Janis Joplin, the wild woman who downed Southern Comfort like it was Poland Spring burst on the drug-soaked rock scene in the 60’s and became its most electric diva. The girl was wired. She screamed her own brand of blues like she had ten minutes to get it all out before she died disappearing as fast as she arrived. But her legacy remains. The music, sure, but even more potent than that, the nuclear passion that fueled it.
In a real sense, Joplin was a mini industry, selling records and concert dates and Janis stuff. I think about how she ran her company, her life, as I walk down the halls of so many corporate offices.
Passion? There’s not a trace. Electricity? It’s like all the wires were cut. Dreams? What do dreams have to do with business?
No, the typical office is a virtual graveyard. Quiet, predictable, passionless. And that’s what leads to Buick’s and Campbell’s Soup and Ann Taylor clothing. Management there takes the Joplin’s of the world out in the shed and shoots them for lunch.
Every year (this summer will be no different) bright and jet fueled kids will stream out of colleges across America and dive in what they believe will be exciting companies because they have cool brands. And they will find, in an awful flash, that they are locked into hardened bunkers that demand adherence to the way it is, as opposed to suggesting how it should be.
The kids lose but not nearly as much as the companies that hire them. They put a lid on the creativity, the raw power, the dangerous thinking that is the real secret weapon of the Google’s and the Pixar’s of the world. They institutionalize mediocrity.
How can you prevent this postal mentality from turning your company into a motor vehicle bureau? Only by declaring war. With passion. The way Janis would do it:
- Seniority no longer counts for anything. Even the most junior of juniors can bring ideas to the CEO.
- A chief innovator is engaged and empowered to challenge and discard every tired practice that is clogging up the company’s arteries.
- The company’s biggest critic-from the media, the trade, etc-is brought on board and given a real platform for change.
- Management answers the questions that has been gnawing at it for years: How come it’s no longer fun to work here? And why don’t our records sell like they used to?