Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Strategic Planning Analogy #513: The Business Lottery

Imagine a world in which business is run like a lottery. Under such a scenario, each morning every business would submit to the Business Lottery Commission (BLC) their guess of the day’s winning numbers. Then the BLC would use numbered ping pong balls to determine the day’s winning numbers.

Each company’s sales for the day would them be determined by how close their guess was to the numbers chosen by the BLC. The more numbers a company got right, the higher their sales for the day would be. If a company got none of the numbers right, their sales for the day would be zero.

That would be a strange world, because success would be random and essentially out of the control of management. Skill would be replaced by luck. Nobody would stand for a world like that, would they?

Lately, it seems like the business world is becoming more and more like the lottery, particularly in the social media space. I was reminded of this when reading the November issue of Fast Company. In the editorial, editor Robert Safian said,

“There are so many emerging technologies and newly found companies, it is near-impossible to predict which ones will have staying power. This makes both business planning and investing not just complicated, but treacherous.”

There are two main implications in such a statement. First, it implies that success appears to be unpredictable because it is based almost entirely on luck, like playing the lottery. Second, if success is based on luck, then the importance of planning is severely diminished. Why work hard on planning for success if success is primarily a result of luck?

This idea is further reinforced when one looks at the behavior of a lot of the young entrepreneurs in the social media space. They tend to spend very little time on a particular venture. If it doesn’t get “lucky” quickly, they move on—either by pivoting the current venture into an entirely new direction (like Fab.com) or by abandoning it and starting completely over. They are like the lottery player who picks new numbers to play every day because yesterday’s number wasn’t lucky.

And when these entrepreneurs do “get lucky” they often abandon participation in the business soon thereafter in order to play the game again with another new venture. In other words, they cash in their winning lottery ticket and use the proceeds to buy more lottery tickets. They call it
serial entrepreneurship. I call it lottery fever.

And here’s the even stranger fact. The entrepreneurs are paying for most of their “lottery tickets” (i.e., latest business ventures) with someone else’s money (from Venture Capitalists).

When the venture gets “lucky” and wins, it usually wins big (like Facebook, Google, Linkedin, etc.). But most of these ventures end up with nothing. That also sounds a lot like the lottery.

So maybe the people would stand for a world like that after all.

The principle here is that actions are a result of assumptions. If you assume that business success is essentially random, then you will treat business like a lottery (and planning will be minimal, at best). However, you assume that business success still has a significant element of skill to it, then you will treat it more like professional poker. Yes, poker has a high element of luck, but the good players use strategy to consistently outperform the odds of mere luck.

I believe that it is in one’s best interest to use strategy to increase the chances of success (like poker) rather than relying on betting often and hoping for the best (like the lottery).

The Problem With The Lottery Assumption
If you assume success is primarily luck, you then your actions will work against you in two ways.  First, this assumption will cause your actions to move towards quantity rather than quality. As in the lottery, the more tickets you have, the better your odds are of winning (quantity, not quality). So there is a tendency with this mindset to dabble in a lot of things somewhat superficially and for only a short period of time. If there is no instant win, then you move on, perhaps even dabbling in multiple ventures at once.

It’s sort of like the old saying that “if you want to be in the right place at the right time, you have to be everywhere all the time.” So these people try to get attached to as many ventures as possible.

Unfortunately, this is rarely the path to winning. Remember, most of the people who play the lottery lose, even when they buy a lot of tickets. Real winners are not superficially involved for a short time. They are fully devoted to the business for the long haul.

Consider Amazon. Today it looks like an obvious winner. But that was not from getting lucky early. In the early years, Amazon looked like a real loser and was written off by the “experts.” Amazon won because it was dedicated to a long-term strategy for winning in the marketplace and did what it took to make that long-term strategy a reality, even if it made the near term appear “unlucky.” Rather than cashing out, they made huge investments into the marketplace to create a winning position over a long period of time. Amazon didn’t buy into the lottery assumption.

The second problem with the lottery assumption is that it places its focus on funding the purchase of tickets (getting venture capital money) rather than winning the marketplace (getting sales from customers/advertisers). You can see this in companies with fantastic valuations among the venture capitalists which have never turned a profit. Heck, many have had sales of ZERO. “Monetization” of the business model becomes a dirty word, and those promoting monetization are seen as “not getting it.”

