Guest Column: Decision Making and Managing Change, Lessons from a Rock Star--Jay Kumar Hariharan

What could the Lead singer of a Rock band teach us about decision making and managing change? Jay Kumar Hariharan, Professional Certified Coach (PCC) and CEO –Blue Fire Coaching Consultants writes about the connect, read on

e4m by Jay Kumar Hariharan
Updated: Jul 11, 2016 8:08 AM
Guest Column: Decision Making and Managing Change, Lessons from a Rock Star--Jay Kumar Hariharan

What could the Lead singer of a Rock band teach us about decision making and managing change? Jay Kumar Hariharan, Professional Certified Coach (PCC) and CEO –Blue Fire Coaching Consultants writes about the connect, read on.

 “We can’t change what we can’t measure”, this is very true even when we are talking about behaviour change which initially seems like a fuzzy concept. During goal oriented discussions with my coachee, there would be talk about vague goals like –“I want to be happy “I want to become a better strategic thinker “I would like to become a better communicator”

While we are busy searching for personal epiphanies that brings us to a screeching halt and propels us to take a turn (make a decision, make a change). The unglamorous truth is, not all changes are triggered by huge life changing experiences and neither should they be. Like a lot of small events in our life, the need to change has to stem from a series of “non-events”. Only the most astute of us would be able to read the fine signs and make the requisite alignment. The same fine set of measures need to be adopted to calibrate our goal achievement. What is the evidence for the same? As a Coach, in the discovery phase I would ask these questions – How do you know you need to change? What needs to happen to convince you to change or not to change as the case may be? As the famous psychologist Roy Baumeister draws an interesting analogy to driving in our cars “we may spend 95% of our times going straight, but it is the turns that determine where we end up”

 Battling inertia, personal or organisational is extremely difficult. How can we set up guard rails to ensure we last the path, also, how can we ensure we are able to head off potential minefields? We need to work off a checklist or set a few tripwires to ensure we are on the right track?

Tripwires and checklists help us in decluttering which enables better decision making, easily replicable for various aspects of growth and learning and hugely instrumental in best practice habits.

When I was reading David Lee Roth’s autobiography, -Crazy in the Heat – (Executive Coaches have eclectic reading interests:) this gem of an insight popped out, True to the spirit of Multidisciplinary learning, connecting the dots helped me articulate this thought better for Leaders at all levels.

Roth was the Lead singer for the Band “Van Halen” from the mid-70s to the 80’s. An era when the band cranked out one smash hit after the other –“Runnin with the Devil” “Dance the night away” and  “hot for teacher” etc. The Band travelled extensively with over a hundred concerts in 1984 alone. Behind the band’s head banging appeal was some serious operations expertise. It was one of the first rock bands to bring major stage productions to smaller markets. As Roth recalls in his autobiography, “we would pull up with nine 18 wheeler trucks full of gear where the standard was 3 trucks max. The Band’s production design was astonishingly complex-the contract specified the set up, and according to Roth –“like a version of the Chinese yellow pages”, because it was so technical and complex. It was like reading a foreign language.

While Van Halen had its own road crew, much of the prep work had to be done in advance, before the 18 wheelers pulled in, Van Halen and its crew lived in fear that the venue stage hands would screw up something and leave the band exposed to injury. This was the same era when Michael Jackson’s head was set on fire by some misfiring of the pyrotechnics at a Pepsi ad film shoot. But given the Band’s frantic touring schedule, there wasn’t time to do a top to bottom quality check at each venue. During this same period of touring, rumours circulated wildly about Van Halen’s backstage antics, the band members were notorious partiers and while there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about a rock band that likes to party, Van Halen seemed committed to a level of decadence that was almost artistic. Roth mentions in his autobiography “well, we have heard about throwing a TV out of a window, how about getting enough extension cords so that the TV can remain plugged in all the way down to the ground floor”

Sometimes though the bands actions seemed less like playful mayhem and more like ego mania, the most egregious humour about the band was that its contract rider demanded a bowl of m&m’s backstage with all the brown ones removed! There were tales of Roth walking in backstage, spotting a single brown m&m freaking out and trashing their dressing room. This rumour was true-the brown free bowl of m&m’s became the perfect appalling symbol of Rock Star Diva behaviour. Here was a band making absurd demands simply because it could!

Well, not quite! the band’s m&m clause was written into its contract to serve a very specific purpose. It was called article 126 and it specifically mentioned that there would be no brown m&m’s in the m&m bowl at the back stage area, if there was a deviation from this specification, the result would be a forfeiture of the show with full compensation –the article was buried in the middle of countless tech specs. When Roth would arrive at the new venue, he would immediately walk backstage and glance at the m&m bowl, if he saw a brown m&m, he would demand a line check of the entire production, guaranteed that they were going to arrive at a tech error. The event Organisers in these cases hadn’t read their contract!!

In other words, David Lee Roth was no Diva, he was an operations master who needed a way to assess quickly whether the stage hands at each venue were paying attention whether they would read every word of the contract and taken it seriously. He needed a way in other words , to snap out of “ Mental autopilot” and realise that a decision had to be made in Van Halen’s world –a brown m&m was a “Tripwire”

We all could use a few trip wires in our lives? We would have a trigger weight that signal the need to exercise more or a trigger date on the calendar that reminded us to ask whether we are investing enough in our relationships. Sometimes the hardest part of making a good decision is knowing that there is one to be made. In Life, most of our days are on autopilot going through our usual routines, we may make a handful of conscious considered choices every day, but while these decisions don’t’ occupy much of our time and they have a disproportionate influence on our lives!

Do we have an M&M equivalent of a tripwire to remind us if we are being derailed from our path; this is directly related to the rules we have attached to achievement of a value. When a Coachee speaks about contribution as a desired value, I would ask him -what would need to happen to make him realise he is reaching his contribution goal-these are the rules/tripwires he is operating from. “. This congruence between the end value and the rules that support us in will help us listing our own tripwires.

(Jay Kumar Hariharan is a Coach, Speaker, Story teller and Deep Sea Diver. Sometimes, not in the same order!)

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