Davy Jones, lead singer of The Monkees, died today of a heart attack. He was just 66 years old.
What business wisdom could you possibly take from what was essentially a made-for-television band that was mocked as the pre-fab four?
1. The “who” always trumps the “what”. This is an extension of what Jim Collins wrote about in Good To Great. He essentially wrote that it is more important to get the right peolpe on the bus, even if you aren’t sure exactly where they will sit. In the case of The Monkees, they were a band assembled for a TV show. They weren’t supposed to play their own instruments. They were just living cartoon characters. That was the “what” behind the band. But the producers hired musicians with talent and chemistry, and in no time the “who” took over. The boys wanted to play their own instruments, take control of the production, and grow beyond the scope of the TV show.
Get brilliant people on your team, and assign them a job to do. But don’t let their job define (or confine) them. Let their minds create wonderful things for your organization, even if those wonderful things are nothing like what they were hired to create. That’s what it means to prioritize the “who” ahead of the “what”. If you choose not to do it, those brilliant people you hired will eventually find somewhere else to use their brilliance.
2. You can’t hide the real you. For The Monkees, their goofy and fun-loving TV show personas were not unlike their real personas, except the producers didn’t envision real band with their own instruments and self-penned songs. They tried to stifle the creativity of Davy Jones, Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz, and Michael Nesmith. But eventually the real musicians emerged and the band began to take control over their music.
You can’t successfully fake it, at least not for any length of time. Eventually the real you emerges no matter how hard you try. So why bother trying to fake it at all? Honesty and transparency reign supreme in business and marketing today. We are past the age of hype. People’s BS-meters are highly tuned. Start with honesty and integrity.
3. Some things don’t mix well. Jimi Hendrix was hired as the opening act on The Monkees first US tour in 1967. His hard rock style didn’t go over well with the young female audience, leading Jimi to simply flip the audience the middle finger and quit the tour.
You need to choose your business partners carefully. Some partnerships are gold, and others are terrible. Find partners that make you better, like Reece’s peanut butter cups. There are very few things that make chocolate taste better. Turns out peanut butter is one of them.
Davy Jones will be missed.
It is easy to pick on The Monkees as fake music, simply prefabricated pablum that was mass-produced for teenagers. But that’s not entirely true or fair. Plenty of music is prefabricated for the masses. And as the band become more self-directed, they also became well respected within the industry.
They found unlikely fans in The Beatles. John Lennon praised their TV show, calling them “the greatest comic talent since the Marx Brothers”. Years later, a generation of musicians who grew up watching the TV show would create a punk revival of the band, including a famous Sex Pistols version of “I’m Not Your Steppin Stone”. In the 1980s, the band mounted a comeback and hit the top 20 with “That Was Then, This Is Now”. And right up until a week before his death, Davy Jones was performing the band’s classics with his usual charm and wit.
Rest peacefully Davy.