Supply Chain Lessons from Prince and Other Fallen Musical Heroes

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The past year has not been kind to our musical idols. Although many have passed, including David Bowie, BB King, Glen Frey and most recently Prince, we’ll always have a phenomenal body of musical works to keep them alive in our hearts and minds. When you hear these names and their music you don’t immediately think supply chain, but for all the supply chain nerds out there we’re always thinking, ‘what’s the impact on the supply chain?’ Aside from family, now that my hockey team is out of the NHL playoffs, supply chain and music are what’s running through my brain. As a guitar player myself, I was in total awe of Prince’s prowess on the fretboard. Check out the YouTube video of Prince soloing on While My Guitar Gently Weeps during George Harrison’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The smile on Harrison’s son at 4:46 of the video says it all when it comes to Prince. While watching the video I was thinking two things. He is the ultimate axe slinger / showman, and there will be a huge demand spike for everything purple. Thinking about the musical geniuses mentioned above there are few other helpful lessons we can take away in their memory. Challenge the Status Quo I’m huge Eagles fan. I couldn’t believe someone could tear up the guitar as well as Prince. So I paid close attention to the careers of both Glen Frey and Prince. From the time a song idea popped into their heads, until that song ended up as soundwaves directed at fans’ ears, they both were meticulous about the entire process. That includes the song writing, recording, and distribution of their works. Glen Frey for the most part fired Glyn Johns, the same guy who produced The Who, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones, because he wasn’t satisfied with the recording process. Glen and Prince also challenged the way music was distributed. For example, the Eagles completely bypassed the record companies to distribute their album The Long Road Out Of Eden. Instead they inked a deal to distribute directly with Walmart. If Prince had been a supply chain leader (just imagine that) he would likely be asking the same questions he asked during his musical career, ‘Why are we doing things this way?’ or ‘this isn’t good enough, what else can we do?’ We should ask the same questions about our supply chain processes and technologies all with the goal of achieving excellence. Do the Work There’s a great segment in the documentary, History of The Eagles, where Glen discusses how he learned the craft of songwriting. In it he says he listened to Jackson Browne get up every morning, make some tea and work on a single line or melody for hours. “Elbow grease” is one of the many descriptions of the formula for songwriting success Glen observes. Prince would spend hours and even days in the studio recording all parts and all instruments to make sure it was just right. He put in the work. The results were impressive, but they didn’t just happen. The same goes for supply chain transformations. I’m not sure who the quote is attributed to but, “if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” Sometimes it’s just easier to firefight, it’s what we know. But for breakthrough improvements we need to put in the work. Managing all the disruptions and risk supply chains face today isn’t going to get any easier, so to make our supply chains sing, we’ll have to do the work. Put Your Fans First David Bowie was one of the first to bring theatrics into his show. Prince would show up unexpectedly at small clubs to give his fans an experience they would never forget. Glen Frey made sure the Eagles played all the hits even though he may have been tired of them after singing the same tunes hundreds of times. This was all done with one purpose in mind—exciting the fans. These artists put themselves in the shoes of their fans, imaging they were the ones on the concert floor. We should do the same for our customers. What can we do that will excite them? How can we make them fans? Short of sending them Princes’ full catalog of music, we can drive supply chain improvements that will result in benefits to their business, and work hard every day to exceed their expectations. On another note, are you booking you concert tickets for Kinexions 2016? It’s in Nashville this year so there will be lots of music. Let us know if you have any song requests.

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