Call me old fashioned, but I want to see a path to profits in the marketplace. Otherwise, all we have is a pyramid scheme, where early investors expect to be bought out at a huge gain by greater fools at a later date. That’s what happens when all the focus is on who buys the equity rather than who pays for the product/service. Eventually, you may find a greater fool who pays too much (to you for your equity), gets too little (the weak business model) and suffers a huge loss to pay for your gain. But if you can’t find another buyer, then you’re the last fool and you suffer the loss.

Improving You Odds Like A Poker Pro
By contrast, poker professionals don’t rely on luck. They use skill and strategy to increase their chances of winning. Poker professionals do three things in particular to increase their odds.

First, the poker professionals study their environment. They get to know the other players at the table. They learn how the other players act and react under various scenarios. The poker pros also watch the cards to learn what has been played and what has not been played. In a similar way, the best business winners don’t merely rely on luck, but study the marketplace and their competition.

Second, poker pros use that knowledge to play an intelligent game of strategy. They understand the odds and work that to their advantage. They consider various scenarios. Then the pros make moves designed to cause the other players to act in a manner that shifts the odds even more to their advantage. The pros don’t leave winning to chance and the luck of the cards. They use strategy to improve the odds of success. Good businesses do the same.

Third, the poker pros stick around. They don’t just play one hand and walk away. The pros know that in any individual game, bad luck might be too high to overcome with their skill. They know that it is over the long run that luck evens out and their skill eventually prevails.

In addition, the poker pros know that the longer they play with a particular group, the more they will learn about them. This additional knowledge makes the pro’s strategy improve over time, thereby making the later rounds potentially more productive than the early rounds.

Similarly, good business people stick around and put in the effort to build a viable position and infrastructure. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are great companies.

I am reminded of a story I heard from the founders of Netflix back when their company was barely more than a notion in their head. They told me that their goal was to win in the digital download of movies. They knew that there would only be a small window of time in which to grab that position. They also knew that the timing of that window would be five to ten years in the future. So, to optimize their odds of winning that future digital window of time, they were going to start a physical mail-order business today.

The idea was that the mail-order DVD business would do two things. First, it would help Netflix build strong ties with a large number of consumers. Second, it would help Netflix build ties with the content producers (movie makers/distributors). Those connections with customers and content from the mail-order business would increase their odds of winning when it was time to switch to digital.

This was a long, well thought-out strategy with multiple steps. And it did improve the odds of success for Netflix in the digital movie space. When that small window of time opened, there were tons of entrepreneurs trying to “buy a lottery ticket” by dabbling in the space at the moment the window opened. It was like that Fast Company editorial quote of “so many...newly found companies.”

Most of them quickly “lost the lottery” and went away. But because Netflix was playing poker instead of the lottery, they are still a major player in the space.

One’s actions are based on one’s assumptions. If you assume the business world is driven primarily by luck, then you will act as if business ventures are like lottery tickets. However, if you still think skill prevails, then you will act as if you are skillfully playing poker. And in the long run, your odds for success are better when using the skill and strategy of poker rather than the “buy a lot of tickets and hope for the best” approach of the lottery.

Now you may be saying to yourself, “I don’t think of business as being like a lottery.” Well, you may not say it, or even openly admit to yourself a belief in the lottery assumption. But if you act as if business were a lottery (by doing some of the things mentioned in this blog), then you must believe it deep in your subconscious. You actions shout your true inner beliefs and assumptions, even if you aren’t consciously aware of them.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Strategic Planning Analogy #512: Working on the House

I was recently eating at a Taco Bell restaurant where the inside temperature was only 63 degrees Fahrenheit (about 16 degrees Celsius). It was so cold, I had to eat lunch with my coat on (and it is only October). This got me to thinking…

Imagine that you have a home-based business and that your home is extremely cold. The extreme cold in your house causes your typical day to have problems like these:

  1. Much of your day is spent trying to create warmth, doing things like:
    1. Chopping wood for the fireplace.
    2. Doing exercises to warm up.
    3. Checking the thermostat.
    4. Heating pots of water on the stove. 
  1. Working on your laptop, smartphone and tablet is difficult because you are bundled up in bulky clothes and wearing mittens on your hands. 
  1. Lots of money is wasted on utility costs in a futile attempt to warm the place. 
  1. Because of the pre-occupation with the cold, you find it hard to concentrate on anything else (like your home-based business).

If you had to deal with problems like that day after day after day, I suspect that your home-based business would be a disaster.

Now let’s suppose that instead of focusing on trying to do work IN the house, you tried to do work ON the house. You go around inspecting the house. What you find is that there are several big holes in your wall exposing you to the cold outside environment. In addition, you find that the insulation in the walls is missing.

