The massive mixing console in Abbey Road's Studio 3

I came ‘out of the closet’ with my post the other day about my somewhat hidden Dr. Jekyll existence alongside my more public Mr. Hyde life as a management consultant, research and author.  While my Mr. Hyde is known for helping companies through IT and shared service transformations and for my blogerly musings on the changing face of IT organizations, my Dr. Jekyll is a wanna be rock star!

A Tale of Two Paths

The latter is actually the path I thought I was on since I bought my first guitar around age 10.  It is also the path I deliberately veered away from at age 18 when I left my London home for Manchester, to get an Electrical Engineering degree and pursue a career in computers.  It was the right career path for me – I have no regrets.  But I am glad that late in my career, I can shed my suit and tie every now and again, mingle with real rock stars, and work with them in the same studios they record in and on the same stages they play.  I’ve also been able to apply my consulting and business skills to help David Fishof, the founder and producer of Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camps expand the business and open it up to more mere mortals like me.

I just returned from one of my yearly rock ‘n’ roll ‘sabbaticals’ – this one back in the UK, where I spent a week recording in Abbey Road studios, with members of Pink Floyd, Yes, Cream, Badfinger, and many other rock notables.  The week was capped off by a performance at the Cavern in Liverpool – an old underground warehouse made famous by the Beatles – but in reality, now moved about 12 feet and turned by 90 degrees from its original location – a fascinating story in its own right.

In my previous post on this, I shared 3 lessons – things I’d learned from my rock ‘n’ roll experiences that I believe apply more broadly to the corporate setting – about team building, leadership and organizational change.  Today I’ll expand on this theme with some more take-aways from my Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp experiences.

Three More Lessons from Rock Music

  1. Songwriting is a great tool for collaboration.  Several of the Rock camps I’ve attended have featured an opportunity to write and record your own song.  Typically, one or more of the campers or the counselor have already written songs, and come brimming with ideas.  So although I’ve participated in song writing in the past, it’s been in a relatively minor way.  At this last camp, our counselor, Joey Molland, from the band Badfinger insisted on a collaborative effort.  At first it was like pulling teeth!  “Who’s got some ideas they’d like to share?” asked Joey.  Silence was the deafening response!  After much probing and uncomfortable silences, I mentioned the Gulf oil disaster as something that had been on my mind for a while.  “Great!  What does that bring to mind?” asked Joey in his inimitable Liverpool accent – sounding and even looking like Sir Paul McCartney.  “Well, there’s oil in the water, smoke in the air…” I replied.   And so it went.  From these humble beginnings, all the band members chimed in, with Joey suggesting structure and form, all of us writing pieces and working with Carol, our singer, to get melodies that matched her style and suited the lyrics.  Two days later, after a 6 hour session in Abbey Road’s Studio 2 (home to the Pink Floyd recording sessions) we had a recorded original that we are all proud of!  (I plan on making a video with scenes from the Gulf oil disaster set to this original song, “Promises, Promises” and putting it up on YouTube.  Who knows, maybe a viral hit in the making???)  The key, though, was as a band, we needed to become a high performing team.  And the songwriting experience helped us bond as a team.  I believe that writing a song together, or any similar creative exercise can be a great (and fun!) way to build high performing teams.
  2. I’ve had the opportunity to work with about two dozen highly ranked professional musicians since I became involved with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp as both a Management Consultant and a camper.  They have all been fabulous musicians, but they don’t all make fabulous counselors.  A camp counselor has to be a leader in every sense of the term – inspiring, directing, coaching, managing, and so on.  So, what are the characteristics that separate the great musician/leaders from the great musicians?  First, the best leaders are multi-instrumentalists – they know enough about each band member’s role to be able to advise and coach them.  I’m always amazed that these people, even if they are known as world class guitarists, drummers or whatever, they can play many instruments.  As I think about IT leaders, I know it has become acceptable for CIOs to be brought in from the business with no technical background.  This is ok, and sometimes works out fine, but, by and large, I believe that a CIO who has not come up through the IT ranks is at a disadvantage.  (Of course, many CIOs that have some up through the IT ranks are still lousy CIOs!)  In addition to having the domain knowledge of the people they are leading, the best leaders are ones that can check their egos at the door, be great listeners, and have empathy for their colleagues – whether they are band members, recording engineers or roadies.  I’ve met some stellar musicians that fail at one or more of these skills – they are still stellar musicians – but just not effective leaders.  And so it goes for IT and business leaders.
  3. Over the years, I’ve gravitated to hobbies that require almost total immersion.  Let me explain.  I find management consulting grueling!  It is intense, challenging, and you face a constant barrage of questions to which you are supposed to know the answers.  On top of that, at least in my consulting career, I’ve had to travel extensively – typically climbing on 4 planes per week!  So, when I need a break I find that lazing on a beach doesn’t quite do it – I have to be immersed in something that takes me completely away from my day job.  For me, scuba diving, motorcycling, and playing music share the qualities that they are immersive – they require total concentration.  And that, ironically, is the kind of experience I need to relax and refresh.  I’m skeptical of all the IT executives I’ve worked with who never really separate from their work.  Even while they’re on vacation I’m seeing emails from them, and getting calls from them.  Lesson learned – find something that will take you completely and totally out of your day job – even if only for a few hours.

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