Every year we seem to be bombarded with new theories that promise to make us more effective and our businesses more successful.  Every year there are more than 360 management books published in Belgium alone but how can we know if they are gimmicks or really useful advances?  We’ve had so many: Balanced scorecards, Lean, Agile, Red Monkey, you name it we’ve had it. This week I want to make my point by using guitar playing as an example of ‘gimmick’ or ‘great’.  So sit back, read, listen and (hopefully) enjoy!

I remember when a young Mark Knopfler first came on the seen back in 1977. Everything about his band Dire Straits sound new and fresh, when you watched him play you could only be impressed, he still held and played the guitar normally but what about these examples: Jimi Hendrik playing with his teeth? Or Pete Frampton connected up with a tube in his mouth or Mark King slapping the strings of his bass with his thumb or perhaps, more recently, this guy Eric Mongrain?  Now to be fair – Hendrix didn’t always play with his teeth and most of the time Eric plays his guitar in a ‘conventional’ position. But how should we tell ‘gimmick’ from ‘great’?

In guitar playing, I find the secret is to simply close my eyes and to listen to the music. Just the music. I need to turn off my guitar playing head and listen to the sound the person is making and forget about the how. And then I decide if what I am hearing is poor or great music for me.

In business it is exactly the same: You need to look at the results and not at the how. But here I would add that, to be honest, it does not really matter if the management book you are reading or the guru you are listening too is a ‘gimmick’ or ‘great’ – it is the act of exploring that matters. With eyes closed in quiet contemplation you will know whether it makes sense or not. If you want to be sure you can always look around and see if the technique you are questioning has been done before and whether it worked or not. For example I am still a great believer in the Balanced score card system but I have yet to meet a company that has fully introduced it and managed to maintain it for more than a year or two. It’s incredibly complex to implement. On paper it’s perfect. In practice only a dramatically scaled down version seems to be possible to keep up over time.

It’s the same with guitar players. Once the audience is over the ‘wow’ moment, they have to want more, again and again. They need to want to buy the CD.  That’s how you tell ‘gimmick’ from ‘great’. I have just bought both of Erik’s CDs, I wonder if I will be listening to them in a year from now?

However, please excuse me, I need to get back to writing my next management book!

Have a good week,

Harley