Business Lessons from David Bowie

A life well lived, a game well played: David Bowie (1947-2016, RIP)

It’s hard not to imagine anyone from my generation, the one before it, and perhaps current generations, who has not been inspired and touched by a David Bowie song. For me, it was “Changes,” which I played incessantly as an early teen. It spoke to me.

david bowie business

Now, some thirty years later, I look at Bowie a bit differently: a trendsetter who figured out how to stay relevant and wealthy throughout his fifty or so year career. He knew the business of art, and, yes, he played the game well, very well.

There are few recording artists who continue to grow throughout their career. There was Bowie the “space oddity,” “glam rocker,” “the Thin White Duke,” “the New Waver,” “the pop star,” and “the experimental/electronic”—all this over fifty years. Few can match that level of change. Michael Jackson had his childhood period and an adult career that (in my mind) didn’t evolve much. When you go to a Rolling Stones concert, admit it, all you want to hear is “Satisfaction.” Mariah Carey and Britney Spears are essential the same as they were ten years ago. The only musical performer that reaches the level of Bowie’s level of change is Madonna.

At Kona Impact, we have gone through a gentle metamorphosis over the years. Of the six initial pillars of our business, we no longer have three of them. They have been replaced by five new areas of business. In 2016, we hope to add two more pillars to our business. Change to us is not scary in the least bit; it is essential for our growth.

When we think of change, we think mostly of expanding and contracting things we do. It’s not an upheaval of our business model on a whim; in fact, every change comes from information we receive from customers. It’s not what we want to do; it’s what our customers tell us (in various ways) what they want us to do. Business to us is not self-indulgent; it’s customer-centric evolution.

Another thing Bowie did was to realize that his business, the music business is a business. In 1990, he gave up the royalties on his music catalog for ten years, creating “Bowie Bonds.” In return, he received a cool $55 million. I can’t help but think of Picassos going for hundreds of millions of dollars these days, more than Pablo could have imagined earning in many lifetimes. He led a good life, for certain, but most of the value of his work has been realized after his death.

My point is that innovation, protecting assets and knowing when to capitalize assets is part of what every business should do, whether it’s a construction company finding innovative ways to lease and maintain heavy equipment or a small mom and pop shop clearing out the storage locker and converting inventory to cash.

Like any small business, we seek ways to improve our financial position. We would love to see more clients pay with checks, as they save us 3% credit card processing fees. Ideas how to make this happen, including not accepting credit cards for large purchases, come up now and then, but this type of change is perhaps too bold. My point is that small businesses (and medium and large for that matter) need to focus on money; how to make more and spend less. Bowie, at least, figured out how to make more by securitizing his music catalog.

Bowie, the artist, will be missed, but we can always revisit the feelings of love, angst, introspection and joy by listening to his music. Bowie, the businessman, is someone we can study and emulate. How can our businesses stay relevant for years? How can we change? How should we change? What can we do to keep more of what we earn?

 Kona Impact | 329-6077 | 74-5599 Luhia Street, E-7, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740