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5 Work Lessons We Can Learn From David Bowie

With the passing of the incredible David Bowie, the world has lost a true creative force. It doesn't seem like we'll see someone like him again.

I've been reading tributes to him, which include various people's impressions of working with him. At the end of the day, David Bowie was a working professional. A very famous and highly successful one in the music industry to be sure, but a working professional all the same. He had to negotiate, collaborate and, no doubt, deal with his fair share of business-related headaches over many decades.

David Bowie was a rock star -- the coolest guy in the room, really -- and, on the surface, it would seem impossible to relate anything about his work life to the rest of us who simply whistle along to his song catalog while we work. However, I think there are a few things to be learned from his work example, especially for anyone in entrepreneurship, or management.

So what can David Bowie teach us about workplace collaboration, mentoring, inspiring new ideas, and playing well with our co-workers? Here are five things we can all learn from his example:

1. Don't be afraid of change. Mr. Bowie always seemed to be evolving and moving ahead toward the Next Thing. He wasn't a static individual, he was dynamic. In business, we have to be open to periodic reinvention, not only to remain relevant but also to keep ourselves excited by the possibilities.

Message: Refuse to rest on your laurels. You can always look at things from another angle. Think of your professional self as a life-long work of art in progress, because that's what you are!

2. Don't dismiss the new. Mr. Bowie never stopped working with younger artists who sometimes had a completely different musical aesthetic. He was open to new ideas, new sounds, new suggestions. Before he toured with Nine Inch Nails, he asked a younger -- and probably flabbergasted! -- music industry employee to suggest a list of Bowie songs that the audience might like. Wow!

Message: Find the value in the younger generation's viewpoints, suggestions, and potential contributions. Draw from them fearlessly.

3...But know who you are. Mr. Bowie seems to have set firm boundaries between his professional brand and his personal life. He maintained his personal privacy to the very end in the social media age, and always carried himself with a certain dignity. He wasn't afraid to stand up for other musicians, either.

Message: Knowing your boundaries creates an admirable authenticity. You don't have to jump on every trend bandwagon, just the ones that work for you and lead where you want to go. Support others in your field of work when you're in a good position to do so, too.

4. Age graciously. As people who met and worked with Mr. Bowie reflect on their time with him, one theme that keeps emerging is how nice and normal he seemed for someone so well-known. Here was someone who could have pushed his weight around, but he was very polite and well-mannered by all accounts. He turned down the British honors of becoming a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) and a Knighthood, saying they weren't what he had spent his entire life working on.

Message: Our actions matter most, not our titles. Authentic kindness, and a sense of humility, are incredibly powerful personal qualities the more powerful you are in your career. Lead with them, and in doing so keep yourself grounded.

5. Look for ways to pay it forward. Career-wise, it can be all too easy to think: "Well, I never got a helping hand on my way up, so I'm not going to help anyone else starting out." Instead of holding back, lend an ear. Strive to be a mentor and sounding board for younger colleagues who value your opinion. You'll learn valuable things from them, too.

Message: It can be very rewarding to mentor younger colleagues. If you're going to pay it forward, do it for yourself as a way to give back. We can be heroes, just for one day.

It's something else to ponder as we listen to his music catalog this week. He will be greatly missed. Thanks, David.


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