David Bowie passed away on Sunday at the age of 69. And even if you didn’t really know him, you just lost a vital role model. Bowie was a lot of things: Musician. Rock star. Fashion plate. Gender identity activist. Businessman. Songwriter. Record producer. Multi-instrumentalist. Painter. Actor. Arranger. Dramatist. And the ultimate zeitgeist cypher of our age.
Bowie wrote songs you still hear and probably still hum including Space Oddity (“Ground Control to Major Tom.”), Let’s Dance(“Under the moonlight. The serious moonlight”), Young Americans(“All night, she was a young American”) and more.
From Space Oddity to Ziggy Stardust to The Thin White Duke to his Berlin phase to New Wave to the Tin Machine to electronica to jazz, Bowie changed his appearance and his musical styles as often as you change underwear. Maybe more often even. And right up until the time of his death he was changing again – this time reinventing himself as a jazz musician.
Bowie was also an influential businessman who changed the way artists are paid for their work. Simply put, The Thin White Duke bundled some 200 plus pieces of intellectual property he owned (songs, lyrics, arrangements, etc.) and sold their future royalties to Prudential Insurance Company’s investment fund. The deal netted the investors in his Bowie Bonds a 7.9% return for ten years and put $55 million dollars in Bowie’s pocket.
Bowie used Prudential’s stake to buy more of his own catalog back from a former manager and to invest in emerging Internet companies. Ironically enough it was the rise of the Internet and downloadable music that ultimately devalued Bowie Bonds to near-junk status because once his music was available at the click of a mouse the royalties declined greatly.
Throughout it all, Bowie was always exploring limits, pushing boundaries, shape shifting, and looking for the next thing. A cultural chameleon who never accepted the status quo he instead looked for new and exciting ways to change his career, his industries, and himself to always stay current and relevant. And in an industry that constantly consumes concepts and eats its young about as quickly as it emulates them, Bowie had a powerfully influential career that spanned decades, lasting from 1962 all the way to 2016. The man was such an important role model that David Buckley said Bowie, “…permeated and altered more lives than any comparable figure.”
Whether you were a rabid fan or are hardly aware of the Bowie oeuvre, the lesson he generously left us all remains the same: In today’s age of the fastest technological and cultural changes ever experienced, your ability to continually innovate and change yourself and your brand – all while staying unerringly true to your most profound authentic self – is both the evolutionary defense mechanism and the adaptive technique you and your business needs to survive and thrive.
Ziggy Stardust showed us the way. All we need to do is apply the lessons he left us.