I wasn’t going to post anything today, but with Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize in literature (yay!), I couldn’t let the day pass without putting up this post again. Whether you love Dylan’s music or hate it (although many people love the music and hate his voice), you can’t deny Dylan’s importance in music history. Here is why and what he just might mean to your business.
Yesterday marked an anniversary that I could not let pass without comment. On March 19, 1962, 50 years ago yesterday, Bob Dylan released his first album, or LP (to signify a long-playing record rather than a single) as they were called at the time.
Bob Dylan performing in Rotterdam, June 23 1978 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This piece from Rolling Stone does a nice job of summing up the album and how it got made. I’m a long-time fan of the man and his music and while I can’t say I love everything he’s ever done, it’s all really interesting and in many cases, his music went beyond popular culture to become transformative (start with “Blowin’ In The Wind“) for an entire generation and country. I’ve heard so many people dismiss his music and yet when I give them the Dylan Test, they can’t deny his impact. What, you ask, is the Dylan Test? Something I think we should apply to way more stuff than Bob’s music – any business could benefit. Let me explain.
The Dylan test is simple: I know my grandchildren will hear the music of Bob Dylan. They may not like it, they might not ever buy it, but they’ll hear it and they’ll know who the guy was that recorded it. Not because I’m going to ram it down their throats: I’d make the same statement about my great-grandchildren. It’s because Dylan’s music is that important, just like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Springsteen and The Beatles. And that’s the test. Can you make that same statement about whatever music you believe to be “great?” That ought to be our business objective. To pass the Dylan Test.
I wrote in this piece a while back that we ought to be creating things that are built to last. While the tools are temporary – Dylan’s first disc was pressed in vinyl – the content and the core of the business endures, or we should hope it will. So ask yourself the Dylan Test question as you’re contemplating investing your time, effort, and money on a project. While very few things pass, it’s not a bad standard to keep in mind.
This TunesDay, I’m not really going to focus on any one song but on a number of them that make a great business point. If I were to ask you about “The River” (Bruce), “Cats In The Cradle” (Harry Chapin), “The Edmund Fitzgerald” (Gordon Lightfoot) or “Tangled Up In Blue” (Dylan), assuming you were familiar with them, you’d answer with two points. First, don’t I know any music from this century (I do!) and second, each of those songs tells a great story. The list could go on and on and I’m sure you can add 5 or 6 of your favorite musical stories to the list.
The best of this genre actually give the listener a double benefit. First, great music. It may be an unexpected chord twist or an unusual arrangement but they’re out of the ordinary and immediately recognizable. Second, the story. Imagine if the obsessed fan in Eminem‘s “Stan” was the fan in the movie “Misery”. The latter took an hour and a half to say what Slim does in 6 minutes yet the story is just as compelling.
That’s what we need to do as business people. We need to tell stories that compel people to listen and do so in such a way that they leave us singing them again in their heads. Listen to Dylan:
I’ve taken the most stripped-down version of this I could find and yet the love song sung by a troubled man is clear. That’s how our messages need to stand out. Connecting with people on an emotional level is far more effective than a bunch of statistics. Take a good look at some Powerpoint you’re currently using. Does it tell a memorable, coherent story or does it lay out a bunch of statistics? Does it sing about solving problems or is it just more blah-blah-blah?
Figure out the story you want to tell then write a memorable tune to carry it forth. Got it?
I said a couple of weeks ago I was going to try to incorporate more music into the screed. Today I thought I’d bring in one of my favorite artists who is also (apparently) a management guru to answer a question: Is managing a business and other people an art or a science?
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I suspect it’s some of both. There are data points and studies over time which point towards the scientific method: we tested a theory and this is what we found. There are scientific journals devoted to management which report on best practices and help managers to operate in a sound manner. Science at its best.
I happen to lean the other way, and it’s because of a quote from that great businessperson Bob Dylan:
“The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do? What else can you do for anyone but to inspire them?”
I believe that’s how one manages as well. Businesses can be inspirational and I’ve worked for people who have been as well. This notion is a lot more obvious when we’re talking about motivating and guiding a staff. Sure, sometimes we have to use “scientific” methods to make that inspiration real, but I’ve found over the years that the best moments happen when we just stand at the head of the line and pull the folks behind you along via inspiration. It’s art.
Many businesses are becoming involved in the Corporate Social Responsibility movement – giving back to the communities and people who support them and taking responsibility for the company’s effects on the environment and impact on social welfare. That can be inspirational as well (assuming it’s not faked) and done well it’s art too.
Where do you come out on this? Art or science? While there is no “right” answer, do you think trying to inspire is part of a corporate credo?