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The Punk Rock of Business (Review by Paul W. Smith)

January 15, 2019

 

Initially I was put off by the title and cover of this book.  The business book genre is quite saturated, and at first this seemed like a lame attempt at differentiation.  As it turns out, the Punk Rock analogy is perfect, both for the generation that understands what Punk is all about, and for those curious about Jeremy Dale’s approach to business success.  The book will probably have the most impact with corporate leaders in marketing or business development, but for young folks just entering the workforce as well as senior leaders who have the leverage to make changes, these lessons will strike a power chord.

 

There are plenty of business leaders who are open to new approaches, and many more who have found success based on traditional paradigms and see no need to change.  The title makes it very clear that this book is about a different approach; those who see absolutely no reason to try something new should just walk away.

 

The book is neatly organized according to 8 elements of Punk Rock, which are then systematically applied to the practice of business.  After distilling the key lessons, Jeremy finishes each section with a call to action – “So what are you going to do about it?”  Empty space is left for the reader to jot down their own personal action plans – a gesture of subtle pressure that may bring about serious reflection and even change. 

Jeremy is a good story teller, and his tales engage the reader such that the angst of the pivotal moments and the exhilaration of success become palpable.  He is not the hero of every story, things don’t always go as planned, and this makes him even more accessible to readers. 
By challenging the reader at the end of each section to develop a plan and write it down, Jeremy conveys the same action imperative that he is promoting for the business leader – the transition from passive reading to aggressive leading is that much tougher to avoid.

Business progress is often held back by sludge - the assumption that traditional processes and attitudes must always be observed. Punk, on the other hand, is all about pushing the boundaries and norms in every imaginable way.  Punk Rock business can be thought of as an attitude of “positive disruption.”  The 8 elements of the book are legitimate; at no point did it seem that the analogy was stretched thin.  Here’s some sample advice:

 

Element 1:  Have a Cause – Care about something.  It takes energy to bring about change and the source of that energy, the inspiration to push on against adversity, comes from caring deeply.  Pride in your mission statement can drive you forward and help inform your decisions when the going gets tough.  Sticking to your cause can help you to avoid compromising your principles to accommodate those who will never follow anyway.  Having a well-articulated personal cause can also guide you to working for an organization where you will be happy and satisfied. 

 

Element 2:  Build a Movement – Punk Rock was more about the people and their attitude than the music.  Always nurture the early adopters; if people are excited about something, they will share that feeling with everyone they meet.  The highest level of support comes from a mixture of both rational and emotional connection.  It is important to remember that negativity is contagious and often fatal.  At the first sign, crush it.  Resist the business temptation to measure everything, especially feelings and emotions. 

 

Element 3:  Create New and Radically Different Ideas – Punk was fundamentally about a passionate and optimistic attempt to change the status quo.  Here Jeremy reminds us that even good ideas don’t always succeed but promises to suggest ways to reduce the chances of failure.  It is always more important to show than to tell, and no explanation of Punk Rock really does it justice until you see the energy and excitement for yourself. 

 

Element 4:  Drive Speed and Action – The beat of Punk Rock music was nearly twice as fast as the popular disco music it displaced.  Great things often happen in short time frames, and the resulting pressure can create sharper focus.  Keep an eye out for the momentum and seize it when it comes.  Speed and action are fueled by people, focus and decisions. There is always a path to success and the job of a leader is to mobilize people and provide energy for urgent, positive action to go find it. 

 

Element 5:  Say It as It Is – A core principle of Punk music was to play it loud where it was welcome, and louder where it was not.  Cultivate teams that will speak up without reservation.  Remember that when it comes to praise, you get what you celebrate – be judicious in handing out compliments.  Plain talk ultimately saves time, brings clarity and sets the bar where you want it to be. 

 

Element 6:  Be Authentic – Punk Rock is very much about dropping pretense.  Everyone needs someone they trust who will call them out when they are not being true to themselves.  True friends are not those who just help and support, but rather those who jump right into the action with you.  Authentic people can really brighten your day – celebrate them.  The real key to being authentic is self-awareness, but that is much more difficult than it seems.

 

Element 7:  Put Yourself Out There – Living life fully means being a participant and not a spectator.  You will never fail provided you keep trying.  Success in anything will involve many setbacks and changes in direction but all of these just serve to hone your skills and your character to overcome even greater challenges.  Don’t despair for not having a perfect record – your life is a portfolio in which it is the bigger picture that matters.  Always volunteer to go first, and never run away from difficult circumstances.  No matter what course you choose, you will be criticized, so get used to it.

 

Element 8:  Reject Conformity – This is the one element that on the surface would seem to be the most rooted in Punk Rock.  The quotes on conformity from John F. Kennedy, Thomas Watson and punker Sid Vicious sound very similar.  Reject the establishment where it no longer provides any value.  Avoid corporate ass-kissing, particularly when it is your ass that is getting kissed.  Always remember that it is not your job to keep everyone happy.  Here Jeremy uses the example of REI, the company that went against the flow for Black Friday shopping by closing that day and encouraging everyone, including their employees, to get outdoors and then share their experiences on social media.  Embrace the unconventional provided it is the right thing to do and is aligned with the true you.  Always leave room for a little spontaneity in your life and your business.  Remember that throughout history innovation and conformity have rarely coexisted. 

 

At this point in the book, even for those who have followed Jeremy’s imperative to jot down action plans after each section, the looming question is likely to be “Now what?”  What combination of skills, resources and the application thereof will lead toward a successful application of Punk Rock principles in my world? 

 

Punk Rock, with its raw energy, fast pace, and passion for positive disruption, turns out to be a perfect model for breathing new life into modern business.  Jeremy’s story-telling skills make for an entertaining read, and his regular challenges to think, plan and change make it hard for the reader to avoid doing something with the suggestions he provides.  In the mosh pit of contemporary business books, The Punk Rock of Business crowd surfs its way to stardom.

 

 

Author Profile - Paul W. Smith - leader, educator, technologist, writer - has a lifelong interest in the countless ways that technology changes the course of our journey through life.  In addition to being a regular contributor to NetworkDataPedia, he maintains the website Technology for the Journey and occasionally writes for Blogcritics.  Paul has over 40

 years of experience in research and advanced development for companies ranging from small startups to industry leaders.  His other passion is teaching - he is a former Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Paul holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, as well as Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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