for Max/MSP, a geek-oriented music software package that the guitarist Jonny Greenwood uses constantly. It wasn’t the first time it had happened. As usual Radiohead contacted Max/MSP’s developers, Cycling ’74, for another password. They wrote back. Why don’t you pay us what you think it’s worth?