“Always be ready” Business lessons from a rock star

Always be readyI’ve long maintained that the business world can learn a lot from the arts community.  Here’s another example.

Great Big Sea is a band from St. John’s, Newfoundland, that blends traditional Newfoundland folk music with pop/rock.  This year, they’re celebrating their 20th year in the music business.  In that time, they’ve grown from playing the pub circuit in Atlantic Canada to selling out large venues all over the Great White North and building a loyal following in the States and Europe.

But they didn’t get there from musical talent and energetic live performances alone.  From the beginning, Great Big Sea took a business-focused approach to their career, with the specific goal of enduring as a band for their entire musical career.

Lessons from 20 years in the music business

Last week Alan Doyle, one of the three principal artists in the band spoke to a group of business leaders in St. John’s to share the lessons he has learned over the past 20 years in an industry that has undergone tremendous upheaval.

His speech was captured on video, and featured on the CBC News website, which can be accessed here.

You only work with people

In the band’s early days, when Doyle made the comment that it will be nice when the band gets successful enough to have people work for them, the father of band-mate Séan McCann quickly cut him off to correct his thinking, “Nobody works for you, and you don’t work for anybody.  You only work with people.”

While this is a lesson for senior management on how to treat their workers, it is also true at every level of an organization.

Doyle elaborates, “If you’re just starting in a job… there’s no better mindset to have that when the boss shows up, don’t be afraid of him.  Make him think that his problems are your problems are his problems. Like you’re not just a cog in the wheel to make this thing run better.  Everything that’s on his mind is on your mind.  You’re there to help him.  He’s there to help you.  You have a job to do that day and you get it done.”

What has resulted in Great Big Sea is that the entire touring party is aligned to the goal of putting on the show.  Doyle explains, “Everyone on this bus is on this bus, and show time is show time, and what are we doing here today?  We’re getting the show done tonight, that’s what we’re doing.  And then we’re going on to do the next one.”

He adds, “My job description in Great Big Sea changes about 14 times a day.  Sometimes I’m the guy carrying a speaker…”

Always be ready

Doyle relates the story of a friend who runs a cable company.  He told Doyle, “You can never control if you’re the smartest guy in the room.  You can only control if you’re the most prepared.”

When you are prepared and have the fundamentals down cold, you have the ability and confidence to improvise, negotiate, or come up with new ideas.

Doyle elaborates, “Especially in the arts, and maybe it’s true for all kinds of business… the coolest, most creative stuff happens when you go off the page [improvise]… The only way you really go off the page all the time is when you’re really confident with what’s on the page… But you can never get to that until you learn what’s on the page, and are the readiest person.”

He shares a story from his time on set for the Russell Crowe / Ridley Scott movie Robin Hood.  The character Doyle played was a musician.  While there were only a few songs scripted for the film, he had written and prepared a song for every scene – just in case.

Near the end of shooting, someone suggested the actors in the background of a scene should be singing.  Director Ridley Scott asked what they would sing, and Doyle chimed-in, “I have a song.”

“I bet you do,” replied Scott, and the song made the final cut.

Do whatever the day asks of you

Everybody sweats the big stuff.  Doyle says the key the band’s enduring success is that each member of band and crew is willing to do the little things.  He says, “In retrospect, that’s what makes a successful team. Who does the small stuff?”

The band’s goal has always been to make a lifetime career in the music business.  “We knew from the beginning, that if that was going to be at all possible, we’d have to do whatever the day asked of us…. Sometimes that’s a lot of work.  Sometimes that’s boring.”

He tells of a CEO of a national restaurant chain who takes his turn washing dishes if needed. “Every single successful person I know is willing to do whatever the day asks, no matter how big, no matter how small… And to demonstrate to people who are newer in your organization that you’re willing to that, there’s no better inspiration to people at all [than to say,] ‘Guys, we’re doin’ whatever the day asks us to do…  And then we’ll do it again tomorrow. What else is there?’”

Right… What else is there?



Categories: Entertainment, Inspiration, Leadership, Workplace Reality

Author:Doug Evans

Doug Evans is an accomplished marketing leader with wide-ranging experience in diverse business environments including non-profit, small private business, major national bank, and Silicon Valley software company. He has a knack for bringing together teams from across geography and organizational lines. He keeps active by playing and coaching soccer, and is also Marketing/PR Director for an acoustic music concert series in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

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3 Comments on ““Always be ready” Business lessons from a rock star”

  1. May 13, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    Love this! So many insightful truths spoken here. Thanks for posting 🙂


  1. The business world is but a stage | Successful Workplace - May 11, 2013

    […] will eventually make people aware of practices that could be improved upon. Your company needs a business rock star and not just a ‘roadie’ going along with the […]

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