Me with Joey Molland from the band Badfinger at the Cavern, Liverpool

I’m pretty sure nobody noticed the fact that I was ‘off the air’ for about a month.  And I’m certain that nobody cared!  But I did feel guilty, and missed the satisfaction I get from blogging and from engagement with those that leave thoughtful comments or challenge my thinking.

By way of explanation, I took advantage of being between consulting engagements to take some personal time to indulge my alter ego.  While my ‘Dr. Jekyll’ is a relatively staid and introverted management consultant/educator, I have a ‘Mr. Hyde’ who loves nothing more than to strap on a guitar, plug into a gigantic amplifier and loudspeakers (known as a ‘full stack’ in the music business) and make musical mayhem!

I discovered an outlet for my alter ego in 2005 when I was looking for some sort of sabbatical and saw a piece about Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp on a Fine Living Channel broadcast on a Delta flight.  I signed up for the camp and literally found my life changed!  Over 2 or 3 posts in coming weeks, I’ll share some of my lessons learned that I think can be applied to the world of IT management.

Five Days that Changed My World!

That 5-day rock camp in Hollywood, Ca in 2005 had me playing with rock stars including Roger Daltrey (The Who), Jon Anderson (Yes), Dickey Betts (The Allman Brothers), Elliot Easton (The Cars) and many more.  I was teamed up with 5 other campers (who have since become good friends) and we were assigned a ‘counselor’.  This was Kelly Keagy, drummer, singer and songwriter from the band Night Ranger.  Kelly was the creative and singing force behind the rock classic anthem, “Sister Christian” and many other hits.

Our band went to hell and back during the course of a long week, rehearsing from morning till night, jamming with other campers and counselors, and learning about songwriting and the music business in ‘Master Classes’ led by the counselors.  We also learned some fabulous lessons in performance from Kelly.  For example, if a band looks like it’s having fun, so will the audience.  If a band looks nervous and uncomfortable, so will the audience be!

The week culminated in a live performance and ‘Battle of the Bands’ at Sunset Strip’s House of Blues.  The experience was truly incredible – made all the more special as our band won the Battle of the Bands, thanks to Kelly’s remarkable coaching skills.  Also, the whole camp had been filmed by The Learning Channel for a 2-hour documentary shown later that year – to the surprise of many consulting clients who happened to see the TV show, its promos, or its re-runs.  The camp was featured on Good Morning America the morning following the House of Blues performance, much to the amusement of several observant business colleagues who saw the GMA segment but had simply been told I was ‘on vacation.’ (I was rather secretive of my alter ego back then!)

Dr. Jekyll, Meet Mr. Hyde

It’s always amazing to me how apparently unconnected things can suddenly intersect and create new opportunities!  Throughout the several weeks it took to ‘come down’ from the high of the 2005 Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp, I’d been reflecting on how much I’d learned at the camp and what a fantastic incubator for team building it had proven to be.  I also realized  how much more refreshed I felt and more effective I was in my ‘day job.’ As a bonus, I found myself with several ideas about how to build on the camp concept and increase the opportunities for people to experience this amazing event.  I approached David Fishof, the camp’s founder, producer and chief executive and he agreed to meet with me in New York.

David’s immediate reaction at the meeting was that some of my ideas were probably unworkable, but that others had merit.  To cut a long story short, I began working with David and helping create a business plan to expand the camp – geographically (initially it was held twice per year – once in Los Angeles and once in New York) and in terms of concept (e.g., duration, focus).  I found myself meeting with Hollywood producers in Bel Air mansions, and all sorts of interesting characters from the entertainment industry.

The resulting camp expansion has been successful – primarily due to David’s genius as a music producer and promoter – with a TV reality series in the works, regional camps, corporate camps (think about bringing one to your corporate training/motivational event!) and a UK based camp that features one week of recording at the hallowed Abbey Road Studios in London (where the Beatles and Pink Floyd recorded their masterpieces) capped by performances at a Soho, London club and finally at The Cavern in Liverpool.

