Runnin’ With the Devil (In the Details)

van halen 1984

In just a few weeks rock legends Van Halen kick off their North American tour. This is their first round of shows in several years and features original lead singer David Lee Roth. As you can imagine, fans of the original lineup are exited (even though bassist Michael Anthony has been replaced with Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang). Tickets are selling fast and the band has already had to add additional dates to the tour.

As a child of the seventies and a fan of rock & roll, I grew up with Van Halen playing on the radio. It’s with only a small amount of embarrassment that I admit I was part of the band’s official fan club back in the day (I think I may actually still have my membership card somewhere). So I was pretty well versed in all things Van Halen.

Like many music celebrities, the band was known for their extravagant shows and eccentric behaviors. Stories abounded about the odd demands found within their appearance contracts. One of the more notorious involved their choice of snacks. Hidden within the detailed instructions regarding stage setup and light rigging was often a requirement that a bowl of M&Ms be placed in the dressing room – with all of the brown M&Ms removed. If a single brown piece of candy was found in the bowl, the band would demand a step by step review of every aspect of the show’s set and equipment. Rumor has it that Roth once trashed a dressing room, causing thousands of dollars in damage, after brown M&Ms were discovered.

It sounds like just another example of diva-like behavior from self-absorbed musicians, right? Or was it?

As Roth explains in his autobiography, this specific contract rider served an important purpose. Van Halen put on a complex show that involved lots of heavy equipment with very specific setup parameters. Sloppy work by venues at some early shows had led to several accidents, some of them nearly fatal. The M&M request became the band’s way of verifying crews had followed the necessary specifications. If the bowl of M&Ms was missing, or included brown candies, then something more critical was likely to have been overlooked as well.

How you handle the little things determines how you handle the big things. Indeed, the little things often are the big things. But unless you have some way of measuring attention to these details, problems may not surface until it’s too late. Attention to detail only makes sense if the details are taken care of. So you have to inspect what you expect.

What are the small things your team needs to execute well? What are the seemingly insignificant details that make a big difference in providing superior experience or achieving growth goals? And most importantly, how will you inspect what you expect?


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