After spending a little time working ON the house (fixing walls and insulation), you quickly notice that it becomes a lot easier to do your business IN the house, because now it is comfortably warm all day.

  1. You gain back all that time wasted on trying to heat the house.
  2. It is easier to work on your devices when not wearing mittens.
  3. Your utility bills go way down.
  4. It is easier to concentrate on the business now that the distraction of being cold is gone.

And now the home-based business is a lot more successful.

In the world of business, you have two choices on how to spend your time. You can spend your time either:

  1. Working IN the business (doing the daily stuff which keeps the process in operation); or
  2. Working ON the business (doing the big-picture stuff which improves the structure of the business and its ability to win in the marketplace).

Both are important; both need attention. But for leaders, more time needs to be spent working ON the business rather than IN the business.

I believe that leadership in most businesses under-allocates time working ON the business. It’s easy to understand why. Fixing the crisis of the day (IN the business) sucks up time leaving little left for the examining the big structure (ON the business). But, as we can see in the story, that approach is very unproductive.

The crisis of the day in the story was the cold temperature. Extensive time and money were wasted trying to find ways to get the work done in this environment. Dealing with trying to work through the crisis was crippling the business (working IN the business wasn’t working).

However, by taking time to step away from the day to day and look at the big picture, one could easily see that the overall structure of the house was inadequate. After fixing the structure (the holes and the insulation), the crisis went away. Productivity skyrocketed. By spending time ON the business, the work being done IN the business got a whole lot more productive—more productive than what could be achieved by merely working in the business.

The principle here is that structure matters. How you structure the business can have a big impact on how effective the work is inside the business. Even if your employees are hardworking and want to succeed, if the structure is wrong, that effort will be as effective as trying to use devices with your mittens on.

Structural Questions
Structural issues would include questions like these:

1.     Do you have a winning position in the marketplace (a reason for customers to prefer you)? If you have no reason to win, then you will lose, even if you work hard. Working hard at mediocrity or in offering the same as everyone else will not get people to prefer you. The winning position is the foundation of your structure. Without a solid foundation, the structure will fall and crush your operations. Everyone gets all excited about the smartphone business, but keep in mind that only Apple and Samsung are making a profit in this segment. The others are working very hard IN the business of smartphones, but they are losing because they have not developed sustainable positions which create a natural reason to prefer them. Unless they first address this issue (working ON the position), their efforts IN the smartphone business will be wasted. You can read more about this concept here.

2.     Do you have a business model which is designed to give you an edge in achieving your position? Why should you expect to win if you do not have a structure designed to increase your odds of achieving superiority at your point of differentiation/winning? Just working harder in the business is usually not enough. Think about hard discount retailers like Aldi. They create a preference based on a low price position. These low prices are not achieved by merely working harder IN the grocery business. No, they are achieved by working ON a structure which makes low prices easier to obtain:

a.      Very Limited Assortments
b.     Virtually all Private Label Store Brands
c.      No Service
d.     Selling from pallets of open boxes rather than placing individual items on the shelf.

This structure gives an edge in achieving the low price position which businesses under a more conventional structure cannot touch.

3.     Have you supplied the business with adequate levels of capacity and competency? Working hard IN the business will not lead to success if your structure is missing the capacity and competency needed to win. Without an adequate supply chain (access to enough raw materials, manufacturing capacity, distribution capacity, etc.), your work IN the business will not be able to deliver on the promises. Similarly, without the needed knowledge, skills, and tools, harder work will be wasted work. The lack of capacity and competency is like the lack of insulation in that house. It prevents the work inside the house from being productive. In the modern economy of tech firms like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Apple, and other social media firms, there is an understanding that if you cannot get an adequate capacity of engineering competency, you cannot deliver the winning position. Therefore, the winners design structures which create an edge in attracting and keeping this component.   

Role of Leaders
Answering these three questions is the role of leadership. They are the ones who need to step away from the day to day to think about the structure. Thinking back to the story, they need to ask: Where are the holes in the house? Where do I need more insulation? Do I need to build an addition to the house? Do I need to totally remodel the house?

If the leaders do not proactively make the time to step away from being IN the business to work ON the business, it will not get done. The crisis of the day will naturally choke it out. Like the story, you will spend so much time and effort dealing with the cold that there is little left for focusing on winning in the marketplace.

The lower levels are too closely tied to the day-to-day or their little area of specialty. They cannot see the whole structure. Only the leaders can wrap their arms around the bigger picture. And when you do, the improvements can be amazing.

