Have you ever met someone who exemplifies the strength of a successful entrepreneur, combined with integrity, purpose, and the desire to help others? Peter Cook, the founder of Human Dynamics, author, keynote speaker and so much more, is one of these people. It has been my pleasure to interview Peter about his road to success and I invite you to step into his shoes. You will be inspired, intrigued and amazed. When a person knows who they are, follows the golden nuggets life lays before them, and focuses on their passion, success is the only result that can be achieved. Please enjoy learning about Peter, his journey and how he makes a difference through positive influence and bringing a unique kind of leadership development and business success to the corporate world.
Eileen: You have an amazing life story that has led you to become a world-renowned writer, leader, teacher, facilitator, musician, and speaker. Your passion for science, business, and music has become infused in all of your endeavors. Please tell me about how this journey began with your dreams as a child and the systematic unfolding of events leading up to your success of today.
Peter: I have had three passions across my life – science, business, and music. When I was four years old I wanted to be in The Beatles. Unfortunately, all the jobs were taken! By nine, I wanted to be a brain scientist. Science stayed with me and at 18, I joined a pharmaceutical company as a chemist and traveled the world, fixing factories and scaling up life-saving drugs, including the world’s first treatment for HIV/AIDS and work to introduce human insulin to the world.
By 29 I became fascinated with management and started working in a Business School alongside my day job. At 34, I left full-time employment to start my own business and some 5 years later I began the synthesis of science, business, and music via The Academy of Rock.
Creativity has been a constant in my three “Schumpeterian” 18-year long career cycles of innovation in my life. Looking back at this I gradually fused what I loved with what I needed to do to make a living for my family. It’s not a choice available to everyone and has relied on a continuous approach to learning on my part. It is however hugely relevant to the world we face in the age of machines and artificial intelligence.
Eileen: You have authored and contributed to 7 1/2 books. Please share your passion for writing, how this has impacted yours and other’s lives, and the key information imparted in your books.
Peter: It’s now 8 ½ as I commence my 9th book. I wrote the first one when I was 34, more than 25 years ago, although writing was always a part of my work as a scientist. I got this after placing a letter in an HR magazine, seeking companies to participate in some research on creativity at work. Although I got few replies I did get one from Gower publishing who subsequently published my first book “Best Practice Creativity“. Having written the first book I noticed that people started to ask me to deliver keynotes based on the book’s subject matter. The rest more or less flowed from this.
I like to write — it provides me with a great reason to conduct research and to reflect on what is going on with the world of business and leadership. The books tend to focus on subjects such as strategic thinking, creativity, innovation and the leadership of change, which is now a constant in business life.
Almost uniquely, I use parallel insights from the field of music to inform my work. People find that this makes the bitter pills of business much more palatable than the usual approaches. It means that I get to interlace traditional MBA thinking alongside musical demonstrations and live participation in my seminars. I’m told it is the most fun you can have at a conference, whilst learning loads more that is possible from a PowerPoint presentation.
Eileen: Your newest book, Brain Based Enterprises, is about harmonizing the head, heart, and soul of business. Why do you believe this book is important in today’s business environment and please tell me three points you have emphasized in this book?
Peter: Imagine a world where we work 15 hours a week with greater access to leisure, pleasure, intellectual and social stimulation? We’ve been promised this for decades, but the advent of computers has hermetically attached us to our iPods, iPads and office pods. Artificial intelligence offers us a one-time opportunity to break free of our addiction to working on the chain gang, although it is as yet unclear as to whether our merger with artificial intelligence will lead to a “War of the Worlds” or a harmonious fusion of man, woman, and machine.
Brain Based Enterprises explores the role that innovation and creativity will play to help us survive and thrive in the 4th Industrial Revolution. This is not the age of steam, coal or manufacturing, but the information revolution, where value is created primarily through the intelligent combination of knowledge and wisdom. How shall we cope in a world where it has variously been predicted that up to 50% of our jobs will disappear in the next few decades? What does that mean for education, where the half-life of knowledge is in free-fall? What will become of money in such a world? How shall we fall in love?
The book deals with questions such as:
1. How shall we lead an enterprise where intelligence is the main currency of success? What personal skills will we need to survive and thrive in a world of artificial intelligence?
2. How shall we swim with knowledge rather than drown in data in the information age?
3. How may we become a genuine learning enterprise?
Eileen: You won a prize for work on leadership from Sir Richard Branson, now writing and leading events for Virgin. This must be a great milestone in your life. Please share your experience and any insights gained.
Since that time I now also run events for Virgin that fuse ideas about business with parallel ideas from music. This has included events with Meatloaf’s singing partner Patti Russo and the man who made the magic happen for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Over time it also led to Richard agreeing to an exclusive interview for my last book “Leading Innovation, Creativity, and Enterprise“. Richard fascinates me as a leader. He has grown a large business without all the traps associated with scale and global reach, and I’ve spoken about the qualities that make him a great leader at several conferences from Italy to Ireland and the USA.
Eileen: One of your skills is to trouble-shoot businesses and start-up factories around the world in critical conditions where failure could hurt the enterprise considerably. There must be a lot of lessons in this type of work about leadership do’s and don’ts. What have you found to be the biggest mistakes made leading to failure, your best consulting for preventing failure, and leading the companies into success?
