Lessons from the Greatful Dead

Several years ago I attended a Grateful Dead concert in San Jose with a bunch of Canadian friends.  We were accompanied by about 20,000 other people most of whom describe themselves as Deadheads—which is another name for extremely loyal (bordering on fanatical!) fan who range in age from teenagers to the oldest baby boomers. The concert was incredible in every respect and it really got me thinking about organizations, leadership, customer loyalty and most importantly synergy.

Jerry Garcia
Jerry Garcia

Jerry Garcia, the founder and main “face” of the band, had been dead for several years before the concert I attended but the show goes on (no one is irreplaceable) and what a show it is. The backend revenue stream has to be seen to be believed and even though they have not had a #1 hit, they allow concert-goers to record the concert and they very rarely release an album.  Despite this, they continue to this day to be a phenomenal money-making machine so I can’t help thinking: these guys have been around since the 60’s (that’s nearly 50 years!) and they have endured. What’s their secret?

First, they know their customers and what they want …. and they deliver an excellent product, at an affordable price, they execute with precision and passion, they obviously love what they do and they work as a coordinated, very focused, team. They have vision, clarity and focus. Once again we see the application of the time honored principle:

Purpose + Passion + Synchronization = Synergy

Individually these guys are very good, but not great, musicians. Through chance they met. Through good management they combine to create a whole that is immeasurably bigger than the individual parts. They can do that because they work as a team. They each respect and understand what every other person does. Not once, for example, did I notice the drummer decide it was time for him to play the guitar. At various times different people assume the role of lead singer and the rest of the band was in support. Perhaps the neatest thing I saw was at the end of the concert when the performers knew they’d done a great job they openly embraced each other. They were deservedly pleased with what they’d accomplished and they weren’t afraid to show it.

I think we can learn a lot from this band from both a management and marketing perspective. Here are a couple of links that you might like to take a look at to get a sense of both the Dead’s phenomenally successful business model, its brand power and its innovative marketing strategy—they have been light years ahead of the curve in the marketing department.

David Meerman Scott


Glen Rifkin


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