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6 business lessons from David Bowie

More than just a revolutionary musician, Bowie was also an astute businessman. Take a note or two from his book on how to run a successful business with intelligence and class.

By Pavitra Sampath

Music legend David Bowie passed away earlier in January at the age of 69, after a battle with cancer. A man who started his career at 13, David Bowie quickly realised that he needed to be much more than a musician if he wanted to survive—he needed to learn the business of music. Credited with changing the business of rock and roll, executives and entrepreneurs would to do well to learn from how he ran his commercial affairs.

#1 View mistakes as stepping stones
Bowie started off as a musician, but soon a poorly worded contract between him and his first manager, Tony Defries, taught him that he needed to pay attention to the finer details of his business. Once they parted ways, Bowie took control of his affairs with a vengeance and employed the same visionary and adventurous approach he brought to his music. He may have suffered a loss, one that could have stifledhis budding career, but Bowie didn’t allow it to be a stumbling block, he made it his stepping stone instead. Losses are a part and parcel of business. It’s what you do after a loss that shows your true mettle.

#2 Have faith in your skills
In the end, the only real wealth you have are your skills, and investing in them is an important trait of a successful leader. It was also something that Bowie had oodles of—faith in his skills. That’swhatled him to be one of the first musiciansto be paid royalties for the sales of his album. Later called the ‘Bowie Bonds’ this one of the savviest moves he made. While it was revolutionary at the time, it highlights the importance of having faith in your skills.

#3 Look at the big picture
What really set Bowie apart was the fact that he always looked at the big picture.His foray into rock and roll was a calculated effort to blend business and creativity. In an interview with BBC, he said, “I wanted to be thought of as someone who was very much a trendy person, rather than a trend. And so I had to govern everything around that. So I pulled myself in, and decided to use the easiest medium to start off with—which was rock and roll—and to add bits and pieces to it over the years, so that by the end of it, I was my own medium.”Sit back and think about your long-term goal, what is it you really want to achieve? Then meticulously start building an action plan that will take you there. Only investing in short-term goals is never a good idea. And if you’re planning something radical, be prepared to wait it out.

#4 Stay ahead of the curve
Bowie was unique, in that he was so good at being different from everyone else. Just when you thought you’d figured out his Ziggy Stardust, he hit you with the Thin White Duke. He created the Bowie Bonds at the right time—when Wall Street was looking to invest in non-conventional products. Then he created DavidBowie.com, a site where his fans could listen to his music, communicate and even have their own email ID—all this ideated and made when the Internet was still nascent and social media, music sharing and streaming were not even invented!Bowie was keenly aware of the changes in his environment andsaw them for what they really were—more than fads. And so should you.

#5 Accept change or, even better, pre-empt it
Bowie was a man who epitomised the saying‘change is the only constant’. He was a musician who was born in the ’60s, grew up in the ’70s, and made music all through the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s. But despite all the changes the industry went through, Bowie was always relevant, in fact he was probably the one leading some of the changes! He excelled in his art and understood that the only way to succeed was to become an expert at change.

#6 Surround yourself with talent
Throughout his career Bowie collaborated with some amazing artists like Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, Freddy Mercury, Tina Turner, Brian Eno, the list goes on. He knew that the teamwork would create an even greater and grander product than if he’d just relied on his individual talent. Bowie revelled in these creative partnerships and not only were they good for business, they also created something unique and helped him stay ahead of the curve.

Photograph courtesy: Adam Bielawski/Wikimedia Commons

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