Shaving with Hanlon's razor

Something I noticed early in my rock & roll years was how much conflict arose in bands from simple misunderstandings. Especially when musicians ascribed the worst possible motives to each other’s behavior.

Perhaps it was the dangerously high levels of testosterone in the air at the time. Or the fragile egos of 20-something-year-old “artists.” But if someone did something that bothered you, you would take it personally, and retaliate.

This was obvious with many classic rock groups I had a chance to observe up close—for example, Eric Clapton’s Cream in a 1968 concert. Whenever Jack Bruce, the bassist, turned up the volume on his Marshall amplifier, Ginger Baker, the drummer, took it personally and pounded his kit with greater ferocity, pushing Clapton on guitar to angrily crank up his volume. An inevitable arms race in decibel production ensued, to the detriment of the tympanic membranes of audience members.

I heard about it with other top bands too, even The Beatles. Their associates told me of the interpersonal disharmony, especially in their last year together, fed by the growing distrust between Lennon and McCartney and between McCartney and Harrison. Lennon even came to believe that McCartney wouldn't put in the effort to get Lennon’s tunes to sound at their best because of competitive jealousy. Lennon claimed that some of his greatest songs, like "Across the Universe," were given short shrift in the end. After the band broke up, they sniped at each other in the press and in songs, before later reconciliations.

Of course this phenomenon is not peculiar to the music world. When I started consulting to business—in finance, health insurance, mining, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, etc.—I encountered it everywhere within organizational teams and began to point out its dangers.