I recently discovered this 1967 letter from Joe Smith, executive of Warner Brothers Records, to the Grateful Dead’s manager, admonishing the band for its inability to give WB sufficient product to release on schedule.
Given the discussion we had four weeks ago on the pros and cons of establishing “constraints”—including tight deadlines—for creative projects, this provides us with a wonderfully entertaining vantage point for further discussion!
My history of working with teams—WOW! teams, breakthrough teams, process re-engineering teams, quality improvement teams, etc.—has usually involved operating out of a “tight box," dictated by the demands of business. Often the team has to achieve an ambitious outcome within an aggressive time frame and limited resources. This structure can push teams to think outside the lines because they recognize that they can’t achieve the goal conducting business as usual.
Yet Harvard business professor Teresa Amabile has argued persuasively that when it comes to generating innovative solutions, dealing with “time pressure” can be counterproductive, especially for creative thought processing. But this raises the question: what about the extreme case of a team having no consciousness of a deadline (and, perhaps in the case of the Grateful Dead, no consciousness of linear time)?
Quoting from Smith’s December 27th letter:
Lack of preparation, direction and cooperation from the very beginning have made this album the most unreasonable project with which we have ever involved ourselves. Your group has many problems, it would appear.
Chas Newby is finally getting the notoriety he deserves.
As the Beatles’ bass player for one month in 1960, Chas was onstage for the breakthrough performance that put The Beatles on the map as a serious Liverpool band. Chas played on only four gigs—filling in for original bassist Stu Sutcliffe—but he made an impression on the lads and was invited by John Lennon to continue with the band for their return to Hamburg, Germany.
What was especially newsworthy about this—as mentioned in my post last month—is that Chas declined the invitation to remain with The Beatles because he wanted to return to school to get his chemical engineering degree. And he has zero regrets about his decision—and the possibility that he might have become the permanent bass-player for the world’s most successful band, given the fact that Stu badly wanted out of the band to focus on painting. (Stu quit for good 6 months later.)
Picking up where I left off in part one of my interview…
Me: The Beatles' performance that you took part in on December 27, 1960 at the Litherland Town Hall is considered historic: a critical turning point for the band, giving them significant local attention for the first time ever. Can you tell me your memory of that gig and the Litherland audience?
Chas: They were not prepared for the post-Hamburg tightness of the band, or the performance experience of playing virtually every night for four months. Litherland Town Hall was a public dancehall, with a sprung floor and elevated stage. People went there to dance, the bands were there just to provide the music. We were billed as “direct from Hamburg,”and there were some people in the hall who thought we were German. Bob Wooler introduced the band, set up behind the stage curtain, along the lines of “Ladies and Gentleman, direct from Hamburg, the B…..” He got no further, the curtains opened and Paul nudged him off the microphone and blasted out the opening line of the Little Richard song “Long Tall Sally”.
Watching a "behind the scenes" clip of Walk Off The Earth crafting a new music video, I was delighted to hear producer/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Gianni Luminati talk about the band’s goals.
It brought up a question that has been debated for (at least) a few millennia: IS IT BEST TO SET GOALS THAT ARE REALISTIC?
Entire forests have been laid waste to print the thousands of books on goal-setting that tell you to create attainable, achievable, S.M.A.R.T. goals, etc. (We'll leave aside the books telling you that goals are harmful; just try running your business without any.) But let's have this post settle the question once and for all and save further trees. (NB: eBooks will not be making print books obsolete anytime soon. You read it here first.)
So if you’re a team of top performers—whether it’s a software development team, an executive committee, a sales team, or a rock band—do you really want to be setting realistic goals? NO, NEIN, NON, NYET, BU! Of course you don’t want to set goals that are pure fantasy, but it’s important to set them way beyond what’s predictable. (As motivational author Paul Arden says, “Most people are reasonable; that’s why they only do reasonably well.”)
In the spirit of that, Luminati points out in the vid below (at the 3:35 mark): “Sometimes we like to make our goals just out of reach. You may not get it, but it’s the only way to really push yourself to the point where something really cool can happen.” Nicely put.
Much has been written in recent years on the topic of listening. (Not to be confused, of course, with hearing—or the physics of sound waves striking tympanic membranes.) Listening is about the attention we pay to what is going on around us. (In its broadest sense it includes much more, but let's keep it simple for now.) I spent more than a few years studying the subject and teaching the art of listening in business. I was always surprised that few people knew they had a choice about how they listened—or what to listen for.
This is something I learned from listening to live music. In my teens, when I was first playing in rock bands, I made a practice of checking out the other local groups. But I would always listen through a filter of they’re not as good as my band. Or I’m going to discover their flaws. I was listening with an agenda. I had to find evidence for why my band was better. An immature habit, yes—but not unusual for a combative 18-year. (I confess I didn’t shake this habit overnight, as other musicians would often remind me.)
It took me years before I realized that whatever I was listening FOR is what I would discover. (Duh.) If I wanted to like a band (perhaps because they were friends) I would be listening for what was good about them. If so, I would always find positive attributes.
Eventually I realized I had a choice about how to listen to a band. I could listen for what was wrong with them or for what was right about them or for something else. This was an insight that had obvious implications beyond rock & roll!