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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?
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?
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.
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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?
Every once in a while I like to make business points based on something I pull out of music. As you might be able to tell from a few of my previous posts, often those lessons come from the music of The Grateful Dead. Today is no exception.
The song “High Times” was written by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia and was in and out of their concert rotation beginning in 1969. It has nothing to do with drugs despite the title but as you’ll see it has quite a lot to do with sales. This is the first verse:
You told me goodbye
How was I to know
You didn’t mean goodbye
You meant please don’t let me go
While the song is about loss and is a plea for a significant other to come back, there’s also a message for anyone who is selling something. That message is about listening for the meaning behind the words. In this case “goodbye” meant “hold me tighter, convince me to stay.” How often do we hear “no” and not understand, as marketers or salespeople that “no” means “not yet”? It’s not an invitation to walk away. “Too expensive” doesn’t mean cut your price. I take it to mean “show me more value.”
The ability to listen and to read the meaning behind the actual words is a critical skill we probably don’t teach or practice often enough. Someone who asks a slew of questions is demonstrating a keen interest to buy. We need to probe to find out what is keeping them from satisfying that need. We need to hear meaning and not just what was said.
“How was I to know” is a pretty easy question to answer but getting the meaning isn’t in many cases. Does that make sense?
Happy Birthday Jerry Garcia, wherever you are!
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If you’ve spent any time here on the screed you’re probably aware that I’m a Deadhead. I’ve written about them a lot and I often find business thoughts inspired by their music and their business practices. Besides liking their music, I have a real appreciation of their acumen as business people. Marketing Secrets Of The Grateful Dead is a must-read for anyone who is trying to understand the marketing paradigm these days and Jerry, despite his reluctance to say so, was the leader of the band. In fact, in their own words:
I’m gonna sing you a hundred verses in ragtime
I know this song it ain’t never gonna end
I’m gonna march you up and down the local county line
Take you to the leader of the band
Jerry had his struggles with drugs and food, so much so that they killed him at age 53. While the band continues on in various forms, it’s not the same without him and the remaining band members would be the first to tell you that.
Since this is a business blog, let me interject a business thought. I’m sure when the Dead started making music in 1965 they didn’t think that we’d be listening to recordings of their live shows almost half a century later. Nevertheless, recordings of shows from the late 60’s all the way through 1995 when Jerry passed are a staple on their own Sirius XM channel and the band continues to release CD’s of them. The fact that they took the time to assure high quality recordings would be placed in an archive long before they were a huge act shows that they appreciated what they were creating. How many other bands have/need an archivist or have their own collection at a university? You might know they also allowed fans to tape their shows, going so far as to set up a special “tapers” area to encourage it. In tech terms, they created huge redundancy of their product in case their own system of soundboard recording ever failed.
The business point is this. While many businesses find themselves pivoting – altering their business plan to suit changing tastes or market conditions – you can’t assume that what you’re doing today will be gone tomorrow. The Dead changed their sound and styles over the years – Shakedown Street‘s disco beat is very different from Dark Star’s spacey vibe – but their core appreciation for their product and their fans never changed. The Dead on a bad night are really awful and those recordings are out there, often issued by the band. They’re far outweighed by the good nights and the great nights trump them all. That transparency and looking at their work through their fans’ eyes is long-term thinking regardless of today’s product.
Jerry was far from a saint. He died in drug rehab with a couple of failed marriages and shaky finances. He’s also the most recorded guitarist in history, with 2,200 Dead shows, 1,000 side project shows, and other studio work totaling some 15,000 hours of playing preserved for our enjoyment. So Happy Birthday, Jerry, and thanks for the gifts.
I went to see the Dark Star Orchestra not long ago, For those of you unfamiliar with DSO, they deliver what can best be described as the Grateful Dead experience, often better than The Dead themselves did.
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They play Dead shows – we saw one from May, 1972 – as the band did. They look like them, they sound like them (and in fact are way more consistently good on a night after night basis) and if you shut your eyes, you can be at a Dead show from whatever decade they’ve chosen to present.
“Interesting,” you say, “but what’s the business point? Good question. Continue reading
The hardest thing about being an independent consultant for me is business development. Not on behalf of others, but for my practice. It’s not that I can’t do it or that I don’t know how. After all, I spent a good portion of my early career doing just that for ABC and CBS with excellent results. It’s more that I’d prefer to spend my time working on my clients’ business and not on my own, I’d guess. Maybe I need to be more selfish.
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A good friend who has been on his own for 30+ years told me early on that this would be the hardest part and that there would be anxious months with not enough work. He was right, as usual, but the remedy is something far simpler than anti-anxiety drugs or meditation and is applicable even to those of you that live in the corporate world and is something I want to share since it goes beyond business as well.