I remember reading Daniel Pink’s Free Agent Nation a few years ago back and thinking, “This guy is on to something.” Its description of an economy driven by the short-term partnerships of solopreneurs and freelancers turned out to be prescient. Though it’s hard to define and a quickly-moving target, the number of professionals working for themselves is trending up in a significant way. (here are some statistics for you).
For many professionals, this new arrangement for business is overwhelming and a little scary. There’s a lot of coming together and breaking apart and reforming into something new. It’s conceivable to work with someone intensely for a few months on a project, and then not see them for a year…when you dive into another project together. Traditional ideas of job security and professional stability are leaping right out of the window. If you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur who is having a tough time getting the hang of this new economic model, do you you know who you should talk to?
Rock n’ roll musicians. And jazz musicians. And blues players. And wedding band singers.
This fluid, project-driven business structure looks just like playing music in a band. In every city there is a community of musicians that are continually reforming into different bands – different combinations of musicians and instruments and genres. Sometimes they play together for years, sometimes months, and some bands don’t make it past the first gig (or the first rehearsal). It’s even common to have the same group of musicians playing in wedding band on Saturday afternoon and then a heavy metal band that night.
If you want to benefit from their experience, we can look at some useful ideas ideas that easily transfer from bands to business. Even if you don’t have years of gigging under your belt, or if you are a graphic designer and not a rhythm guitar player, you’ll find that successful band dynamics are the same as successful project dynamics. There are some basics that make a band tick, and looking at these can help you find success in the ever-shifting business world. (And if you are in a larger organization, you’ll find that they can help you navigate the various committees and teams that now make up your daily work life.)
- Shared Vision – We always hear about bands breaking up for “artistic differences”, which is a really polite way of saying “The guitar player wanted to play country, the bass player wanted to play funk, and the drummer just wanted to play fast.” Inherent in this, however, is the fact that not everyone was on the same page. Before starting on any project, make sure everyone in the group is aiming for same target. This will prevent each member of the group going in wildly different directions which will create internal and then external strife
- Personality Cohesiveness – In simple terms – everyone should get along. Some of those artistic differences you hear about are actually personality differences, i.e., everyone is driving each other crazy. One of the most valuable skills you can develop as a gigging musician is the ability to work with different personalities in different environments (many of them stressful – like 6-hour rides in an overcrowded van). It’s the same for professionals. Ask yourself if you like you colleagues. You don’t have to be best friends, but when a deadline is looming or a client is being a pain, will you be able to work together?
- Similar Commitment Level – The best bands work when everyone comes to the table with the same amount of time and resources. That doesn’t mean that they are always practicing 4 times a week and gigging every weekend. I know musicians that perform together once every two months as a side project, and they sound great and everyone who plays in them is happy. It works because everyone is putting in the same level of effort. Make sure one of your main projects isn’t your partner’s “when I get around to it” project.
When you are bringing together the team for your next project, use these ideas as a litmus test. If you’re missing one of the components, be aware that you are going to have a serious bump in the path that will show up sooner or later. The best (and often only) time to address these issues is at the beginning of your time together, so if everyone isn’t on the same page…get them there. And do it right away, because you don’t want to have a business melt-down worthy of VH1’s “Behind the Music.”