Interview: What Lady Gaga Can Teach You About Success

What can Lady Gaga and Led Zeppelin teach you about career and business success?

Peter Cook believes quite a bit. As the author of “The Music of Business,” and head of the Academy of Rock in the U.K., Cook looks at artists such as David Bowie and Alice Cooper and finds lessons he believes will transform the way you do business.

In an interview with Anita Bruzzese, Cook talks about how we can glean business wisdom from our music idols.

AB: Why do you feel the connection needs to be made between music and business?

PC: Music and business are traditionally seen as separate subjects at school, yet this is an artificial division.  Music is applied physics and many great scientists and mathematicians are often musically inclined.  Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Richard Branson are all great examples of leaders who have a passion for music.

So, I set out to draw parallel lessons between business and the arts, specifically music.  I found many such parallels in areas of business such as strategic thinking, creativity, innovation and the leadership of change.  I’ve set these out in the book “The Music of Business” and it’s predecessor “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll.”

AB: You say that Lady Gaga can teach us about business strategy. How so?

PC: In the book I have a chapter containing five lessons that we can learn from Lady Gaga on business strategy and social media. While Gaga is undoubtedly a music sensation, it’s also true that she has respected her elders and stood on the shoulders of giants such as Madonna and glam rockers such as Queen and Alice Cooper to craft her music, stage performance and image. This has given her wider appeal across generations and is likely to ensure that she lasts longer than most people in the music business today.  The other clever trick Gaga has used is to understand and exploit the relationship between the 3 F’s : fashion, fans and followers.  This has created a shared identity on social media that brings her fans into intimate contact with what Gaga stands for.  Her fans have become an unpaid public relations force.

AB: David Bowie is known for being creative. What can we learn from him to apply to our careers?

PC: David Bowie is unusually both creative and an innovator. Creativity is the thinking of novel ideas whereas innovation is the successful execution of novel ideas. Bowie has turned his ideas into a profitable career that has lasted much longer than the average one-hit wonder.  To do this, Bowie has surrounded himself with great people, he has changed what he does and pulled off the clever trick of taking his audiences with him and gaining new ones.  It’s more usual to change your music and lose your audience. So it is also true that great leaders hire people that are better than themselves in their specialist roles.  They also manage to change what their business does, keep existing customers and gain new ones.

AB: Which is likely to teach us more: An MBA or Led Zeppelin? Why?

PC: Unfortunately, I must answer this question with the word “both.” MBA’s teach you essential knowledge and skills that any successful person needs to know to help them make good decisions and so on.  Leadership is something you do, rather than read about, and this is learned at the school of hard knocks. To be excellent in business, you need knowledge, skill and attitude. The first two elements come from formal learning such as MBA programs.  The attitude part comes from real- life learning, such as those from Led Zeppelin.

AB: Can jazz really help us beat the competition?

PC: Playing jazz music won’t help you do anything in business.  However, core features of jazz include the ability to improvise within a structure and pass the leadership of a team from person to person.  There is much leaders can learn about improvisation and innovation from the study of a jazz band, even if you are not musically inclined. Too much improvisation and your audience leaves the room as the performance becomes too self-centered. Too much structure makes for a dull performance.  Leaders need to strike a balance between order and creativity.  They also need to learn to trust others to take the leadership role and music provides great insights into such things in ways that other metaphors for business do not.

Readers, what other ways does music teach us important business lessons?


Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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  • http://twitter.com/Rey_Carr Rey Carr

    Great examples of how business can benefit from the experience of music business people. Reminds me of George Steinbrenner’s comment that his father made to him about being successful in business. His father said to him, Surround yourself with people who are more intelligent than you are.” Little did George know how easy that was going to be.

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