To commemorate the ceremony awarding the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan, let's celebrate with a tribute to the business insights we can garner from his work.
Your first thought may be: “The Times They Are A’Changin,” but what does Bob Dylan have to do with business? While Bob Dylan is generally viewed as a rebel, he is also an astute businessman. So let's consider his creative output as products created and marketed by a successful company.
Branding: “Bob Dylan” is a brand name, created by Bobby Zimmerman in the late 1950s. This brand rose to the top of its business in a brief period of time. It was internationally acclaimed before the founder reached age 25. “Like a Rolling Stone,” released when Dylan was 24, was rated the No. 1 rock song of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in 2014.
Business development and continuous improvement: To keep the brand vital, Dylan has created new product flow for over 50 years. He has written and performed songs in multiple styles. “Shadows in the Night” and “Fallen Angels” are not only new products, they serve to “uncover” neglected sections of the “great American songbook,” the Nobel committee noted in their selection announcement.
Dynamic and involved business leadership: As the company's founder, Dylan is still active and has relentlessly promoted his products for years. In 2015 and 2016, he performed (or has booked) 164 shows covering 35 states and 15 countries. He has been on the road, averaging 100 shows annually, for 30 years.
Attracting talent: Every successful executive builds their organization by recruiting and retaining great talent. Dylan's touring band has featured many terrific musicians. His current band is extremely well regarded by musicians and the public. They have been together for over 10 years, playing over 1,000 concerts on five continents. Great talents have covered Dylan songs for decades, including Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, Guns N’ Roses, Miley Cyrus, and Adele, to name a few.
Customer development: Every lasting business must retain current customers along with constant market development and a flow of new customers. Dylan has consistently kept prices for his shows more affordable than many of his contemporaries. He has taken his show to small towns like Salina, Kansas, and Oshkosh, Wisconsin, as well as New York, London, and L.A. Dylan has performed for world leaders as diverse as Pope John Paul, presidents of the U.S. and France, and Frank Sinatra.
Willingness to change: Dylan often changes at the risk of offending his audience. In the 1960s alone, he was a folk singer, a rock star (alienating many folkies), then retired from touring. Within a couple of years, he was recording country songs in Nashville with Johnny Cash. He has also recorded Christian music, blues and standards.
Influencing others: Almost every modern musician bears some debt to Dylan. Some have even been called the “new Dylan.” In business at large, Steve Jobs found great influence in Dylan's works, as have many others. Songs like “Blowin’ In The Wind” influenced countless people as they became anthems for human rights.
As you have figured out, I am a Dylan fan. But as you can see, his career has not just been about music. Much of his success is due to the same principles that underlie a successful business — principles we can all learn from.