Leadership Lessons from the Music Industry

The music industry continues to change. Falling album sales eroded by on-line streaming, questions on how artists get paid and make a living, and technology making it easy for anyone to become a producer. It’s another industry that got hit by the internet twenty years ago (remember Napster?) and continues to get sucker-punched over and over again as the technology evolves(1).

With a young step-son who’s been a professional musician since age 15, and is now recording his sixth album, it’s a topic of interest to me personally – how is he going to make a living doing what he loves,  in an industry famous for manipulators and scumbags, and keep being that good person I know him to be? He’s a talented guy and decent human being, and I look forward to helping him figure it out where he wants my help.

I got to sit in on The Gathering(2) afternoon’s music panels on Friday, and came away impressed with the thoughtfulness and depth of discussions. There seems to be an intersection between artists, brands, marketing, and the people who act as in-betweens.

There are successful artists who have become their own brands (not only making music but also clothing and other products, and doing their own marketing); brands that bring marketing in-house (for example Dr. Dre headphones, who started as a musician(3)); and marketers who love music doing amazing things in the world even though they don’t make music (like Andy Cohn from the FADER).

Turns out music is more than just music. Social justice, innovation and creativity, self-identify, story and narrative, commerce, influence and motivation all get mixed up in a wonderful goulash(4), or maybe a Chili Verde(5). You decide.

Music is unique in the human experience, but it costs money to make it. Surprisingly people want to be able to make music and eat at the same time. Go figure. So music is also commerce, and not surprisingly music also overlaps business and leadership. This became clear to me while listening to the panelists and hearing themes that leadership and business people have been talking about for decades now: values, vision, and people.

Image result for nobody speak
“Nobody Speak” by DJ Shadow, currently on heavy rotation at my house

 

Here are some of the things I heard:

Your Values

Be really clear about what you’re offering, what you expect in return. You can trade your talent and identity for fame and money if you want to, and that’s okay, but don’t expect it to last, don’t expect it to have an impact, and don’t expect anyone to have your best interests at heart.

You can do better than that. There were some powerful stories told on the stage, but they’re not mine to tell. Let’s just say that music not only influences and changes lives, it also literally saves lives(6).

…or as Joe Belliotti put it, “You don’t have to be an asshole to be successful.”

Your Vision

Overused, oversold, and yet so important. What’s the thing that you would be doing even if you had to pay to do it?

Of all the panelists who shared their “vision statement” (and they all had one, it’s de rigueur don’t you know), authenticity was believable, even if it wasn’t messianic: “Feed my family.”, “Take care of the people important to me.”, “Protect my fans, because they got us here.”

People

“Touch your people every day, because you’ll be sad when they walk out the door.”  – Jason White

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory, but I will add this from my own experience: if you think you’re doing this well enough, you’re not. Very few people actually do, many fewer than think they do.

It’s more than likely that you’re just fooling yourself. No shame in that, it’s easy to do. It even has a name: confirmation bias. Take a long hard look at how well you treat your people, and what you tolerate in terms of how others treat them, and do better.

 

(1) See also publishing, newspapers, manufacturing (robotics), transport (self-driving cars), entertainment (pirated movies), etc. Next up professional services such as lawyers and doctors (artificial intelligence). Time to buy an acreage and some goats and move to the country?

(2) In its fifth year, it brings together brands and marketers. Three years ago they added music, integral to telling any story, which is what good marketing does. Plus I love any excuse to head to Banff despite the tourists – they’ve done a really good job of extending tourism past the summer holiday & winter skiing crowd, and I admire that.

(3) If you haven’t watched “Straight Outta Compton” you should, even if rap isn’t your thing. Good movie.

(4) My mother’s signature dish. That and rouladen. Mmmmm.

(5) What’s in the slow cooker right now, and it’s making me drool. Pardon me if I’m distracted by food.

(6) For one example, check out Paul Brandt’s #notinmycity campaign, imagined and executed by marketing students from Mount Royal University. As an added bonus the campaign has ruffled establishment feathers, which delights me because that’s what’s necessary to drive change.

