Let’s Dance: Lessons from David Bowie

There’s a good chance that if you’ve been around for any of the last five plus decades, you have come across David Bowie. Whether you were a fan from the beginning or noticed him alongside Jennifer Connelly by watching Labyrinth as a kid, Bowie was a striking creature with a piercing gaze and penchant for reinventing his look and sound. But more than that, Bowie built and maintained a successful career with his 25th studio album release just two days before he passed.

As a young musician, Bowie left many in the audience scratching their heads, uncertain how to process his eccentric costumes and unusual personas. Yet, over time, Bowie established himself as an artistic force to be reckoned with, transcending genres and generations. His work was lauded by history and even displayed in museums, but what’s more is what his career can teach us about our own, even those of us nowhere near the entertainment business. Consider the following: 

Think Beyond Five Years – Sure, it’s easy to ask, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” but answering honestly is a different story. Your timeline is malleable – and should be – it would be stifling if everyone thought in finite, linear increments. Chances are a five year plan may look good on paper but things happen. You may not be able to expect the unexpected but you can have the self-awareness to see the value in staying flexible, open to change and interested in the possibility in reinvention.

Be the Weird One – A key factor in driving the longevity of his career, Bowie was a master of self-expression. From Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane to Jareth, the Goblin King, Bowie was never afraid to step outside the norm. His high level of creativity and theatricality pushed the boundary of people’s comfort zones and helped elevate recognition of his talent. The same thinking can be applied to various aspects of business: branding, identity, external communications and market position.

Pick a Topic – In 2002, Bowie told The Associated Press, “My entire career, I’ve only really worked with the same subject matter. The trousers may change, but the actual words and subjects I’ve always chosen to write…” Sure, your subject matter will inevitably differ from Bowie’s – unless you really are a space oddity – however, there’s an important lesson in these words. Timing may change, identity may shift, but pick the things you know and get to know them better, consider the different angles and sides and make it your mission to promote the value of this topic.

Not quite getting it? Put on some Bowie – perhaps start with Hunky Dory and work your way from there. You’re bound to find something out there in between the lines. Think expansively, go where the inspiration takes you and know your mission, or as Bowie once put it, “If I hadn't learned how to be a musician and writer, it wouldn't have mattered what I did.”