How David Bowie used technology to keep his business in the limelight for nearly 50 years

To maintain a successful career spanning nearly 50 years in the limelight takes some doing. But that’s exactly what David Bowie did, and technology was often at the heart of his efforts.

Here are three business lessons you can take from Bowie’s career:

1. Going big with technology

At the same time as most businesses were messing around trying to decide whether they needed to build a corporate website, Bowie was way ahead of the game.

“The actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can envisage at the moment – the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in simpatico it’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about.”
— David Bowie

Bowie was not only running a website in 1997, but went as far as setting up his own ISP called BowieNet. BowieNet subscribers were able to get online and access exclusive Bowie-themed content. Looking back, BowieNet was an early example of an interests-based social network.

A few years later Bowie was asked about the Internet. His answer was incredibly accurate, perfectly describing the socially-driven business model so common today:

Lessons for your business: 

Rather than simply following the crowd and setting up a website, Bowie went super-size to try and find a way to better connect with his audience. Your business doesn’t have to become an ISP, but it does have to use invest more in technology for the benefit of your clients.

2. Pushing technology to the max

More than simply helping his fans get online, Bowie was actively involved in BowieNet, chatting to subscribers and sharing new content.

But again, he went even further. Despite the fastest consumer connections in 1997 being just 56K, Bowie tried to livestream one of his concerts so fans could watch at home. And this was in the days before YouTube had even been invented.

He even appeared as a character in a 1999 computer game named Omikron Nomad Soul (no we’ve never heard of it either)

Lessons for your business: 

Technology has limits as Bowie discovered (a lack of bandwidth meant the broadcast failed), but there’s no reason your business can’t push them. Get inventive. Get creative. But most of all, use your technology investments as much as possible.

3. Involving fans

BowieNet allowed fans to interact with each other and the star himself. But this wasn’t the first time Bowie had encouraged his fans to get involved in the creative process.

Realising that CDs could do a lot more than simply play music, Bowie arranged to have a number of additional features added to his Jump They Say single. Putting the CD in their computer unlocked a special feature that allowed users to create their own music video or remix – long before such ideas became relatively commonplace online.

Lessons for your business: 

By 1994 everyone knew what a CD was for (playing music), but few understood the technology could do a lot more. So it is with your IT investments – they can probably do a lot more than you think. You just need some advice and ideas to squeeze additional value out of your investments and to better engage your customers.

Bowie's golden rule of successful business

Bowie continued to disrupt the entertainment industry right up until the week before his death. Whether considering his music, fashion or contributions to technology, Bowie took what he saw, and pushed it to the max. 

But if business owners take one thing from his career, it must be this – continued investment in new technology is crucial to establishing a competitive advantage and staying ahead of the pack.