Propel Day… Life Lessons from a Rock Star

Stefan Hull

March 4, 2016

I’m a big fan of The School of Life (TSOL) and an even bigger fan of Peter Gabriel so I jumped at the opportunity to spend a Propel Day this week taking Life Lessons from a Rock Star.


The event, which was hosted in the auditorium at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster, London, was billed as a conversation between Gabriel and TSOL head honcho, philosopher Alain de Botton although, as you might expect, it was more interview than conversation.


The programme that came with the event listed five ‘lessons’ that I’d read through before Gabriel and de Botton hit the stage:


1. Be yourself


“…We don’t need to have a huge following for our own authentic style to have a big influence on other people…”


2. Don’t reprise


“… Always think – what could I do better this time?”


3. Keep the band together


“… We should do ourselves, our friends, family and our colleagues the honour of seeing ourselves as a bunch of brilliant artists – who have just got to figure out how to keep the band together.”


4. Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse


“… We should apply the same patience and diligence [as the Beatles] to our new year’s resolutions, our projects to work, even everyday tasks like conversations with our partner.”


5. Go beyond and give back


“… Always remember to give back.”


The good news is the 90 minutes of chat that followed wasn’t simply about restating the above; it covered everything from our relationships with our parents and communicating with other species to mind-reading technologies and the need to open our ears to music (including the songs of Justin Bieber).


Here are five things ‘lessons’ that resonated with me:


1. Perseverance eats talent for breakfast


I’m paraphrasing here but it’s clear that ‘Don’t Give Up’ isn’t just a song; Gabriel’s successful career is a testament to sticking at things (although his talent must have helped).


2. ‘Boredom’ and ‘fatigue’ are massively undervalued ‘creative giants’


Which might also be related to the fact that…


3. Creativity often flourishes when it’s constrained in some way


You might not have heard about Gabriel asking his drummers not use cymbals on his third solo album to encourage them to ‘grow’ in other ways but you might have heard phrases such as ‘give me the freedom of a tight brief’. It’s powerful stuff.


4. Communication is key and not just between humans


Peter Gabriel talked about the Interspecies Internet project and shared a video of a Bonobo ape improvising music. It might sound odd but his point was that we’ve spent very little time learning to understand the intelligent species we share the Earth with and that music might be a common language.


5. Keep finding other people to learn from


I won’t regurgitate (pun intended) Gabriel’s ‘vomit and s***’ analogy but it’s clear he’s been inspired by lots of people over the years and he’s inspired me to find out more about Dr Mary Lou Jepsen, Facebook’s Executive Director of Engineering, and a couple of others.


So, lots of food for thought, which is exactly what Propel Days are about.


If you want to know more about Gabriel and music I can recommend Without Frontiers, a biography of Gabriel by Daryl Easlea. And if you want to see him in action I can also recommend the concert video, Secret World Live.



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