Loud thoughts

file5181268512066 People often ask me why I’m working by myself on my blog and book, when the subject of my writing is usually teams: rock bands and business teams.

Well, I actually think of myself as a team. I hear SO many voices in my head all the time—usually haranguing each other—I think of me as a we. (I’m always asking strangers on the street, “Is the noise in my head bothering you?”) So when I’m doing anything creative it’s always a team effort.

After working awhile with hi-tech start-ups I’m beginning to agree with the opinion I heard recently that many start-ups are begun by folks who just couldn’t stand their previous boss—and had to strike out on their own! (Happens to rock artists too, when autocratic bandleaders drive good musicians away, who then start more creative, democratized bands.) It’s a mind-bender that “bad bosses” may be fueling the Innovation Economy.

Looks like I’ll be playing drums again when my old rock band, The Morning, reunites for a college reunion next month in New Haven. The salient word here is “old” (we broke up before The Beatles did) but in our prime we opened for some decent acts (Eric Clapton’s Cream, the Grateful Dead, Sly & the Family Stone, Joni Mitchell, etc.). With a little more business sense we might have lasted longer. That reminds me:

    Q: What’s the difference between a large pizza and a rock drummer?

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The Mozart problem

Piano What do you do when there’s a singular talent in your field that is SO demonstrably superlative that no one can EVER hope to compete with it?

This is “the Mozart problem,” according to Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam, who describes it as “the presence of a market-clearing talent in one’s chosen profession.”

The reference of course is to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the child prodigy whose musical genius eclipsed that of all other classical composers of his time, leaving jealous rivals such as Antonio Salieri—according to the movie Amadeus at least—in despair of ever approaching Mozart’s creative endowment. Beam gives examples of other “market-clearing talents” who spent careers psyching out rivals—such as Bobby Fischer in chess or Michael Jordan in basketball—but leaves out my favorite example: a rock & roll band that has cast a long shadow on popular music for half a century.

The Beatles—by nearly any measurement of artistic or commercial success—have blown away the pop music competition since they exploded on the world stage in 1964. They have been the biggest AND the best—selling over a billion units and topping most polls for best pop artist ever and best pop album ever (Revolver or Sgt Pepper usually comes out #1). As USA Today puts it, “No other entertainers in history have been as popular, as influential, as important or as groundbreaking.” 50 years ago this very week they held the TOP FIVE SPOTS on the Billboard Hot 100. Think that will happen again in the lifetime of anyone reading this? Their preeminence as songwriters, arrangers, and recording artists has left more than a few pop songwriter/musicians wondering, “Why even bother?”

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The Mac is back



It’s great to hear that singer/keyboardist Christine McVie has come out of retirement to rejoin Fleetwood Mac.

In 2013 they did a 34-city world tour with four-fifths of their original 1975 lineup—Stevie, Lindsey, Mick, and John—but now they’ll have the full contingent for 2014.

Yes, I know, it’s enough to make you start thinking about tomorrow.

The Mac—originally a 60s British blues band that reinvented itself as an LA pop/rock band in the mid-70s—has been much beloved by fans over the years, though skewered by some musicians. In the late 70s the punk rock rallying cry was “Fleetwood Mac must die”—reflecting the punkers’ distaste for the band’s slick production and sweet vocal arrangements. To quote Uncut Magazine (which ultimately defended the band): “Were they anything more than the sound of rich coked-up hippies fiddling while punk burned?” Well, actually, yes.

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Decisions, decisions

Footprints What do you do when you’ve started writing a letter, an article, a speech, a blog post—or begun almost anything creative—and you’re having trouble choosing between several different directions to go with it? Sound familiar?

Each direction could work, you think. But you’re stuck trying to decide which one. Well, you might try a simple technique that worked for Paul McCartney when he was trying to finish a song for The Beatles.

McCartney sometimes couldn’t decide on the lyrics for a piece of music he’d written. Should the lyrics be about X, Y, or Z? (Leaving his lover? Reuniting with his lover? Finding a new lover?) But instead of staying stuck, McCartney would immediately explore the different possibilities. He would write complete sets of lyrics for each, and then choose which one worked best.

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Can you identify with this?

imgres The lesson for today, girls and boys, is on “projective identification.” (Hey, pay attention. There may be a quiz.)

You’re probably aware that you can unconsciously “project” attributes (bad and good) onto others—whether lovers, therapists, bosses, political leaders, etc. But if you can get those others to “identify” with your projections, things can get really interesting. They can start believing that they are dumber, weaker, more flawed than they really are—or wiser, stronger, more virtuous—depending on your idealized fantasies!

This projective identification is well-known to therapists who must be forever vigilant against it, so they don’t buy into their patients’ imaginings of them and begin behaving out of character.

It’s less-understood in the workplace where executives, managers, and supervisors can internalize their employees’ fantasies about them, good or bad. If organizational leaders don’t have a strong sense of self to begin with—an effective boundary against the onslaught of projections hurled at them—they’re especially vulnerable to such transference. (In the self-help lit they’re sometimes called “wounded leaders” because of their unresolved personal issues.) The raging boss or supercilious executive are typical examples.

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