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The Business Of The Dead

04:11 PM Tuesday 11/8/11 |   |

Do corporations have to be monolithic, heartless, profit-driven machines that the Occupy Wall Street crowd accuses them of being? According to one professor, no. And his example is Jerry Garcia.

Barry Barnes, business professor at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, has written “Everything I Know About Business I Learned From The Grateful Dead,” which suggests that the group used many positive business policies that are just now beginning to seep into the current climate. Barnes had plenty of chances to learn from the Dead, too, having attended 194 shows.

Barnes worked at IBM and John Deere Co., according to the Boston Globe, before his days as an educator. He’s determined that many of the choices the Dead made when it came to their personnel and product are innovative to this day.

The obvious one is their philosophy on bootlegging. It’s no surprise to Deadheads, and those who’ve had Deadheads stay on their couches, that the Dead were generous when it came to their live music. Anyone could tape a show, and the audiotapes could be traded as long as they weren’t used for commercial purposes. To Barnes, that was a precursor to today’s online song trading. Barnes says it was “viral marketing” before the term was created.

The Dead also used insourcing, rather than outsourcing. They owned their own record label, ticketing system and merchandising.

“Over the course of the book it becomes apparent that Barnes is proposing that corporate values need not be thought of as apart from human values,” the Globe notes, “that the behaviors and attitudes that bind us to one another can be the same ones that encourage loyalty between workers and companies and consumers and products.”

For instance, when the Dead played Ken Kesey’s “Acid Tests,” they insisted on paying their own entrance fees, just like everybody else. They kept their ticket prices low and never took corporate sponsorships. And they refused to sell their mailing lists to politicians.

And working for the Dead sounds like an absolute joy. When Garcia died in 1995, the band employed 70 people full time – including the road crew, who could have otherwise been compensated seasonally. They had good pensions, health insurance and college funds for their offspring. And the monthly employee meetings were all or nothing. If one person shot down an idea, it was dumped. For instance, as the Globe points out, Bill Graham once dropped by with a proposal but it was shot down because the building superintendent found it too “commercial.”

If none of this sounds good for business, maybe the following will: The result of these employee policies was, in 1994, the band’s top-grossing year, zero staff turnover and almost no absenteeism.

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