Thursday, May 26, 2005

I never smoked, but I did inhale

One of the toughest things I've learned over 30 years in music and business—and it seemed to take forever for this to dawn on me—was that talented associates are not the key to success. Stable associates make a much bigger difference when you're trying to start a band, a company, or scout troop. And stable people that also work well in a team can help you reach the gold.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be with friends that were dangerous, because I thought it was cool. I remember hanging out at parties and concerts where the marijuana smoke was so thick that I probably got high. I wasn't a smoker or a drinker, but the environment was intriguing. I think Joni Mitchell wrote, "I'm frightened by the devil, but I'm drawn to those who ain't afraid." That was me.

When I got a little older, I had to pick my band members. Sometimes the most talented people were also the most messed up—I took them anyway. I can't tell you how many times I was hurt by these people, and I just kept making excuses for them and coming back for more. It's never a good thing when four members of a five-piece band have to cover for a member that got busted for smoking dope in the alley behind the club. Wish I could say that it only happened once.

How your colleagues work with you and each other is only part of the story. The record companies, sponsors, club owners, and business people that you associate with may be able to put up with spiked hair and a gritty exterior, but they still want you and your band to show up clean, chemical-free, on time, and ready to rock...just like any other employer would expect. Trust me, you can be insanely talented, but they're going to dump you quick if you mess them over--and you don't get a second chance.

Now with the miles behind me, I find myself having to be wary of this stuff all over again. Compared to the people that I mentor, I am really old. I get involved in chambers of commerce, networking groups, volunteering to run events, playing at clubs, and speaking at charity functions. Be aware that this stuff is not limited to young people. I go to business events and see leaders of commerce getting drunk and forgetting they're still on the job. I go to charity events where the organizer loses credibility for her whole organization because she gets potted by the end of every event. I see otherwise bright and creative individuals written off by everyone around them because they mix their medication and their alcohol and can't remember most of the conversations they've had all evening. Who wants to work with these people?

In a business community, in your school, in your job, you will have to work with some people you don't like. Having said that, do whatever you can to distance yourself from those that exhibit signs of these kinds of problems. You can help them, within very tight limits, but be aware that you're probably wasting your time. Team with people that are better with you, or at least as good. Mentor and encourage your lessers, but beware of the leech that will never take your counsel and grow with it.