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I was devastated to hear the news that Prince had died prematurely, having written several articles in his honour over the years and lived with his music for much of my life. I have already written extensively about his example in my eulogy to his work on Linkedin. Here I have captured some his extraordinary approaches to leadership in music, business and this thing called life.

The name Prince is synonymous with innovation in music. There are few artists that have switched musical genres, kept their audiences and gained new admirers in the way that Prince has across his 40-year career. He has been an extraordinary collaborator, always seeking out the best to work with, including Miles Davis, Kate Bush, Stevie Wonder, Madonna etc. So prolific was he in his songwriting that he gave lots of his songs away to artists such as The Bangles (Manic Monday), Sinead O’Connor (Nothing compares 2 U), Chaka Khan (I feel for you) et al. In the book Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise I use the examples of Prince, Sheila E and George Clinton to address transferable lessons for leaders and entrepreneurs trying to do extraordinary things alongside the more usual MBA case studies. Here’s Sheila E talking about her experiences of being Prince’s musical director amongst many other things:

The psychology of a Prince

My own analysis of Prince’s Myers Briggs type would put him in the area of INFP – That’s an Introvert, iNtuitive, Feeler, Perceiver. If you are not familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, do check out MBTI. Views vary, with some arguing that he is an ISFP, but I’d argue that Prince has become more iNtuitive than a “Sensor” over time – perhaps why I feel so connected to him as a near neighbour on the MBTI profile. INFP’s are often logical, unique, reserved, curious and experimental as musicians. Contrary to popular views, Prince is quite the introvert and had to work hard at “learned extroversion” from an early age. Many people around Prince’s MBTI type are inventors and innovators – Examples include Jimi Hendrix, Lady Gaga, Sir Richard Branson, Bob Moog, J.K. Rowling, Albert Einstein, Kate Bush, Paul McCartney and Rene Descartes.

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Alongside one’s basic psychological type, it is widely recognised that one of the formative experiences that develops leadership talent can be significant losses in early life, not that this is a reason for parents to introduce such challenges, as one MBA student asked me once! Prince’s early childhood was something of a bumpy ride, with the separation of his parents at the age of 9 and with his teenage years marked by financial and emotional hardship. Elements of his troubled upbringing were included in the film Purple Rain, although the storylines were extended for dramatic effect. Clearly his upbringing contributed to his personal resilience in holding out for doing things the way he wanted to do them, sometimes at huge personal cost.

Perfectionism and spontaneity

Prince is known to work for days without rest and he expects similar standards of dedication from those who perform with him as Sheila E and many others have testified. Rehearsals would go on for weeks, perfecting tiny movements to the point of mind numbing oblivion. Having rehearsed a repertoire of some 300 songs, Prince would sometimes then throw the entire list away to work on different material. This level of “prepared spontaneity” is unusual in music. Through conversations with a friend who works as a session musician to Celine Dion and others, it is clear that many other artists prefer to perfect and then repeat their set night after night, because it can be seen as a huge risk to try new things and risk mistakes in front of a stadium size audience.

To reach mastery in improvisation paradoxically requires intensive detailed preparation. What looks like a seamless performance is the result of many hours of preparation and Prince is meticulous in this respect. I discuss the concept of personal mastery in Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise under the heading of the ‘10,000 hours effect’, popularised by Tom Peters and, more recently, Malcolm Gladwell. The idea of prepared spontaneity contradicts what some so-called creativity and innovation gurus say on the subject, yet we constantly see parallels across many industries. Sloppy creativity produces sloppy results in many businesses as well as in the music business.

Inspiration x Perspiration = Innovation

Many entrepreneurs are creative. What separates those that turn their creativity into innovation is the hard work to convert their dreams into reality without giving up. This also requires a flexible approach to persistence – rather than “headbanging” aka trying the same things over and over but harder. Instead successful entrepreneurs are flexible in the face of obstacles whilst maintaining their vision.

Prince had drive from the very beginning, working tirelessly to get a record deal and playing all the instruments on his first recordings. He eventually escaped from what he considered a restrictive record deal with Warner Bros, renaming himself as a meaningless “symbol” in the process. However this allowed him to put out whatever music he wanted to when he wanted and paved the way for many others to go direct to their markets / customers / fanbases. Admittedly, Prince was perhaps something of an exception for any conventional record company, as he had often recorded several albums by the time the record company wanted him to tour a particular album. He had little appetite to look backwards and this clearly interfered with Warner Bros desire to “shift product”. His desire to reach his destiny outstripped any desire to look after existing business and that may explain his rocky relationships with the music business. We can see some of the exceptional elements in the 3S’s of Prince from this extract from the book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” below:

Prince U Logy

Transferable lessons

  1. If you are to change what you do, make sure you take your followers with you.
  2. If you want to be great, work with people who are better than you.
  3. Learn to be resilient from life’s setbacks and be flexible in reaching your vision.
  4. If you want to be agile and spontaneous, practice, practice, practice.
  5. Innovation is more about hard work to execute good ideas than creativity per se.

I leave you with the words from Prince’s masterpiece “Planet Earth”. Prince’s values often leaked out in some of his more serious songs and it is clear that he had great insights into systemic thinking and a concern for our impact during our brief stay on the third stone from the sun.

Imagine holding Planet Earth
In the palm of your hand
With no regard for your place of birth
Or claim to any land

The only thing between us now is the truth we understand
If Planet Earth was in the palm of your hand

50 years from now what will they say about us here?
Did we care for the water and the fragile atmosphere?

There are only 2 kinds of folk
And the difference they make
The ones that give
And the ones that take

Just like the countless bodies
That revolve around the sun
Planet Earth must now come into balance with the one
That caused it all to be
Then we’ll see His kingdom come,
So shall it be written, so shall it be sung

Imagine you could rid the Earth
Of anyone you choose
Which ones would you need the most
And which ones would you lose?

Do we want to judge another
Lest we be judged too?
Careful now… The next one might be you

Imagine sending your first born
Off to fight a war
With no good reason how it started and what they are fighting for
And if they’re blessed to make it home
Will they still be poor?

Pray for peace right now and forever more.

The top photo on this post is a floral tribute from the UK “Purple Army” organized by Debbie Poli.

About Peter Cook

Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. He offers keynotes, masterclasses coaching and mentoring on leadership, creativity, and innovation. Author and contributor to 11 books, acclaimed by Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham, Harvey Goldsmith and Tom Peters. Peter won a prize for his work from Sir Richard Branson and writes for Virgin.com. 18 years in science, 18 years teaching MBA’s, 18 + years running a business and all his life playing music.

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