And the fancy word we give to all this attention to structure is STRATEGY.

Hard work is nice, but it can be a lot of wasted effort if the business structure is wrong. When all of your time is focused on finding ways to do more work IN the business rather than first working ON the business to make sure it is set up to win, you are merely creating action, not results. A good business structure has a winning position, a business model which supports the position, and enough capacity and competency to deliver on the promise of the position. If you do not work ON the business to build this kind of structure, your work IN the business is going to go nowhere.

The key here is delegation. Leaders need to delegate more of the day-to-day so that they can spend increased time on the bigger picture.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Transcendent Strategy

There seems to be a consensus building in the business world claiming that concepts like positioning and competitive advantage are becoming obsolete. This premise is based on the assumption that the business world is moving too fast. In such a fast-paced changing world, nothing lasts—including positions and competitive advantages.

This leads to the conclusion that if competitive advantages and positions have no lasting value, then it is a waste of time to focus much effort on them.

I tend to disagree. Here is my rebuttal to this point of view.

Yes, technologies come and go; products come and go. But the truly important issues endure.

Has the desire for value gone out of style? Has the desire for quality gone out of style? Have the desires for prestige and self-esteem gone out of style? No.

These eternal desires have been around or hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds of years to come. Eternal values such as these do not become obsolete.

The problem is not that positioning and competitive advantages have to—by their very nature—become obsolete. No, there is nothing inherent in positioning or competitive advantages which creates obsolescence. Instead, the problem is that people are focusing on the wrong things to build a position or competitive advantage around. If you focus your position or competitive advantage on a particular “product”, “technology”, or “feature set”, then of course your position or competitive advantage will not last—because the best alternative in these areas is constantly changing.

By contrast, if you focus your position or competitive advantage around mastering and owning the enduring attributes of prestige, self-esteem, quality, value, etc., then your position and competitive advantage will endure. Advantageous strengths in areas like this transcend all of those ever-shorter life cycles in products, technology or feature-sets.

Your company lasts, survives, and thrives even if particular products come and go, because your position and competitive advantages in understanding and providing solutions to enduring desires allow you to better migrate to the next iteration of how that need is satisfied. You continue to win, because you have built your strengths around owning the solution itself (e.g., prestige) rather than merely owning the current manifestation of that solution (e.g., a smartphone).

Think of Virgin. The company is not linked to a particular product, industry, technology or feature set. Virgin is into hundreds of diverse businesses from media to transportation—even transportation into space. Instead of focusing on a particular product or technology, Virgin has built competencies and advantages in winning a position in the enduring values. Here’s how Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, describes it:

“We've become a sort of way-of-life brand. ... People think of Virgin — if they hear that Virgin's going into a new area, they know that the quality will be good, that we'll do it in a fun way, that we'll give good value for money. And so it gives us a leg up when we go into a new venture. People already [trust] us, and they'll give us a try and, generally speaking, people seem to like what they find.”

Virgin the corporation wins and endures, even when particular ventures come and go, because it is always on the prowl looking for the next evolution for its “way of life” solution. It takes its skills (competitive advantage) in imbuing these way of life values into an industry and wins.  

And think about Apple. Its popularity has transcended a wide range of obsolescence in products, technology and feature sets. People love Apple because it wins on enduring values. Status, elegance, simplicity, easy-integration, and being “cool” are all integral to everything it does. Apple built competitive advantages in pursuing these enduring traits. This allows the company to endure, because positions and competitive advantages in these areas endure.

The fact that Apple is hiring Angela Ahrendts, the CEO of the Burberry fashion house, to run its retail division shows that Apple is structuring its competency around status, elegance and “coolness” rather than particular products or technology.

So if you build your position and your competencies around the enduring values (like Virgin or Apple), you can have a competitive advantage which can last a relatively long time.

Winning positions and competitive advantages win because they best fit into the context of the environment in which they operate. The battle is decided in the marketplace. To win in the marketplace, you have to be designed to win within the context of that marketplace.

If we buy into the original premise that the business world is undergoing accelerated change, then that is the context where we must design a winning strategy. Therefore, a good way to win in this marketplace is by building competitive advantages in adapting to change.

Competitive advantages in adapting to change could include superior competencies in areas like:

  1. Monitoring the environment to get early detections in the direction of change.
  2. Building a flexible supply chain.
  3. Having an organization that can quickly reallocate resources (human, monetary, etc).
  4. Building skills around enduring values rather than temporal products and technologies.
  5. Speed in execution.
  6. Developing a tolerance for risk.
  7. Quickly building strategic partnerships in areas needed to adapt to the change.

