Work Rate, Vision, Reinvention…Lessons learned from David Bowie

I’ve just spent a week on holiday, mainly chilling in the sun. I love sunbathing holidays, they always give me a chance to catch up on reading and listening and listening to music.

I seem to have been on a bit of a 70s nostalgia binge, reading Andy Beckett’s excellent social & political history of the decade ‘When The Lights Went Out’ and listening to a lot of old Bowie albums – you may have gathered that he’s a bit of a favourite from this blog – both studio and live.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how hard artists worked then to build their fan base and connect with their audiences, with none of the modern communication platforms that we have to facilitate building a following and keeping them engaged.

Three things stood out for me about Bowie…and they provide lessons that are quite relevant for our more knowing current times.


Seems hard to believe now, but in the 70s Bowie released 11 studio albums and 3 live albums in the space of NINE years…seems incredible (as a comparison, U2 have released 12 studio albums in 30 years) not even counting the world tours that accompanied most of them! Such a work rate certainly inspired devotion in a legion of fans.

We all work hard at what we do…but what do we achieve? How much of what we do in HR and Recruiting is visible to our client groups, candidates, directors and managers? I am not looking to advocate work for work’s sake…or just keeping busy to look good…but focused output, using our efforts to create real and meaningful outcomes.

The range and quality of Bowie’s albums really connected with fans…how much of what we do really connects with those people around us.


There’s little doubt that Bowie looked forward rather than back. From glam to electric soul to avant garde electronics he was usually ahead of the curve…often drawing other bands with him. Whilst most of his peers created a sound and stayed with it, he was restless in his quest for change, development, innovation and creativity. He had a knack for being able to see future trends.

How many of us can say that? Seriously? In both HR and Recruitment the penny is now dropping with a vast majority that yes, social media is going to have a major impact on how we do things. Suddenly the race is on to understand it, use it and create policies for our people…but are we playing catch up with those who could see the potential?

Why so long? Maybe we spend too much time trying to do the same things differently, rather than looking to see what new and different things we could do both now and in the future.


Listen to the 4 live albums that cover the period 72 to 78 (a fourth was released recently) and you will hear not only complete changes in style and performance, but also in interpretation. Some songs appear on all 4 albums but sound different each time, being re-interpreted and re-cast into a new style.

Do we reinvent what we have done? If we create a new policy or process do we look back and see which other policies and processes could be re-interpreted? Do we rest on our back catalogue without looking at how it could be improved or revised to suit different circumstances?

Bowie’s restless work rate, vision and re-invention kept him relevant for many years…he’s still cited as a major influence by new bands over 30 years later.

Maybe it’s time we used some of his inspiration to keep our clients connected and engaged.

4 thoughts on “Work Rate, Vision, Reinvention…Lessons learned from David Bowie

  1. Top, top post Mervyn. I genuinely think that the analogy is a very relevant one; even in my industry (marketing), a supposedly forward-thinking and innovative one, I’m still faced with challenges and people who ascribe to the old adage, ‘if it ain’t broke…’

    Whilst this is first and foremost an HR blog, I genuinely feel that these sentiments could be transferred to any industry or sector. After all, if any of us stands still and fails to evolve, we will eventually become the dinosaurs.

    Dinosaurs that have to explain to management why we have failed to evolved when so many other have.

  2. Bowie is one of my faves too. Working on the BBC advertising account at the time, I was fortunate enough to get jolly’s to Top of the Pops failry regularly so was in the audience when he made his first live appearance on TOTP for 23 years. Sadly it was with Tin Machine, but standing up close to him as he mingled prior to his appearance ,he had a certain aura about him and simply oozed charisma.

    His workrate is unquestionable during the height of his fame (what’s her name? Sorry couldn’t resist) and his vision and ability to reinvent himself are both beyond compare. I can;t however buy into the analogy where the last two are concerned.

    We could all work a bit harder, but when it comes to vision, the world waited for Bowie’s next move with bated breath. He was an innovator. There were no rules. It wasn’t guess work. He created a character and the record buying public invariably warmed to it.

    Recruitment ain’t that easy. We are at a curious stage in proceedings. the press has by and large been left behind, many are sounding the death knoll of the job boards and social networks/media is being heralded in some quarters as the next big thing, but who really knows? Who is bold enough to take the punts that Bowie took with Ziggy, the thin white duke, Aladdin Sane etc. etc?

    Bowie’s was a creative art form. he built a reputation and gained a worldwide following. The rest of us? We’re just mere mortals who can maybe work harder, get the odd moment of inspiration and have a guess at which way recruitment is going to go in the future, but are we drivers? Trend setters? Visionaries? I would suggest not in a world where no one really knows the real way forward for recruiters, they can only surmise and ponder what the future holds.

  3. Great post.
    Worth also adding – around re-invention – that Bowie has never ‘pandered’ to his audience, he is driven by his own purpose…keeps the fans on their toes.
    Leading not following kinda thing.
    Remember the ads? There’s old wave, there’s new wave. And there’s Bowie.
    Excellent thinking, chap.

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