Category Archives: Grateful Dead

Strategic Focus: I’m Just Trying to Get My Space Together

As a long-time Grateful Dead fan, I have to say that I was advantaged in understanding how the Blown to Bits problem would affect digital media businesses.  You see, for years, the Dead had changed the business model of the music industry, choosing to use “albums” as a loss leader and choosing to make money on live concerts, playing some 2,300 concerts together, not to mention those done individually be band members. (Think:  Jerry Garcia at the Keystone Berkeley.)

steal your face

The Dead even had a “tapers” section at most concerts and sometimes could be heard literally stopping the show to allow someone to move back their microphones.  The Dead have a valid claim to “we did Freemium 30 years before Freemium was cool.”

While I won’t go as far to say that Everything I Learned about Business, I Learned from the Grateful Dead (a good book, by the way, that takes a top ten set of lessons from “the long, strange trip”), I do believe the Dead were both musical and business model innovators.

Improvisation as strategy was profiled in Competing On The Edge:  Strategy as Structured Chaos, published by Harvard Business School press.  Excerpt:

The Grateful Dead met this challenge through improvisation […] as distinguished by two key properties:  first, performers intensely communicate with each other in real time […] second, they rely on a few very specific rules, such as who plays first, what are the permitted chords, and who follows whom.

While I’m riffing on the Dead, I should probably also mention Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, a great booking on topics like community, branding, customer centricity, teamwork, category creation, technological innovation, disruptive business models, disintermediation, and giving back.  The Dead, indeed, were innovators in all these areas and the book is well worth reading.

My favorite Dead-related quote, however, comes not from that book but  from The Grateful Dead Movie, in a famous scene where a completely zonked head is ambling around outside the concert and tells a security guard the inimitable:

“I’m just trying to get my space together, so that I can go into the show.”

..

I always think of this guy whenever I talk to a startup about strategy.  Why?  Because startups are very much about trying to get your space together.

  • What space do you want to be in?
  • Against whom do you want to compete?
  • Where do you draw the boundaries on your space?
  • What adjacent spaces, if any, do you want to incorporate into your space?
  • In what adjacent spaces do you want to partner?
  • How do you see the boundaries on your space evolving over time?

My meta-answer to these questions is “the world is a very large place.”  How does that relate?  In two ways.  It means first that you better define your space in such a way that you are truly world-class within it — and not using world-class as a nice sounding compound adjective, but really grokking its meaning:  what can truly be best in the world at doing?  Second, it means that because the world is a big place that you can turn what might appear to be a small niche into a  very big business if you are truly the best at it in the world.  So don’t be afraid to focus.

Most startups forget focus too early and delude themselves into thinking they can be world-class in across a number of areas.  Take enterprise performance management (EPM) — the space in which Host Analytics competes –for example.  EPM is a $4B market for financial analytic applications that is adjacent to the broader $13B business intelligence (BI) market.  Some of our competitors consider themselves addressing the (incorrectly calculated) “$33B BI market” and are either building or acquiring products in the broader BI space?  It sounds good from a total available market (TAM) perspective.  Wow!  You’ve tripled your TAM.

But think for a minute — what are the odds that  your cheaply-acquired or hastily built BI tools are world-class?  None.  So all you’ve really done is dilute your focus on EPM by complementing it with some third-tier BI.  A far better solution (and the one we follow at Host Analytics) is to partner with someone else who is spending all their energy focused on being world-class in the adjacent space.  In our case, that partner is Birst who is focused on being world-class at cloud BI.

So if you’re thinking of starting a company, ask yourself:  what can we really be world-class at doing?

Answering that question is the only way to get your space together, before you go into the show.

Strategic Focus: I'm Just Trying to Get My Space Together

As a long-time Grateful Dead fan, I have to say that I was advantaged in understanding how the Blown to Bits problem would affect digital media businesses.  You see, for years, the Dead had changed the business model of the music industry, choosing to use “albums” as a loss leader and choosing to make money on live concerts, playing some 2,300 concerts together, not to mention those done individually be band members. (Think:  Jerry Garcia at the Keystone Berkeley.)
steal your face
The Dead even had a “tapers” section at most concerts and sometimes could be heard literally stopping the show to allow someone to move back their microphones.  The Dead have a valid claim to “we did Freemium 30 years before Freemium was cool.”
While I won’t go as far to say that Everything I Learned about Business, I Learned from the Grateful Dead (a good book, by the way, that takes a top ten set of lessons from “the long, strange trip”), I do believe the Dead were both musical and business model innovators.
Improvisation as strategy was profiled in Competing On The Edge:  Strategy as Structured Chaos, published by Harvard Business School press.  Excerpt:

The Grateful Dead met this challenge through improvisation […] as distinguished by two key properties:  first, performers intensely communicate with each other in real time […] second, they rely on a few very specific rules, such as who plays first, what are the permitted chords, and who follows whom.

