The other day we mentioned the Grateful Dead in our post about structure, and, you know what? We want to talk about the band again. We can learn a lot about culture from the Grateful Dead. Yes, the series we expanded on the other day delves into culture and other organizational quadrants in the context of internal organizational readiness for analytics practitioners, but what about the role of culture in creating a better relationship with your customers?
Of course, the Deadheads were the embodiment of an organized fan culture, but this culture was inextricably linked with the business of the Grateful Dead. Without the Grateful Dead, the fans would not have created their culture, and without the passionate fans, the Grateful Dead would not have been able to create larger and stronger communities. Sure, you could say that this is the nature of any music or other business, but what was unique about the Grateful Dead was how the band approached this issue. Instead of defining itself primarily through the role of performers who had a responsive audience at their feet, the Grateful Dead made a shared concert experience a part of its own culture.
The Grateful Dead’s audio engineer, Owsley “Bear” Stanley, and bassist, Phil Lesh, referred to a “microcosm and macrocosm,” which was the idea of the “world of the stage and the world of the audience” (Barnes 138). Stanley, Lesh, and the rest of the band sought to “blend” these. While you might initially think that this is what any performer or business wants to do, it is absolutely not the case. The entire genre of classical music is built on the premise of the stage and music being something separate that the audience must not interrupt or otherwise be a part of by expressing what the music makes them feel during a performance. The reasons for this may be a point of contention (is it an issue of respect and being able to hear the performance, or is it an outdated tradition that wrongly puts musicians on a pedestal?), but we have seen that businesses that take this approach often lose out on customers because of this.
Barry Barnes argued that we were moving “from a service economy toward an ‘experience economy’” (186), but we would argue that it is clear that we have been in an experience economy for many years. Experience is now expected, and businesses that do not provide it well to their customers do not perform as well as businesses that do. The Grateful Dead was unique because it was one of the first large-scale businesses to operate with the cultural mindset of existing in an experience economy, and remember: If you’re on time, you’re late. The Grateful Dead was early, and that is one of the reasons it carried on for so long. The band was truly innovative and anticipated customer needs and wants – and provided those – before customers consciously sought these.
What is telling is the fact that all of these business practices were driven by a firm belief and investment in culture. See, culture is not just about your business. It is important both internally and externally, and we bet that Stanley and Lesh would say that internal and external worlds should be joined. You know what? We agree. After all, at the most basic of levels, if you don’t have a relationship with your customers, you don’t have a business.
The Concentric Team
Source: Barnes PhD, Barry. Everything I Know About Business I Learned from the Grateful Dead. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2011.