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The passing of David Bowie provides an opportunity to sit back and consider business related ideas we can draw from his career.  Here is a brief list of things to think about, accompanied by a soundtrack of some of his well-known songs.

 1. Ability to change with the times, and adapt to different audiences.  [Soundtrack: “Changes”] 

One of the greatest challenges — and most valuable assets — in business is the ability to change effectively.  Bowie was a master of change, a performing chameleon.  He changed his music over time, ranging from folk rock to glam to disco to hard rock to dance pop to electric jazz, and virtually everything in-between.  His videos include Christmas duet with Bing Crosby and a blistering version of “Dancing in the Streets” with Mick Jagger.   

2. Monetizing his art. [Soundtrack: “The Man Who Sold the World”]

Today, many businesses struggle to find ways to monetize products and services in creative ways using the Internet.  Bowie created “Bowienet” in 1998, the early days of the graphic Web.  He created his own ISP and succeeded in getting thousands of fans to pay a few dollars a month for a Bowienet email address and access to exclusive material.  Members had exclusive access to purchase concert recordings and alternate versions of songs.  The site featured otherwise unpublished photos, exclusive art, etc.  Bowie was early in building a profit base out of his out-take recordings, plus the website was cool, too.

3. Creating cross media marketing. [Soundtrack: “Rebel Rebel”]

In today’s world, we talk about omni-channel marketing as if it is a new concept.  Think of Bowie 40 years ago marketing his music, cross-pollinated by outrageous costumes and unique concert performances, mixed in with videos that helped define MTV when it was still Music Television.

4. Carefully nurtured branding. [Soundtrack: “Ziggy Stardust”]

Bowie could teach us all about how to build a brand, from the carefully structured look of every aspect of his appearance, to the ultra-cool image he portrayed, to the timeliness of the sound of his music (always contemporary, never dated), to his carefully chosen acting roles in movies as diverse as “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, “The Hunger, “Labyrinth” and “The Prestige.”  Nothing he did lacked consideration of presentation and style, as well as content.

5. He recognized his influences but always looked forward. [Soundtrack: “Song for Bob Dylan” and “Space Oddity”] 

Business has to build on a base of industry knowledge, yet also has to be moving into the future.  Bowie’s music is a perfect model of molding influences into progress.

6. Monetizing his art, part 2. [Soundtrack: “Fame”]

Over the past few years, the trend toward monetizing virtually any cash stream into a security has resulted in many innovations, some performing favorably, some not so. In 1997, Bowie turned his future song royalties into bonds, and sold them for $55 million, paving the way for other artists to raise money without losing the rights to their work. 

We will end with a bonus soundtrack medley: “Young Americans”, “Modern Love”, and “Let’s Dance”.  Then the room will get quiet as we watch his “Lazarus” video…