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Clarifying Your So-Called Passion

[this is  a summer re-post series re-post]

Three years ago I was going through the end of a 29-year marriage, and it was one of the most horrible experiences of my life (including the month my daughter spent a month in intensive care after she’d been born.)

In order to try to figure out what I needed to do next, one of the things I did was write a letter to my twelve-year-old self. I realize not everybody likes writing to help figure things out like I do – I also have journal-ed on and off over the years – but it’s a cool exercise to go through if you’re inclined.

It help me clarify what was important to me, what my healthy boundaries might look like, and it help me centre on that passion thing everybody is always talking about. I’m sharing it here on the chance that it might help somebody else write their own letter and make their own decisions. Not that it has to be as dramatic as my situation, but maybe it’ll help…

Letter to My 12-Year-Old Self

You’re a pretty cool kid. You’re smart, you’re funny, you’re creative. You have empathy and heart and love in buckets.

Find the people who like you for who you are, who push you, think deeply, and know how to love, laugh, and trust despite having been hurt. They’re awkward, geeky, often quiet, sometimes weird and occasionally fucked up. They are wicked cool, and so are you. You and they will create the future.

Don’t put up with other’s who disrespect you. You don’t have to like people that don’t like you.

You are not responsible for (or control) anybody else’s happiness. You can care for somebody, you can love them, you can want them to be happy. But you can’t make somebody happy, or fix them, or take away their hurt. You can be there for them. It’s like sharing a meal with somebody. You can keep them company, but you can’t chew and swallow their food for them.

Learn to say difficult things with as much thought and compassion as you can. People who deserve to know deserve to know the truth. They deserve to make informed choices for themselves. Just like you.

Nobody else is responsible for (or controls) your happiness. How you feel and what you decide to do about it is your choice. Nobody else’s. You get to choose how you feel. It doesn’t just happen.

Trying to escape your feelings doesn’t work. They will always be there. The longer you ignore them the more rancid they become. Turn and face them, work through them, and move on.

Learn to listen with your whole body, soul, and mind. Ask questions. Seek to understand. Listening is not the same as agreeing. Don’t confuse the two.

You like being right, but that isn’t always the most important thing. Learn the difference and why it matters.

Shitty things will sometimes happen for no good reason. Learn what you can from them and then move on.

Work with your hands when you can – it’s part of who you are. Learn as much as you can – it’s part of who you are. Create and contribute – it’s part of who you are. This is your joy.

The Cost of Toxic Workers

Get them out
Get them out

It has much more of an impact than you think. While you’re trying to keep all the plates in your business spinning, they are literally knocking things over behind your back. Want to stop working quite so hard? Start having the crucial / uncomfortable / icky conversations you’ve been avoiding. That’s leadership.

The impact of toxic workers (Harvard Gazette)

Who Are You? Brand Values as Drivers of Business Success

Patti (my partner and sweetie) and I are speaking at PARK Fashion’s Emerging Artist and Designer Forum at Olds College Calgary campus this weekend. If you’re there, come say hello!

Have you always wanted to learn about the art and fashion industry but didn’t know who to talk to? The Emerging Artist & Designer Forum is bringing together those wanting to grow in the industry, and the professionals who have made it happen.

You won’t want to miss the presentation, “Who Are You? Brand Values as Drivers of Business Success ” by Patti Derbyshire & Bernie May of Torch Motorcycles.

In less than 18 months, Torch Motorcycles built out an aggressive operation and monster brand, entering the fashion and apparel world globally. Learn how values-driven practices lead to growth and profile. Draw a tangible line between who you are as a person, the company and people you work with, and who you attract to work with you (and more importantly who you don’t!) What story do you tell, who gets excited and eager to work with you, and what makes your creativity and passion want to burst out of your chest?

Vogue Italia, Fashion Magazine, Harpers Bazaar/Beijing, Summit and front page feature in MAKE Magazine (July 2015).

