Surf's up!

Don’t look now, but the days are getting longer (at least for us in the north). And as our climatically-altered weather gets warmer, summer is calling!

Right on cue, The Beach Boys have announced they’re re-grouping for a 50th anniversary tour in 2012, including (for the first time in decades) Brian Wilson, as well as original members Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnson, and early members, Bruce Johnston and David Marks.

The Beach Boys, as I love to point out, are an excellent example of the power of self-direction—a key practice of successful business teams. Admittedly, in their early days in Hawthorne, California, the boys had little autonomy while being micro-managed by Murray Wilson, the notoriously abusive father of three of the band members.

But once they fired Dad (how many family businesses can pull THAT off?) things changed fast. The musical genius of young Brian Wilson flourished, the band’s repertoire expanded beyond its patented (and thematically limited) surf-and-hot-rod music, and the group hit creative peaks harmonically which, in my humble opinion, no band has matched in the five decades since.

I should add that The Beach Boys’ blossoming independence bumped up against contractual obligations to Capitol Records (in 1964 the band had to record one new album every three months and release seven singles!). But the band fought for—and won—greater control in the following years.

One might argue that their autonomy went a tad too far—Brian Wilson’s psychedelic drug explorations took a long-term toll on his health—yet so much of the band’s best and most innovative music was produced between 1965 and 1967. Their classic Pet Sounds album (featuring the sublime “God Only Knows”) inspired The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s LP and has been rated the 2nd best rock album of all time by Rolling Stone.

The lesson? Whether we’re talking about bands, corporate teams, or entire nations, once the shackles of autocracy are removed, internal motivation kicks in. Innovation, passion, self-expression, a sense of purpose—these are only some of the benign forces unleashed, with demonstrably positive outcomes. Why are business managers—and political leaders—so slow to get the message?

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  1. It's new to you, David, because you probably weren't born yet when the Beach Boys were formed!

    The BBs were the most harmonically sophisticated of the great R&R bands. There isn't even a close second. Unfortunately, they didn't have a great lyricist within the band, so Brian Wilson's exquisite melodies were too often paired with embarrassing lyrics. (For instance, "Don't Worry Baby" only works because you can't make out the juvenile narrative in the verses about a drag race!) Yet when Brian matched up with Tony Asher (a jingles writer) in the Pet Sounds period, it was pure genius. Exhibit A: "God Only Knows" and "Caroline No." But the amazing thing about the band was the fact that their celestial harmonies could turn decent songs into SUPERB records. And the live performances I heard in the 80s and 90s (before and after the death of Carl Wilson) were religious experiences for me.

    Excerpts of the book (coincidentally titled "Business Lessons From Rock") are being featured on this very site! Go to "BOOKS" then "extracts." The entire book should be available in a few months.

  2. the book will be out in a few months, eh? you said that 4 years ago.

    the beach boys with brian wilson?? i'll believe it when it happens -- and would pay to see it.

  3. I DID say it 4 years ago—and 3 years ago, and 2 years ago, and last year at this time. Consistency is what's important!

    I was a tad skeptical about a Beach-Boys-with-Brian 2012 reunion because Brian was initially less than excited about the idea. But he's announced it on his own website now.

    At least he didn't say "in a few months."

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