One of my all-time favorite bands growing up was Van Halen. I was mesmerized by the way Eddie Van Halen could play his guitar, it was something I had never seen before, almost like he was from another planet. The band had also developed a reputation as “bad boys” by trashing hotel rooms and living the rock star life, so as a teenager I was completely sold on them and read every article I could about their life as rock n roll legends.
One article that always stuck with me was their contract riders which listed the requirements for what promoters would need to provide for them at every concert venue. This was a lengthy document which outlined the type of gear they needed, electrical and lighting specs, staging equipment, and very specific food and beverage requests. Buried somewhere in this long list of items there was always a strange requirement for a large bowl full of M & M’s WITH ALL THE BROWN ONES REMOVED.
For years this particular concert rider was used to exemplify the massive egos of Rock Stars, and how their Diva like demands knew no boundaries. The members of Van Halen utilized this request to the nth degree and took it very seriously. If they found even one brown M & M in the bowl, the entire dressing room and backstage area was trashed beyond recognition seemingly to send a message to concert promoters about who was actually in charge. To the fans, this was just another way the band could “stick it to the man” and they bought into the story as Rock Star excess.
It wasn’t until years later that I learned the true meaning of the Brown M & M request and feel like it’s a great lesson for those of us that plan for to achieve any level of success in our businesses and in our lives.
As Van Halen grew bigger and more popular, the crowds grew bigger along with them. Larger audiences meant higher expectations for a live performance, and ultimately the shows had to become much more dramatic and larger than life. Because of this, the band’s staging requirements had to be built to perfect specs and meticulously set up in order to fit into sports arenas across the country. Part of this elaborate staging including a vast array of pyrotechnics and explosions. Think of a full-blown fireworks display. Now place it in an indoor venue on a stage. Remember this was back in the 80’s, before digital technology and wireless technology. These pyrotechnics were extremely dangerous and if the specs of the stage were off even just a few feet, the members of the band could be seriously injured or even killed.
The specifics of the stage set up required so many pages of instructions that the band members believed certain greedy concert promoters would simply breeze through them or not read them at all. The idea of the removing the Brown M & M’s was placed into the contracts to let the band know if the stage was actually going to be safe that evening or if they needed to take extra care during the songs where the pyrotechnics were going to be utilized.
The band felt that if the concert promoter wasn’t going to pay attention to the details and something as simple as removing some candy from a bowl, how could they be trusted to handle the important items which could put them all in danger? As a punishment for putting the band in harm’s way- the road crew was instructed to trash the dressing rooms, hotel rooms and anything else they could find to eat into the lazy promoter’s profit margin. Which by the way was also in the rider- that the promoters had to pay for any excess damage caused by the band.
The lesson here is twofold. One, that true success is almost always in the details, and if you plan to be a leader in your chosen endeavors than like it or not, the little details and small Quarter Turns are important and can have a huge impact. Number two, there is always more to the story than we think and if we aren’t willing to dig a bit deeper into the meaning than we are destined to make decisions based on faulty assumptions. And making assumptions creates a lot more challenges than they are worth.
Ask yourself this week:
Are you paying attention to the Brown M & M’s and all the other details that can be the difference between success and failure.
Are you willing the ask the right questions to understand the intentions of certain decisions being made or just plan to make your own assumptions.
Cheers to you and your continued success
and those Brown M&M’s
One Quarter Turn at a Time