Here let me read it to you. Best to listen straight off Spotify though, the browser version is buggy.
Do you remember
You know what tomorrow night is? It’s the twenty first night of September. The setting of one of the greatest songs of all time. DJs and cover bands know it as a guaranteed dancefloor filler, 45 years on. It’s beloved by all ages.
What does September have to do with your business?
Learn from Allee Willis, who landed in LA in 1978 as a struggling songwriter. Then she got the call from the great Maurice White of Earth Wind and Fire. Could she help out with a new song they were working on? As she told NPR:
“As I open the door, they had just written the intro to ‘September.’ And I just thought, ‘Dear God, let this be what they want me to write!’ Cause it was obviously the happiest-sounding song in the world.”
It makes no sense, let’s get rid of it
Over the next month they wrote in all the fun times imagery we know and love today.
Yet something was bugging Willis. It was White’s go-to placeholder lyric for half-written songs: ba-dee-ya. Sooner or later, it must surely go. Willis was itching to replace it with something that … made sense.
Yet despite all her efforts, ba-dee-ya hung in there.
“I remember at the final vocal session pretty much being down on my knees next to him begging, please change ba-dee-ya. And finally, when it was so obvious he was not going to do it, I just said, what the fuck does ba-dee-ya mean? And he essentially said, who the fuck cares? I learned my greatest lesson ever in songwriting from him, which was never let the lyric get in the way of the groove.”
White was right. It went on to be a massive commercial success and a timeless classic. And after that lesson, Allee Willis went on to a stellar songwriting career.
But what does it mean for business?
In every meeting, the knives are out for ba-dee-ya. And by that I mean any new product, initiative, way of dealing with customers, marketing idea, anything that seems different. Business loves to kill any idea that can’t be backed up by data or logic. It’s such an easy target.
“If I can just play devil’s advocate, Mr White, I don’t see how listeners are going to understand … ba-dee-ya, if that’s how you say it. I think we need more relatable content that speaks to the everyday person.”
The answer “it just feels good” cuts no ice with the If You Can’t Measure It You Can’t Manage It crowd. So new ideas get stifled at birth.
Because the rewards of greatness are smaller than the punishment of errors. And because some business people get quite the kick out of killing anything that makes them uncomfortable.
Imagine yourself in a meeting, trying to present the case for ba-dee-ya. With words and slides. It would be a massacre.
Good new ideas often don’t seem that way at first, particularly stripped of context in a meeting. Because they can feel a bit weird and challenge the rules that got you to this point. And because deep down, you fear your competitors will laugh at you if you try something new and it fails.
Obviously not every new idea is good. They come in many forms: weak, strong, practical, impractical, too early, too late and everything in between.
If you have a culture of spiking ideas, that blunt approach is guaranteed to kill the one that would have transformed your business. Your ba-dee-ya hitmaker.
Business is art
You might say: you’re drawing a long bow here Ian, you’re talking about art, not business. Business is all about logic and numbers.
I’ll accept your point if any of your numbers match September’s. 1.1 billion plays on Spotify. 612 million YouTube views. All that years after Earth Wind and Fire sold 90 million records.
Also: business is art. Artists express an idea in a way that makes people feel something. That’s a skill you need if your business is going to be anything other than one of the crowd.
Every business has similar products. Similar services. Similar people. Apart from the odd technical breakthrough, which is quite rare, what separates them is usually pure art.
It’s giving customers feelings about your product. It’s making staff feel better about working for you than anywhere else, and inspiring them to do work that’s above the norm.
Making people feel things is really hard.
Business people would like a guaranteed process to create feelings. Preferably with a trademarked name from an outside management consultant. Yet much of it is pure instinct from people who know what they’re doing, the Maurice Whites of business.
Genius is hard to find. But look at the people in your business who have the soft skills – product designers, sales, marketing, customer service. Does their input get crushed under the data of your logic stormtroopers?
Good businesses have a groove. Some of your people have vital instincts about customers, drawn from years of tuning into that groove. They might be quieter in meetings, and have fewer charts.
Neglect them at your peril. Just because something doesn’t meet your definition of sense doesn’t make it wrong.
And if I can just finish with one essential point:
Ba-du-da, ba-du-da, ba-du-da, ba-du
Ba-du-da, ba-du, ba-du-da, ba-du
Ba-du-da, ba-du, ba-du-da.
More essential September knowledge
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Why not buy this nice book?
Want a step-by-step guide to how to set up a business that you don’t even have to work in day-to-day? Or just some light business-y entertainment? Get both in Undisruptable: Timeless Business Truths For Thriving In A World Of Nonstop Change out on Penguin Random House.
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For those of you in geo-blocked countries, here’s your non-Spotify audio: