Four Non-Obvious Things Pink Floyd Can Teach Your Team

The band which produced Dark Side of the Moon has a surprising number of lessons to teach about collaboration, team-building and management skills.

I recently read Mark Blake's Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd. It is, as I said in my 5-star Amazon review, a great book about the history of the band that created some of the top-selling albums of all time. At its most obvious level, this is a biography of creativity, innovation and business success. Blake quotes an early Pink Floyd manager as saying, "None of us imagined that decades later you could go to the remotest part of the globe and find cassettes of Dark Side of the Moon rattling around in the glove compartments of Third World taxis."

But without particularly trying to do so, the book also succeeds as a collaboration case study of a team of extremely creative people working together—and some of the points I drew from reading Comfortably Numb demonstrate that many of the "everyone knows" assumptions about team-building are myths. Or at least they can be.

(All this is particuarly poignant at the moment because, as you probably know, Syd Barrett died in 2006, and Richard Wright died this week. Given a long history of Pink Floyd fandom at the Schindler bitranch—my spouse first saw them play during the Meddle tour—we mourn the loss.)

Hiring Based on "Team Fit" is Over-Rated

The hiring process in any IT department (or, actually, any business environment at all) always puts a lot of emphasis on whether the new team member will "fit in" with the existing culture. While there's certainly value in that goal (because we all prefer to work with people we care about and understand), that attitude isn't always right.

As Eugene Nizker wrote recently in 7 Agile Leadership Lessons for the Suits, teams often need someone to take on devil's advocate role to avoid complency, or to challenge assumptions that can get in the way of innovation. Or, as a successful businessman once told me, "When two partners agree all the time, one of them is unnecessary."

That is supremely evident from Pink Floyd's history. While most of them knew each other from childhood in Cambridge, and they moved in the same circles in their London youth (such as attending the same architecture college), they didn't necessarily like one another. In fact, their history is full of stories about the friction between these supremely talented, creative individuals, as well as their efforts to cope with the increasingly fractious leader, Syd Barrett, and the opinionated Roger Waters.

"I actually walked out of one of the first rehearsals," says Gilmour. "Roger had got so unbearably awful, in a way that I'd later get used to, that I stomped out of the room." . . .

"[Syd] was our friend, but most of the time we now wanted to strangle him," admitted Waters.

In some scenarios, you might consider those the antics of creative prima-donnas who can escape consequences because of their business value (and thus appear like "Eric" in Would You Fire This Person?). But at the time this anecdote took place, Pink Floyd was far from superstar status; their big hit was "See Emily Play," which had reached #5 on the UK pop charts.

But the team could focus, and for the movie soundtrack La Vallée, they recorded 10 songs in 14 days, despite a whistle-stop tour of Japan in the middle of it all. Says the book, "As Nick Mason would admit later, 'We had no scope for self-indulgence.'"

The lesson, though, is that to be a business success, "personality fit" isn't always a requirement—though obviously it sure helps. The ability to get the job done is what matters. Barrett was let go only after he made it clear he could no longer contribute to the team's success.

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