Heroes: David Bowie

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by Dr Mark Pegg

‘David Bowie is’ an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  It is the best £25 I have spent in a long time and I wanted to book again as soon as I had seen it.  As a student in Oxford back in the seventies Bowie was a huge influence – all on vinyl LPs – I played air guitar in my room to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I loved every track.  My wife Jane revised for finals with Diamond Dogs playing over and over again.

David Bowie was a hugely creative influence, combining performing arts and fine art in one – he turned his hand to most of them – a new model renaissance man for our generation.  But there is more.  For such a creative man, David Bowie tells us much about leadership – an icon of the age, he worked prodigiously hard for his success; a creative genius needed perspiration to create inspiration.

He exhibits many of the characteristics needed for successful leadership in creative communities:

  • Vision – from the beginning he wanted it, he set out to make a career in music and to do it differently
  • Continuous learning – although he seemed like an over-performing art school student, he actually attended a technical school and learned quite different skill sets as a young man.  He was a huge sponge for ideas – reading, listening, watching, learning where ever he could and loading it all into his data base
  • Patience – he was by no means an instant success, he quit his job in an advertising agency to become a full time musician, but was prepared to spend over 5 years absorbing and learning his trade, searching relentlessly for that vital creative spark
  • Creativity – the essence of the creative mind, Bowie generates a huge flow of ideas, all kinds of ideas – so many things came to nothing, he throws out a huge excess of ideas with some gems – his challenge is to find those winning ideas in all this richness
  • Courage – he is never afraid to try new things and abandon them if they do not work or prove to be too expensive or impracticable
  • Confident – he believed in his vision, with great self-belief in his own talent and creativity and resilient, able to withstand all kinds of early failures – his creative talent was not initially recognised and his first record performed on television was voted a ‘Miss’
  • Commitment – he has never been afraid of hard work – a colossal work rate, restless to find new genres, new ideas, new blends of different media
  • Performance – never being afraid to move on to a new performance curve, to reinvent himself, to stop even when things are going really well and restlessly to launch a new theme, a new creative genre
  • Image – he knows you have to look the part – his is style and substance – a powerful image, he is looks great in a suit, it might be green, blue or grey but the cut is impeccable and he always looks cool and elegant
  • Great communicator – Bowie is not perfect, secretive at times, hard to know and he has a history of drug addiction, but he has always known that it is not just what you do but also how you are perceived to do it and skilful PR and marketing tools have been at the heart of everything he does.

Mark Pegg is the chief executive of the Leadership Foundation.