Monday, August 6, 2007

Troublemakers

My seven-year-old runs with a band of comrades, aka the troublemakers (or goofballs or knuckleheads). Tackle football, tree-fort exploration, obstacle course racing, sneak-in-the-garage soda guzzling -- the troublemakers have it made. It’s cool to be care- and commitment-free when you’re seven.

I’m helping some friends start a band, and we invested much of last week testing the tone and tenor of the music we plan to make. We spent a few hours with our friend Roger, a proven band leader who’s known for challenging would-be musicians. Among his sage musings: It’s a helluva lot more glamorous on the outside than herein, and you better be ready to play hard … harder than ever before.

His advice reminded me of the commitment theory, specifically the challenge of doing something grand. The minute you commit – emotionally, financially, professionally – and make your commitment public, it’s psychologically tough sledding to turn back.

And, our friendly band-leader’s counsel made me think more about troublemaking: If you’re going to go to the trouble of trying to create trouble, you better feel good about your soon-to-be fellow troublemakers. John Doerr of KPCB talked about the imperative of pre-troublemaking commitment:

That's the moment of truth (when you decide who you’re going to make music with). That's when you ask: "Are these the people I want to be in trouble with for the next 5, 10, 15 years of my life?" Because as you build a new business, one thing's for sure: You will get into trouble.

Also, measure the members of the group against some hard standards. Are they great at recruiting other talented people? Are they great at selling? In a small company, everybody is selling all the time. Believe me, selling is honorable work -- particularly in a startup, where it's the difference between life and death. And make sure that the group has a sense of humor. You're going to be spending a lot of time living together as a team. Of course, everyone you'll need for a great startup isn't going to be there at that first meeting. Teams always need to grow, to get stronger and better. But be sure to answer the question, "Is this a group I wouldn't mind getting in trouble with?"
Reminds me of a scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Butch (Paul Newman) and the Kid (Robert Redford) are trapped at the crest of a canyon, the product of their perilous troublemaking. Parked on their horses with two options – raise a white flag or leap – they chose the latter, committing to and executing a free fall to the river below. Probably not the most apt archetype for starting a band, but it’s a wonderfully memorable visual.

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Post-script: An hour or so after publishing the above, just discovered a "bringing the band back together" post about YouTube in the Freakanomics blog.

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