Rock and Roll MBA Part III

I’d like to continue the trend of pointing to classic rock groups as examples of different business trends such as private equity, which I learned about by producing Private Equity World Brasil and Private Equity World Latin America, and social media, which will be a topic of interest at the 3rd European Public Relations and Communications Summit.  Last Fall, I produced a conference on crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing is defined as “the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call.” For example, Wikipedia.

This approach can produce great content – especially from enthusiasts who are looking to share their knowledge or insight. This funk website primarily consists of content from record collectors who want to share some of their best finds either out of a love for the genre, or a desire to show off their record digging scores. Either way, the community is an end onto itself.

The community goes beyond just sharing music – members actively discuss various different issues on their message board. The message board can be used to illustrate to one of the main challenges that corporations have when trying to integrate crowdsourcing into their business processes. People who are willing to share intellectual property don’t often take kindly to some Mr. Big Corporate Guy coming in to try to make a profit off of their efforts.  One of the Soul Strut members once told me that they’re generally friendly, unless someone starts saying inappropriate things.

“Like what?” I asked.

“You know, like asking ‘can you guys recommend any good funk records?’” he said.

I tried to think of any. other. question. that I would possibly want to ask that group. And couldn’t.

To me, that was the most obvious question to ask. But I’m not a record collector (a greedy MP3 hoarder, but that’s not the same thing.) The point was that people go to the site to find like minded individuals. The “right” people are record collectors who sincerely like the style of music. They’re more likely to want to share music than take from the group. They have a sense of what’s actually a rare funk song to a collector, rather than to a layperson. And perhaps there is an element of common sense that you listen and watch the conversation before you speak up.

One of my speakers, a former patent attorney told me that to make it work in a business setting, you need to find people who are on the same wavelength. (It gets more complicated when you’re talking about multi-million dollar projects, such as looking for a new diagnostic process for your pharmaceutical pipeline.) On the most basic level, the participants are sharing for as a part of their passion for the subject at hand. She told me crowdsourcers are looking for “Fellow Travelers.” The term was unfamiliar to me, so I looked it up.

According to the millions of people contributing to Wikipedia, Fellow Traveler was defined by former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover as one of five types of dangerous subversives: “someone not a potential Communist but nevertheless who may hold views shared by Communists”

And here is where my Rock and Roll MBA profile makes his appearance. Someone who is utilizing crowdsourcing is sort of like an artist who uses the contributions of the crowd as his muse. Some artists don’t like to share their work without full financial and attribution credit. (understandably, since this is how they make a living.)  This, for example, is why we don’t have records like Paul’s Boutique, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, or 3 Feet High and Rising anymore.  It’s simply prohibitively expensive to have hundreds of samples on an album.

While I was producing the I3 conference, I was also reading Bob Dylan’s autobiography Chronicles: Volume One.  The book is phenomenal. He writes out of chronological order so the tone is very conversational, and the different parts of his life are of a different nature from one another.  Just a collection of good stories from a guy who knows how to identify a good story. I suppose it’s a topic for another essay, but Dylan is great because of his observational skills. He knows what a good story sounds like, and he knows how to retell it. His songs are researched thoroughly an his best contain multiple sources. He doesn’t get into the writing process too much, but you see the curiosity and inquisitiveness that results in his interesting multi-layered lyrics.

Given his habit of pulling from outside sources, he has been accused of plagiarism.

I think it’s a mischaracterization to say he’s stealing  – is he really being dishonest? Were any of us going to enjoy Timrod or Saga in their original form? I think quoting Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a wink to people who know the play, if anything. If it is being lazy to use others’ lines with no wink involved, he’s still doing the work of knowing a Civil War era poet – that’s more work than many writers put into original work. I think this is just part of the process of his literary-research-observational-based-pop-music writing. He doesn’t necessarily need to have written the lines – he’s doing the observing for us, processing it his own way, and singing it to us in a way we enjoy.

So you might already see how this relates to crowdsourcing. Dylan is taking from a pool of writers and combining ideas into something new (and let’s face it, more popular).  In his biography, I was struck by a passage where he says that he liked a line from a Woody Guthrie song, so he used it. He makes mention of this so casually, as though it’s just standard operating procedure.

And I think, in the folk music community, it was standard procedure.  I don’t think folk singers in the 60s were looking to become rich megastars, but rather were trying to advance the music.

But what actually struck me more was the fact that, according to Hoover’s definition, these folks actually were Fellow Travelers.   Left wing themes are Guthrie’s thing! Some of those folks, like Pete Seeger were not only blacklisted, but called upon to testify about their alleged Communist affiliations.

So it seems that the fellow traveler analogy may be apt for crowdsourcing – and how fun is it to be doing something that can be considered “subversive”?

But more importantly, it also seems as though Bob Dylan had the right idea about crowdsourcing as a creative tool.   I’d like to stress, if Dylan had had to ignore great ideas simply because he didn’t think of them, we’d be worse off. Should he pay for their usage? Perhaps, but it’s a weird way of thinking about writing. And it’s a pretty lawyerly topic. That’s why lawyers get paid the big bucks – to think about royalties and intellectual property while great songwriters get to produce great music and live out an example of part three of my Rock and Roll MBA series.



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