Patti Derbyshire – Patti is a catalyst, community organizer, and business leader in Calgary’s creative economy. As Chair of Marketing, Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation, and marketing professor at Mount Royal University’s Bissett School of Business, she draws upon her eclectic professional career in broadcasting, design, cultural marketing, start-up ventures, and music industry management. Patti’s first bike was provided by her older brother, who didn’t want to drive her around all the time. She didn’t mind. She always gets a big grin on her face whenever she rides.

Bernie May – Bernie has been riding for 15 years, after he figured out that promises made to your mother when you’re twelve don’t count when you’re an adult. He has been a signals officer, programmer, and project manager. He built robotic landmine detectors, frequency-hopping encrypted radios, and command and control software delivered into active war zones. Today he shows business owners how to be better leaders. He loves building things (starting with plastic models as a kid), beautiful design, good food and music, and seeing the world in ways that let him breathe fresh air.

Ten Things I Know To Be True – The Inspiration

I’ve been working on a side project (while starting a company, moving, and re-booting my life). It’ll be a week or two before I start publishing the results, but in the meantime, here’s the TED Talk that started it:

Thank-you Sarah Kay

Start With the “Why?”

You must inspire people to drive business executionDan Pink argues that three surprising things motivate people: mastery, autonomy, and purpose. In business execution, I argue, you need to start with the purpose.

That’s what I wrote for this month’s article at RESULTS.com – You must inspire people to drive business execution. Check it out and let me know what you think?

Question for the Comments:
What is your purpose for working or running a business, beside just making money? How do you inspire people?

Other articles you may find interesting:
Why Are You Hiding Your Values
Deep Survival: Business Lessons From the Wild
What Do You Want to Be the Leader Of?

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with RESULTS.com

Why Are You Hiding Your Values?

I was in Rogers on Tuesday (they’re a local  cell phone service provider), on the 29th anniversary of my engagement to my bride, trying to get her a phone upgrade.  I thought it would be a simple process, and a nice gesture on our “asking” day.

Silly me. Three hours later we walked out with a new phone, bitter and disappointed at the service we received from Rogers. The only reason I didn’t switch was because the clerk couldn’t get through to her own customer service to cancel my contract, and I didn’t want to spent my entire anniversary waiting for this to get sorted out. But that’s not really what I want to talk about today.

While waiting I noticed the Roger’s one-page strategic plan lying on the counter. It seems I’ve inherited my grandmother’s faculty for reading upside-down. At least somewhat.

That skill had something to do with why she spent a few years living in Argentina after the war. There’s also something about her burning her then-dead German husband’s papers on the roof of the apartment in Switzerland under cover of doing laundry before fleeing. That’s also another story.

I asked the clerk if I could take a look at her company’s values, and she said no. She hid it furtively. As if she’d been caught doing something wrong.

This puzzles me. If a company is going to go through all the time and effort of discovering a set of expected behaviours for the company, then why can’t its customers see it? Are they embarrassed? Are they afraid that customers will laugh? In Roger’s case, given my treatment by them that night, that might realistic.

I began wondering how many other companies have values that they’re not willing to share with their customers, suppliers, and partners. Are they afraid to be held accountable to them? If you set out values and expected behaviour for everybody in your company, and you know that that’s not who your company really is, then I might understand your reticence.

I challenge you to publish your values. I dare you to make a public commitment. Commitment that is necessary for accountability and results. If you’re not willing to make that commitment, maybe you need to go back to your executive retreat and have another think.

If it turns out you don’t have any values, besides just making money, which I doubt, then don’t make something up. You’re not fooling anybody. Share who you are as a company, and be willing to be held to it. Otherwise the public will make up its own stories about why you behave the way you behave, or treat them the way you do.

Then make sure there’s a way for your clients, staff, suppliers to tell you when you are – and aren’t – living up to them. Listen. They’re already talking about you anyway. If you’re not hearing them it’s because you’re not listening.

If you’re not willing to fire employees behaviour that  consistently violate your core values, or you’re not willing to fix internal systems that consistently violate your customers humanity (such as making a phone upgrade a byzantine, three-hour gauntlet of bizarre rules and contractual obligations that require approval from an unreachable customer service representative in some overwhelmed call centre), then don’t waste your time.

