Business lessons from rock'n'roll

Lady Gaga, Led Zeppelin, and the punk movement have plenty to teach companies, reckons Peter Cook. One Direction, not so much.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 21 Oct 2014

What can we learn from pop’s greatest players? Management consultant Peter Cook guides us through the teachings of pop’s greatest professors…

Lady Gaga

Flickr/Alfred Hermida


Innovation which is radical often disappoints, because people won’t try it. Lady Gaga really has only improved the presentation and packaging of some well-trodden 90s dance music. It looks innovative, but in fact it’s built on some very solid foundations.

Promotion and engagement

If you want to go to a social media workshop, you needn’t go to a so-called guru. You just look at how Lady Gaga has got hundreds of thousands of fans to promote her work for her. She has a number of causes and she’s very real about what she does. Lady Gaga has massive engagement, more than anyone I know trying to get their crowd score up.’

Led Zeppelin

Flickr/Heinrich Klaffs


The band manager Peter Grant understood something most don’t: he didn't mess around with the artists. He left Led Zeppelin to manage their own music production, while making sure they got paid.


Shaking it up

Punk rock destabilised the established paradigm. It shook up progressive rock: the thing had become a monolith. Punk rock said no song is going to be longer than two minutes, dead simple, three chords, and we’ll keep it real.

If our lives are sliced into little, thin slices, to be effective you need to be absolutely short and sweet. Quite a lot of musicians major on being themselves. In some workplaces, when things are going bad, people think they have to have several faces.

One-hit wonders


People pour a lot of energy into having a hit and then have nothing to follow it up with. Some bands that go one past one hit wonders (like DJ Pied Piper, pictured above) do that by repeating themselves. These days, the era of AC/DC, putting the same stuff out over and over again,is pretty well gone. For most businesses now, one needs to be more adaptive, and you need to look at examples like Madonna, David Bowie and Prince.

People who have changed what they do, kept the audience they already had and got a new one. After all, that’s the goal of most businesses: to keep their audiences or customers and get new ones.

One Direction

Flickr/Eva Rinaldi

Substance before style

Whether they’re good musicians or not is hardly the point. People like them because they are a brand… This is one lesson you can’t take from the music business. If your products and services have no substance, then it’s no good having a bloody good logo.

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