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Everything I Know About Business I Learned From The Grateful Dead
Author: Barry Barnes, PhD
Publisher: Business Plus
Reviewed: November, 2011

For quite awhile now, I’ve been of the opinion that there is lots of things about rock and roll that are analogous about life in general and business in general.  I guess you could say that, in this case, life imitates art.  It doesn’t take a PhD to figure that out but it took a PhD to put the concepts into book form.

One such PhD is Barry Barnes, professor of management at the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.  Dr. Barnes wrote a great little business handbook entitled Everything I Know About Business I Learned From The Grateful Dead.

Now wait a minute.  Before you roll your eyes as you think that this is a book with a bunch of trippy, wavy gravy, California-speak, just hear me out.  This book makes a lot of sense – common sense – and it just so happens that, despite the Grateful Dead’s out-in-outerspace persona, the band and it’s organization were quite the socially-conscious entrepreneurs.

As Barnes says at the beginning of the book, “They didn’t like the mainstream business world and they especially didn’t like the way the music business organized”. So, just like their performances on stage, they improvised – often in big, innovative ways.  Barnes refers to it as “Strategic Improvisation” and is, in fact, summarized in “Grateful Dead Business Lesson 1” which reads: “Strategic improvisation – the ability to plan, act, and make adjustments in real time – is the key to running a great organization”.

I’m not going to list and comment on all of the “Grateful Dead” business lessons but Lesson 2 is worth mentioning here because it’s such a solid message to the business world: “Embrace strong corporate values and socially conscious business practices because it’s the right thing to do – and because it’s more profitable”.

To that point - love ‘em or not - there’s no doubt that the Dead lived their values.  Barnes details that this “Lesson 2” was the foundation of the Dead’s values – that they were “a close group of people living together, working together, and welcoming the larger community to share their experiences with them”.  He later says, “By helping the world, the Dead have helped themselves. By doing good, they’ve done well” and then quotes band member, Bob Weir: “All I can suggest is that people give it a try. It’s worked real well for us”.

The book is chock-full of anecdotal band history and stories that support Barnes premise of a Grateful Dead business model that can be improvised into any company’s culture.  Such nuggets as embracing errors and the power of “free” by themselves are worth the price of the book to learn and internalize – and eternalize.

When they sang in there song, Loser, “Put your money where your love it”, it wasn’t just words to them. They lived what that sang and, even after the passing the band’s iconic front man, Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead is still a thriving (dare I say) business that still lives its core values.

“Dead Heads”, music fans and business geeks like me will definitely want to have as a key addition to their library Everything I Know About Business I Learned From The Grateful Dead.  Businesses would also do well to have Dr. Barnes to speak to their management groups.  In these days of economic and social upheaval, it could very well be the key to their survival.