In the largest clubs and festivals around the world, people gather to listen and dance and feel something together. The experience becomes an alignment of individual personalities entranced by the same shared moment.
The occasion can be primal — an echo of our tribal days where the beat of a torch-lined drum circle was a transcendent journey. Hearts beating to a similar rhythm and embracing the fleeting, provocative feeling of being a part of something, a collective.
Today, the DJ delivers the beat, guiding us on that journey.
With the advancement of technology, many people claim to be DJs, just like many people consider themselves innovative leaders.
But as DJing isn’t just about choosing tunes, leadership isn’t just about running an organization.
The best DJ and the best leaders create a collective mood that aligns multiple individuals. They tap into people’s emotions to elevate them toward a higher purpose.
In times of rapid change and ambiguity, how do leaders stay relevant when they can’t see what’s next around the corner?
They innovate, differentiate, and create like industry-changing DJs. Grand Wizard Theodore, DJ AM, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Anita Sarko are some names that stand out as leaders in the DJ Domain.
Lead like a D.I.S.C. Jockey
I started DJing in 2006 and since then I’ve identified several parallels between what a DJ creates on a dance floor and what the most innovative leaders of our time accomplish. As we forge ahead, I’m going to use DJing as a metaphor for leaders to make their mark by pushing boundaries and remixing the landscape into the new mold of today’s marketplace.
The best leaders:
- Share, and
For example, when John Legere took over as CEO of T-Mobile, he:
Differentiated T-Mobile from its competitors by rebranding it as the “un-carrier”
Innovated the customer experience by eliminating wireless phone contracts
Shared his vision and the passion behind it, starting with an overhaul of the company’s culture
Created the future of the wireless industry. Now, payments for your new phone are added right to your monthly wireless bill so you can upgrade to that sweet new iPhone as soon as it hits the market
John Legere did that. John Legere is an innovator.
Without being an innovative leader who has a vision for what could be, who differentiates their brand from the status quo and imagines a reality that doesn’t fully exist yet, are you even a leader?
As a leader, if you fail to make your mark and create transcendent experiences in your marketplace, your company will inevitably fall prey to those companies with an appetite for exploration, risk-taking, and an aligned company vision. Your company will be another case study like brand names you might recall such as MySpace, Toys R Us, PanAm, and Blockbuster.
If this resonates with you, it’s time for you to get on the 1s and 2s and rise as a D.I.S.C. Jockey Leader. Let’s explore what that means and how to achieve it.
There are only twelve notes in the typical musical scale and only so many ways you can bang a drum. Differentiating yourself from the crowd doesn’t mean working with completely new elements because there’s nothing new under the sun.
Differentiation is using yesterday’s hits in a surprising, new way.
A DJ will take samples from songs that already exist and rearrange those pieces to make a contemporary version of the song.
He may mix elements that don’t normally go together by contrasting them, overlaying them, or highlighting their connections and bridging the gap. He’ll tweak the familiar sounds just a bit — enough to pique the curiosity of his audience.
Differentiating a brand or a company is a powerful way to give it new energy and visibility. If your brand is known for providing a particular product or service, how can you mix those familiar elements into something new and fresh?
How can you stand above the companies providing the same old, same old, and lead your team in a creative and inspirational way? The future is all about possibility, and as a leader, you have to be willing to change.
Everyone loves a great story
No two people have the same story. Even if they share the same experience, they’re processing that experience through their unique lenses. Nevertheless, the emotions evoked by a passionate and charismatic storyteller are generally the same.
The greatest DJs can tell a connected story throughout the night through the songs and how and when they choose to play them. They tell stories of love, stories about triumph, or about getting hurt.
Brands do the same thing. If a company has the right story behind it — beyond making money — customers will connect to the brand more deeply.
Stories tell us about the values or principles behind the product(s) we love. They create a lasting impression and keep loyal customers coming back.
Your powerful story differentiates you from the pack.
If differentiation sets organizations apart from their competition, innovation reimagines the way forward.
Innovation pushes a concept to the brink of people’s tastes.
My favorite example of innovation is Run-DMC collaborating with Aerosmith. In 1986, producer Rick Rubin fused Aerosmith’s 1975 rock and roll single with the rebellious sounds of rap to create “Walk This Way.”
Something familiar was combined with a sound on the edge of new. The reimagined song changed how the country thought about music. It was a powerful innovation that almost 40 years later people still get excited about when they hear it.
Innovative leaders aren’t content with creating something that fits neatly in the current playlist of greatest hits. Instead, they’re steps ahead of the trends, creating the next sound that pushes the limits and boundaries of comfort.
Brian Eno, a British musician, and producer says, “My interest in making music has been to create something that does not exist that I would like to listen to. I wanted to hear music that had not yet happened, by putting together things that suggested a new thing which did not yet exist.”
It’s not enough to solely repackage. It’s not enough to solely produce something a bit better than the products that currently exist in the world. People conventionally expect better. What they don’t know they want is extraordinary, and that should be the aim. What is your vision of a reality that doesn’t yet exist? DJs, like innovative leaders, begin with a vision of what could be.
Now that may seem like a difficult and daunting task, but if reframed, it presents an exciting challenge. I discuss reframing in my blog post “Fight Fear by Building Unshakable Confidence“.
Unfortunately, ideas on their own aren’t enough. Innovative leaders must be able to communicate their concepts and passion, defining a culture that’s excited to charge into the future.
In an interview with Harvard Business Review, legendary General Motors CEO Jack Welch says, “Good leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion. Above all else, though, good leaders are open. They never get bored telling their story.”
I call this Clear-ifying Your Vision and I talk about this more extensively in “The Power of Vision to Reach Your Goals“.
There are DJs with unearthly technical prowess like DJ Q-Bert and some that can transmit their personality, energy, and mood through the records to elevate the listener’s experience. And, of course, there are those in between.
Sharing your vision starts with creating excitement. Passion is contagious.
As a DJ, I’ll begin playing music 10 to 15 minutes before the event starts.
I have a vision of the experience from before the event doors open to the moments after the event doors have closed. I define the vibe of the room for the production company and client(s). When the audience begins to filter in, they feel the collective mood that’s already being cultivated.
D.I.S.C. Jockey Leaders who set the tone, have a captivating, unifying vision of the future. They clearly communicate that vision, and motivate their teams and their company to astonishing heights. It becomes a party that everyone wants to be a part of.
Once differentiation, innovation, and a shared vision and passion are in motion, leaders have all the elements to create a powerful movement that will change the future. Your teams want something that pushes them to level up their capabilities. They want to support a leader and a company that has innovative thinking, inspire their imaginations, and aligns with their core values.
Stay relevant in a rapidly changing world
We can’t know what’s coming next. Especially these days! The unknown is strangely unnerving and stimulating at the same time.
The most innovative leaders get questioned and face resistance before their boundary-pushing ideas are declared genius.
DJ AM was one of the first DJs to use and master the open format style (embracing varied genres and tempos). In his sets, he creatively switched from rock to hip-hop to pop. People had never experienced that before. He took people on a ride. He created a new benchmark that’s widely used today.
The way to stay relevant in a changing world is to create what’s coming next.
Reacting to current trends isn’t good enough. Blending in with the status quo means you’ll fade out.
If you want to lead an organization that stays relevant when market conditions are rapidly changing, one that embraces the technology of the digital revolution, and pushes boundaries to bring your vision to life, then you need to become a D.I.S.C. Jockey Leader.