When my boss (a.k.a. my wife and business partner) gave me a copy of THE Boss’ autobiography, I tried not to look like an ingrate, even though I anticipated it would be a hard slog. And that, my friends, is lesson #1 of this blog post: Keep your mind open, not just to the potential of any author to entertain you but also to the possibility that useful lessons—whether for life or business—can come from unexpected sources. Here are just a few of the inspirational insights I gleaned from Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen’s riveting autobiography.
Luck Is Always Preceded by Hard Work
By the time Born to Run hit #3 on Billboard’s top 200 albums in 1975, Springsteen already had been playing professionally for more than a decade and accumulated way more than 10,000 hours of performance time at bars, nightclubs and concert venues up and down the east coast before getting his “lucky” record deal in 1973. When reflecting upon his success, Springsteen notes, “It came down to this: I’d studied, honed, worked and sweated to acquire a set of skills that when put into action made me one of the best in the world at what I did. “
Even the Boss Needs Collaborators
As one of the greatest singer/songwriters in Rock ‘n’ Roll, Springsteen’s talk about the need for artistic collaboration—a lesson he learned after going it alone for the better part of 11 years (’88-’99)—is fascinating. “You need to be adventurous, to listen to your heart and write what it’s telling you, but your creative instinct isn’t infallible. The need to look for direction, input and some guidance outside of yourself can be healthy and fruitful,” he explains.
Longevity Is Built Through Respect of Teammates
Like startup businesses, most bands fall apart after a few years, even if they achieve momentary fame. Springteen and the E Street Band, on the other hand, have endured for more than five decades (their aforementioned break notwithstanding).
Springsteen attributes this longevity primarily to the E Street Band’s “style and playing abilities that had long been hand stitched to fit me perfectly.” Diving deeper, however, he addresses the fundamentals of teamwork: “Rock ‘n’ Roll bands that last have to come to one basic human realization: the guy standing next to you is more important than you think he is.”
Great Leaders Seek a Dynamic Tension Among Staffers
I’m not sure if Springsteen has read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” but he certainly understands its principles. Rather than seeking “yes men” with a uniform perspective, Springsteen, like Lincoln before him, welcomed colleagues who had their own, often conflicting, opinions and style. Describing how he “gently played” Steve Van Zandt and Jon Landau “off each other for a purpose,” he adds, “it was why they were both there—I wanted the tension of two complementarily conflicting points of view.”
Show, Don’t Tell
Aghast at seeing posters plastered all over a concert venue proclaiming Springsteen as the NEXT BIG THING on his first trip to London, he had the offending objects ripped from the walls. Sensitive to the fact that his business is “SHOW business and that is the business of SHOWING… not TELLING,” he also could have been talking about modern marketing. Brands that deliver value through their actions (e.g., useful content, speedy customer service, CSR, etc.) will always beat out those that rely on empty promises. “You don’t TELL people anything, you SHOW them, and let them decide,” The Boss concludes.
Final Notes on Born to Run: While witnessing Springsteen’s momentarily longest concert in the US ever (he topped it by a few minutes the next night) last summer at The Meadowlands with my grown-up kids, I marveled at his multi-generational appeal, his age-defying energy and talent, and the clear yet complex nature of his brand. And while I can’t be certain non-fans will enjoy his autobiography as much as I did, I can assure you it is rich with lyrical prose and deep insights, including this hard-earned gem, “We honor our parents by carrying their best forward and laying the rest down.”