It was the recent UK camp that was the focus of my latest sabbatical.  And what a time it was!  (More on that, perhaps, in a subsequent post!)

Lessons in Learning, Team Building and Organizational Change

So, what have I learned from my Rock Camp experiences?  (I have now participated in multiple Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camps, playing in Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles, and even in an experimental one-day camp where we opened for Journey and Def Leppard at a stadium show in Columbus, OH, and my latest saga recording at Abbey Road).

  1. Change and opportunity are all about taking risks – being prepared to make a fool of yourself, and damn the consequences!  For many of us, most of the time, fear of failure is a huge inhibitor to success.  Sometimes, it manifests itself strangely as fear of success!  In that first camp in 2005, I found myself in a band with 3 guitarists but no bass player.  I reluctantly volunteered to take bass duties on one song, having never played a bass guitar.  (For the uninitiated, the bass typically has fewer strings, but a much longer neck, meaning the fret positions your hands have learned over years of playing no longer work!  Less obvious, but a huge unexpected insight to me was that the bass should really be approached as a percussion instrument, with more in common with the drums than the melodies of the song.)  Much to my horror, we were to open our stage show at The House of Blues with an old Animals song, “We Gotta Get Outta This Place!” which starts with a bass riff – so screwing that up would be, to say the least, horribly noticeable!  As a result of taking this risk, I’ve come to love bass guitar, have played with bands, outside of the camps, in Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Austin, and am engaged in a couple of musical projects.  I’ve learned that bass players generally have an easier time getting gigs, and I’ve learned to listen to music differently than I did before trying my hand at bass.  Best of all, I learned to be less intimidated by risk taking.
  2. The old ‘forming, storming, norming and performing’ homily of team building is not only true – each step is essential.  If you think you’ve managed to bypass the storming stage, you are wrong.  You simply are not yet a bonded team, and if you think you are ready for performing, you will find yourself storming during a performance – not a pretty sight!  I had one camp experience where we all seemed to gel.  The band members had common musical tastes, similar skill levels, and seemed to genuinely hit it off.  I foolishly thought we’d finessed the storming stage.  Wrong!  During our first stage performance, our singer got a panic attack, and stormed off the stage and out of the club!  We weren’t quite as bonded and comfortable with each other as I’d believed.   Lesson learned – you have to go through the four stages.  If you have not had disputes and differences of opinion in your team (or band or whatever), you just have not yet uncovered them, or are too polite to confront them.  Hidden just below the surface, these dysfunctionalities lie waiting to trip you up – at the worst possible moment!
  3. Learning is exhausting – and exhilarating!  The most learning (at least, for me) takes place when I can immerse myself in the learning experience.  Regrettably, in today’s hectic, multitasking world, it’s hard to carve out the time for learning.  I know there will be periods of forward progress when anything seems possible, and horribly dark periods, when it all seems like a lost cause and a waste of everybody’s time.  But with real commitment and focus, great things are possible, even from mere mortals with very limited musical talent such as me!  A couple of years ago I was in a camp band with Teddy “Zigzag” Andreadis, who had toured with Guns ‘n Roses (among other major bands.)  Furthermore, Slash the exceptional guitarist from Guns ‘n Roses was going to be joining us in the studio.  We decided to learn Paradise City, a choice agreed to before I realized how fast some of the bass lines were – seemingly beyond my humble abilities.  Within a few hours, I had the part nailed – even Slash complimented me on the bass part.  Some months later, our band from that camp decided to play a reunion gig in New York at Arlene’s Grocery.  “No problem!” I thought.  Then, to my horror, I found I could not play the part!  I went back to some of the video from that camp to prove to myself that it had not been a dream – that I really had learned and played the part!  Knowing that gave me the confidence to try again – and have a very successful and rewarding performance in New York.  Lesson learned?  Learning takes tremendous energy and focus – and the courage to get through all sorts of setbacks.  Don’t agree to learn a new skill unless you are prepared to immerse yourself.  And to commit the time to do it properly!