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Business Lessons From the Grateful Dead

If you grew up in the ‘70s you probably listened to at least a little rock music.  You may have even listened to hard rock.  The harsh, loud music with rude undertones really appealed to the irreverent youth of the day.    The screeching guitar, the angry pounding of the drum, the frantic keyboard runs that made our parents’ heads hurt and made their eyes cross resonated with the establishment challenging, free thinking, inquisitive nature of those of us who are now baby boomers.   .

Even though we looked up to rock musicians, we made some negative assumptions about them.  We thought that they were pot heads.  They were probably lazy and did not mind wearing dirty clothes.   We were sure that they were so cool and probably not very bright.  They partied 24 hours a day and let the future take care of itself.

I would have sworn that this perception was true until I my opinion got challenged by Atlantic Wire in an article called The Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead.

The Grateful Dead was able to create a social phenomenon before the time of social media.  .

There was an  instant bond among deadheads that seemed to transcend any distances.  Deadheads were instantly accepting of each other and instantly friends, able to accept a connection just because they all loved the Grateful Dead.

This type of instant connection regardless of distance is now the latest marketing and communications tool being used by all of the stalwarts of American business and industry.  It is called LinkedIN, Facebook, MeetUp, etc. etc. etc.

The Grateful Dead were ahead of their time.

The band pioneered ideas and practices that were ultimately embraced by corporate America. One was to focus intensely on its most loyal fans. It

established a telephone hotline to alert Deadheads of its touring schedule ahead of any public announcement.  They reserved the best seats in the house and capped ticket prices for their loyal fans.

Treating customers well just seems like common sense today.  But in the 60s and 70s this was not the standard practice in most US corporations.

The Grateful Dead were ahead of their time.  The Dead became one of the most profitable bands of all time because they did things that business consultants like me wrestle with our clients to do even today.  The incorporated in the ‘70s , early in their career.  The established a board of directors  and let the chairman’s position rotate around the band.    They copyrighted everything and defended that copyright in court when necessary.

However, Deadheads could tape concerts and share the tapes freely with their friends.  The Dead understood that first of all, there was no way they could totally eliminate tapings.  But letting anyone at a concert tape it they eliminated the value to pirated recordings.  They also understood that giving things for free was an easy way to broaden their audience.  Those hearing the poor quality tapes created by their friends would probably want a better, higher quality recording for themselves and go buy the records.  Smart.

The Grateful Dead knew that embracing new technology would keep them ahead of the curve.  So, they learned about the internet early, cataloging their songs online and using it to increase the visibility and longevity of their music.

The Grateful Dead were ahead of their time.   But they are a part of our time.  So, let’s embrace the business wisdom of the Grateful Dead.

We must protect our intellectual property even before we understand how much it is really worth.  We should not waste time trying to control that which we cannot control.   We must stay technologically current to take advantage of new opportunities.  Finally, the best strategy is to be generous with our customers and make their lives easy.  Now we can thank the Grateful Dead for much more than just great rock music.

(This article first  appeared in www.boomnc.com)

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My Entrepreneurial Journey

Like most people in the baby boomer generation, I was raised to believe that I was entitled to, and could have, a better life than my parents.   This ‘better life’ has been called ‘The American Dream’.  This promise of success and prosperity is the national ethos of our country.  The path to that dream was a college degree followed by a ‘secure’ job with a large corporation or government entity.  There I would find happiness, fulfillment and a lifetime of job security, followed by a long and comfortable retirement.  We were raised to be employees, not entrepreneurs.

Like many of my peers, I found myself an unexpected entrepreneur when the corporation that I worked for ended our long, intimate relationship.   I say intimate because some of us were more loyal to our corporate jobs than to our spouses.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when many of the United States’ landmark, white collar corporations took the crack cocaine of layoffs, a lot of employees became unexpected entrepreneurs.  We called this process ‘a resource action’.  We could not even bring ourselves to say the word ‘layoff’, the concept was so foreign to anything we thought we would ever have to experience in our own lives.

After spending several months in a feverish job search, I finally landed an interview for my dream job.  The organization appeared to be a perfect fit.  The interview was going very well.  The executive and I developed instant rapport and found all kinds of things to talk about.   As he began speaking about the possibility of our working together, a huge knot started growing in the pit of my stomach and I felt a quivering in my heart.  No, it was not excitement.  It was dread.  I realized at that moment that I did not want a ‘job’.   However, as a single parent with the looming responsibility of college tuition in the near future, I had a moral obligation to accept a ‘job’, if offered.  The executive continued, telling me that he wanted me on his team as soon as I found something in his organization that was a fit for my skills and experience.  I felt a huge sense of relief.   That executive will never know the important role he played in my entrepreneurial journey.

Three weeks after that interview, I incorporated SmartMoves International, my now almost six-year-old consulting practice.   Though my heart had embarked on the entrepreneurial journey, in my habits, my priorities and my perspectives, I was still and employee.   I thought my ex-husband was just making a bad joke when he accused me of ‘bleeding blue and white pinstripe blood’.   But he was right.  The past five years have been like a very long period of withdrawal and recovery from the drug called corporate employeeism.    Getting it out of my system has been painful and difficult.  Yet the ultimate recovery has brought freedom, enlightenment and a new perspective on life.  I now understand the intellectual, emotional and practical business transitions necessary to shed one’s corporate skin and become an entrepreneur.

As an entrepreneur, I am always in problem solving mode.  Problem solving is the practical application of creativity and innovation to a challenge that you are facing right now.   Entrepreneurship is a serial string of opportunities disguised as challenges.  Therefore, I see opportunity everywhere and have learned to be open to new possibilities.   My appetite for risk and tolerance for uncertainty has increased tenfold.  I now live by the ten magic words of entrepreneurship, ‘If it is to be, it is up to me.’   I am proud of my journey and proud that my battle scars have given me knowledge and wisdom that I now use to help my clients on their entrepreneurial journeys.

Are you still wearing your corporate skin?  Do you want to learn how to shed it?  Contact me to schedule a coaching session.  Or sign up for my newsletter.  I offer a seminar on Shedding Your Corporate Skin several times a year or upon request for a group of 8 or more.