The Pipeline Guest Post – An interview with Peter Cook
A couple of weeks ago, I posted about Peter Cook’s new book “Punk Rock People Management”. Based on the response, I asked Peter to sit down and tell me more. What follows is that interview with Peter, Author of “Punk Rock People Management” and “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll”
What in your background led you to write Punk Rock People Management?
I started out life playing in punk rock and rock bands, but took a job as a chemist working in pharmaceuticals. It was a wise decision as I enjoyed earning money and doing science just as much as driving round England in platform shoes in the back of a van. I kept music as my hobby and travelled the world fixing factories. Working for the company that became GSK also allowed me to study for an MBA. I left the company at the age of 36 with no idea of how to run a business but with a great deal of passion and energy. The learning I gained on the MBA was very instructive, but I learned just as much from being on stage, engaging an audience. I eventually distilled this rich mixture of learning down into “Best Practice Creativity”, “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and “Punk Rock People Management”, which have been acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professor Charles Handy and featured on national TV here in the UK.
Punk Rock People Management is a really unusual title? What inspired it and what is the book about?
In case anyone is wondering, I am NOT suggesting that business people should don mohicans, smash up the reward system and pogo at the office party. I am using punk rock in the sense that punk was about simplicity, brevity and authenticity. Much of the stuff emanating from the HR institutes is about the opposite of these things. Busy managers need short, simple and decent ways of handling people management if they are to generate high performance at work. So Punk Rock People Management is for anyone who manages or has to get things done through people. In terms of what it is about, the subtitle describes exactly what’s on offer: A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff. It follows the time-honoured ‘life, sex and death HR lifecycle': Getting a job, getting on with the job and getting out of a job.
I spent a lot of my early life playing in punk rock and rock bands, plus following bands such as The Damned, The Doctors of Madness, Siouxie and the Banshees, The Sex Pistols et al., having also played with and alongside a few original Brit Punk acts: John Otway, Altered Images, The Fall, Wilco Johnson and Norman Watt Roy, Ian Dury’s bass supremo. I love all forms of music, even the pomp and circumstance progressive rock that preceded punk rock and which it aimed to eradicate. Some punk music combines intelligence with brevity and this captured the nexus of what I wanted to do. Just think of the sheer genius of Ian Dury’s words and music, Joe Strummer, Elvis Costello and one or two others in the genre.
In the spirit of punk you have made each chapter just two pages long. How have you condensed the information to make it quick and simple?
This was really difficult. I recall that Winston Churchill said that he needed more time to write a 3 minute speech than a 3 hour one. He is right and I was chatting on this very subject with the great Tom Peters a few weeks ago. To write a chapter which is just two pages long requires huge amounts of discipline and creativity if you are to avoid the trap of just removing the content. I did this by:
- Reducing the ‘size’ of each topic to manageable proportions e.g. appraisal, conflict, selection etc.
- Setting out a simple 3 part structure for every chapter: A critique of traditional people management practice in a particular area; the punk rock alternative and; three pithy tips on how to get started.
- I ruthlessly edited it to remove all unnecessary words – I read the whole thing out to my I Mac and then edited it again so that it wrote like it might be read out, as many of the chapters lend themselves to keynote speaker events.
- Finally I applied some devices to improve the book’s ‘stickiness’ – a bit of alliteration and rhyming to help things along.
All of this bearing in mind that the content is still more important than the delivery vehicle. It’s really a matter of tremendous goal focus and then following through with precision. I’m absolutely sure that the approach leaves people wanting more in some of the areas I’ve covered. We can always do more detail but we live in a busy world and I aimed to make it possible for people to be able to read a chapter and gain value from it in less time than it would take to pogo to a Ramones or Linkin Park song.
Do you think Kindles and reading online are more popular than print nowadays?
Decca records rejected The Beatles in 1962, saying that ‘Groups with guitars are finished’– they were wrong! My hunch is that the same is true of print books. However, certain types of reader clearly prefer to read books on a Kindle. Reading online is very popular, as Amazon report that more than 50% of books are read in this way. Kindles are not so good for books where you don’t always read from start to finish or you might want to compare something on one page with another etc. For the ‘bookish’ person, I feel that print books as a format will be with certain types of reader for a very long time just as CD’s have not completely eradicated other music formats. For this reason, Punk Rock People Management is available as a print book, a kindle version and a free pdf download
What is next for you….?
In business, I’m off to Greece shortly to give an HR keynote on how companies can rebuild themselves after the economic meltdown. Also some long term management development (without the punk rock) in The United Arab Emirates and a follow on keynote from Tom Peters in South Africa. In music, I am working on some corporate conference offerings with my colleagues John Howitt, session musician to Celine Dion, Anastasia and Shirley Bassey and Bernie Torme, lead guitar player to Ozzy Osbourne and Ian Gillan. In writing, I am constantly busy with The Rock’n’Roll Business Blog – I have a backlog of books to release – one lengthy tome on innovation, a follow up micro book ‘Hard Rock Marketing’ and a possible book of ‘business poetry’. There isn’t time at the moment, but I am also planning to release a new album of electronic guitar soundscapes in 2012, inspired by the work of Bill Nelson of Be-Bop Deluxe, who I am proud to know and who has been a continuous inspiration since my teenage years. Here is a piece of film soundtrack music I wrote and recorded in my basement to end with, inspired by Bill Nelson, entitled Mars Warming.
About Peter Cook
MBA, MRSC C.Chem, FCIPD, FRSA
Peter Cook runs Human Dynamics, a creative management consultancy, serving the top businesses in the World. With over 20 years’ business, academic and consultancy experience: Leading innovation teams; International trouble-shooting; Internal business and OD consultancy: Leadership and management development.
Peter started life as a chemist, has an MBA and a ‘university of life’ qualification in leading rock bands. Author of ‘Best Practice Creativity’ and ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock ‘n’ Roll’, acclaimed by Tom Peters, who said of it “Sex, Leadership and Rock ‘n’ Roll is a marvellous book, which closes the door on the tidy, hierarchical, know-your-place ‘Orchestral Age’ and ushers in a new, creative era of challenge and change.