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.
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:
- 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?
- How shall we swim with knowledge rather than drown in data in the information age?
- 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.
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