The 8 Elements of Punk Rock Business
K, I’ll bite. What do the Ramones, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols have to do with leadership?
The title of Jeremy Dale’s book, The Punk Rock of Business, comes from a comment Bono made to Oprah about a project Dale was working on with him for Motorola. Dale and his team had performed the impossible and Bono said, “They are the punk rock of business: no long introductions, three beats and you’re in. They say they are going to do something, and then it just gets done.”
Using that as an inspiration, Dale has taken it to mean so much more. Punk is an attitude. It’s a fight against apathy and complacency. “I’m not okay with the current status quo. We’re into disruption.”
Many businesses these days are clogged up by bureaucracy that thwarts innovation, slows down creativity, and encourages mediocrity. I hate mediocrity. I’d much rather have spectacular success or fantastic failure. I believe mediocrity occurs far too often because too many people in business, particularly those in middle-management roles, are far too cautious, pessimistic, and more concerned about protecting their jobs rather than striving for greatness and being everything they could be. They are fearful of putting their heads above the parapet, so they take a play-it-safe attitude and come up with the conservative, tame, and expected proposals.
Dale has distilled the punk rock movement to eight elements. These 8 elements of Punk Rock Business were at the heart of punk rock music, movement, attitude, fashion, and culture. Elements that are wanting in many organizations.
Element 1: Have a Cause
“Punk was all about wanting something better, being clear about what that was, and making that their cause.” Have a point of view. Find something you’re passionate about and then inspire your team to deliver it. An organization’s mission statement is meant to direct every single decision. A mission statement may not be enough. You may need to create a manifesto to add substance and emotion, creating a story around the mission statement. “We should be committed to being a lighthouse brand; that is, one who shines brightly, whose position is fixed, so that people can navigate their world trusting in us and our position on things.” Well put.
Element 2: Build a Movement
“Punk was attractive to like-minded people, and it galvanized that segment of the youth. Punk, more than music, was a mindset, and that attracted people.” It’s all about the people. The followers make the movement. You must get other people on board. Show your commitment to them and the mission by showing up. This is where you bring your emotional brain and not your rational brain.
Element 3: Create New and Radically Different Ideas
“Punk was completely different—never seen before jaw-dropping creation that exploded into our consciousness. No one was ambivalent to punk; you loved it or hated it.” It’s about creating new, different, and better ideas. After all, that’s what leadership is. Punk provided an avenue to express their frustration with the dead-end society that they saw at the time. “Never before had music been played at anything like two hundred beats per minute. Never before had music been played so loudly or aggressively. Never before had the lyrics to the songs been so politically charged or laid siege to taboo subjects.”
Begin by finding out what’s different about what you’re doing. What problem are you trying to solve? Radical ideas come from teams. And when they do they need to be brought to life by showing, not telling. Radical ideas are targets and so need to be protected. “Every project should have a vision and some nonnegotiables. The nonnegotiables are so important, because not only do they prevent the willingness to compromise, they also act as the catalyst for intelligent people to seek creative solutions when the inevitable challenges arrive.”
Element 4: Drive Speed and Action
“Punk was three beats, and you’re in.” Go for it. “When time is tight, great things happen.” You don’t always have to be right. “Decision-making is a portfolio. Not every decision needs to be correct.” The momentum is the important thing.
Element 5: Say It as It Is
“Punk lyrics came with a contagious honesty.” No nonsense. You have to say it like it is—but constructively. Sometimes you have to call others out, and sometime you must call yourself out. Don’t leave people wondering what you think. Speaking plainly saves time, bring clarity, and sets the performance bar where you want to set it.
Element 6: Be Authentic
“Punk gave people permission to be themselves.” Probably the only rule of being punk is: “to be yourself and be comfortable being who you are.” Surround yourself with confidants who will hold you accountable and call you out when you are being a fraud.
“Don’t just endure or play it safe. If you are, work out how you are going to stop that immediately … or, alternatively, work out how you are going to justify that to your grandchild in years to come.”
Element 7: Put Yourself Out There
“To be punk you had to make a very visible and belligerent statement; it required you to put yourself out there, say ‘this is me,’ and invite criticism. It was far more important to just give it a go, rather than to get it perfect.” Grab every opportunity to challenge yourself. Be the first to volunteer. You will be criticized. Get used to it. “You will not always get it right, but my experience is that the impact you have when you do get it right far outweighs the embarrassment when you don’t.” Are you a participant or a spectator?
Element 8: Reject Conformity
“Punk pressed the reset button.” Nonconformist. “However, it wasn’t just its nonconformity, it was the extent to which it didn’t conform that was shocking for many.” Some norms are pointless and irrelevant. “Today’s corporate world is full of mediocrity, slowness, politics, false praise, and people too scared to say it as it is. More and more employees are disillusioned with lukewarm leadership that makes their jobs dull and boring and constrains their creativity, imposing limitations rather than empowering them.”
Don’t take yourself too seriously. “Get over the show, get over your ego, and react based on the quality of work, not the superficial stuff that doesn’t matter.” Joey Ramone said they started a band because in 1974 everything was overproduced. “Being overproduced and perfectly organized kills the lifeblood that spontaneity brings.”
Humility is the X-Factor
“Punk by its very nature is aggressive and in your face.” Humility keeps you out of trouble. “Punk doesn’t need to be aggressive if you apply a degree of care and humility. If people see that you are fundamentally a good person, whose heart is in the right place, whose motives are pure, who has charm and charisma, who isn’t arrogant or conceited, who cares about people, and above all else is human and has humility, then you can apply all eight elements without worrying if you’re going too far.” Dale adds fifteen more key requirements that are needed to implement a punk rock attitude in business.
Unfortunately, I have not conveyed in this commentary the great stories that are used throughout to illustrate the 8 Elements of Punk Rock of Business. They are engaging and entertaining and really help to develop the concept. Well worth the read. The book provides a much-needed perspective on business and leadership in a very unconventional way.
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