Professor looks to Grateful Dead for business, personal finance acumen

Posted March 05, 2012, at 9:35 a.m.
Dr. Barry Barnes says the Grateful Dead has a much to teach us about business and personal finance. Barnes is the author of &quotEverything I Know About Business I Leared from the Grateful Dead." (Carline Jean/Sun Sentinel/MCT)
Carline Jean | MCT
Dr. Barry Barnes says the Grateful Dead has a much to teach us about business and personal finance. Barnes is the author of "Everything I Know About Business I Leared from the Grateful Dead." (Carline Jean/Sun Sentinel/MCT)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Nova Southeastern University Professor Barry Barnes tells his management classes the Grateful Dead can teach us a lot about business and personal finance.

Barnes, 68, a former IBM and John Deere IT executive, followed the band for decades to learn the secrets behind the Grateful Dead’s marketing genius.

He recently published his findings in “Everything I Know About Business I Learned from the Grateful Dead: The Ten Most Innovative Lessons From a Long, Strange Trip.”

Band members managed to thumb their collective noses at the established music world and “become one of the longest-lived, most-beloved, and top-grossing acts of the late 20th century,” Barnes writes in his book, adding, “Even now, 16 years after breaking up, the Grateful Dead, remains a formidable business empire.

Barnes was working at IBM in 1969 when he heard his first Grateful Dead album. But it wasn’t until attending a Dead show (he’s been to about 200 concerts) in Berkeley, Calif., in 1985 that he realized the band had “some important lessons to teach the business world.” Barnes quit his IT corporate job at John Deere to get a doctorate, focusing on the Grateful Dead’s business acumen.

“I have a passion for music, and something about the Grateful Dead really got to me. I had to understand their ability to change and their improvisation,” Barnes said in an interview.

Both are crucial in today’s tough economic times in a rapidly changing high-tech world, he said.

Three examples of Deadhead principles that can help others:

1. Disrupt old habits. The band members didn’t trust the music industry so they started what turned out to be a lucrative record company, merchandising company and mail-order ticketing business. In your personal life, get rid of bad habits, such as spending your paycheck before you have a chance to save.

2. Embrace caution. You can be a free spirit while being careful with your money. Remember the classic Dead lyrics: “When life looks like Easy Street, there is danger at your door.” Check out new investments before you actually put down money.

2. Accept your errors _ but make adjustments. Don’t beat yourself up if you lose money, but learn from your mistakes before going on. Early on, for example, the Grateful Dead trusted someone close to handle the band’s money, but the employee ended up stealing $150,000, Barnes said. Band members learned to watch over financial details and monitor their money more carefully.

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