"Everything I Know About Business I Learned from the Grateful Dead" by Barry Barnes PhD

Review by Borodutch

First, I tried to listen to the Grateful Dead for two days straight. I didn't get it. Maybe in the 60s-70s-80s-90s, they were super cool and novel, but after spending two days with their music, I can hardly recall any song I liked. However, I do understand that the band holds that sweet nostalgia hostage with, I don't know, the first kiss at a concert, the "free love 60s", "the past," "the childhood," "everything was better back then," etc. People who grew up listening to the Grateful Dead, well, grew up — and now they are getting offended by my review.

On the other hand, I do realize that deadheads are a subculture and very peculiar in this sense. Like the swifties or the BTS army, they nurture connections within the group and support each other. This is reason enough for the communities to exist; I have no beef with it.

The book is written by a person who got his Master's and then PhD degrees studying the Grateful Dead. Yes, the band. It turned out they did many things right — primarily by luck but also because they wanted to do things differently in a human-loving way. The author keeps saying, "The Dead did it first!" Email marketing? Yep, they had hundreds of thousands of people on their snail mail list before the internet. Giving away things for free to charge more loyal fans later? Having excellent customer support? Nurturing non-commercial fan creativity? Facilitating the discussions between fans? Yes, they did this in the 60s or the 70s, whatever — they did it first.

Barry outlines the following "rules" the band followed:

  1. Stay flexible as a company, and be ready to improvise and adjust in real-time strategically.
  2. Stay true to your values and make socially conscious business decisions because it's the right thing to do, not because it's the most profitable thing to do.
  3. Be kind to your customers and offer high-quality products and customer support; lifelong customers are more valuable than one-time buyers.
  4. In the creative business, familiarity (not scarcity) creates value; share your content for free to become more familiar and build a distribution network.
  5. Nurture and harness customer community — listen to their feedback, collaborate, and facilitate group activities.
  6. Try to insource (as opposed to outsourcing) the core business processes (even if you fail, you'll learn how to outsource better).
  7. Stay on the bleeding edge of innovation despite risks — without innovation, there is barely any growth.
  8. Try to be transformational leaders to motivate the company employees to achieve greatness, too.
  9. Share the leadership through horizontal organizational structure and democratizing decision-making.
  10. Exploit the experience economy and provide authentic services; be genuine.

As you can see, the list of "rules" looks like it got out of some 2020s book on how to do business better — however, the company that did it disbanded in 1995, long before these values were inscribed in the startup world.

Even though I didn't get their music, the deep dive into how they did business resonated with me on the lower level. I hope reading this book will make me a better decision-maker in business. Anyone can greatly benefit from reading "Everything I Know About Business I Learned from the Grateful Dead."