While I’m riffing on the Dead, I should probably also mention Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, a great booking on topics like community, branding, customer centricity, teamwork, category creation, technological innovation, disruptive business models, disintermediation, and giving back.  The Dead, indeed, were innovators in all these areas and the book is well worth reading.
My favorite Dead-related quote, however, comes not from that book but  from The Grateful Dead Movie, in a famous scene where a completely zonked head is ambling around outside the concert and tells a security guard the inimitable:

“I’m just trying to get my space together, so that I can go into the show.”


..
I always think of this guy whenever I talk to a startup about strategy.  Why?  Because startups are very much about trying to get your space together.

  • What space do you want to be in?
  • Against whom do you want to compete?
  • Where do you draw the boundaries on your space?
  • What adjacent spaces, if any, do you want to incorporate into your space?
  • In what adjacent spaces do you want to partner?
  • How do you see the boundaries on your space evolving over time?

My meta-answer to these questions is “the world is a very large place.”  How does that relate?  In two ways.  It means first that you better define your space in such a way that you are truly world-class within it — and not using world-class as a nice sounding compound adjective, but really grokking its meaning:  what can truly be best in the world at doing?  Second, it means that because the world is a big place that you can turn what might appear to be a small niche into a  very big business if you are truly the best at it in the world.  So don’t be afraid to focus.
Most startups forget focus too early and delude themselves into thinking they can be world-class in across a number of areas.  Take enterprise performance management (EPM) — the space in which Host Analytics competes –for example.  EPM is a $4B market for financial analytic applications that is adjacent to the broader $13B business intelligence (BI) market.  Some of our competitors consider themselves addressing the (incorrectly calculated) “$33B BI market” and are either building or acquiring products in the broader BI space?  It sounds good from a total available market (TAM) perspective.  Wow!  You’ve tripled your TAM.
But think for a minute — what are the odds that  your cheaply-acquired or hastily built BI tools are world-class?  None.  So all you’ve really done is dilute your focus on EPM by complementing it with some third-tier BI.  A far better solution (and the one we follow at Host Analytics) is to partner with someone else who is spending all their energy focused on being world-class in the adjacent space.  In our case, that partner is Birst who is focused on being world-class at cloud BI.
So if you’re thinking of starting a company, ask yourself:  what can we really be world-class at doing?
Answering that question is the only way to get your space together, before you go into the show.

A Few of My Favorite Quotes

For a change of pace, I thought I’d do a quick post with some of my favorite quotes.

  • “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.” — Dwight Eisenhower
  • “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” — Peter Drucker
  • “The single best question for testing an organization’s character is:  what happens when people make mistakes?” — Bob Sutton
  • “The only place success comes before work is the dictionary.” — Vince Lombardi
  • “Maybe I’m a complete idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about.  This [cloud computing thing] is complete gibberish.”  — Larry Ellison
  • “Common sense is not so common.” — Voltaire
  • “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” — Mark Twain
  • “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”  — Bill Gates
  • “Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.” — Kurt Vonnegut
  • “All companies go out of business for the same reason.  They run out of money.” — Don Valentine
  • “Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. Then he is so anxious about the future that he doesn’t enjoy the present:  the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”  — The Dalai Lama
  • “They never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” — Abba Eban
  • “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”  — Henry Ford
  • “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” — Thomas Edison
  • “The nine scariest words in the English language are:  we’re here from corporate and we’re here to help.”  — Adapted from Ronald Reagan

Note:  if you enjoy tracing quote attributions (and their correctness), then check out this site where I found the rather unlikely dual attribution to Yogi Berra and Niels Bohr.