Peter: Businesses love recipes, for example, The McKinsey 7S framework, which is intended to be a flexible climbing frame to help think your way around strategy. However, recipes can become unconscious rigid cages that then become obstacles to agility. There can be a tendency to do two things with a recipe: to slavishly copy in without recognizing the context into which a business process must fit, or; to do parts of the recipe omitting the “harder bits”. Both approaches can lead to problems.
Some of the best companies I’ve worked with are wary of paralysis by business fads – implementing one recipe one week, another the next and so on. They find recipes that work, execute them thoroughly, being sensitive to context and do them long enough to realize the value. Change is easy when a company is in crisis. What is much harder is to deliver change when there is no burning platform within or outside the company. It is however usually much more important to avoid crisis-driven change.
Eileen: Change is a positive action that can be difficult to accept. You offer internal business, organization development, and change consultancy to introduce long-term change to business units and increase their innovation and creativity levels. Tell me about how change can have a significant impact on success.
Peter: An example may be a good way of doing this.
We were asked to help a multinational company, concerned about possible competition changes due to merger and acquisition that threatened to erode or destroy their market share in a key product area. In short, our job was to ‘head the competition off before they reach the pass’. We undertook a scenario planning exercise to help the executive team unravel the complexity. This delivered the following benefits:
• Rehearsal of a number of probable futures before they have happened
• Identification of early warning signs so that the company could spot changes before they damaged their market position
• Involvement of people who were in a position to spot these early warning signs so the company was able to respond rapidly to change
Field sales staff were alerted to the signals as part of the consultancy exercise, which subsequently appeared. As a result, the company took preventative marketing actions up to 12 months before the competitor activity would have been picked up conventionally. This had an impact on bottom-line results that was measured in £ millions.
Eileen: What is your favorite quote(s)?
Peter: Sorry, it’s not a business guru!
“Money don’t buy you happiness, but it sho’ ‘nuff pays for the search” – Prince
Eileen: Who has influenced you and the choices you have made to create such an expansive platform for business? Why did their influence motivate and inspire you?
Peter: Perhaps unsurprisingly, my influences come from a broad church. In business, I admire Professor Charles Handy and Tom Peters who have argued for more heart in business as a counterbalance to pure MBA thinking, which has taken capitalism beyond its natural limits. Musicians who have gone beyond their art to express a whole brain outlook on the world also inspire me. The list is too long to itemize, but Prince, Madonna, Bill Nelson, Lady Gaga and Django Reinhardt are up there.
Eileen: You have an MBA, are a Chartered Chemist, FCIPD, and an NLP Old Master. In addition, you are also an accomplished rock, pop, and jazz musician. The music part of your life has been instrumental in your bringing music theology into the business world. How have you seen these teachings and training to be a positive impact in leadership development, leaders guiding their companies, and personal shifts for leaders as participants in your programs?
Peter: Much of what we do is to draw parallels between business thinking and music. This engages leaders in ways that the normal MBA fare does not, and I’m told that the learning stays with them longer, gets converted to action which turns into results. A couple of examples underline the point: As a result of attending a summit event we ran with music, Unilever identified a marketing strategy for one of their products, which transformed their fortunes. The truth of the matter is that the strategy had been staring at them under their nose for years, but all efforts were directed towards finding something new.
We’d asked them to write songs to portray their hopes and fears for one of their key markets. The process refocused them on the idea that had previously been discounted and discredited. Sometimes innovation is not about new ideas, simply about spotting the right idea. Obviously, I cannot show you the intellectual content of the event, but we did constitute an after event jam session and you can see some of the attendees on stage here:
Sometimes I look at individuals with a purpose and draw out relevant lessons for business owners. Kate Bush, David Bowie, Prince and Peter Gabriel are shining examples of people who blend purpose with what they do for a living. I wrote about MBA lessons from Lady Gaga and Prince in my book “The Music of Business” which was acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith, the man who masterminded Live Aid. Since we heard about the “emotional bankruptcy” of Turing Pharmaceuticals, great pharmaceutical companies need to work even harder on their social purpose beyond selling products. They could learn a lot from Prince, Gabriel and many other musicians in this respect. A lot of business leaders have taken important lessons from stories like this and used them to set the ethical direction of their business out to give them a sustainable edge.
Richard Branson is an example of a business leader who gets the balance between what Daniel Pink calls passion, purpose, and profit.
Eileen: People looking to achieve their own level of success can always use some guidance from those whose shoes they are stepping into. What words of advice would you like to pass on for our readers that can give them hope and encouragement, so they too can reach their highest potential?
Peter: Find something unique or at least hard to copy to do in your life, not just unique but also something that people want or need. Uniqueness often arises out of the clever combination of your skills and capabilities and those you can access within your networks that makes what you do hard to replicate.
Strategy is nothing without implementation. Listen, learn and improvise/adapt in the light of what happens.
I will then borrow (steal) from Tom Peters. Execution, Execution, Execution. Strategy is nothing without implementation. Listen, learn and improvise/adapt in the light of what happens. Only a fool sticks to a rigid plan in the face of compelling evidence that it needs to change.
Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering Business and Organisation Development. He also delivers keynotes around the world that blend business intelligence with parallel lessons from music via The Academy of Rock. Author of and contributor to twelve books on business leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE. His three passions are science, business and music, having led innovation teams for 18 years to develop life-saving drugs. 18 years in academia and 18 + years running his businesses. All his life since the age of four playing music. Peter won a prize for his work on Leadership from Sir Richard Branson and now writes for Virgin.
*This article originally appeared on BizCatalyst360 and is reprinted with permission.