Who works for whom?

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[I was starting to write about a topic that’s been on my mind a lot, when I discovered that I had already written about this in detail six years ago!]

I’ve been reminded of late what I dislike about traditional business: the antediluvian notion that the team or group works for management, rather than the other way around.

I suppose that’s come to be accepted because in most companies managers actually do the hiring. But it doesn’t need to be that way.

In fact, in my first dozen years of business I was exposed to a different model. Every organization or business team that I worked for hired—and fired—its management. (The team usually did the recruiting as well.) The team made the decision about who was going to manage it, and it was cloudlessly clear who worked for whom. The business team in this case was a rock & roll band.

Here’s how it works in the world of R&R…

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I love everybody

DSC00712 I guess this would qualify as a business lesson from rock: Don’t speak critically of celebrities if you’re talking to a stranger.

I was in Shanghai years ago giving a talk when a management consultant—who heard of the book I was writing about rock bands—asked me what I thought of a certain Detroit-based rock singer from the mid-60s. Without thinking, I said something dismissive like, “He and his band were ok. Nothing particularly original.” Then I found out that this consultant once played keyboard with the band.

It reminded me of the old Southwest Airlines ad: “Want to get away?”

Of course I tried my best back-and-fill maneuvers, commenting on the things I liked about the singer and band, but it was too little too late.

I suppose the larger lesson is: don’t speak ill of anyone (or any business) if you’re talking to someone you don’t know.

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Eight days a week

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA As an amateur Beatles historian I sometimes wake up in the morning wondering what the Fabs were doing on this calendar day decades ago. (Hey, we all have our quirks. At least this one doesn’t require supervision.) Today I started poking around to find out what they were up to on September 17th in the years before they became the biggest band on the planet.

It turns out that there’s an amazing online resource for this, The Beatles Bible, which has chronicled where the Fabs were playing—and anything else of Beatles importance—on nearly every day of their existence! Here’s what I discovered:

    On 9/17/60 they played the Indra Club in Hamburg, Germany, the 32nd of 48 consecutive nights there. They had to perform four and a half hours each weekday night, beginning their first set at 8 pm and ending their last set at 2 am. (Longer hours on the weekend.)
    On 9/17/61 they performed at the Hambleton Hall in Liverpool, in the middle of a 33-gig month.
    On 9/17/62 they played a lunchtime concert at the Cavern Club in Liverpool—their 234th appearance there. This was also in the middle of a 33-gig month.

What jumps out from this itinerary snapshot—and the broader schedule the website displays—is that these guys were busting their hump for years! I have written about what workaholics these lads were—not exactly the cartoon stereotype of rock musicians who “love to do work at nothing all day,” as brayed by Bachman-Turner Overdrive in “Taking Care of Business.” But I hadn’t grasped the extent of it.

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Crazy love is in the air

Southwest Airlines is consistently ranked among the top companies in its field and flies the third most passengers of any carrier in North America.

Why the popularity? For one thing, they’ve been known as a no-frills, low-cost airline with a freedom-loving spirit—accentuated in ads like “You are now free to move around the country.”

They may soon become even better known as the airline that loves its customers—thanks to their updated heart logo (featured on the belly of its repainted airline fleet). They’ve got it going on with the love thing—their home base is Dallas Love Field and their stock exchange ticker symbol is “LUV.” The rejuvenation of their heart logo and love motif may combine into their best branding job yet. (“Without a heart, it’s just a machine.”)

But most people I know like Southwest because of the wacky playfulness of the employees. This is a company with a rock & roll vibe, displaying the R&R team success qualities I rave about. Their workforce is joyful, creative, spontaneous, rebellious, unpredictable, and little crazy (except for the pilots, we hope). Flight attendants have even been known to pop out of overhead bins. As they like to say, “Take the competition seriously but not yourself.”

In a post five years ago we featured a video in which a flight attendant delivered the standard safety announcement in rap form. A few months ago that same announcement was given a different spin. If you don’t have time to watch the video below, here are some highlights:

    As you know this is a no-smoking, no-whining, no-complaining flight…If we do make you that nervous in the next hour and a half you’re more than welcome to step outside…Just do what we say and no body gets hurt…To activate the flow of oxygen simply insert 75 cents for the first minute…Seriously if there’s anything at all we can do to make your flight more enjoyable please tell us—just as soon as we land in Salt Lake City.

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Taking it to the street

HomelessBusiness lessons from street singing! Consider it a subset of business lessons from rock.

Playing for tips is sometimes associated with homeless folks, but it’s actually entrepreneurism at its finest, with maximum freedom for performers (they can usually play anywhere) and for customers (they give contributions only if they like the music). Many top players started on the street.

Buskers (“people who perform in public places for gratuities”) have included B.B. King, Rod Stewart, George Michael, Tracy Chapman, Jewel, KT Tunstall, and dozens more. (Even Benjamin Franklin as a young lad hit the streets of Boston with his songs nearly 300 years ago, but fortunately for the world his show biz career was short-lived.) Peter Mulvey, a veteran singer-songwriter, once recorded an entire album in the Somerville, Massachusetts subway—complete with the sound of trains pulling in and out.

So here are a few business lessons that buskers can teach us…

    1. Deal directly with customers. Disintermediate! That’s a fancy way of saying, “Remove anyone in the middle of the supply chain.” (As a business consultant I’m required by my profession to use incomprehensible language.) When you play the street you’re eliminating the bar or concert club as an intermediary (in which the customer pays the establishment and the establishment pays you), which is one less obstacle or approval layer to deal with. Also, you can sell product (CDs, etc.) directly to customers, eliminating the retailer. This doesn’t work for everyone, of course, but it’s an option for some businesses.
    2. Get intimate with customers. (Don’t take this the wrong way. It’s a marketing term.) When you serve customers face to face you get to see up close—real-time—what’s working and not working about your product or service. On the street when a crowd starts to form that’s validation that you’re doing something right; when people drift away that’s a sign that the song or performance isn’t grabbing folks, so you can do something about it—immediately. Regardless of what you do for a living, you have customers, and it’s smart to get to know them first hand.

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ANOTHER post on Walk Off The Earth ?

Ok, call me a toady, a sycophant, a brown nose, a lickspittle, a groupie. But I LOVE this band. What The Beatles brought to rock & roll, Walk Off The Earth has brought to rock video.

They’re innovative, playful, brash, tech-savvy, and indie to the core. (Despite their deal with Sony, they call their own shots.) This is best exemplified here and here.

Their new vid is a cover of my favorite song in the world (this week), “Rude”—a tune originally recorded by the band, MAGIC!

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