It's ONLY rock & roll?

Daytime skyline We've said it before and we'll say it again: when it comes to innovation, we should all be singing the praises of cities.

Although it’s obvious enough upon reflection, we sometimes forget that the concentration of humanity in urban (and suburban) environments is what drives productivity, progress, and prosperity. As Harvard economist Edward Glaeser likes to point out, “Cities are our greatest invention.” Why? Because “the strength that comes from human collaboration is the central truth behind civilization’s success.”

It’s no coincidence that great art comes from cities, where artists of every variety have congregated to work off of each other’s talents. In the world of pop music, for example, nearly all the great talent developed in a few major metropolitan areas, such as NY, LA, London, Detroit, Nashville, etc.—where dense concentrations of performers, recording studios, night clubs, and fans were located. Many of the great musical artists weren’t born in or near major cities, but that’s where they headed to perform, record, and hang out with other artists.


It's your party

baloonsLesley Gore, a 16-year-old high school wonder who lit up the charts in 1963 with “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” passed away this week.

Gore was a more independent force than was widely appreciated at the time, even with the success of her proto-feminist anthem, “You Don’t Own Me." (The NY Times obit called her a teen voice of “defiance.”) Lately I've been struck by the fact that many white-bread singers of that era had more going for them between the ears than I had realized—which became obvious as they got older and bolder.

As an example, I’ve written previously about the cherubic-sounding Singing Nun—Jeanine Deckers—who, while living in a Dominican convent in Belgium, had an international hit, “Dominique,” at the same time that Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” was climbing the US charts. The diminutive sister later became a political activist, feminist, and church critic before committing suicide with her gay lover! Gore, while never as outspoken as Deckers turned out to be, also became a gay feminist.


Rock the quote-part 3

Guitar I’ve been around a few smart folks in my life, but the brightest lights have often been artists, many of them of the musical variety.

Now and then I like to include some of my favorite quips and quotes from rock & roll craftsmen, especially comments relating to creativity, audacity, independent thinking, risk-taking, self-expression, inspiration, and more—which this blog pays homage to. (If you prefer business-speak, we can say disruptive innovation, brand differentiation, action bias, employee engagement, strategic agility, etc. But let's not.)

My latest batch:

    I've been imitated so well I've heard people copy my mistakes. — Jimi Hendrix

    Hendrix changed the game for guitarists, who suddenly wanted to play just like Jimi. But Hendrix didn’t become Hendrix by copying others—though he learned from the masters like Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton. If you’re duplicating, you’re not innovating—and you’re a full step behind the creators.

    I [wrote] a letter to the archdiocese who'd banned the song, “Only the Good Die Young,” asking them to ban my next record. — Billy Joel

    Negative publicity is sometimes the best kind, especially when your customers are young and your critics aren't. As a 10-year-old squirt growing up in Arlington, MA, every time Monsignor O’Gorman railed from the pulpit in St. Agnes Church against the latest rock record, I made a beeline to Farrington’s Record Store the next day to check it out. Of course the guilty faithful at St. Agnes ate up the Jansenistic* moralizing and contributed all the more heavily when the donation basket came around, so maybe the sly pastor knew what he was doing. For all I know Capitol Records might have been giving a donation too.


Do you want compliance or engagement?

Gorilla Here’s a conversation I once had with a small business owner, though it applies to traditional bosses everywhere.

It illustrates the suppressive effects of top-down management on self-motivation and engagement.

JO: How come you didn’t talk with your staff before you made your controversial announcement?

Small Business Owner: I call the shots here.

JO: Understood. But you didn’t want to hear their concerns?

SBO: This company isn’t a democracy. I KNOW what my people need. And it pisses me off when they waste time second-guessing me.

JO: Nobody’s questioning your right to do what you do…

SBO: But everybody is! They’re questioning how I make my decisions and how I communicate them. If they spent more time doing their job we’d get more done around here.

JO: You have the right to make decisions on your own—it IS your company—but it’s not a question of rights. It’s a question of RESULTS. Do you want to lead the company in a way that gets the results you want, or not?