A timely question

2014 post

It’s time to end the old and begin the new!

But before we do, it's customary for some of us to review the last 12 months.

One way to do that is to reflect on instances in which we've changed our opinions on things of importance—a useful practice for anyone who wants to maintain an adaptive, creative mind (especially in a world where public discourse is increasingly dominated by folks expressing dumbed-down certainties). This is a question I introduced on the Tom Peters website six years ago (which was inspired by Edge.org): “In the last year, what have you changed your mind about?”

I’ll start by answering the question for myself—because, well, you’re not here. And I’ll begin with a small hedge: I can’t say I’ve done a complete 180º on the following subjects, but where I once stood firm I now have a question.

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Deep thoughts for the holidays

Xmas wreath Rocked up holiday songs do well this time of year, as I mentioned a while ago. Emo singing, distorted guitars, and loud percussion tracks are liberally applied to traditional Christmas songs in a raunchy formula that generates mega downloads and CD sales. For a sample of Xmas Grunge, check out: Kutless, Newsboys, Seventh Day Slumber, and The Almost. Call me crazy, but I love this stuff.

Best holiday song video this year: Walk Off The Earth’s “Little Drummer Boy.” (Might be the best holiday song video ever!) It’s not grungy but, yes, it’s got performing dogs. Check it out here.

Holiday music and classic rock are two things that will always sell because they hook into older memories of younger times. Those earlier days appear (from a distance) to be happier ones, but that’s nostalgia’s grand hoax. When I hear my friends get rhapsodic about their childhood or adolescence (memories of which are instantly available via a Christmas carol or old rock tune) I ask them to think a little harder about those times. Perhaps they’ve forgotten they had no rights, were forced to attend school they probably hated, got worked over by teachers or nuns (in my case), endured their share of family dysfunction, or worse. (This is assuming they weren't also dirt poor.) So maybe those days weren’t as halcyon as remembered. And yet…the music stands up quite nicely.

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Jingle bell robbery?

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At this time of year there’s one traditional holiday pop-rock song that reigns supreme.

It’s been getting steady play every December for 56 years now and has worked its way into dozens of Christmas ads, TV shows, and movies. Given its rockabilly feel (and its Andrews-Sisters-like background singing), it swings more than rocks, but that’s ok. It’s still considered the first rock & roll Christmas song—because this is what rock sounded like in its early years. Here’s the tune.

I can hear your objections already: it’s FLUFF! Yup, but it’s fluff that’s superbly recorded, brilliantly arranged, and magnificently performed. It’s as elegantly and tightly constructed as a Swiss watch, with no superfluous parts. A miracle of minimalism. And since 1957 this two-minute-and-twelve-second classic has been the standard bearer for holiday cheer.

Unfortunately, there’s a business tale behind the song that’s not so cheery.

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A conversation with Bohemian Guitars

BohoGuitar2

Cool idea. Electric guitars made from oil cans. Inspired by street musicians in South Africa.

The guitars look great and—according to every review I’ve read and every video I’ve seen—sound great. (I’ll be able to say more once I get my paws on one of them.)

You gotta love their story. Shaun Lee sees street musicians in the townships of his native South Africa playing guitars made from scrap metal, including oil cans, and has an epiphany: produce electric guitars out of branded oil-can bodies; make them available at a low price (starting at $299!) to large numbers of people; and contribute some of the profits—and some of the guitars themselves—to music ed programs around the world. Then get launched through Kickstarter, the crowdfunding program.

Last week I caught up with Mark Friedman, the company's CBO, to ask him a few nosy questions about his new company. (CBO, I assume, stands for Chief Bohemian Officer.) The following is an edited version of our chat.

Me: Can you give us the quick version of how you came up with the idea for Bohemian Guitars?

Mark: Shaun was traveling through Johannesburg after graduating from the University of Georgia and fell in love with how the oil-can guitar sounded and he immediately felt the strong connection the instrument brought him to his homeland. When he arrived back to the US he knew he had to build one and got to work on it immediately.

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Not a run-of-the-mill team

In a recent post we discussed the “reality distortion field”—RDF—that great leaders (e.g., Steve Jobs) and great teams (e.g., The Beatles) possess that has them believe in “impossible outcomes" and convince others of the same.

In the beginning such folks are frequently dismissed as delusional, but in the end the results they produce often speak for themselves. Of course there are those who live in complete denial of reality, so we should assess the experience and competence—mental and otherwise—of our leaders before falling under their spell. But extraordinary results are frequently achieved by those who were once written off as pipe dreamers.

This week I was reflecting on some breakthrough teams I’ve known in business that operated with their RDF on full throttle. Many of them worked in relative obscurity, in small organizations, but what they accomplished defied all expectations and in several instances saved their companies from oblivion. It helped that these teams, in every case, were fiercely independent-minded and self-determined, undeterred by skeptics around them. The memory of one such team jumps out at me.

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