What punk can teach business about innovation

Drifting towards the sharp end of creative destruction? Take some inspiration from Johnny Rotten, says Chris Cook.

by Chris Cook
Last Updated: 29 Jun 2016

Forty years ago this summer punk took the British music industry by storm. Stripped back and devoid of unnecessary orchestration, the message was disruptive and straight to the point. Prog rock keyboards, mandolins and flutes were replaced by a back-to-basics guitar and drums formation more at home in t-shirts and ripped jeans than capes and wizard hats. 

Deliberately DIY and disobedient, The Sex Pistols and The Clash ripped up the rulebook and gave the UK music scene a much-needed kick in the pants. Believe it or not punk has much to teach us about innovating in today’s business environment.

Last gang in town (Keep it simple)

Forget Jeff Bezos’s two pizzas, if you can’t get your team into the back of a transit van then it’s not going to innovate.

Innovation works best in small teams, with every member of that team 100% clear on their role and what they have to deliver. Drums, bass, guitar and vocals left no room for confusion. Innovation teams should take the same approach. Ensure each team member has their own area of responsibility and force them into the metaphorical transit van – they’ll soon learn to play together. 

Hey ho, let’s go (Keep it quick)

Punk innovators didn’t worry about investing in a hundred channel-mixing desks and banks of synthesisers. Nor did they feel the need to become virtuoso musicians. Instead they hit the ground running, using whatever tools they could get their hands on. Speed was the key driver. 

Don’t create a three-year plan – instead aim to nail the problem in a month. Basic tools keep elaboration to a minimum. Forget about technology and your own well-established business processes. Getting caught up with these will divert much needed energy into fruitless escapades which will probably never be executed. Short sharp bursts of intense focus will generate more radical thinking and deliver more creative solutions.

Smash it up (Test your ideas)

Once you’ve written your anthem you need to take it on the road and test it. If it gets your audience pogo-ing it’s a winner. If they throw their beer cans you might want to go back to the drawing board. Instant feedback is essential.

We live in a disruptive world more in-tune with the punks. The democratisation of technology has made it cheaper than ever to get your minimum viable product to market quickly. So launch it and see what the reaction is. If it doesn’t work, smash it up and start again!

Netflix is brilliant at turning around cool new features through its bi-annual hack days which it looks to their subscribers to respond to, before taking them forward. 

Garageland (stop thinking, start doing)

The fact is that ideas are cheap unless you try to execute them. Punk demonstrated how to carry out ideas with minimal investment of time and resources. Unafraid of imperfection, the punk pioneers wrote three-minute masterpieces in the van between the gigs. They got off their arses, stuck two fingers up at the establishment and created the change they wanted to see.  And their spirit lives on – from Punk to Hip Hop to House, the same DIY ethic keeps youth culture fresh and exciting. The business world has much to learn. 

So next time you’re day-dreaming about your game-changing idea, take a lesson from Johnny Rotten – never mind the bollocks…just get on with it.

Chris Cook is global business director at Mirum.


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