A Business Lesson from . . . Jimi Hendrix?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On July 28, 2014

Jimi7-24A number of individuals from outside the world of business have been held up as models for modern business. As a matter of fact, you can still find Jesus, CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership online and in bookstores along with a host of other books that draw business inspiration from unconventional figures.

When it comes to business savvy, however, nobody (to my knowledge) has ever held up Jimi Hendrix as an example of how to run a business. In fact, the man repeatedly voted the greatest guitarist of all time seems to be the poster child for how not to do business. His financial house was a mess. He went through money like water, and was completely unconcerned about the business that grew out of his meteoric rise to fame.

Hear My Train a Comin’, a recent documentary about Hendrix confirms that Jimi never really cared about the business side of the music business at all and focused his attention exclusively on his music.

So what can we learn about business from someone who couldn’t have cared less about business? What does a dead rock star, who couldn’t keep track of his own bottom line, have to teach us about business more than 40 years after his death?

There’s a lot of talk in the business world today about “disruptive” technologies and businesses. Hendrix was way ahead of the curve when it came to disrupting things. Hendrix may have been a disaster as a businessman, but he completely changed the music industry. He played music that people couldn’t even imagine, and he was driven to take the music that he heard in his head and get it out to the public.

Something that came up over and over again in the Hear My Train a Comin’ documentary was that people constantly commented that they never saw Hendrix go anywhere without his guitar. Whatever else he was doing, he was ready at the drop of a hat to play, to jam, to try something new. Jimi Hendrix was constantly honing his skills.

He played (often informally) with a wide range of musicians representing vastly divergent styles of music. Chas Chandler—formerly of The Animals, who is largely credited with “discovering” Hendrix and being his producer—commented that, while Jimi was immensely talented, “he also worked harder at it than anyone I’d ever seen.” Everywhere he went, he had his guitar with him. He was always playing, practicing, improving. He always wanted to be better. That was his passion and focus. And it turned the music world on its head.

As a business coach, I talk about out-working, out-reading, out-planning, and out-learning the competition. Jimi Hendrix is a classic (if unusual) example of someone who did that. He wasn’t a businessman. He wasn’t a good model for some aspects of business. But he was passionate about the business of playing guitar like nobody before him had ever done and making music unlike anyone had ever heard.

What’s your passion? What are you doing to take things to a level that nobody has seen before?