President, Vice Chairman & Chief Culture Officer
June 1, 2020
Some of the most popular video games of all time allow “players” to insert themselves virtually into a legendary rock band, assume the role of a band member, and experience what it’s like to play some of the greatest music of the last 50 years. It’s quite a thrill if you haven’t already tried it. But why, exactly, is it so addictively thrilling? What’s so exhilarating about the experience of playing in a great rock band?
The answer to these questions is rooted, to a large extent, in our core human emotions, but an important part of our response comes from something else. It has to do with the transcendental experience of being part of a group that, together, elevates its individual members to a higher plain of performance – and even existence.
But we don’t have to be part of a rock band (real or virtual) to feel this sensation. It’s actually available to most of us every day if we simply, as The Doobie Brothers said, “listen to the music.”
Let’s start with what differentiates a truly great band. A great band exudes chemistry and an ethereal magic that we both hear and feel when it makes the music that plays in our souls. The beauty, power, and emotion that are born and reborn again every time this group walks into a studio or onto a stage can be all-inspiring.
They play a great song, usually one written by one or more members of this magic box. The elements of the song – the lyrics, the music, the tempo – become sound-borne colors that are about to be part of an audio masterpiece. They sit on the palette and await the artists. Add in a singer, a troubadour. They may not have the most beautiful voice, but it is a powerful, emotional voice, one we can feel in our core – one that can make us laugh, cry, or sing along.
Add the band’s foundation, with a bass that has us feeling the thunder from down under and a drummer who keeps it all in the groove. Throw in a sweet rhythm guitarist and a lead guitarist who can make metal strings sing. And maybe, in a really special group, there are keyboards, horns, and strings that contribute to the masterpiece.
All of these elements, if strong enough, will surely make any band legendary, right? Wrong!
What makes The Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, and The Beatles what they are is not just the poetry in the songs. It’s not just the voice of the front men. It’s not just the beat that is kept. And it’s not just the guitars or the horns or the keyboards.
It’s their near-perfect chemistry. It’s the magic that happens when a collection of individual musicians is mixed perfectly with and by the forces of creativity, collaboration, trust, and an undying desire to find meaning and joy in what they do.
Really, the constituent members don’t even have to be the best in and of themselves. It’s the magic in how they come together to create something more beautiful, more powerful, and more meaningful than anything they could ever do by themselves individually – even if they were the best writer, singer, guitarist or keyboard player.
This description of how a legendary rock band comes together is instructive in how we must think about building our own organizations. We strive to assemble groups of highly “talented” and credentialed people. They may come from great schools, have strong credentials, and have very impressive backgrounds. That’s all important, but it’s not the individual talent or credentials that will ever make a team “legendary.” It’s the team’s chemistry, fueled by creativity, collaboration, trust and the joy of melding together to create something special – something meaningful. It’s about coming together and, in doing so, being far better than they we were before.
At your company or organization, you may already be part of such a group. If so, rock on! You’re playing in your own legendary rock band, and you didn’t even realize it. If not, it may be time to break away from your band. It’s not too late to make some great music!