What makes us go beyond, accept tough challenges and succeed?
Something I am dealing with in everyday life as consultant and facilitator: Today‘s companies are eager to find ways to cope with the challenges they are facing in the VUCA world. Yet – at the same time they are experiencing a lack of courageous decisionmakers who are willing to try something new, something that seems impossible, something outrageous.
There’s a high demand for an introduction and implementation of methods such as Scrum, Design Thinking, Open Space Facilitation as well as a vast variety of collaboration tools. Yes, there are wonderful methods and tools around. But what makes a difference on the bottom line is the realization and acceptance that not methods or tools are bringing the solution, but a mindset shift:
A different approach on how to handle challenges, different patterns of behavior. This requires openness, sharing of ideas, a lot of collaboration across departments, branches, industries and borders – and last but not least trust in people and the courage to make decisions and take responsibility.
All that is often praised as a new way to approach work, a new way to get things done and certainly a new understanding of leadership. Looking at my own experiences at several jobs from the 80’s until today, I agree, it seems to be new…
Inspiration by a great example from the 90’s
But, sometimes a small thing like listening to an old song can challenge this feeling of „all that is new“:
It happened to me when I listened to an old CD from Journey which I bought while living in San Francisco back in 1991. I still love that music and it brought back the memory of a very special experience:
Overwhelming challenges back than
Living in San Francisco was different and exciting for many aspects. Not only the different culture was a bit of a challenge, but also dealing with forces of nature as well:
The Loma Prieta earthquake happened just 2 years ago in 1989, causing 63 deaths, about 3,700 injuries, destroyed infrastructure like the Bay Bridge and a stretch of 101 near the ferry buidling and collapsed or badly damaged residences.
In October 1991 the Bay Area was in shock again, after a wildfire burned down more than 3.000 residences in the East Bay and left more than 5.000 people homeless on just one weekend. Rembering that incredible smoke, people rushing away from that area, seeing bare hills, covered in ashes and ruins where lush vegeatation, beautiful homes and happy families used to be, is still sending shivers up my spine.
The first gulf war – named operation „Desert Storm“ in the US, started August 1990 and left the country in a deep recession, rising unemployment. Everybody was trying to cope. Barred, empty stores and restaurants were a clear sign that the party was over and more challenges to tackle.
Death of a true leader
Nov. 3rd 1991 a famous and much beloved rock promoter from San Francisco, Bill Graham, died in a helicopter crash and the city was mourning the loss of a person who genuinely cared – for the artists as well as for the audience. Apparently he was the first who ensured that medical personnel was on site during large events. He also supported the Haight Ashbury free clinic in San Francisco.
Find out more about Bill Graham – it’s worth it:
Out of the blue – the biggest concert ever
Suddenly rumor turned up that there would be a memorial concert in Golden Gate Park. Nobody knew which artists would attend, nobody had a schedule – it was more like „show up around 11:00 am at Golden Gate Park’s Polo Field and see what’s going to happen“.
What happened was a once in a lifetime experience:
People came from every direction to the open Polo Field, bringing kids, pets, picnic equipment and – most of all – the curiosity to experience whatever the day may come up with, patience to let unfold whatever may come and the expectation to spend a beautiful, sunny day at a beautiful place together with crowds expecting exactly the same. Living the moment and don’t worry about anything…
What we did experience was an almost 6 hrs live concert featuring an amazing line up such as Carlos Santana, Tracy Chapman, The Grateful Dead, Crosby, Still, Nash and Young (yes, all four of them), Journey (first time after years reunited), Joan Baez, etc. Every time a band left the stage, the next one come as a surprise to the entire audience.
Find full line up and setlist here: concertarchives.com
The crowd was cheery, happy and relaxed and enjoying the treat. A break from everyday tough challenges. Kids were playing, dogs were chasing each other, groups enjoyed a picnic, frisbee games happened with whoever joined, giant balloons made their rounds – nothing but a perfect day. All stress and sorrow seemed to be gone during those hours.
Make the impossible happen
Now this: Bill Graham died 10 days before the concert. This left the organizers how much time? Yes: just 10 days for the entire set up! It is said, that they actually did all this within 5 days.
There was no entrance fee, no admission control – people just attended: around 300.000 came to Polo Field. No fighting, no pushing, just enjoying. A peaceful, happy crowd.
Also the way back home was interesting – to say the least: Busses couldn’t cope with the masses of people. Getting on a bus took hours (literally) – you just waited. Once on a bus, you got stuck in traffic. At one point the driver gave up and announced he just decided to take a side street a few blocks parallel from his original route to be able to move on. He would announce the stops, which would certainly be a few blocks away and whoever would like to leave the bus should let him know. He earned a big applause and we were on our way back home. His plan worked out fine.
Why did it work?
So – thinking about this. What happened?
First of all: Bill Graham was a much beloved promoter who apparently showed the leadership skills we’re looking for today. The set up of a memorial concert was obviously a no brainer – neither for his staff, nor for the artists he promoted, nor for the city officials. So his staff took a serious effort in setting up this concert in no time, getting the artist’s participation very spontaneously. They all had a good cause and were very clear about the WHY. This was supposed to be a memorial to honor a very special person.
Second: All organizers, from Bill Graham’s staff to the SF Police Department and the Mayor of San Francisco – there was a lot of trust involved. Trust that everyone involved would do an excellent and responsible job. Apparently this included the people of San Francisco who attended this concert.
Third: Flexibility brought to the max. No longtime planning, no carefully worked out schedules, but doing what’s possible.
Fourth: There was a lot of boldness and courage from all sides involved. The „just do it“ which so many companies and organizations are trying to bring alive, was there – on a very big scale and all over. Even the bus driver took responsibility and decided to leave his assigned route in order make things better for everyone involved.
Dennis McNally, publicist for the Grateful Dead said : “Perhaps the most appropriate comment on who he was and what he left behind is that his operation, in five days, could put together a concert for 300,000 people with good sound, in total safety and without incident and a show in which the last act, the Grateful Dead, went on stage and off on time, to the minute.”
Sometimes it’s worth to look back into the past and reflect on what actually happened that made a certain action, a certain event really successful to find the answers for today.
I am more than grateful that I had a chance to be there and experience all this first hand.
If you want to find more on this special concert, just search the internet for „Bill Graham Memorial Concert“ or „Laughter, Love and Music“, which was the official title and yes – it turned out to be exactly that. You’ll find a lot of coverage and background information on Bill Graham as well. Find some examples below.
San Francisco Chronicle article covering the concert
Deutsche Welle (in German language)
Enjoy and get inspired to be courageous!
Make the impossible happen.
Laughter, love and music Nov. 3rd 1991
Golden Gate Park – Polo Field
San Francisco, CA