Precision, Confidence, and When The Dead Peaked

The other day I found this New York Times story, Bring Out Your Dead, about The Dead’s “resurrection” tour this Spring, and it both cracked me up and got me thinking.

Excerpt:

I asked [a guy I’d met] when he thought the Dead reached its peak, game to try out a half-formed argument for 1975 or thereabouts.

“Well, I agree with the people who say it was May 8, 1977,” he said.

Take a minute to think of the different levels at which one could answer the question, when did The Grateful Dead peak?

  • By album (e.g., Workingman’s Dead)
  • By decade (e.g., the 1980s)
  • By song (e.g., Touch of Grey)
  • By era (e.g., the Pigpen era)
  • By keyboardist (e.g., the TC period)
  • By year (e.g., 1987)
  • By date (e.g., May 8, 1977)

Clearly the specificity with which you answer a question is some implicit sign of knowledge. Ask a layman the height of Mount Everest and you might get “about six miles.” Ask a mountaineer and you’ll get “29,029 feet.”

Sometimes other factors drive specificity. Ask my friend Jon Temple how long he worked at Business Objects and he’ll say “36 quarters.” I say “9 years.” The difference? Jon was in sales and I was in marketing. So specificity can also reflect mentality. (By the way, it’s my 20th quarter at Mark Logic.)

But I loved the Deadhead’s answer because it wasn’t just a precise date — which itself would have been astounding given the band’s 30 years of touring — it was a whole level beyond that:

  • Awareness of the existence of
  • A group of people who believe it was May 8, 1977
  • And concurrence with their opinion

Wow.

The article goes on to discuss the Grateful Dead’s taping culture and its consequences, which I’ve long believed provides a forgotten roadmap for media companies in dealing with digitization.

Correlations between Grateful Dead Fan Concert and Online Behavior

First Monday, a peer-reviewed Internet journal run by the University of Illinois at Chicago recently published an article entitled A Grateful Dead Analysis: The Relationship Between Concert and Listening Behavior which I found interesting.

Frequent readers will know that I’ve always believed the Grateful Dead provided a roadmap — twenty years in advance — for how the music industry should respond to the digitization of media, by changing business model emphasis from album sales to road touring, community building, and branded concessions. In fact, you could easily argue that the roadmap goes beyond music into publishing and information industries in general.

You might remember this post (Krugman on the Grateful Dead as a Business Model) where I reported with delight that Princeton’s Paul Krugman thought the same thing.

The First Monday article, however, isn’t about business models. Instead, it’s more of a study in community, comparing live concert vs. online listening behavior. Specifically, they took data from 1,590 live set lets across as 23 year period and compared it to 2.6M listening events from 2005 to 2007 on last.fm.

Excerpt:

The extreme upper right of this plot is important as “Trucking” and “Sugar Magnolia” represent not only the most popular songs in terms of times played in concert, but in terms of times listened to on last.fm. “Trucking” is on 25 of the 90 released Grateful Dead albums and “Sugar Magnolia” is on 32 of those albums. Both “Trucking” and “Sugar Magnolia” were also well received publicly. “Trucking” reached position 64 in 1971 and “Sugar Magnolia” reached position 91 in 1973 on the Billboard pop singles charts. Also in this area is “Touch of Grey”. “Touch of Grey” was the only Grateful Dead song with an accompanying music video and in 1987, reached the top 10 Billboard single’s chart.

A fun excerpt from the middle:

It is interesting to note the songs “Saint of Circumstance”, “Victim or the Crime”, “Lost Sailor”, and “Greatest Story” in the bottom left of polygon B. All of these songs were created by the song writing duo of Barlow and Weir and sung in concert often by Bob Weir. While these songs were played extensively in concert, they received relatively little attention from last.fm users.

This is no surprise to Dead fans. I think many of Bobby’s songs — particularly the testosterone-filled ones — were viewed as a chance to give Jerry’s voice a break. I like when the data draws easily supported empirical conclusions.

Excerpt from the conclusion:

This article presented an analysis comparing the popularity of Grateful Dead songs as identified by both how many times they were played in concert and how many times they were listened to by members of the last.fm online music service. The results presented here indicate a strong, but not perfect, correlation between concert plays and fan listens. These results suggest that the music choices of its online community of listeners reflect very well the live concert tradition of the Grateful Dead phenomenon, even after their dissolution.

The complete article is here.

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