Musical Democracy: “Say(ing) No a Lot”

Posted by jlubans on January 30, 2019

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Caption: R.E.M. (Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills), looking askance at lead rocker Homer Simpson

A rocker’s guide to management” is a lengthy and engaging exploration of how rock bands - known more for debauchery than strategic planning - run their businesses or not. The author found four models:
Friends (“We can work it out”)
Autocracies (“I won’t back down”)
Democracies (“Everybody hurts”)
Frenemies (“It’s only rock ’n’ roll”)
How effective are these models? On a yardstick of years together or longevity (and financial success), it appears that the democratic model has a good record, perhaps better than the other three.
But, the author seems to favor the Rolling Stones’ model (it’s only business) since they are still making money and still together, however spuriously and speciously. How many more times is Keith going to fall out of a tree before hanging it up?
A highly autocratic example, Bruce Springsteen and his E Street band have done well and have stayed together. Bruce, a top-downer, says the longevity is because he is the boss, capiche?
Steve Jobs, it is said, rescued Apple, singlehandedly and autocratically.
Yet, many top down organizations collapse or fare poorly because the boss micromanages and may be a bit of a jerk. Some top-downers resent strong followers and prefer Yes-men or Sheep. The more of the latter types, the less innovation or anticipation of trends, the less energy to improve.
How many micro-managers have I known? Many and in my traditional field of work a few were exalted – if you do not count unrealized hopes and dreams - as having leadership qualities which in truth they never had.
There are forces at play with any group of people working together or with any way they choose or not to organize.
Take the Open Systems model with it inputs and outputs and equilibrium and entropy – the flying apart of the organization as it winds down to its inevitable dissolution.
Think Apple will be here forever? Think Facebook or Twitter will? Likely not.
Group theory purports that human groups go through phases of development: form, storm, norm and perform and finally, to adjourn.
Yes, all groups go through the development steps but there are variations at each step and we do not know outcomes: good, better, best or indifferent?
I’ve long held that the more a group evades “storming” – confronting openly the fears and reservations of each member - the less likely you will be able to trust each other and become high performing.
If you look at group development as a sigmoid curve, you would see that while all groups have a growth curve, many curves are mighty shallow while a few, magically, live large.
Some garage bands stay in the garage, only called out for the local July 4th fest.
We’re told that “… R.E.M. operated as an Athenian democracy.” Albeit a tiny one with four founders/principals and then, after 1997, only 3.
In any case, “They all had equal say. There was no pecking order.” This was not majority rule: “Everyone had a veto, which meant everyone had to buy into every decision, business or art. They hashed things out until they reached a consensus. And they said ‘No’ a lot.”
Money talks: R.E.M.’s flat governance structure was an egalitarian economic one. “There were very simple rules: you share all your publishing ($) and you don't fight about petty things and it's democratic. Everybody gets a veto vote, not just the singer."
In other words, R.E.M. put into effect the wishful notion “of the people, by the people and for the people.”
Eccentric or overly idealistic? Not for this band. In 2011, R.E.M made the group decision that it was time to stop touring and making records; yet it lives on, and the members remain friends.
Give the democratic workplace a try.

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My book, Fables for Leaders is only a click away:


Also, My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

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