Robert Plant knows what “if first you don’t succeed” means.
On Raising Sand, a 2007 album that Plant did with Alison Krause, he tried a rendition of the Stanley Brothers classic Appalachian tune, “Little Maggie.” “I think we actually murdered it, to be honest,” Plant told David Greene of NPR’s Morning Edition. “I was trying to work out how to work the vocals, being British. It’s a sense of humor that you need to even get anywhere near that stuff, so we couldn’t make it work.”
Raising Sand won multiple Grammy awards and sold well, but Plant, one-time lead vocalist for Led Zepplin, wanted to try the song again for his new album. “The song is great, and I like the sentiment of Little Maggie, she’s always off with some no-good, sorry man.”
Robert Plant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
More than getting in touch with the humor of the piece Plant put together an eclectic group of musicians including a fiddler from West Africa and keyboardist from the UK. And this time he likes the new feel — which the New York Times describes as an amalgam of “American, Celtic, Middle Eastern and African styles” — that enables him to perform the song in ways he was unable to do years previously.
Approaching music with a new point of view is nothing new for musicians. Every composer from Bach to Bernstein, Mozart to Monk knows what it takes to arrange a melody with a different tempo or place it into another key. That’s what musicians do to give a freshness and appeal.
Executives can learn from this example: taking a second run at a project after a hiatus can afford a new perspective especially when you add new people to the team. While the first group may have had good ideas, a second group can build upon what’s been done, and perhaps had their own perspective. The project may take a different turn and produce a result that while different still satisfies original intentions.
And in this regard, Robert Plant offers another insight. He recorded his new album,lullaby… and the Ceaseless Roar, back in England. Plant for the past decades has been a relentless traveler and so returning to England allowed him to reconnect with family as well as with himself. In response to David Greene’s comment about reflection, Plant agreed. “I had to reconvene with everything that I’d taken for granted previously.”
In some regards this may be easier for artists. They live by their ability to reflect, to take stock of themselves and refracting it through their talent to produce a piece of art that expresses their skill (musical, visual, editorial) as well as their soul – their message. Managers live by their ability to keep their function operating smoothly and so arises that if something does not work the first time, drop it and move on.
Such a perspective often negates good work that is still valid but has been disregarded. By doing what artists do, a manager can look at what has come before and take a fresh look. Management by right is focused on outcomes but as artists show us achieving good outcomes is not always linear. Sometimes you need to take a step sideways – or even backwards – before you can move ahead. This approach is near standard operating procedure in medicine and science where experimentation is the norm.
Managers I know who have succeeded with reflection are those that make it regular practice both for themselves as well as their teams. By nature they are curious; they want to discuss issues and ideas with others. And they do so at meetings as well as informal chats at lunch or after-hours. They also clear time on their schedules for think time. They block time for reflection and guard the time from the schedule-keepers unless emergencies arise.
Managers are responsible for keeping people focused on task and projects on time and on budget, but sometimes the best way to do it is to make certain they are keeping themselves focused and this requires the perspective gained through reflection. And maybe a little bit of music.