Injecting a Performer’s Spirit Into Business Part II: Attitude
In my last post about injecting a performer’s spirit into business, I focused mostly on techniques such as bringing energy to every situation, loosening up conversation, and listening with skill. In this post, I want to focus on three entertainers who brought a specific attitude to their pursuits that helped define their core authenticity and the spirit of their art. The last “entertainer” may be a surprise to you, but he is just as relevant as any of the other artists we’ve discussed and dissected.
Embrace Your Sophistication and Authenticity (Joni Mitchell)
Because it’s business, and the temptation is always to make money, it’s easy to dumb yourself down because you believe your market will not understand something more sophisticated. Volume and quantity often rules over substance and quality. But the most interesting business case studies we read all show that sticking to your guns and staying true to your authentic talent ALWAYS pays off better in the end. Skimming through Fast Company’s most innovative companies of 2012, we see Apple, Google, Life Technologies, SolarCity, Tesla Motors, and many others that have broken through into their respective markets by sticking to their sophisticated guns.
Joni Mitchell was a unique talent from the start and saw mainstream success from the late 1960s until the mid-1970s. However, David Crosby once said, “…the industry has never known what to do with her. It's not an easy world for someone that sophisticated.” Her albums after Court and Spark became more uncompromising, jazz-oriented, and un-pop. She sold less albums. But her stature rose. And rose. Today, she is considered by some to be (along with Bob Dylan) probably the most important 20th century singer-songwriter in terms of impact and influence on modern popular music.
Like the dime-a-dozen popular music that Joni Mitchell set herself against, many businesses try to be like everyone else. They chase markets that have already emerged. They copy trends. They try to get a piece of an existing market. They may get some business but no more success than a B or C rock band getting some gigs and a record deal by riding on current trends.
An authentic business is passionate about what they do. It sticks to its guns. It develops products and services because of their value, their sophistication, and their quality. It does not dumb down or water down its business. Instead, it seeks to educate its audience, raise the bar in the industry, and truly deliver value to customers. An authentic business shares new innovations and insights with customers, even if the customers have not yet shown signs of understanding or comprehending these innovations.
Challenge: If you are riding high on some success, could you do what Joni Mitchell did and follow a more authentic path? Or do you simply imitate what others are doing?
Be the Best – But Don’t Take Yourselves Too Seriously (The Beatles)
The Beatles are arguably the best AND most popular band in all of rock history. The amazing thing about watching any Beatles footage is that, while they were being the best, they were also not taking things seriously. They laughed, they joked, they had fun. They worked hard, but they also had an awareness of how fun life could be. And that fun fed back into their music, and made it better.
We all work hard. That’s good. But we also work too hard. We spend so many hours working, thinking that what we do is life and death. It’s not. Yes, we got hit by a bad recession. Yes, if you have a job you might be luckier than many Americans. Yes, we have a Protestant work ethic that courses through our veins. But we work too hard - too many hours, too much imbalance.
The Beatles are a reminder that you will be the best by both working hard and also playing hard. Have a fun work culture to keep morale up during the day. Have lunch to talk business and life. Enjoy your evenings. Enjoy your weekends. Travel. Pursue hobbies. Create art that has nothing to do with business. In interactive marketing (and any business), all of that fun will feed back into your hard work. It will help spur ideas. Your subconscious will be working when your conscious is not. You’ll feel well-rested while working. You’ll feel happier. And your work will be better.
Challenge: Watch the above trailer for A Hard Day’s Night. Does your life feel like that?
Talk About Your Products Like It’s a Performance (Steve Jobs)
What? Steve Jobs? An entertainer? Hell, yeah.
Plenty has been said about Jobs’s business skills and success in growing Apple (both in the 1980s and in the 2000s). He not only had a masterful sense of marketing, but also performance. When he debuted products, his presentations did not mirror normal business presentations in any way whatsoever. In fact, do you find it ironic that few people introduce new products and talk about them the way Steve Jobs did? Think about the last conference or vendor presentation you attended. Were you excited?
I do not find it a coincidence that Steve Jobs was also a huge Beatles and Bob Dylan fan. When you put those two artists together, you get the best of storytelling and the ability to generate excitement all rolled into one. A typical "Stevenote" presentation would tie together market analysis and product features into an exciting story. Jobs would reveal things to you that you kind of already knew, but distilled and simplified in an interesting, fascinating way. He would pose a problem, an opportunity, to you. He would create suspense by letting the problem hang out there for a few moments, and then he’d solve it for you.
While Steve Jobs’s charisma would often be exaggerated both in praise and in criticism (e.g. reality distortion fields), he really just did what most entertainers do every day. Maybe the iMac, iBook, iPod, iPhone, and iPad weren’t the most innovative products ever in human history. But damn if he didn’t make you believe it – just like KISS or Garth Brooks made people believe through the power of their performance that you were hearing some of the best music ever. (You weren’t.) Jobs would also wow you by tapping into your psychological needs, similar to how musicians and entertainers really don’t create anything new per se but instead shape sound and words with a new twist to tap into your emotions and desires.
In other words, Jobs put on a show.
Challenge: How much storytelling and flair do you bring to your sales meetings, client meetings, and presentations? How much fun are you having while still getting across the substance of your message?
Authenticity breeds success in your particular path. It also breeds confidence, which serves as a feedback loop that leads to more success. And ultimately, if you consciously communicate your journey to others with a sense of storytelling and fun, you not only create a foundation for success in whatever you do, but you also have a hell of a fun time doing it.