Belfast Telegraph

Take a tip from the birds, bees ... and Jerry Garcia?

By Terence Blacker

It is the ultimate hippie nightmare. The Grateful Dead, a band which for 30 years represented the cause of love, peace and LSD, is about to provide marketing lessons for 2010.

Their fans, who liked to be known as Deadheads, once offered a stoned, smiling defiance of that all-purpose authority figure of the straight world, known simply as ‘the Man’. Now it turns that they were working for the Man without knowing it.

A book called Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, written by a couple of high-flying experts in entrepreneurialism, is about to be published. Next year a competing volume, Professor Barry Barnes's Wisdom from the Grateful Dead, will be in the shops.

According to the business experts, the way Jerry Garcia and his band related to their audience from the late 1960s onwards has influenced Apple, Google and others. The Grateful Dead had what Barnes calls “dynamic synchronicity”. There was no obvious leader. In order to prove its freedom from financial greed, the band allowed itself to be ripped off occasionally.

In the same spirit, there was no ban on taping at concerts, nor was there any control of merchandising. By offering their followers those freedoms while ensuring that every public performance was a new and largely improvised experience, they established fierce loyalty among the Deadheads.

Today's breadhead business leaders would like some of that magic to work on their consumers. Or so the argument goes.

To the non-entrepreneur, there is little sign of the Grateful Dead's zonked-out altruism in today's commercial world.

There is, though, a desperate hunger among business types for some code that will help them make more money.

Before writers raided the hippie archive, there were management manuals based on Greek mythology, on classical history, on war.

Next it will be the turn of the natural world. Just as historically based business guides offer the comfort of the past, so wildlife can be seen as a model for management methods which are tough yet beneficial, providing rewards for the strongest while ensuring the survival of the species as a whole.

Bees, for example, reveal the importance of seeking diversity within a team. When a bees' nest becomes too large, members of the colony search the neighbourhood for another suitable site.

They return to the nest, perform a ‘dance’. Those with the best dance will persuade the other bees to follow them. Companies could learn from the dancing thing, apparently.

Ants provide another lesson. For each task, precisely the right number of ants is involved, providing a model of efficiency.

What the ants are telling us, in their own little way, is that bureaucracy is a bad thing. There are more lessons from termites (on handling the climate), reindeer (on sticking together as a herd) and fish (turning together at the same time). It all sounds interesting enough but, as with the Deadheads, the application to the business world seems, shall we say, a little stretched.

With a bit of ingenuity, one can find management lessons almost anywhere. I could argue without too much difficulty that the great unwritten management guide is The Wisdom of Chickens: Business Lessons from the Henhouse.

A good manager will establish his authority with cockerel-like efficiency, crowing regularly, herding his staff together occasionally with showy little gestures, looking out for predators and offering favours briskly and on an equal basis to all members of staff.

The Wisdom of Chickens would provide an answer to the tricky question of maternity leave.

As soon as a member of staff becomes broody, she should be ignored, apart from being sat on now and then. When she returns to the flock, she should be given a hard time for a day or so until she has settled back in.

When the profitable world of business books tires of Jerry Garcia, termites and reindeer, it will be the moment for chicken management to rule the roost.

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