Relating to grown-ups

People occasionally ask me why I concocted this blog.

Simple answer: to make the “Business Lessons From Rock” case—namely, that rock & roll bands have much to teach us about developing bold, creative, passionate teams—and to promote my upcoming book of the same name.

But then people say, “What got you going on THAT?"

Well, when I first began management consulting and team training 28 years ago I felt a little dislocated in my new environment. I had played rock & roll for a living until then and had avoided anything resembling a corporate life. So when I started working in business I just couldn't relate to the lack of play, fun, humor, passion, engagement, creativity, personality, chutzpah, and free-thinking independence that I frequently encountered. These were qualities in abundant supply in the music world.

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Obsessed!

© intheskies - Fotolia.com
© intheskies - Fotolia.com

We've been hearing a lot about famed achievers—in politics, business, education, sports, whatever—who are now considered obsessive, hypomanic, or full-blown crazy.

In his new book, America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation, Joshua Kendall points out that Thomas Jefferson, Steve Jobs, Ted Williams, Melvil Dewey, H. J. Heinz, Charles Lindbergh, and Estee Lauder all suffered from an obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) which helps explain their monomaniacal pursuit of perfection.

In The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon—just released this week—Brad Stone describes the obsessiveness of Bezos who regularly “explodes into what some of his underlings call nutters” for their failing to meet his "exacting standards.” (Stone said other high-tech titans like Apple’s Steve Jobs and Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Steve Balmer were famous for similar hysterics when their quality expectations were not met.)

There was also an earlier book—The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (a Little) Craziness and (a Lot of) Success in America—in which psychiatrist John D. Gartner diagnoses leaders in a variety of fields, from industrialist Andrew Carnegie to genome giant Craig Venter, as hypomanic (displaying a mild form of manic depression). Hypomanic Americans whose energy knows no bounds “may be our greatest natural resource,” says Dr. Gartner, even if they're not well adjusted “by ordinary standards.”

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Twosomes

© Magalice - Fotolia.com
© Magalice - Fotolia.com

We haven’t had much discussion about two-person partnerships, but thanks to a comment by Joel D Canfield on a recent post, I realize we’re overdue.

Popular music has had its share of successful duos from The Everly Brothers, Sam & Dave, Sony & Cher, Simon & Garfunkel, and Ike & Tina Turner of yesteryear to the White Stripes and Black Keys of modern times. (If I've left out your favorite duo, you can lodge your protest in the comment thread!)

The most interesting fact that jumps out at me is how many of the top duos did not get along with each other. Perhaps this was because there weren’t other team members to buffer or absorb the creative tension between the partners. Yet they prevailed despite their differences. Or BECAUSE of their differences. Conflict was the crucible in which they honed their craft. After all, the sparks of conflict—the friction of opposing viewpoints—can produce passion, determination, competition, and creativity.

For instance, Sam & Dave (“Soul Man”) didn’t speak to each other offstage for 13 years! They kept separate dressing rooms and spoke through third parties. Yet as Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members and Grammy Award winners, Sam & Dave have been the most successful soul duo ever, with multiple gold records to their credit.

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Twisted sister

© naoe27 - Fotolia.com
© naoe27 - Fotolia.com

In a recent post, I pointed out how The Beatles changed the face of popular music when they exploded on the world scene in late December 1963.

As evidence for the Beatles' complete takeover and makeover of the record charts, I contrasted the rock they brought with them to the milquetoast pop that characterized the Hot 100 of that year, epitomized by the last #1 hit of 1963: “Dominique” by The Singing Nun—a reverential ode to Saint Dominic. A top-selling song in America being sung in French by a Belgian member of the Dominican Order was thought by some to be a sign of the Apocalypse.

In one sense it was. “Dominique” was considered the last gasp of the old hit parade before the Second Coming of Rock & Roll, ushered in by the Four Horsemen of Liverpool—and followed by hundreds of artists who picked up where The Beatles left off. These acts brought us funk, punk, metal, alternative, hip-hop, and every micro-genre you could imagine. Fifty years later our #1 hits are—not surprisingly—“Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus (who, you may be surprised to learn, is not a Dominican nun).

But in doing a little research on The Singing Nun—whose real name was Jeanne Deckers and whose stage name in Europe was Soeur Sourire or “Sister Smile”—I found a treasure trove of biographical data indicating that Sister Smile was anything but a status quo symbol, who in time became a different kind of sister. This erstwhile songstress of innocuous religious ditties blossomed into an independent thinker and a serious threat to the establishment.

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Abrasiveness: the new competitive advantage

© Marija Piliponyte - Fotolia.com
© Marija Piliponyte - Fotolia.com

Everyone is bemoaning bad bosses these days—the subject of a wave of recent books (including the elegantly titled My Boss is a Sh*thead), not to mention movies and TV shows.

Within the wide spectrum of bad boss behaviors two characteristics are frequently reported: "abrasiveness" and "arrogance." Of course these descriptions are subject to interpretation, so you could argue that they exist in the mind of the beholder. But when nearly all beholders agree that a given leader is abrasive and arrogant, that’s not a good thing, right?

But wait! Maybe it is—at least according to a Boston Globe op-ed columnist, who defended the brusque and bullying management style of economist Lawrence Summers. (Summers, the controversial former President of Harvard U., was originally on President Obama’s short list of candidates for the all-important Chairmanship of the Federal Reserve System but took his name off the list following a hailstorm of criticism about his blunt management style.)

The columnist, Jennifer Graham, conceded Summers was arrogant, but brushed it aside, quoting Ayn Rand to make the jaw-dropping claim that all that mattered was “clear, hard, radiant competence.” (Glad we straightened that out.)

But of course I had to respond. My issue wasn’t Larry Summers per se, but whether we should tolerate contumely and gracelessness in our leaders. I sent the following letter to the Globe:

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