Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Rush: Part I

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 this 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 my journey as an entrepreneur who seeks to put and keep my company on the path towards realizing a similar level of success.

I.

Upon deciding to form a band, many musicians will attempt to learn a “feel” for each other’s style, to learn each other’s technical prowess, tendencies, and preferences musically.  Rush had to learn and play other people’s songs at first, and similarly, I try to learn from the best.  As an entrepreneur, I don’t want to carbon copy someone else’s successful company—I want to achieve their level of success.  That doesn’t mean following in their footsteps; it means figuring out the formula, and adjusting my own philosophy to accommodate the finer points of it—but never imitate it.  Uniqueness and individuality are defining characteristics of the origins of the longest-lasting companies out there.

II.

In countless interviews throughout their career, Rush have maintained a humility about their own achievements and aptitude.  When someone interviews and compliments Rush and their skill, they answer with “We work really hard.”  I don’t think that’s them ducking the question at all—I think that’s the truest answer they can give.  Nothing comes easy, especially as a professional; and the moment you become arrogant about your performance or your ability, you start losing the essence of what elevated you there in the first place.  Rush believes that, I believe it, and anyone who strives to better themselves believes it.

III.

Early in their lives as musicians, Rush were careful not to interpret their rising in overall popularity as proof of longevity.  Equally, I try to temper the excitement my own team feels from winning notable projects and clients; I stress the importance of maintaining appropriate perspective for each project, to avoid “letting off the gas” just when my team gets momentum they can feel and be excited about.  Of course I want my team to be excited, but we can’t be too enthusiastic about one big win; success as a goal means I’m building something that lasts, not a one-and-done scenario whose peaks are just as steep as their inevitable crash.  As a company, we have a responsibility to constantly build on our foundation of hard work.

IV.

Beyond… spends a portion of the film detailing the struggle many members of Rush felt with staying in and completing school when they were teenagers.  To Rush, it was clear that what they wanted to do in life did not involve nor require a formal education, thanks to their natural-born ability as musicians.  While this philosophy may seem a divergence from a traditional entrepreneur who typically spends at least a few years in advanced academic institutions, the practice of constantly reassessing your life plan is not only normal, to me it’s essential: If I don’t constantly ask myself “Am I on the right path?”, it’s presumptuous at best, and arrogant at worst.

V.

Geography had an early effect on the momentum Rush generated as they got increased radio airplay and otherwise gained popularity by word-of-mouth in the mid-70’s, being as those were the only two mediums other than live venues that bands could gain notoriety.  As such, they constantly faced scrutiny from naysayers who claimed “They’re a Canadian band, how good can they be?”

I can certainly relate to geographic bias.  We work in mobile tech at Interapt; the first region that comes to mind when people think of our industry is naturally Silicon Valley.  Because of that, it does occasionally feel like my company is out to prove that Interapt can do anything Silicon Valley can do.  And not only can we do it, but in some cases we can even do it better.

VI.

A pivotal part of Beyond… describes how Neil Peart, Rush’s drummer, contributed to Geddy Lee’s lyrical composition of “Fly By Night.”  Lee had been the only lyricist to that point, but had noticed Neil always had his nose in a book while the band was on tour—the bus, the hotel room, the bars, everywhere.  His lyrical contribution proved invaluable to the success of the song, and now Peart writes virtually all of Rush’s lyrics.

Similarly, contribution from every part of my team is a driving force behind the robust creativity of my company.  To me, “defining someone’s role” is essentially limiting it, something more designed for corporate bureaucracy.  I empower my staff to make important decisions and give honest feedback.  That’s the purpose of getting a team together: Support each other to make the whole more successful.  Do that, and teammates will often surprise you using the same talent and ability that got them the job in the first place.  It’s helped Rush come from their humble beginnings to the legends they are today, and it’s what I hope will drive our team from just a few offices to a future where we’ve established offices around the globe.  Who knows?

Make sure you follow us tomorrow for the conclusion of our Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Rush blog series!  In the meantime, you can contact me by clicking my link above, or email at agopal@interapthq.com to discuss my recollections here.

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