Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Rush: Part II

For devout music fans, the most fascinating part of a rock documentary about their favorite band is often the way the film humanizes its members.  Of course, stories of how any famous band becomes the super group we know and love to listen to will vary with each group.   But rather than focus on the more commonly known backstories that loyal fans may already know, a documentary filmmaker usually has a different objective in mind: Shed a light on the much less publicized aspect of a specific band’s road to success by giving us an intimate look at the events in their personal lives that shaped them as people.   After all, it is the person that makes the music, not the other way around.

Legendary Canadian rock group Rush will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Thursday, April 18th.  Coincidentally, I happened to catch a recent airing of the Rush documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage, chronicling Rush’s origins and long road to its current legend status.  In watching this film, I noticed many parallels between the many obstacles and philosophies shared by members of Rush during their formative years and my own history of personal and professional growth through entrepreneurship.  When we examine these similarities, it’s really fascinating how similar a rock star’s path to superstardom mimics the journey of an entrepreneur who seeks to put and keep his company on the path towards realizing a similar level of success:

(This is Part 2 of my blog series. You can view Part 1 here.)

VII.

As with almost any band that forges new ground musically by creating their own sound, Rush had trouble finding success early in their career.  When they received concerned grumblings from the record execs, they shrugged and kept on building what they knew was right.  In the documentary, they describe their mentality of going down with a fight if they go down at all—not giving in to what other people wanted, even facing constant insults and the occasional biting reviews from critics/press.  Because their fans loved them, and the listener base kept growing.

I remember early in my own career, many times people I worked for said “To be successful, you need to come in at 7am and leave at 7pm.”  No.  That’s not success.  Dollars and revenue don’t define success—happiness does.  So as an entrepreneur, I must create jobs and a company that people don’t want to lose because they want to be happy—not because they don’t want to lose a paycheck.  I value my staff’s happiness tremendously, because when they know I genuinely care about them, they perform at their best.  Any business owner will tell you what that kind of enthusiasm is worth to their company’s success.

VIII.

Let’s be honest: Rush caught their fair share of breaks on the way to the top.  This is true with almost any famous band.  One highlighted in Beyond… is the fact that, as soon as members of Rush began turning 18, the drinking age in Canada was lowered to 18.  This had a significant impact on the potential of their touring career in Canada, allowing them to build their fan base geographically; but perhaps more importantly, a drinking crowd would demand a much different style of music than an underage crowd, and this forced Rush to be bolder, try newer and more adventurous things musically.

This kind of break brings to mind a concept I am occasionally surprised to see ignored by many entrepreneurs, business owners, and business professors: Luck.  Luck has a largely underappreciated role in almost every major business success story today.  The fact is, luck always factors in—I repeat, ALWAYS factors in.  You could call the fact that two of my employees were chosen to be Google Explorers the same stroke of luck that may allow Interapt to evolve as Rush evolved, breaking new ground in mobile technology and augmented reality applications as Rush did with their music.

IX.

With advanced structure and theory being applied to newer Rush material, Rush were impressed and excited that fans continued to enjoy their music’s complexity, seemingly oblivious to its intricacy and just caught in the moment.  In the documentary, they talked about how they knew they had something special when fans seemed to go with the flow even with radical changes in time signature.

Similarly, I feel like I have something special when I am able to make complex mobile solutions look simple to my clients.  I’m only as confident and knowledgeable about what I do and how I run my business because of the experiences I’ve had with my team, as well as advice from countless business peers and professors who graciously share their own knowledge with me.   And it’s not only their encouragement, but also the enthusiasm from my clients that helps me know I’m doing things right.

X.

There’s a part of the documentary where Rush talk about the concept of Balance; about how music was just one of the things they had chosen to do with their lives—not everything.  They wanted to raise families, pursue other hobbies, and find fulfillment in non-professional aspects of their lives.  It was important to them to grow as people, not just as professionals.

Similarly, I have to balance my own ambition and desire for success in business with other passionate pursuits.  I’m still playing tennis religiously, competing in local leagues and regional tournaments.  I ran a professional DJ company in Chicago years ago, and I might occasionally spin a club in Chicago, Miami, L.A., or wherever I happen to be on a business trip these days—it’s good fun, and nurtures my overall love of everything music.  I love cooking and preparing all kinds of cuisines, from Asian to Italian to French, anything I can use to gather a crowd and enjoy some time together.  More than distractions, these are activities that make me healthier, both physically and culturally, which I think is essential to being happy and successful professionally.

Conclusion

Rush deserves the honor they have received.  Think about their success in terms of math: How many bands are in your hometown?  OK, multiple that by the thousands, and you have an approximate number of the bands that were putting out music from the 70’s onward.  Now how many bands do you really listen to on a day-to-day basis?  The point: To be a band that almost anyone in the Western hemisphere who has extensively listened to music would at least know of (even if not having heard the music itself) is quite a feat.  Some bands luck out and get to that level of fame with one major hit song.  Then very rarely, a band will carve out a career at the top with their enduring greatness.  And I say getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is proof that Rush did the latter.

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