Jan 21


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Popular mythology would have you believe that some rock stars are spoiled prima Donna’s. For years David Lee Roth of the band Van Halen was held up as an example of this because he always insisted on bowls of M&M’s backstage – but the brown ones had to be removed.

On the surface of it, it seems pretty interesting behaviour.

Van Halen was the first band to hit the road with monster shows. You are talking 19 articulated lorries full of equipment. This meant that the shows were complicated to assemble, involved a lot of detail and there were specific requirements of the venue’s where they were going to be staged.

The brown M&M’s were the bands mechanism for ensuring that promoters and venues had paid proper attention to their contracts. As Lee Roth has said many times, if there were brown M&M’s this indicated that something had been missed so they would go over the stage, the rigging and every aspect of the show to ensure that nothing more important had been missed. On one occasion they found that the promoter had not checked the weight specifications for the venue and that had this not been detected, the floor was not strong enough to take the weight of the stage, equipment and audience.

Yet perception would have it that the real point of the story is about brown M&M’s indicating rock star excess, rather than it actually being a clever mechanism to ensure audience, crew and band had a safe show.

What perceptions do you have about life, work or other people that you have taken at face value? Are they true? Is there another possibility that explains why things are the way that they are? We all know the M&M story, it has been around for years, but how many of you knew that there was a vital reason why the band insisted on this clause in their contract? What other things do you take at face value?

Curiosity can be held up as a problem in business – in “don’t think, just do” organsiations, questioning, interest and desire to learn are not accepted as attributes that add to the bottom line. This ignores the fact that deep knowledge of the story changes how we think about a situation. If you knew the story about the M&M’s but not the reason, what was your perception of David Lee Roth. How does the reason change your perception?

Sometimes you have to look behind the story, or change the question to get a different perspective. This applies to ourselves as much as it does to other people. So what perceptions do you have that you may not have challenged? Incorrect perceptions can hold you back. Maybe it is time to be curious, maybe you need the help of a coach? After all, if you carry on doing (and thinking) the same things, you have always done, the results are going to be predictable (the same that you always got).

As an aside, the M&M’s is a really good example of why quality is not negotiable, but that is another story.

Thanks to Atul Gawande (“Checklists”) for reminding me of this story.


This post was originally posted by Peter Duffell on LinkedIn.

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