One band that has long showcased the value of managing differences and capitalizing on conflict—a key differentiator of successful business teams—is Fleetwood Mac, especially the 2.0 version that began with the addition of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham in 1975.
The eclectic combination of singer-songwriters Nicks, Buckingham, and Christine McVie—supported by the robust rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie—was well captured on their first album together (simply titled Fleetwood Mac) which yielded hit singles “Over My Head,” “Say You Love Me,” and “Rhiannon.” What had been a quasi-successful British blues band (featuring virtuosi guitar players) was quickly transformed into a charismatic song-oriented LA pop/rock phenomenon, thanks to saturated airplay of their LP in the US.
But behind the scenes the romantic partnership of Buckingham and Nicks had begun to unravel, as well as the marriage of Christine and John McVie—and even Mick Fleetwood’s marriage! (In fact, people just listening to their music began to report marital difficulties.) By the time the band recorded their next LP—Rumours—the song lyrics (and album title) told the whole story: “Players only love you when they’re playing”; “Shackin’ up is all you want to do”; “I’m just second hand news”; “Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.”
Yet the sturm und drang of these romantic meltdowns provoked the band to achieve new heights of creative and commercial success, which has driven sales of Rumours to nearly 50 million units to date. They successfully exploited their personal—and at times artistic—conflict to become one of the most popular bands of the era, with frequent reunion tours up through the present.
The lesson should not be lost in mainstream business, where the most successful enterprises (such as Google and Apple) encourage clashing viewpoints and dissenting opinions among their teams to generate new ways of thinking. (Google came into existence through the verbal sparring between founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.) Dissension—or what Nissan Design’s founder Jerry Hirschberg called “creative abrasion”—is something business teams (product teams, departmental teams, cross-functional project teams, employee relations teams, executive teams) should pursue. Avoiding dissent is a warranty for failure.
Two weeks ago I saw Fleetwood Mac (minus Christine McVie who had retired) in concert at Boston’s TD Garden. One of the most powerful moments of the show occurred when Nicks playfully wagged her finger at Buckingham when he sang the lines “Shackin’ up is all you want to do“ in “Go Your Own Way”—Buckingham’s vindictive song about Nicks during the couple's rancorous break-up in 1976. 37 years later they could laugh about it.
By contrast, notice—in the live video below—Nicks’s demeanor when Fleetwood Mac was performing the song in 1977, shortly after Buckingham wrote it. At the time she was known to despise the tune and made little attempt to conceal it. (The look she gives Lindsey at the :05 mark says it all.) Nevertheless, professional that she was, she sang great harmony on it.
Ironically the band members did everything except go their own way in the years following their personal breakups. They knew that the band had to come first, that the whole was greater than the sum of the parts—and so they stuck around and slugged it out, using their anger at each other as motivation. Seeing them in concert now, you know they’re happy with the decision they made then.
Leaving the concert that evening I was quickly reminded of conflict of a different sort. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon attacks, automatic-weapons-wielding police were patrolling the streets outside the Garden to protect the public from further destruction by two profoundly disturbed individuals. (An example of internal conflict that went un-managed for too long.)
I mention Fleetwood Mac in an earlier post here.