Playing chess blindfolded

Chess black The world of rock & roll, in which I once claimed full-time citizenship, offers up an amazing assortment of humanity to observe—from musicians to dancers to promoters to recording engineers to disk jockeys to music critics and more.

Given the weird, wild, and wonderful personalities in such a universe, it’s inevitable that people will form stereotypes of some of its inhabitants. This, of course, occurs in other parts of life, but seems to happen more in rock-and-roll land.

I've learned a valuable lesson from this: we can do real damage with our "characterizations" of others based on limited information—which can be madly inaccurate and dehumanizing to the individuals we label. Such stereotypes also set up a “self-reinforcing feedback loop” in which we unconsciously look for evidence for our assumptions—and then use whatever evidence we find to validate those assumptions.

A nightclub manager I worked with decades ago presents a perfect illustration of someone unjustly labeled.


It's a great big world

Ok, I plead guilty to Boomer Bias.

I’ve been berating the quality of modern rock/pop for years now—especially in contrast to the rock pioneers (like, of course, The Beatles) who seemed to draw from a bottomless well of imaginative songs that appealed to both head and heart. But something strange is happening in the world of popular music today (especially in Indie Pop and Adult Alternative). The airwaves are suddenly overflowing with intelligent, heartfelt music! Exhibit A:

Two outstanding NY singer/songwriters, Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino, joined forces in 2012 to form A Great Big World. They’ve already had one big hit, “Say Something” featuring Christina Aguilera (in one of her best—and most understated—performances). With the 2014 release of their first long-playing album—Is There Anybody Out There?—they’re about to find the answer to their question.


Hey, what's the big idea?

clouds A fellow consultant recently inquired about my blog and upcoming book. “What’s the important business concept there?” he asked. “What are you selling? What’s the BIG IDEA?”

A timely question. The B.I. is all the rage now. A book or blog is expected to have a viewpoint or conviction that separates it from the background noise. So here’s mine.

Most organizations I encounter—from the outside as a customer or from the inside as a consultant—are lacking some of the key success qualities they need to be market leaders. I find them insufficiently:

    1. Innovative (do they look for creative ways to serve customers?)
    2. Inspired (is the workforce exuberant about the business?)
    3. Independent-thinking (are they more than industry copycats?)
    4. Brand-focused (is there unique value they offer?)
    5. Mission-driven (is there a difference they intend to make in the world?)
    6. Conflict-savvy (do they encourage dissenting views in their workforce?)

I bear good tidings, however. There ARE teams we can learn from that specialize in these qualities.


If at first you don't succeed

Listening to Lake Street Dive on NPR’s Morning Edition this week reminded me what soulful performers these folks are, well-deserving of the national attention they’re finally receiving. Formed at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston—which graduates top classical and jazz musicians and vocalists—the Dive began as a jazz quartet but had to change direction to draw a decent audience, soon blossoming into a sophisticated pop/rock/soul band.

Having the flexibility and talent to be able to do that—to shift gears in response to market reactions and provide a more popular product/service—is a useful skill for almost any business team or organization, especially a startup. How quickly we forget that YouTube began as a video dating site ("Tune In Hook Up"), Shopify as a snowboard dealer, or Twitter as a podcaster. Such is life in the Innovation Economy.