Management secrets of the Grateful Dead, or strategic improvisation

Management secrets of the Grateful Dead, or strategic improvisation

Joshua Green on why the soon-to-open Grateful Dead Archive won’t just be for ethnomusicologists and historians:

The Dead’s influence on the business world may turn out to be a significant part of its legacy. Without intending to — while intending, in fact, to do just the opposite — the band pioneered ideas and practices that were subsequently embraced by corporate America. One was to focus intensely on its most loyal fans. “The Dead were masters of creating and delivering superior customer value,” [said] Barry Barnes, a business professor at the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship at Nova Southeastern University. Treating customers well may sound like common sense. But it represented a break from the top-down ethos of many organizations in the 1960s and ’70s.

And a familiar model was born:

Writing in Wired in 1994, Barlow [Grateful Dead lyricist] posited that in the information economy, “the best way to raise demand for your product is to give it away.” As Barlow explained to [Green]: “What people today are beginning to realize is what became obvious to us back then — the important correlation is the one between familiarity and value, not scarcity and value. Adam Smith taught that the scarcer you make something, the more valuable it becomes. In the physical world, that works beautifully. But we couldn’t regulate [taping at] our shows, and you can’t online. The Internet doesn’t behave that way. But here’s the thing: if I give my song away to 20 people, and they give it to 20 people, pretty soon everybody knows me, and my value as a creator is dramatically enhanced. That was the value proposition with the Dead.


It’s precisely this flexibility that Barnes believes holds the greatest lessons for business — he calls it “strategic improvisation.”

It’s not hard to think of at least a few recent examples.

(thx, John)