Business-and-music-related observations and comment.

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High marks for Generation Z.

Last week I had a terrific opportunity to give a short talk for ninety-one aspiring leaders—ages thirteen to eighteen—at Bentley College, just outside Boston. The participants were attending a series of programs offered by Lead America, an impressive youth leadership organization whose goal is to develop 'leaders for life'.

It was also my first occasion to try Keynote—Apple's slide show application—for my 'Business Lessons From Rock' presentation. (Keynote is amazing. More on that in a future post.)

Some of my talk—usually aimed at a corporate audience—was a bit of a challenge for the younger kids to grasp, but by the end they all understood how they were 'branding' themselves at school everyday and were able to identify those brands—'hard worker', 'fashion queen', 'super jock', etcetera.

They also understood they could be stuck with a default brand (not of their choosing)—'unreliable', 'always late', 'slacker', etcetera—if they weren't mindful of their actions. I'm happy to report that even thirteen-year-olds get the implications of 'brand you'.

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Finally going green.

After hearing Green Day's latest album 21st Century Breakdown—an ambitious follow-up to their critically acclaimed punk opera American Idiot—I've at-last seen the light!

Years ago I wrote off their material as manic-simplistic, but American Idiot—which is now being made into a Broadway musical—woke me up, and 21st Century Breakdown won me over.

Green Day is one of the few '90s bands that has stood the test of time in two simple ways: they're still together (a true accomplishment these days for a '90s band) and their records keep getting stronger.

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In memory of Brian Jones.

In the pantheon of elite rock bands who can teach us valuable business lessons, The Rolling Stones of course deserve premium membership.

Their ability to stake out a distinct and defiant look and sound—which they've capably exploited for forty-five years—is a timeless lesson in branding, and no trivial triumph. (This one-time band of outcasts has grossed billions in the last decade.)

What's all but forgotten, however, is that the Stones in their prime were one of the most innovative rock bands around, thanks in large part to the multi-instrumental virtuosity of Brian Jones—until his untimely death forty years ago today.

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Who gains from conflict?

Great rock bands seem to be case studies in harnessing conflict—a team skill I prize above all others in business these days.

Why? Because if we can't manage the inevitable discord among individuals on our teams, the other qualities we need—creativity, enthusiasm, ambition, independent thinking, etc.—will be suppressed or squandered.

Now if there's one band that mastered the art of leveraging conflict, it's The Who—the fiery quartet that exploded out of the London Mod scene in the mid-'60s to become the most exuberant performers of twentieth century rock.

What you may not know is that the surviving members of the original band—guitarist/songwriter Peter Townsend and lead singer Roger Daltrey—did not get along with each other for much of their career. Yet the un-throttled passion of the Who's music—as captured below in a 1978 video—speaks volumes for their ability to capitalize on that interpersonal tension to produce extraordinary concerts and recordings. (For anyone interested in HOW they managed to pull that off, we can explore that in the comments.)

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Memorializing the Dead.

I've consumed rock & roll books by the truckload in recent years—and loved 'em all—but Living With the Dead, by Rock Scully with David Dalton, is the only one that had me guffawing from the start. (Scully was the road manager of the Grateful Dead in their first two decades and has especially colorful tales to tell of the early days.)

Having briefly lived and partied with these space explorers in their very early days I confess a certain bias towards the celebratory accounts of their exploits.

I can personally attest to their inspired and well-intentioned lunacy. Some band members were still novices on their instruments at the time, but the emerging genius was unmistakable. Reading-up on the Dead now reminds me that from a business perspective—my usual angle here—the Dead have been one the most influential rock & roll business teams in pop history. How, you say?

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