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Business Jams

Grateful Dead: Backstage Pass

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was driving around this weekend listening, as I often do, to The Grateful Dead. Like them or not, you probably are aware that they were the world’s preeminent jam band, even if jamming as a concept that is as old as music itself. What’s interesting about jamming is that the music is never the same. Oh sure – ideas get recycled from one night to the next, but the entirety of the piece of always pretty different no matter if we’re listening to The Dead or to some great jazz.

What’s interesting is that some bands will cement the better ideas into songs. That is how some bands write. They just start playing until some good ideas surface. Those ideas are memorialized, lyrics added, and voila – a song. It’s not a bad business concept either.

When musicians get together to jam, they come from a place of openness and collaboration. They are there to experiment. While some jams start with the framework of an existing song or just a blues jam in G, most of the time you’re off following musical ideas thrown out there by the other musicians. You’re guessing about what will work at some points. To do that well, you need to keep an open mind.

Brainstorming is business jamming. You need an open mind and a willingness to go where the music (thinking) leads. Sometimes you happen upon a great riff – a fantastic business thought – that can be preserved and turned into a song – a product, or maybe an entire business.  You might think that some brilliant new innovation was the result of careful planning.  The execution probably was, but I’m willing to bet that the underlying idea came out of some mental jamming by a person or a group of people.

When I used to play music seriously, jams were fun.  They involved getting the right people together – people who have both the technical and mental abilities required as well as whose musical styles meshed well with the others in the room.  I can’t think of a better way to lay the foundation of a successful enterprise, can you?

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Standing On The Moon

It is TunesDay and this week we’re going to have a dose of Good Ol Grateful Dead.  At the end of the 1980’s, the Dead released “Built To Last” and the song “Standing On The Moon” from the album became a standard part of their concert repertoire from then forward.  Have a listen but I’ll tell you up front that while the quality of the music is superb it’s not a great video.  I chose this performance because it’s 1989, it’s an earthquake benefit the Dead played in Oakland, and yes, that’s Clarence Clemons sitting in on sax:

Pretty, right?  And the “Such a lovely view of Heaven/ I’d rather be with you” part while we look at Jerry and Clarence gets more poignant every day.  So what does this have to do with business?

There is a tendency for all of us to have a “grass is always greener” mentality both in life and in business.  This song captures that as well as how one’s perspective can have an awful to do with one’s happiness.  Jerry sings about a number of things in the world that are pretty bad (war, children starving, etc.) and about standing on the moon, happy to be away from all of it.  In fact, with a broader perspective, they appear kind of small as he “watches it all roll by.”  The singer then realizes that while it’s serene on the moon with a lovely view of Heaven, the person he loves is still on earth.  Despite all the ugliness of the world, he wants to be back there.

It’s always a good idea to keep the broader perspective in business.   Be aware of the details but like the protagonist in the song, see them as part of a much bigger whole.  Things that may seem important up close are, in fact, relatively trivial.  It’s also an example of how things can take on added meaning when we use that additional perspective.  Jerry would be gone (along with Brent, the Dead’s keyboard player) in a handful of years after this was released.  I can’t listen to this without getting chills – he has a lovely view of Heaven but would rather be with us.  In fact, Garcia had almost died shortly before this song was written – I’ve always thought Robert Hunter was writing these lyrics with that in mind.

As businesspeople, a little time on the moon is a good thing.  Take a step back and don’t get caught up in any one moment or weekly report.  Stand on that proverbial moon.  You’ll “hear a cry of victory/And another of defeat” and realize that it’s the journey as much as it is the destination.  Coming along?

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The Moment In Between

Our TunesDay thought today is courtesy of The Grateful Dead (no shock there). Before I get to it, I’m wondering if you’ve ever taken a ride on a roller coaster? If you have, there’s always the moment when the cars are done climbing and before you plunge down that first drop.  It always seems very quiet to me – a pause to collect yourself.  Those moments in between exist in music as well, and today I want to talk about one of my favorites.

English: The Kraken roller coaster ride at Sea...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sugar Magnolia was a staple of the Dead’s repertoire for nearly their entire existence.   In fact, it was played more often in concert than any other song they performed save for one.  The song had a coda called “Sunshine Daydream” that the band often used as jumping off point for a jam or for vocal histrionics.  There was always a moment in between the song itself and the coda.  While the topics of our TunesDay screens are the songs themselves, today I want to call your attention to that moment.

What was intriguing about the moment is that you never knew how long it would last.  Sometimes it was a second, sometimes it would last until the end of the next set when the band, having played a dozen other songs, would pick back up with Sunshine Daydream.  The longest it ever lasted was a week – in between two concerts held to memorialize Bill Graham.  For me it’s a time to enjoy the brief silence, to collect myself (the pause always followed a raucous jam) for what’s to come next.

I think we need more moments like that in our business lives.  We careen from one project to the next barely pausing to savor what we’ve done.  Taking a moment DURING the project – that brief pause before we hit the coda – can make a huge difference.  A breath before the daily roller coaster plunges forward, if you will.  Silence in negotiating can change a dynamic and turn a deal around.  Silence is a stillness that we all need at some point.  The silence in music allows all the other dynamics to hit the listener more forcefully.  The coda from The Dead always did the same.  Maybe that moment in between is worth a try?

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