There is a direct line between integrity and execution. If you don’t understand the this linkage between vision and engagement, values and execution, purpose and urgency, then stop wasting your time. Don’t waste it on “values” and “strategy” if you’re not going to follow through, or are doing it only because all the other “good” corporations are doing it.

That’s how I got started smoking – because the “cool” kids were doing it. It took me more than 29 years to quit and permanently damaged my health. But that’s another story.

My Own Personal Values

For the record, here are my own personal values:

  1. I will keep my word
  2. I will not lie, steal, cheat, hate, nor tolerate those who do.
  3. I will leave this world better than I found it.
  4. I will deal with reality, and face my fears. The only easy day was yesterday.
  5. Family first and last

Bears in Camp: Using Culture to Overcome Fear


I was at a Scout Jamboree in Southern Alberta two summer ago, in the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Beautiful country with lots of wildlife.

Including bears.

Being Scouts we were prepared. Everybody received instruction on food storage, garbage disposal, and cooking protocols. Young men and women were on stand-by with ATVs and walkie-talkies to respond to any bears that might wander into camp. Rally points and head-counts were established. Think of a fire drill except with bears.

About the fifth day just before supper we go those bears. Right in the heart of 1500 campers. On the siren’s signal we rallied at the sub-camps (large groups of people being a deterrent to bears), and after they proved difficult to dislodge we more at various larger collection points in the facility. Away from our supper and closer to the few hard-sided buildings in camp. Everything was going according to plan.

Scaring Off The Bears

Except for one thing. These kids were tired after a long day of running around in the woods and playing on the water. They were hungry. They could hear the ATVs driving up and down the trails chasing the bears and not having much success. Some of them were starting to get scared. It was time for some leadership!

I leapt on the nearest rock and started singing the silliest, most juvenile “action” song I could think of called “I Found a Bug”. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but let’s just say that bugs get eaten. At first people thought I was crazy. This happens a bit so I’ve learned to ignore it. It didn’t take long for the 200 kids at our rally point to start singing along. When I was done two of the Scouts wanted to lead a song themselves. My plan was working. The kids were taking over.

One after the other Scouts got up on the rock and led a song, story, or skit to keep themselves entertained while the bears were chased through the woods. I think my singing have even helped scare them off! Half an hour later the all clear was sounded, and we returned to our campsites prepared our supper, lighter of step and smiles on our faces.

Values are Culture, Culture is Brand

I believe that the stories we tell ourselves, the songs we sing, and the ritual we indulge in is what makes us human. Other animals can use tools, some animals may even use language. We don’t know. But as far as we can tell we’re the only ones that pass knowledge on from generation to generation verbally.
This is a powerful force in our lives, one that we sometimes hesitate to indulge in. We’re suspicious of being manipulated, and rightly so. We don’t have to reach too far back into history to find examples of these forces being used for evil or personal gain.

Yet this is the essence of leadership, good or bad: to nurture and leverage the group consciousness to execute a goal or task that one person cannot accomplish alone. Many business leaders force success by dint of personality, intellect, or sheer stick-to-it-ivness. Yet in the end how effective are they really? How long do their accomplishments last after they’re gone?

If all you want or need is to make money, then there are many ways to do that. If you want to have a real effect on the world you’re going to have to work through others. The others that believe the same things you do, value the same things you do, and will continue having an effect long after your presence has faded.

What is Your Company’s Culture?

Values are culture, culture is brand. What stories does your company tell about itself? What is the real brand that emerges in times of stress?

What Counts in Leadership

Surprise: passion, credibility, and values still count

Aligning Your Value to the Company’s Strategy

I come from a technical background, so this conversation kind of leapt out at my face and latched on:

Business leader: “I can’t believe the nightmare of trying to get funding for my project. Everyone hates working with IT.”

Me: “Did you tie your project to a strategically important objective or initiative?”

Business leader: “I’m paid to do my job, not manage IT.”

Me: “How would your boss respond if you told him that you’d rather focus on getting your job done and not on managing your people or your financials?”

Business leader: [thoughtful silence]

So, do you think we leaders should put some thought into how our value aligns with the company’s value, goals, and purpose?