Bring me a rock
Why the customer comes last, most of the time
“The audience comes last.” The white-bearded creativity- and music-guru Rick Rubin could not have been clearer in expressing the sentiment to Anderson Cooper in a recent 60 Minutes interview. After decades of hit-making with artists like Adele, Johnny Cash, the Beastie Boys, and other mega-stars, he was putting his ideas on the record.
Rubin continued. “The audience doesn’t know what they want. The audience only knows what’s come before.”
Cooper seemed confused for a moment, then asked, “Isn’t the whole music business built around trying to figure out what somebody likes?”
Rubin responded instantly, “Maybe for someone else it is, but not for me.”
Now, if I’m being honest, this sentence triggered then transported me back a dozen-plus years to my earlier life as a military staff officer.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I walked back through the maze of cubes, sunk low in my seat, exhaled like a boxer who just took a gut-shot. My cube-mate, older and scarred from similar battles, whirled around his office chair and said, “He wants you to bring him a rock, doesn’t he?”
The “rock” in question was a one-page policy argument gone wrong. I thought I had done my homework and written a solid proposal. But when I’d gone in to discuss the draft, I figured he would want a reasonable adjustment—a “little this way” or “a little that way” on a point or two. Instead, his criticisms cut away each point in turn until there was nothing left at all on the page. I had to start over.
When I went back in for Round Two, the same result.
Round Three, same result.
I don’t think I ever finished.
Some business types prefer to bin this leader-who’s-never-satisfied problem in the “management” section. I see it somewhat differently.