I remember reading an article in Rolling Stone over ten years ago on the subject of "Spring Break"—a time when many North American college students like to blow off steam in Bacchanalian revelry on Florida beaches.
The author of the piece was amused at these expressions of rebellion by adolescents who would soon settle into a "lifetime of obedience." A cynical perspective perhaps, but one that had the ring of sober truth. Even in this era of "free agent nation" the vast majority of Americans work for somebody else—and, by most accounts, not happily.
Here at blfr we admire individuals—and teams of individuals—who refuse to be obedient and who demand freedom and autonomy in their work. (Many of the best companies encourage their teams to think for themselves—as will be discussed in future posts.) And of course we admire those unruly business teams who play music for a living—and push the creative envelope of what's possible in business at large.
One band that epitomizes the spirit of independence and defiance is the hyper-talented alt-country-rock group, the Dixie Chicks. Natalie Maines and sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, who rocketed to fame thirteen years ago on the basis of their instrumental virtuosity and smart vocals, have made a practice of thumbing their noses at authority—in lyrics, lawsuits, and political statements.
After amassing three #1 country albums, scores of hit singles, and seven Grammy awards, the Dixie Chicks set off their biggest firestorm when lead singer Maines, from a London stage, voiced her displeasure with US President Bush and his preparations for an invasion of Iraq.
Despite Maine's subsequent clarifications of (and a partial apology for) her remarks, reactionary forces were unleashed against these insubordinate Chicks. After all, Country music stars—especially girrrls—don't usually question political authority.
As a result, Country fans attacked the group's patriotism, while Country radio effectively banned their music. Support for the band from Bruce Springsteen and Madonna (and even from that radical Bolshevik, Merle Haggard) did not prevent record-burnings, hate mail, and death threats.
But the Chicks weathered the tempest, successfully completed their 2003 "Top of The World" tour, then took a break from performing. Three years later they were back at it with a new album, "Taking the Long Way," which hit #1 on the country and pop album charts—with no country radio support.
They also released a provocative single, "Not Ready to Make Nice," and launched their "Accidents and Accusations" tour—during which they formally retracted their 2003 apology!
Their album and tour won them cross-over acceptance for the first time—and five more Grammys.
Many in the mainstream came to appreciate their blunt honesty—not to mention their prescient warning three years earlier about a costly war effort. On top of that, their documentary film, "Shut Up and Sing"—about the backlash they unleashed and how they coped with it—won six film awards.
Today they are the biggest-selling female band of all time, with thirteen Grammys to their credit.
This is one small business team that has never been reluctant to take risks, stand strong for what they believed, and deal with the consequences. (No lifetime of obedience for these Chicks.)
As Time magazine concluded: "One country and one form of music aren't enough to contain them or stifle their passion. They'll sing but they won't shut up."
Here's my favorite live clip of them, doing what I think is their best track, "Long Time Gone."