Embrace Your Inner Springsteen

My son Evan is a freshman this year at Rhodes College in Memphis. (School motto: We’ve never heard of you either.)

For me, having a child in college is turning out to be a déjà vu-ish experience: It seems that the older my kids get, the more vivid are my own memories of having lived through the same things.

So when they entered kindergarten, for example, it wasn’t particularly reminiscent of anything for me (I have few memories of my earliest years). But college? … I remember my first semester like it was yesterday.

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In my case, yesterday was 1978, when I was enrolled at McGill University in Montreal. Great people (what’s not to like about Canadians?), great beer (ditto) and a seemingly never-ending parade of parties, social events and beer (did I already mention the beer?).

But even now, nearly 35 years later, one thing in particular stands out as the highlight of that first semester: Bruce Springsteen came to play at the Montreal Forum.

I’d seen Springsteen in New York the previous June, so I knew first hand that his concerts were well worth attending. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one with that point of view.

The city was buzzing with the news, and it quickly became clear that the only way to ensure a decent ticket was to be waiting at the Forum box office when it opened at 8am the following week.

So I got together with a bunch of friends and, after a not inconsiderable amount of debate, we scientifically determined that we needed to be in line by 6pm the day before. We divvied up the 14 hours of coverage and each took a shift standing out on the freezing sidewalk.

But it was worth it. Because when the next day rolled around, I had floor seats to the hottest show of the year.

Think about what happened: I rearranged my schedule; I stood outside for two hours in the freezing cold; I paid a lot of money for a ticket. And … I couldn’t have been happier. I felt fortunate for the opportunity to purchase a ticket.

And that’s my point. Because if you ask me, Springsteen is the model for all of us who sell a professional service.

We don’t want to be doing work we hate with people we don’t like. We don’t want to be constantly defending our fees. We don’t want to cross our fingers, hoping someone – anyone – will pick us out of the generic pile of people who offer the exact same services we offer.

No. We want to be Bruce Springsteen.

We want prospective clients waiting in line for when the doors open; rearranging their schedules for when we’re available; and happily bragging to their friends that they “scored a ticket” to see our show.

So how do you do it? I can’t tell you for sure because I don’t claim to be there – but I do claim to be trying. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Only do work that you’re exceptionally good at. I know, it’s tempting to take anything you can get, especially when you need the money. But that blurs your focus and the mediocre results water down your reputation.
     
    Ever met anyone who attended a lousy Springsteen show? Me neither. That’s because he doesn’t perform jazz or country or any of a thousand other genres he might get away with in the name of earning a little more money. He does what he does well, and nothing else.
  1. Stop copying your peers. It’s fine to check out the competition, but if you start mimicking them, all you do is blend in in the eyes of potential clients.
     
    You and I need to be doing the opposite. We want to set up our respective practices and offerings in such a way that if we don’t do the work, there’s no reasonable alternative. Springsteen doesn’t have an understudy … either you get him, or there’s no show.
     
    Prospects who see you as the only option are less inclined to shop around, less inclined to haggle over price and nearly always happier with the final outcome.
  1. Lose the “employee mindset.” Most people in most jobs know that if they leave, there’s 100 others who can step in and do the work just as well. That’s fine for people who get a weekly paycheck.
     
    But if you expect someone to wait out in the cold overnight and be happy before, during and after they write you a check, you need to first believe in yourself. People who hire you aren’t doing you a favor – they’re willingly exchanging their money for the value that only you can provide (see 1 and 2 above).
     
    So stop talking, writing and behaving like an out of work employee hoping for the next break. Be the world class rock star that we both know you are and the prospects will start believing it too.

I held onto that Springsteen ticket stub for years before finally losing it in a move somewhere along the way.

But the business lesson from that concert is as clear now as it was 35 years ago: If the services you provide don’t offer at least an occasional shot at earning you a cheering, screaming, standing ovation, you’ve still got work to do.


P.S. For my fellow Springsteen watchers (BRUUUUUUCE!), I strongly recommend checking out the fabulous, weekly blog of my college friend and fellow concert-goer that night, Rick Shea. His “Friday Bruce Fix” never fails to find the gems and hit the high notes.

 

19 thoughts on “Embrace Your Inner Springsteen

  1. Mark Witzling

    Once a Springsteen fan, always a Springsteen fan. Does this newsletter content mean you can write off your 2012 Bruce tickets as a business expense? Maybe even declare all past concert tickets (and shirts, and beer…) as a research expense???!!

