In honor of my 78th live Bruce Springsteen performance, which I’ll be attending Thursday night in Hartford, Connecticutt, I thought I’d republish this article I wrote back in 2007 after attending another concert in Hartford. I can’t believe it’s been 5 years since that show. In this article I recognize components of a very successful business strategy for all of us should adopt applied by the rock and roll legend.
(Originally published in the Hudson Valley Business Journal – November 5, 2007)
Updated on February 5, 2021 (I’m up to 87 live performances of Bruce Springsteen with and without the E Street Band and am looking forward to getting back to seeing live music with Bruce and others from “stadiums to small town bars” as soon as the end of this pandemic permits)
The arena went dark with anticipation. The moment that 20,000 of us had been waiting five years for was about break loose. Bruce Springsteen with E Street Band was led through the darkness by flashlight yielding security to the Hartford Civic Center stage the night of October 2nd. Upon reaching the stage and strumming the first chord of his guitar to launch his “Magic” Concert Tour it would be the 53rd time Bruce and I spent an evening together. Him playing, me watching and listening.
This two-and-a-half hour, 23-song concert reinforced my belief in the man, the band, and their music. A belief developed over the last 31 years of listening to his official and unofficial recordings while experiencing 53 live performances.
In between songs, I asked myself a question. What is it about Bruce Springsteen and how he approaches his business that we can all learn from and apply in our respective businesses?
On my ride home I came up with six business success lessons all business ‘bosses” can learn from the 58-year-old singer/songwriter who has been nicknamed “The Boss” since he was a teenager:
1) Develop a Core Set of Values and Align Them to Your Long Term Vision
In 1997 Springsteen was quoted in a New York Times Magazine article saying as a teenager,
“I very consciously set out to develop an audience that was about more than buying records. I set out to find an audience that would be a reflection of some imagined community I had in my head, that lived according to the values in my music and shared a similar set of ideals.”
Have you decided upon the core values of your business? Even if you haven’t consciously created them, your consistent behaviors and decisions are subconsciously manifesting your values. Like Springsteen, you should take time to ensure your manifesting values are what you want them to be and are aligned with the vision you have for your company. Then be sure you are communicating them to your employees first and customers second.
2) Master Your Craft
Rock and roll aficionados will tell you that Springsteen is far from the best guitar player in the business. Bruce readily admits he is not even the best guitarist in his own band.
But, back in his formative years, while heading out west to test himself against other musicians away from his east coast roots, he learned he wasn’t up to skills and talents on the other side of the country. So, he went back east when he couldn’t find gigs to re-commit to his craft.
My favorite quote from Springsteen about his career and what has made him tremendously rich and famous is about what I truly believe got him to that level, which is, “more than rich, more than famous, more than happy, I just wanted to be great!
Focusing on mastering his craft and becoming great, is what allowed him to become tremendously rich and famous.
Springsteen has mastered his craft as a song writer, guitar player, a singer without much of a voice that he’s continued to develop over the years, and his ability to put an entertaining show together.
Few will argue that he isn’t the best at putting the pieces of a show together so it connects with his audience while showcasing his strengths and the strengths of the individual members of his band.
How are you maximizing your talents and those of your team members?
How are you raising the bar on things you and your team already do well so you can become exceptional, rather than fixing weaknesses only to become mediocre?
3) Consistently Over Deliver
Springsteen built his reputation with marathon concerts, some lasting four hours. In his early years while performing three-hour sound checks he would sample various seats at the upper echelons of the arena to ensure the fans furthest away would have a great experience.
Do you understand your customer’s expectations?
How can you better understand them so that you consistently exceed expectations while effectively balancing your time, energy and resources?
4) Flexibility & Failure
Although each concert tour often begins with songs from his newest CD, Springsteen nightly changes setlists.
He does this to adapt to crowd reactions, his sense for the flow of the shows and to make each night a unique experience.
Springsteen also is not afraid to fail in front of a packed house. On at least three occasions I’ve seen him stop mid-song realizing he was in the wrong key, forgot the words to an infrequently played song, or the band timing was off, and he and the band start over.
Are you able to easily adjust on the fly when your original plans go awry?
Do you allow your people to do the same? Are you open to allowing yourself and members of your team to fail so they can learn and get it right the next time allowing your people and business to grow?
Contrary to the opinion of the uninitiated, Springsteen is not just a one-dimensional pop artist.
He continually explores new music such as his venture into folk with his 2006 CD “The Seeger Sessions.”
He has also released music as a solo artist featuring an acoustic guitar, and rock and roll with a band other than his E Street comrades.
And, in 2019 released CD of country music.
He continues to reinvent old songs with new arrangements to fit his current style of music.
Are the products and services you offer being updated regularly?
Do you foster a creative environment in which your people can experiment to make things even better?
6) Risk Taking
In 1982 Springsteen was a well-known rock and roll singer with a great band and strong following but hadn’t amassed the unwieldy fame and fortune that came a few years later.
That year he did something many suggested was career suicide.
He released a solo-acoustic album recorded in his basement on his own four-track cassette machine.
It was an artistic success but a commercial flop.
Two years later Bruce reached the stratosphere of success with his mega-hit CD “Born in the USA,” selling more the 15 million copies.
In 1991 Springsteen announced his next project would not be with the E Street Band but would be with an entirely different set of musicians.
He risked alienation of his fans that identified as much with the band as with him. Then, in 1996, fresh off a reunion CD with the E Street Band he decided against a full E Street reunion in favor of another risky solo-acoustic project based on the work of John Steinbeck. With each of these risks he came back stronger, braver and with a deeper appreciation for who he is as an artist.
How are you taking chances and evolving?
How do you allow your team members to take chances with calculated risks so that greater rewards can be achieved, both individually and collectively?
And, in recent years he’s been more actively involved in politics, lending his name and performances to help rally votes for candidates he feels are the best choice to fulfill his vision for America, including John Kerry in 2004, President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and Hillary Clinton in 2016.
For inspiration get a copy of Springsteen’s best career work, all since 2000, from the 9/11 inspired “The Rising,” to the 2005 solo acoustic “Devils & Dust,” 2006 “Seeger Sessions,” 2009 “Working on a Dream,” 2012’s “Wrecking Ball,” and “2020’s “Letter to You,” to see what I’m talking about.
Then take a few minutes to answer the questions at the end of each of the six business success lessons from “The Boss” and begin applying them to create the next level of success for your business.
More importantly, if you’d like to become the “rock star” of your business and industry, go here and schedule a private, 1:1 Strategy Session so that we can discuss specific and measurable ways to get you and your organization started on that path.
’til next time…Rock On!