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Changes – a farewell to David Bowie

27/01/2016 by David Gibbens, Director, Poole Waterfield

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It seems that everyone was stunned by the sad and shocking news that David Bowie had passed away just a few days after releasing his latest album. Even to people like me who are not naturally drawn to his music, he was a legend – a true creative genius with a unique talent for reinventing both his persona and musical style.

Very few musicians have enjoyed such commercial success or critical acclaim, fewer still have achieved such longevity, and scarcely any have had a more profound influence on musicians and society in general.   

In bidding farewell to such a great star it is fitting to reflect on what made him so different and perhaps ponder what us mere mortals can learn from him. There are plenty who make the grade as artists for a time but only a tiny handful last the course, live long in the memory and can be said to have made a difference.

Bowie is firmly, almost uniquely, in that category but why is that the case, especially when the music that really made and maintained his fame is now in the distant past?
The answer obviously lies in talent, a rare and brilliant talent that created songs that are instantly recognisable, uniquely crafted and timelessly beguiling, even to a non-fan like me. Talent though is never enough and the usual blend of luck, persistence, hard work and ambition are all parts of the cocktail that lies behind any significant success story, and David Bowie would have been no exception.

The X factor though is the re-invention, the changes that he made to himself and his music that lifted him to another level. Unlike some durable performers who find a winning formula that only gradually evolves as the years pass, Bowie would create a personality and seemingly kill it off at the height of its fame only to create another identity with a different take on that unmistakeable Bowie sound. This is a bold and risky strategy that few have the courage to follow, in terms of performers I can only think of Madonna and possibly Doctor Who!

Business lessons from Bowie
So do we have lessons to learn from David Bowie? Whatever fed his desire to change it certainly helped to make him stand out and remain fresh – would we be talking about him the same way if he had stayed as Ziggy Stardust for forty years? Of course not. Change certainly helped him to survive and thrive, and so it is for all of us in business, but only to a degree.

For most businesses it would be suicidal to follow the Bowie model of change for change’s sake, especially abrupt, radical and unexplained changes to something that was already working well. That might work in show business but not in the real world.

No, if there is a lesson it must surely be that businesses do need to embrace change and be constantly looking to evolve, improve, develop and adapt, but at the same time they must maintain their identity and core values. Different incarnations may have worked brilliantly for David Bowie, but in business if you lose your identity you risk losing everything.

So, to quote a line from the man himself “Turn and face the strange” but don’t forget who you are!

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Category: David Gibbens Blog Author: David Gibbens, Director, Poole Waterfield

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