Business-and-music-related observations and comment.

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Singing secular songs

choir-305352__340In the gospel tradition when a talented singer who grew up singing church music begins to perform "secular" songs—especially for money—it’s often condemned as a sell-out, if not selling one’s soul to the devil.

That last phrase was certainly used to describe the actions of blues legend Robert Johnson, who not only chose to pursue music as a profession but was rumored (as described here) to sell his very soul to the devil in exchange for the devil tuning his guitar!

But it’s also been used to describe the choices of dozens of rock, soul, and pop artists from Little Richard to Aretha Franklin to Marvin Gaye to Al Green to Amy Grant to Katy Perry. In the case of Little Richard (as written here) the dude was so tormented by his decision to go secular, he gave up singing rock & roll at the peak of his success and returned to the church as a minister. He would resume singing secular songs a few years later—and continue to be conflicted about it.

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Fail early and often

target-887802_1920As mentioned last month, I came across a new book—An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey—which builds a strong case for using “errors and vulnerabilities as prime opportunities for personal and company growth.” Amen.

This isn't revolutionary stuff for those of us in the "fail fast" school who believe that screwing up—quickly and even badly—is a necessary condition of successful innovation. But Kegan and Lahey take it a step further and build an organizational philosophy around celebrating flaws and weaknesses.

The authors give examples of successful businesses, fanatically committed to personal development, that encourage managers and employees to stop hiding their limitations and to use them as opportunities to develop both themselves and their companies. In these environments, “People’s limitations are seen as their growing edge,” the authors assert. But these limitations have to be mined. “Weaknesses are pure gold if we will only dig into them.”

It reminded me of some successful rock groups who were acutely aware of their constraints but overcame them early and used the lessons from those failures to become massively successful.

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Playing ketchup

bread-390247_1920Time to do some catching up on topics I’ve been writing about…

The news still isn’t great for women in business. According to research by McKinsey & Co., if present trends continue, women won’t close the pay gap with men for more than a century. (That’s more than a hundred years by my detailed calculation.) And this requires investing over $300 billion in access to childcare and paid leave over the next ten years.

Meanwhile, it's been reported that only 6% of general partners in venture capital firms are women—down from 10% a decade and a half ago. (By my accounting those numbers appear to be headed in the wrong direction.) And this is occurring while women are making the lion’s share of consumer purchases—85% by some estimates! But if 94% of investment decisions are made by men, this is right out of Alice In Wonderland.

Women haven’t gained much ground in the music business as we've previously discussed, despite a few success stories like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Katy Perry which distract us from the continuing low percentage of female performers getting radio play in almost every genre. The talent is out there, so this is insanely stupid.

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The open office is a dbf

people-690810_1280After reading another article this week describing the backlash against the "open office environment" I've decided to reprise an earlier post I wrote on the subject. Despite the fact that most offices are now designed for it, it's been widely discredited as a DBF (Dumb Business Fad).

The open office environment is everywhere these days.

No private space, no closed doors, everyone working side by side in a collaborative utopia. Coworkers can see/hear what each other is doing and spontaneously contribute insights. New ideas, models, and projects are hatched on the spot. It’s amazing how this approach has caught fire. (70% of offices use it now!)

It’s amazing because it’s a dopey idea.

Wait! I know what you’re thinking: you can’t overlook the benefits of people constantly peering over your shoulder, loudly interrupting your work, and offering unsolicited judgments. Besides, what are stairwells good for, if not for holding private discussions?

As it turns out, evidence abounds that productivity suffers when people can’t find private space. A New Yorker article convincingly makes the case here that open office layouts destroy job performance. The predictable results are: reduced creativity, concentration, sense of control, motivation, and job satisfaction; damage to interpersonal relationships; and increased stress and sick time from noise, commotion, and interruption. (Other than that, it’s a swell idea.) Articles in Fast Company here and The Huffington Post here confirm this.

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The certainty of uncertainty

abstract-979604_1920 I was ready to move on after our discussion of VUCA last week—namely, the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity of life in today’s globalized marketplace.

But two days after I posted “My name is VUCA,” disruption and disorder made their presence felt on an international scale in the tragic Orlando nightclub shooting—which warrants a further comment.

Just to bring you up to speed (in case you make the mistake of not memorizing these scintillating BLFR posts): VUCA is used in business to make sense of the unpredictability of events. The digital revolution that has overturned the music industry is an example I’ve used to illustrate the world of VUCA. Nearly every aspect of musical performance, recording, sales, and marketing has been destabilized in recent years by these forces of turbulent change.

But after Orlando, it’s clear that VUCA is everywhere—and we better get used to it.

As mentioned previously, we would be advised to stop pretending we really understand what’s going on around us—economically, socially, politically. We don’t. And when we provide—or accept—magic-bullet answers to maddeningly complex problems we’re demonstrating our lack of understanding of the world we now inhabit.

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