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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More random ruminations

Contract Rock bands don’t use non-compete contracts. Anyone can quit and join another band. Why should it be different in mainstream business, especially hi-tech?

Orly Lobel—the author of Talent Wants to Be Free—thinks non-compete agreements are dopey. After all, Silicon Valley doesn’t use them and it seems to be doing ok. (California makes most non-compete clauses unenforceable.) You still can safeguard your intellectual property through specific trade secret protection, she argues. In an Inc. Magazine interview, Lobel makes three interesting points.

    “Freedom creates more incentive for employees to connect, be visible, network, and develop themselves both within and outside the company—all of which benefits their employer.”
    “Say you can actually get a non-compete enforced; do you really want to develop the reputation as a company that sues ex-employees?”
    “Don’t create lack of mobility—see mobility as a way to seed your company in other places. Even competitors can quickly become collaborators…See it as developing your alumni.”

Speaking of freedom, that’s what always attracted me to the rock & roll life. As a full-time musician in the late 60s and 70s, I loved not reporting to anyone. Today I still avoid having a boss—and most nine-to-five obligations, unless I’m consulting to a client. One solution: I’ve learned to use the Mayan 20-day calendar to make appointments with folks who won’t take no for an answer. The Mayan calendar doesn’t correspond to any other system of scheduling in North America, which affords many advantages. (“Our meeting was on Monday? I had you down for Muluk.”)

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A bow to Queen

One band we haven’t given full props to until now is Queen.

Driven by the vocal histrionics of Freddie Mercury and the guitar wizardry of Brian May, this band tore up the charts with an insanely eclectic brand of rock, releasing 22 Top Ten albums and 23 Top Ten singles. Their biggest hit, the operatic “Bohemian Rhapsody” (1975), has been voted by many as the greatest rock song ever and their appearance at Live Aid (1985) has been hailed as the greatest rock performance of all time.

Here’s one of their later hits, written by Brian May.

But few have paid notice to the intelligence of this band, which belies the doltish I-just-want-to-rock-and-roll-all-nite stereotype of rockers. Brian May earned his PhD in astrophysics in 2007, co-authored Bang! — The Complete History of the Universe (as well as earlier articles on zodiacal dust), and served as chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University for five years. Drummer Roger Taylor already had a Bachelor of Science degree when he joined Queen. Bassist John Deacon had a Master of Science degree in acoustics and vibration technology, and designed equipment for the band. Mercury—born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar—was an Ealing Art College grad.

Maybe an overlooked business lesson from rock is to get REALLY SMART PEOPLE onto your team?

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