U2 would be sitting on top of the world right now, if they weren't so busy touring it. The Dublin-based band is about to begin the fifth leg of a fourteen-month global tour in South America next month.
They've grossed more at the box office in the last decade than any other musical act except the Rolling Stones. They've sold 150 million records to date, the most of any alt rock group. And they've won more Grammys (22) than any other act.
So it might come as a surprise to learn that when they first started out in 1976, they were all talk and no talent. At the time U2 could have qualified for the lowest talent-to-ambition ratio in rock history. In fact, they could barely tune their guitars or sing on key.
But they did have an ambitious dream. (See my earlier post on "big hairy audacious goal.") They aimed to be the best band on the planet.
They also had a dogged determination and work ethic (true for all the great rock groups but especially for U2) that kept them on the road, continually sharpening their skills. That paid off artistically and commercially in 1987 with their highly acclaimed Joshua Tree album and string of hit singles, and it's still paying off.
But in the beginning it was just aspiration and a large dollop of chutzpah. Lead singer Bono said it was his father's attempt to suppress his audacity that fired him up.
By telling me never to have big dreams or else, that to dream is to be disappointed, he made me have big dreams. By telling me that the band would only last five minutes or ten minutes—we're still here!
So here's the rock & roll business lesson (by now a familiar theme on these cyberpages): before talent develops there has to be a vision, a dream—and an outsized belief in yourself. Then the work begins.
As Edge, the band's guitarist, explains:
[We had] a belief that we could go all the way. Before we could play, before we could write songs, before we could perform, we believed in ourselves as a band.
Such is the power of rock: that mix of bold dream and brazen attitude. (Not a bad launching point for any team or organization in any field.) As Bono once asked us: "What is rock 'n' roll if it doesn't dare to have big ideas?"
U2's ambition for things just outside their reach—a perpetually asymptotic quest—is movingly expressed in their "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."