A couple of months ago, BBC4 ran another of its superb music genre-themed evenings. ‘Punk Britannia’ showed the white heat of the era’s live shows and brought together the prominent players to review the period. The programme took the time to set the social, economic and artistic context which spawned the phenomena.
It’s hard not to draw parallels with the current situation in which we find ourselves: social unrest, high unemployment (particularly youth unemployment), uncertainty and so on, although sadly we’re missing out on the equivalent of the summer of ‘76.
From this arose a hydra of a movement. Not a unified scene as such, but disparate (and competing) groups of dissatisfied musicians, poets, artists and provocateurs doing their own thing. A thing that would come to be known as punk. What was originally deemed to be a nihilistic faction rightly came to be seen as a deeply creative force that has influenced music, literature, fashion and art immeasurably.
All very interesting, but, you may ask, where’s the tenuous link to business? Here goes: one of the things that struck me most from the documentary was the famous front cover of Sniffing Glue, a fanzine written and produced on a shoestring. Handwritten on the front were three guitar tabs and their names with the immortal lines, ‘This is a chord. This is another. This is a third. Now form a band.’
And thousands did. Many were inept but it didn’t matter as their technical know-how, schooling, backgrounds, industry connections and the like were inconsequential compared to their vitality and self-belief. Against a backdrop of hardship and an uncertain future, they had a go.
And that’s what we’re seeing now within the business world. Thousands of disaffected individuals either through choice or necessity having a go themselves. In some ways it has never been easier to ‘learn your three chords’ and start a business. Costs are minimal, the company formation process is streamlined and the web has opened up a world of information, contacts and potential customers.
What we need is to ensure that there is a support structure to enable these DIYers to fulfil their potential. We also need to create an environment in some ways like the US where there is less stigmatisation of failing, more celebration of having the guts to give it a whirl.
The business idea doesn’t need to be perfect. The processes within the company don’t need to conform to Six Sigma. The corporate governance doesn’t need to rival a blue chip business. Of course, all of these will help but without the underlying enthusiasm to get started, they are worthless.
The world is full of miserable bedroom guitarists who quietly plug away trying to emulate the Page’s, Hendrixes etc. while technically inferior players are out there having the time of their lives. Get started. Make some mistakes. And who knows, in time, maybe you’ll become a Mick Jones, playing with fire and finesse.
I’m aware of the potential for sneers that someone from the Institute of Directors (IoD) should try to celebrate punk by drawing comparisons to the business world. Punk was born in opposition to institutions. And yes, the article does wander a little close to trendy uncle territory.
However, while there are elements of the IoD – and wider business community – that would be a red rag to any self-respecting punk, it’s worth pointing out that 70% of IoD members run businesses with a turnover of £20m or less. These are the people who like the classes of ’76 and ‘77 looked around, didn’t like what they saw and set about doing things their own way. The safety-pin piercings and gobbing may be absent but the energy, self-belief and DIY ethic are certainly shared.