You say goodby, I say Hello Dolly!

Beatles LoveI often like to point out that The Beatles bulldozed the pop charts in 1964—and mercilessly laid waste to the musical milquetoast of the era. The Fabs ruled the Top 40 early that year with their original brand of rock, even holding the top five spots on the Billboard charts that April—a feat unlikely to be repeated in the lifetime of anyone reading this.

It was 50 years ago this month that the the Beatles' grip on the #1 spot was finally broken by Louis Armstrong's “Hello, Dolly!”—a great reminder that most of the artists who had major chart success after the Beatles' arrival had more talent and substance than the ones before (at least since the demise of early rock & roll in 1959). Somehow Satchmo, Mary Wells, the Supremes, and Roy Orbison managed to survive the Beatles’ onslaught. Yes, many decent soul and pop acts were crowded out of the Hit Parade by the British Invasion—and probably had their careers shortened. But one could argue (and I do) that the fittest survived. In the years that followed, the fittest included Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Smoky Robinson and the Miracles. Credit The Beatles and the survivors.

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Can business teams "jam"? (Part two)

KC_CRW_5395 Picking up where we left off in a post a week ago, the jamming phenomenon in rock has some interesting applications to business.

After all, successful business teams need to be agile and adaptable—able to shift direction rapidly to adjust to external market changes or internal restructuring (reorganizations, mergers, acquisitions, etc.). Such is life in the innovation economy. Shifting direction—suddenly and quickly—is exactly what bands are doing when they’re jamming/improvising.

So how can business team members do that? Well, let’s look at three of the factors—mentioned in my last post—that allow musicians to quickly alter their direction as a group. The first two are pretty straight ahead.

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Can business teams "jam"?

Dark Stage Jam bands—known for their extended musical improvisations—have become quite the rage in recent years, thanks to major music festivals across the states that have catered to their devoted fan base. (Gathering of the Vibes in Bridgeport, Connecticut and the All Good Music Festival in Legend Valley, Ohio are two of the big ones.)

Credit the Grateful Dead for popularizing the style, starting in the 60s (though jazz players were already jamming for half a century). In their thirty years together the Dead were known to never perform a song the same way twice. Phish has been the standard-bearer since the Dead’s breakup, but there are now dozens of first-rate groups that are labeled jam bands (accurately or not), including Widespread Panic.

The improvisation phenomenon in recent years has become a serious study. Some professors (like Keith Sawyer in books such as Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration) use improv theatre and jazz to draw conclusions about creative collaboration. The top jazz musicians improvise with more skill than jam bands, but the dynamics are the same: musicians must listen carefully to one another and change direction rapidly in response to each other's cues.

It’s certainly worth taking a closer look at the art of jamming/improvising to see if we can dig out some useful lessons for business teams, especially those who need to continually experiment and innovate—as a group—in response to market changes.

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An otherworldly band

Good rock bands, like other good business teams and organizations, have always known how to stand out from the herd. Whether "competitive advantage" was ever in their vocabulary, these groups have understood what made them different and they've learned to spotlight it. (Think Grateful Dead, Ramones, or KISS, for example—regardless of your personal preference.)

But through the years, as thousands upon thousands of bands have presented their music to the public (thanks lately to social media and iTunes), it's become a bigger challenge for a band to rise above the noise.

It still can be done, however. One indie band—well known to BLFR readers after my endless flogging of their music—has re-imagined the music video medium (a field wallowing in unimaginative insipidity). As a result, their creative and quirky song videos (mostly DIY, sometimes recorded on mobile devices) have built up a giant fan base on Facebook and YouTube. This band can be a reminder to business teams everywhere—and especially hi-tech startups—that if you're relentlessly innovative (and have obvious fun in the process) you have a decent shot at gaining people's attention.

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