Companies which can do things such as these better than anyone else will have an enduring competitive advantage within the context of a rapidly changing marketplace.

It is a false notion to claim that positions and competitive advantages can no longer be enduring. Yes, many positions and advantages will not be enduring, because they are linked to particular products, technologies or feature sets. But that is the fault of the people who picked the wrong things to focus their positions and advantages on. If, instead, one focuses on enduring values or adapting to change, then you can build enduring positions and competitive advantages.

Don’t blame the concepts of positioning and competitive advantage when your business becomes obsolete. These tools still work well if applied properly. Think of the axe. In the hands of a skilled lumberjack, the axe is a wonderful tool. In the hands of an axe murderer, it is a horrible tool. Are you more like the lumberjack (building enduring skills) or the axe murderer (focusing on products, technology and feature sets)?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Fixing Symphony Orchestras

A friend was recently bemoaning the problems with his community's symphony orchestra. It got me thinking about approaching this problem strategically. I quickly put together my thoughts (see below). I think this is a good example of how to:

     1) Structure A Problem
     2) Establish Key Assumptions
     3) Develop Hypotheses
     4) Look for Analogies and Context
     5) Use Storytelling

After all, if you do not structure the analysis properly, you may not get the right answer for the right problem.

Core Assumptions
First, let’s start with a couple of core assumptions:

Core Assumption #1: Performance Art is Not Dead
There are lots of performers out there making tons of money, like the Dave Matthews Band and Circ de Soleil. Brittany Spears just sold out an extended engagement in Las Vegas.  So the problem is not being in the performance industry. Many have found a way to mine it for large profit.

Core Assumption #2: This is Not Just a Problem for a Single Orchestra
Location-based symphony orchestras all over the US are in trouble. The problem is not just what’s happening in in your community. The entire location-based symphony orchestra model (as currently operated) is broken.

So the problem to be solved is this: How do you change the symphony business model so that it can be more like that of successful performance artists?

Key Hypotheses for Orchestras
Now, let’s look at some key hypotheses about the problems with the Symphony business model:

Hypothesis about Performance Symphonies #1: The Target Audience is Small
Symphonic music has a fairly narrow appeal. There’s a reason why most classical music radio stations are heavily subsidized (including tax dollars). There’s not enough demand. “Pops” orchestras who perform with guest artists (outside of classical music) with a wider draw exist because the purer symphonic appeal isn’t large enough. It’s difficult to make a lot of money off your target market if the market is too small.

Hypothesis about Performance Symphonies #2: The Current Performance Approach is Not Very Compelling
The current typical symphony approach only offers the customer two things: music and snob appeal bragging rights (I was there with the elite crowd). The problem with the music is this:
  1. As mentioned earlier, this form of music has a narrow appeal.
  2. Most of the music is old stuff, performed hundreds of times by hundreds of others. There is no compelling reason to be at this particular performance of that music at this particular time.
  3. You can get superior recordings of the same work by better performers to listen to in the comfort of your home for less money. So if you only want to hear the music, you have better alternatives.
  4. Sometimes more obscure works are added to the mix, but usually there is a reason why those works are obscure—they aren’t as good. 
The problem with the snob appeal is that there are superior ways to achieve that snob appeal:
  1. You can go to the traveling Circ de Soleil or Broadway Shows when they come to your town (which have similar bragging rights while offering what many consider a more compelling performance); or
  2. You can travel to the meccas of performance art (Broadway, Carnegie Hall, Las Vegas, etc.) and get double bragging rights for the performance and the trip.
  3.  In today’s social environment (particularly with younger generations) the status bragging rights are moving from consuming high culture to improving social conditions. They get more status capital out of going to Africa to build a school than in being seen plopped in a chair at a symphony (better stories to brag about and seen as less selfish). Getting involved in social causes is taking the place of high performance art as the place to put your efforts to improve your status.

Key Hypotheses for Performance Successes
Now for some hypotheses on why other performance models seem to be working:

Hypothesis About Success Models #1: They provide a reason to be right here, right now.
Some of the most successful touring performing groups that have endured for decades include The Dave Matthews Band, Phish, Ozric Tentacles and The Grateful Dead. They all have one thing in common—they are jam bands. They have a high degree of improvisation in their music. Each performance is unique and different. You never know in advance exactly what you’ll get (even the performers don’t know). This provides a sense of excitement. You never know if this particular performance is going to become the “classic” version of the song that gets talked about for generations.  People follow these bands from location to location for the excitement of hearing the different versions. They need to appear often to make sure they catch the special moments. Each performance has a special reason to be there.

