Just finished Bruce Springsteen’s masterful memoir, BORN TO RUN. I am a fan of his music, but am not a “super-fan” and didn’t know a lot of his life. Springsteen is one of the most successful musicians of a generation. Besides his incredible talent and his will to perform, I found many valid business lessons in his story.
- There can only be one leader — Springsteen discusses how he wanted to avoid decision-making squabbles and confusion as to who was in charge. He made it clear from the onset that the “buck would stop here, if I could make one.’ (page 149).
- You have to get rid of the weak links — A couple of times, Bruce fired close friends who were in the band. In one case, he let go his drummer Vini. It was a combination of things, but ultimately “…it all came down to the fact that my music was changing and I needed someone with a more sophisticated palate.” Although close friends, Springsteen still fired him to make the band better. (page 199).
- Team chemistry is critical to success — Springsteen, when putting together The E Street Band, “You’re not looking for the best players. You’re looking for the right players who click into something unique.” (page 235). As in business, it is important to have a team with varied strengths that all work together. Success is achieved by everyone knowing their roles and performing them.
- Be aggressive and proactive — After one of the band’s legendary performances, he says “at the moment I learned that unless you are very aggressive, very proactive about what you want, what you’ve created can be co-opted and taken away from you.” (page 231).
- Contracts are important to set expectations— Although he signed a bad one to get started, it helped launch his career. But once successful, Springsteen let “everyone knew where everyone else stood, and was given and what was asked. Once signed, those contracts left us free to just play.” (page 375).
- Look for advice outside your usual group — Later in his career, looking for new inspiration, Springsteen writes “the need to look for direction, input and some guidance, outside of yourself, can be healthy and fruitful.” (page 397).
- Some times you have to strike a bad deal just to get in — As with so many musicians, the agents screwed them. The same is of Bruce’s first contract. “In the end, I would’ve signed Mike’s jockey shorts…but in the end, I just said fuck i, I had to get in.” (page 169).
- Read books to get a sense of history — Ok, maybe not as much a ‘business lesson’ but still important. Bruce mentions reading “Henry Steele Commager’s A POCKET HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, Howard Zinn’s A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES and Joe Klein’s WOODY GUTHRIE: A LIFE all provided me with a new view of myself as an actor in this moment in time.” (page 291).
- Be true to yourself and your mission –This is the basic theme of the entire book and his life. There are dozens of examples where Springsteen did things the way he wanted and what he believed. Even if it was risky and not the obvious path, it was his path. Maybe it could be called “Zen and the Art of Springsteen.”
More than just a rock bio, this is a lesson is business and living a good life.