What the business world can learn from Duran Duran
Book Review: ‘In the Pleasure Groove,’ by Duran Duran’s John Taylor and Tom Sykes
By SHANE ROBITAILLE
A few months ago, while waiting for my daughter at her skating lesson, I was reading the new autobiography, In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death, and Duran Duran, by John Taylor, the bass player and cofounder of the band. Another parent was sitting on the bleachers waiting for his daughter, also with a book in hand. He pointed to my book and asked me what I was reading. I held it up, and said, “The bass player from Duran Duran’s autobiography.” He laughed and held up his book. The title had something to do with business in it. “Your book sounds way better,” he said.
I was recently thinking about that moment - Two fathers trying to read a few pages in their books while waiting for their daughters. At first glance, it would appear that one is a slacker, spending his precious free time reading about the hyperactive wild-ride of big 80s music icons, while the other is enriching his business skills. But there’s more than meets the eye here. I’m thinking John Taylor’s book might be suitable reading for anybody in business today, especially those in brick and mortar companies that worry about all the shiny-new hi-tech start-ups that want to change the world and eat their lunch.
At first glance, it might seem like 304 pages of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and hairspray. It definitely is all that, and then some, for sure; however, there are business lessons lurking in the penumbras of AquaNet-soaked passages.
Here are just a few:
1. Do the thing you know you need to do, and don’t worry about naysayers. When John Taylor and his star-hungry friends realized that they were built to bend the rules of fashion and music, they put every ounce of energy into the enterprise and never looked back. Against all contemporary wisdom and criticism from their elders, they played their guts out until they found their voice and, in only a few years, became one of the most iconic bands of the late twentieth century, if not ever. Just like Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, never walked away from his dream when he was desperately trying to find support and money for his game-changing ideas about coffee, all awesome products and services were once considered crazy, too expensive, unachievable, whatever.
2. Ronald Reagan’s mantra was to surround yourself by the best people. Duran Duran started getting noticed while playing in a local Birmingham venue that also served as their “business” headquarters for all things Duran Duran. It wasn’t enough that the young band had gobs of raw talent and passion. They also networked and surrounded themselves with people who believed in them and what they could achieve. As Steve Jobs could never have reinvented the world without all of the brilliant people around him, very few success stories star only one person, regardless of how much talent and vision they might have.
3. Mick Jagger once pronounced that anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Once the band got their legs and started infiltrating the airwaves of the planet, they didn’t stop to smell the roses. They rode the wave for all it was worth, playing their hearts out in a bazillion venues, producing more and more hits, and never letting their global audience get bored or distracted by their competition. While there were many, many other bands and singers in the 80s that were competing for the same audience (and money), only a few transcended one-hit-wonder stardom and experienced the chart-topping success that John and his band mates achieved.
Apple and Google might not be where they are today if Microsoft retained its innovative and creative edge through the 90s and 2000s, instead of becoming synonymous with bloated software, bugs, and uninspired products. They lost their way, their mojo, and the competition passed them by.
4. Treat your customers (fans) right. Between taking the time to personally answer fan mail, building up one of the biggest fan clubs of the time, and taking every opportunity to connect with their fickle teenage fans, Duran Duran never took their fans for granted. Leon Leonwood Bean, the founder of LL Bean, believed in delivering amazing customer service and that principle has held true for over a century, putting the company consistently at the top of customer satisfaction charts. When was the last time you had an amazing experience when buying a product or service from a company?
5. Keep the future in mind. Think Nirvana. As the 80s came to a screeching close and the British new wave invasion continued its assault on our television screens and radios, there was something new and interesting emerging in Seattle. Kurt Cobain and his angst ridden friends were about to abruptly alter the 80s feel-good music and cultural landscape. By 1991, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, and many other flannel addicted bands suddenly made groups like Duran Duran seem very junior highish and ready for the MTV archives. Taylor describes this tumultuous time in his book, and although the band was paying attention to what was happening around them, they had a difficult time keeping up with the changing times and tastes of a hyperactive audience.
Is John Taylor’s book must-read material for business majors and executives? Maybe not. But it does remind us about the extraordinary effort that it takes to build, develop and maintain an enterprise that people want to spend their hard earned money on. It also reminds us that there is unbelievable power when you combine vision, talent, diversity and good old fashioned persistence in making extraordinary things happen – all the things that every business aspires to have.
John and the Wild Boys continue to make new music and, although they don’t fill up as many football stadiums as they used to, they are doing what they love and still make people smile, which is the stuff that matters most and can’t be measured in any sophisticated business formula. We should all be so lucky.
Copyright 2013 Shane Robitaille