It’s like sports (which is more popular than symphonies). One of the appeals of sports is that each game is different, and you do not know the outcome in advance. Contrast this with symphonies where they practice in order to eliminate the variability and surprise. It becomes a sterile, polished performance which is highly predictable. There is no special reason to be there to witness the surprise, because there isn’t going to be one.

Hypothesis About Success Models #2: They Create Winners and Losers.
Sports would be a lot less popular if they stopped keeping score and did not declare winners. Watching the struggle to win is exciting. Look at TV. The typical variety show format for performing is essentially dead. It has been replaced by contests like American Idol, The Voice and Dancing With the Stars. Performing plus winning is more exciting than just performing. How often do you see a Symphonic Battle of the Bands?

Hypothesis About Success Models #3: They Involve Audience Input.
In today’s social media world, consumers expect to be a part of the process. They want a greater say in what they consume. Successful performers are getting more savvy about this. But even if we strip out all of the technological hoo-ha like twitter, there is the basic idea of taking requests. How many symphonies take requests at a performance? And what would a symphony do if everyone in the audience started singing along with the performers (which is common for other music performances)? Symphonic performances are one of the most passive venues alternatives for their audience. They are expected to just sit there. And that is not good. One of the big appeals at a Springsteen performance was that somewhere in the show he would pick out a beautiful girl from the audience to briefly dance with him on stage. That was a big deal. (I knew a gal who got that honor—she bragged about it decades later—and yes, she was stunningly beautiful). Have you ever seen people rush the stage at a symphony?

Hypothesis About Success Models #4: They Provide a long list of benefits.
As mentioned earlier, symphonies provide only music and status (and perhaps neither one as good as some alternatives). Other performance options provide much more, including:
  1. Hero Worship. The “gods” of our culture are found on celebrity gossip shows and in the magazines next to the supermarket checkout. You go to the performances of these people in order to see your god in the flesh (regardless of how well they perform). The local symphony does not have this godlike status to offer for worship.
  2. The ability to vent and express our emotions. Other alternatives are more open to yelling and screaming and dancing in the aisles.
  3.  A socially acceptable opportunity to overindulge in alcohol (think Jimmy Buffett concerts or a sporting event).
  4. The opportunity to experience something new (be there for the first offering). Symphonies rarely do a lot of brand new compositions.
  5. And then there are the things mentioned earlier, like experiencing winning & losing, being involved in the process, surprise, and so on.
The more benefits you offer, the greater your appeal.

A Story 
I once heard a lecture by a music professor from Berkeley talking about what classical musical performance was like at its peak (like when Mozart was still alive). The professor said the symphonies of that day were like the National Football League (NFL) teams of today. Each major city had one and people rallied around the local symphony team like we do with our NFL team. Each team had its equivalent of the quarterback hero—the composer. The local composer was part of the local symphony team.  The symphonies would travel to each other’s cities to compete against their local symphony. Each symphony team would pull out its latest composition and perform it. The fans would often travel with the symphony teams to see these contests.

And there were strict rules about how a symphony was supposed to be structured (like the rules in football). And the audience was very familiar with these rules. If the new composition did not play by those rules, the crowds would get rowdy and boo at the symphony. (Remember the stories of the great riots caused by Igor Stravinsky when his Rite of Spring broke too many of the rules?) The professor said that Mozart played very well within the rules, while Beethoven went to the very edge of what the rules allowed. He was sort of like the 1930s Green Bay Packers American Football team who looked at the rules and saw nothing which prevented the forward pass (even though no other team at the time was doing it).

So what can we learn from these earlier performances?
a)      They had superior team bonding with the local community.
b)      They had the excitement of winners and losers
c)      They let the crowds get very emotional and expressive at the performance.
d)      They had the hero worship of the local composer (the rock star).
e)      They played mostly brand new material (the excitement of seeing it performed for the first time).
f)       By getting everyone involved in understanding the rules of play in composition, they broadened the appeal of the music.
g)      There was a compelling reason to be right there, right now because you never knew what would happen.
h)      They made the spectacle much more than just the music.

Without getting into a lot of detail, I think symphonies need to do more of what they did hundreds of years ago and more of what successful performance acts of today do. They need to broaden the appeal by making it about a lot more than just the music. They need to get the audience more involved in the performance. They need to create winners & losers, heroes and goats. They need more spontaneity and surprise. They need more new stuff.