Business-and-music-related observations and comment.

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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?

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A towering loss of power

Microphone In my rock & roll days I had the opportunity to open the show for some exceptional artists, usually with my six-piece rock band. It often happened at Toad’s Place in New Haven, Connecticut, which was once my hometown. (Acts such as the Rolling Stones, U2, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen have performed at Toad’s over the last four decades.) One night there, many years ago, I had the dubious fortune to play second bill to Tower of Power, the hottest funk band in the country. I say “dubious” because I made the mistake of playing solo—which was not a smart move back to back with a 9-piece musical juggernaut.

But like I always say, “Good people make bad decisions—and bad decisions make good stories.” And, as ever, there are lessons to learn.

I knew I was in trouble the second I walked out on stage in front of 800 fans hollering for the headliner. It was just me and my acoustic guitar. (I usually played piano, but there was no room for the grand piano on stage.) I played a couple of tunes, but it quickly become obvious I wasn’t going to convince anyone that this young cracker was a funk virtuoso.

So right off the bat I had to scrap my game plan. My set list—and my whole approach—was not going to work for this occasion, which was spiraling out of control. I had to try something else.

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Are the voices in my head bothering you?

IMG_1594 It’s getting mighty loud inside here, which means it’s time to express myself on some issues in the news. I’ll give myself permission here to wander off-topic a bit (though some of you may snicker that I’m rarely ON topic). If you don’t approve of this therapeutic practice of mine, feel free to contact our customer service reps and demand a refund.

You may have heard that 24 out of 123 European banks recently failed a “stress test” by the European Banking Authority—to determine if they had enough capital to sustain an economic shock. These banks were given nine months to buttress their finances—or else! But how disheartening that must be for their employees. Corporations are people, you know, so these institutions must be feeling very sad. Would you want companies with low self-confidence handling your money? I don’t think so. We should be building their self-esteem, not tearing it down. Enough with this testing mania! (Thank God nobody tests rock bands.) If banks don’t have enough assets to cover their depositors in a financial crisis we should trust them to do their best. (In America we always believe Wall Street banks will do the right thing. We understand that too much regulation may hurt their feelings.) Remember, every bank is a winner. The European Banking Authority should learn from the US and give each one of their institutions a trophy so they feel special.

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Disco destruction

IMG_5051 (1) Last week I read an article in The Boston Globe by Renee Graham (an astute pop culture critic) alleging that rock & rollers—often straight, white, and male—made a habit of bashing disco music, in part, because of their disdain for an audience that included so many gays and minorities.

I had to admit that most rockers (including me) disliked disco, but not for the reasons Graham mentioned. And so I penned a response—which the Globe magnanimously printed:

    Nearly every rock musician I knew loved Motown and especially funk, from Sly and the Family Stone to Tower of Power. What we didn’t appreciate was that disco-playing DJs were replacing live music in clubs, the dance zeitgeist was shifting attention away from experiencing music in a concert setting, and disco lyrics were dumbing down the airwaves. Fortunately, acts such as Elvis Costello, the Police, Steely Dan, and even Fleetwood Mac kept things real through that period.

After a week’s reflection, I realized that the rise of disco was a perfect illustration of "business model innovation." Though I disliked disco music partly for its lack of imagination and creativity, I had overlooked that disco itself was an innovation—one that upended the conventional business model of certain nightclubs. Many urban establishments began to see a benefit in catering to dancers who would work up a sweat shaking their proverbial booty and buy more drinks. These clubs could also save money on live entertainment. (Of course there were live disco acts too, but many a club pinched pennies by employing DJs instead of bands.)

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Crowdsourcing a book title

DSCN0101Well, I finally have a literary agent who will shop my book to publishers—the book that this blog is based on (or is it the other way around?). Anyway, THIS agent talks to me on the phone (something I didn’t know agents can do), which is a hopeful sign. But now it’s time to decide on a snappy title for the book. A publisher makes the final call, but I should at least have a good working title.

I asked friends for ideas shortly after I started the book, but that was a lifetime ago. I did get some fun ideas back then, which I mixed and matched, producing some of the following...

    Talkin’ Bout My Corporation: Business Lessons From Rock.

    How to Get Your Team to Rock: Business Lessons From Rock’s Rich & Famous

    Your Kid May Know More About Successful Teams Than You Do: Business Lessons From Rock & Roll

    Business Lessons From Rock: The Six Must-Haves of Great Bands & Really Cool Businesses

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