    Reply
  2. Helen Graves

    I’ve been a Bruce-o-phile since ’75, when a friend literally sat on me and made me listen to Rosalita all the way through. There was simply no going back.

    Among other times, I saw him at one of the final concerts at Winterland. It’s entirely possible illicit drugs were involved (on our part, not Bruce’s) – it was the mid-70’s and we were college students, after all. But, regardless, it was an incredible experience, and remains a definite highlight of my early years.

    I love your analogy about using Bruce as a business model. His concerts are, hands down, the most memorable of any I attended. He pours his heart into it, focuses on what he excels at, strives to grow and expand his skill set and offerings. . .and has a blast doing it (or at least, appears to). I’m with you, Michael, that’s the kind of business I aspire to creating.

    Reply
  3. Katherine Davies

    Fantastic analogy. Love Bruce – unfortunately have never seen him in concert…..one day. Thanks for the exceptional insight and the jokes.

    Reply
  4. Tina Cincotti

    Oh Michael! I was already a huge fan but, with this, you’ve got me for life. Springsteen is the closest thing I have to a religion. His concert halls are houses of worship. My dad, my brother and I have been to 42 shows — best we can remember — heading to Europe on the last tour to experience the crowds in Milan (and Hamburg and Paris, as long as we were making the trip). I could go on and on.

    Your latest enews made me so happy. Reminding me of the ways we can all strive to emulate this one-of-a-kind singer, songwriter, poet, rocker, preacher, inspiration…

    Reply
  5. Michael Katz Post author

    Good to find so many fellow fans out there (not that there’s a shortage!). Definitely check out my friend Rick’s blog. Always interesting tidbits. And Tina, wow! … 42 shows. Hope you still have all those ticket stubs saved!

    Reply
  6. Roger Magalhaes

    Hey Michael–

    I agree (again) with you. It’s not ease and very tempting to do other “jobs” to get a buck. Specially when you are starting out a new company…However I have a friend who is a tile contractor – one of the top ones in the Boston area (NOT kidding). I use him as a model to my business (besides you). He was bidding on a job and his price came as $40,000 higher than his competitor…Guess what, the home owner selected him because of his “Bruce Springsteen” workmanship, reputation and exquisite final results.

    Reply
  7. Neil Rhein

    One of the reasons we’re so devoted to Bruce (and a lesson we can take from him) is that he always gives us our money’s worth. His ability to consistently exceed expectations keeps fans coming back for more. P.s., in case you haven’t heard, he will be touring again in 2012.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I agree, Neil. Amazing to see a guy that *old* running around for four hours like that.

      As for 2012, I guess the key question is how they manage not having Clarence. That’s a big hole to fill. Heard anything about what the plan will be???

      Reply
  8. Karen Doyle

    Mark, you are my hero. I wanted to go to McGill in 1978 (but my parents wanted me to stay in the U.S.) and am a huge Springsteen fan! Now working (partly) as a writer, your words particularly resonated with me. Thanks for the motivation!

    Reply
  9. Karen Doyle

    Sorry, I meant Michael, not Mark. Attention to detail – maybe that’s where the writing thing is falling down…. I was so eager to comment on this piece that I didn’t fact check!

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Glad it hit the spot Karen! Too bad we didn’t meet at McGill!

      And no problem on the Mark/Michael. For some reason, when people forget my name, they call me Mark. Very weird but consistent!

      Reply
  10. Julia Rubiner

    Another spectacular post, Michael — thanks. I saw Springsteen MY freshman year in college at the Univesity of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He played at Crisler Arena (1980, tour for “The River”). My most vivid memory of that mind-blowing show was when Bob Seger joined Bruce onstage for a duet of “Thunder Road.” This Detroit girl thought she’d died and gone to heaven. Having seen Bruce on that Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th-anniversary show in 2009, I fully grasped the extent to which he’s more vital than ever. Damn.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Now that must have been an amazing duet! And yes, saw that same Rock Hall of Fame show too. Speaking of which, I’ve been trying to get to Cleveland for many years to see the Hall but always just seem to miss it. Stayed at the Cleveland airport hotel this past spring but not enough time to get into town. One day soon I hope…

      Reply
  11. Michael

    Wow! This is my second lesson and it hits the nail on the head big time. Keep up the good work and like you said we wan to be Bruce. In my case I would rather it be Patti Lebelle…. 🙂

    Love your work guy!

    Reply

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