Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Born to manage in the USA

I saw The Boss last night - my first Springsteen concert. I have not historically been a big fan, but my sister Trish has been one since high school, and over the years I've grown to enjoy his work. I even have a couple of his albums on my iPod (although I do find that I drive faster when I'm listening to Bruce). And I certainly have respect for his talent, work ethic, and, admittedly, his politics.

I especially admire those performers who manage to stay relevant and creative, rather than recycling their hits from yore on the oldies concert circuit. (Paul Simon's another one who comes to mind.)

So I was interested in a recent US News and World Report article, which appeared on MSN, that used Bruce Springsteen as a model for managing "a venerable but aging brand." Here's the advice they came up with:

Never let your customers rest. When Springsteen performs, most of his songs end like this: "1-2-3-4!" That's because he's starting the next song before the current one has even ended...By keeping the crowd on its toes, the band keeps demand at a fever pitch -- kind of the way Apple does, with its rapid flow of new gizmos pushing older products out of the way. But with way better buzz.

Innovate. Don't worry, there were no sitars or operatic flourishes at the concert, but Springsteen is brilliant at expanding his brand image without ever shifting his center of gravity...Springsteen's knack for turning old material into something completely new seems like a magic touch compared with all the lame efforts to create hip, modern variations of old TV shows or movies. Instead of copying success, he creates it all over again.

Give the people what they want. Experiments get a more welcome reception when mingled with something familiar.

Share credit. ...this is one maestro who spreads the glory across the stage... It's a pretty neat marketing trick to create a cult of personality around somebody known for humility. Quick -- can anyone name a CEO able to pull that off?

Set expectations. Then reset them. And reset them. And . . . The Garden concert ended after about two hours -- prompting groans in the crowd, even though it was an electrifying show...Springsteen has driven customer satisfaction so high that he can deliver a great product and still disappoint his customers.

Love what you do. Just a hunch, but I have a feeling that Springsteen thoroughly enjoys his job... and if you're pumped about what you do, those around you are more likely to twist and shout right along with you. Not to mention keep on spending.

Okay, this was advice for what the CEO of the corporation with the aging brand can do. But most of it holds for those of us who are plain old individual Baby Boomers still hanging on in the workplace, through economic need, the desire to keep working, or both.

I find it interesting that we keep hearing both that the Baby Boomers skills are needed in the workplace, and that it's hard for people over 50 to get work.  (Not to mention that those under 50 want nothing better than to see those hunched, aged backs scooting out the door.)

But I do suspect that those who are having the greatest difficulty finding and hanging on to employment are those who aren't innovating, who are pretty much set in the ways "we used to do it", rather than expanding their personal and professional portfolios in a ways that demonstrate that they know what's happening in the world today - and maybe even take part, at least around the fringes.

Because they're not open to innovation, to incorporating the new into their repertoire of oldies, the Boomers who aren't having any luck with work they want and need may just not be coming across as people who love what they do. They might love what they did in 1972, 1981, or 1995, but maybe they're not getting with the 21st century program.

I am by no means a perpetual innovator. Frankly, sometimes I find the idea of learning one more new thing mind- and spirit-numbingly overwhelming. To hell with Web 2.0, social media, downloading ringtones... And OMG, if I have to translate one more text abbreviation....

Yet I am continually picking up new tricks, acquiring new tools, and using them to help my clients navigate the choppy waters that all of our boats seem to be floating in these days.

New tricks, in turn, help me enjoy my work far more than if I were sticking 100% to the way I've always done things. I might not go so far as to use the "L" word, but when I come up with something that genuinely helps a client, I certainly capital-L LIKE what I'm doing.

As for The Boss last night?

He was brilliant. What have I been waiting for all these years?


Thanks to Trish for finding the article on Springsteen and management, and for the ticket to see the show.

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